Yielding to the Fire


I recently read these lines in one of those novels that we female types enjoy from time to time: “Find someone to love and pour your heart and soul into it. Some people were like pottery. They had been tested in a fire just hot enough to make them capable, but perhaps not yet durable. But…was fine porcelain. Delicate, yet purified in white-hot flame reserved for those who would stand every test thrown at them.”

Ah, yes, we love those lines, and, in our dreams, we hope for and imagine someone who will be that prince who comes for us and takes us off to his kingdom to live happily ever after.

If we discover the prince who chooses us or whom we choose, does not quite fit that description, we can become very disenchanted. We may start to wonder if the prince is a frog, but the truth is that few of us will marry a prince in real life. We will marry a mortal with various flaws and imperfections much as we are also.

But there is also another truth.

There is a Prince who has done just that and will one day soon return to take us to His Kingdom to rule and reign with Him forever. And He did and does love us and has poured His heart and soul into us, His body was broken, and blood poured out for us. We hear or read that and nod in agreement, but barely know what that means. It is incomprehensible when we reflect on it.

The challenge for us is that though betrothed, we are still mortal and laced through with flaws and imperfections. To be prepared for that day of ruling and reigning, we must be refined. Peter talks about that:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 1:3-7 (ESV)

We are mortal, made of the dust of the earth, fashioned of clay it would seem. Clay is soft at the outset and unable to be of much use in that state until it is shaped on the wheel of a potter into the design he or she has in mind. Jesus is the potter and we are the clay, but once shaped in the design He has we must be fired to be purified and made fit for use.

Life on this earth tests us in many ways and forms whether by disease, evil, heartbreak, or any number of options we face as the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve whose enemy still seeks to claim us from the Prince who lives in our hearts. Who can say how many times our Prince allows that process to happen? He knows the design and purpose. In that we must trust.

To a mortal potter the firing happens at least twice. The first time the high temperature vitrifies the clay enough so when the finishing touches of glaze are applied, they adhere correctly. The temperature in the firing rises slowly to dry out the clay greenware. The bone-dry clay is fragile so the temperature of the firing must be just right and at the exact speed of increase to drive out everything in the clay that is not pure.

This process results in the clay now being changed forever.  

The clay is now less fragile, but still not as durable as is needed. A second firing is needed after the potter applies the glaze. The skilled potter knows just how quickly the temperature of the second firing can take place and to what degree to bring the clay and glazes to maturity. (Do we get the metaphor? The human potter is bringing the clay to maturity…so is the Lord accomplishing in His refining of us.)

When this process is complete and the pot is cooled, what is the result?

The fire has caused a remarkable change in the original clay. The pot has been changed from a soft, fragile substance into a delicate, rock-hard substance resistant to many of the things that would have destroyed the clay. It is sealed against all that may come against it.

How powerful a picture He has painted for us when scripture refers to the potter, the clay, the testing and firing.

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

Job 23:10 (ESV)

He Always Had A Plan

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Life throws us some curve balls along the way and we don’t always handle them as well as we might like. We make some wrong choices as well that leave us worn, chipped, broken, and more. We feel empty and disappointed with others, with life, but much of the time with us. And then we can project that God feels that way as well, that we have messed up too badly to be able to walk the path He offered us once and offers us still.

But none of this surprised the Lord. He actually planned for it. He knew each of our weaknesses and frailties. He created us after all, and He is the consummate artisan.

Not unlike the sculptor, God had the image of what He would create before it even took shape and form in his hands. He knew the purpose for that which He was creating.

The same enemy that mocked Him, sought to tempt Him to make the wrong choice about the cross, not choose those who would be carrying on for Him after He ascended, and cause Him to doubt would assail those given the mission that we still have today. He had seen it before. He planned to come to earth to show us what we couldn’t see all those centuries before.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

God was the Master of imagination and when He created us, He placed some of that quality in each one of us. It can take some of us a long time to discover it or believe it. Too many times voices along the way cause us to doubt or question, to think we have none or that it is not of a quality to have any value. And maybe that is because we have the tendency to compare what we have with others, and that leads us to faulty conclusions more often than not. The enemy whispers along with the human voices and we may make false starts, wrong turns, and faulty choices that result in criticism and condemnation.

And in the midst of all that, the Lord wants us to see with a different lens and discover what we are missing through our own human lens.

“The great masters of the imagination do not make things up out of thin air; they direct our attention to what is right before our eyes. They train us to see it whole – not in fragments but in context, with all the connections. They connect the visible and the invisible, the this with the that. They assist us in seeing what is around us all the time but which we regularly overlook. With their help we see it not as commonplace, but as awesome, not as banal but was wondrous. For this reason the imagination is one of the essential ministries in nurturing the life of faith. For faith is not a leap out of the everyday but a plunge into its depths.”

From Run with the Horse by Eugene Peterson

Perhaps that is why what we read so often in Genesis through Revelation is presented in story form with analogies that help us gain a glimpse of what we would miss otherwise. And I think He would have us notice of how often the Lord used it when He was teaching those He would use to point the way.

We see it in bold relief in the stories about Moses confronting pharaoh and leading the Israelites to the land He promised, but if you are looking, you will see it through every page.

It is vivid when God speaks to the prophet, Jeremiah and tells him to go to the potter’s house. He wants him to see clearly the message He will have him deliver to the people and He speaks and shows him what is so much more significant than those of us in our modern world might recognize.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

Pottery had changed the world in ways we can miss. Prior to this invention, people had no effective ways to store grain, water, or any other essential. They needed to travel from one place to another as seasons changed in order to be able to sustain themselves. But pottery meant they didn’t need to do that, and communities could be established while still providing ways for the people to carry foodstuffs and water with them through areas where there would not be that provision. Pottery was functional as well as beautiful.

“It is difficult for us to grasp the significance of that combination, for we live in a quite different world. We commonly separate the useful and the beautiful, the necessary and the elegant.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

Think not? Think again. We carry things in brown paper bags or plastic ones that we toss aside without much thought except for their utility.

Only a Master of imagination would create us from the dust (not unlike a potter) and plan that He would use such common yet wondrous vessels to be what carries light into the darkness of the world, hope into the places of despair, and love into the hatred that would sweep through the sinful hearts and minds of mankind.

When God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house, He gave him a frame of reference that was clear, one that he could easily understand. He had watched the potter at other times. He knew the challenge of vessels that were spoiled or those that resisted his hand to shape them.

So, Jeremiah watched and listened for what the Lord would have him see and see differently when the clay resisted or was spoiled (not unlike those he was being sent to and not unlike us).

“The potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot. God kneads and presses, pushes and pulls. The creative work starts over again, patiently, skillfully. God doesn’t give up. God doesn’t throw away what is spoiled.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

What a great hope that is for each one of us. He doesn’t give up on us. His creative work of transformation continues. He doesn’t throw us away even if we have been spoiled by our choices or those of others.

Jeremiah 1:5 encourages Jeremiah about the call on his life.

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations—that’s what I had in mind for you.”

Jeremiah 1:5 (MSG)

Those words echo in the words of the psalmist in Psalm 139. God wants to remind us that He saw each one of us and crafted us for his purpose.

We may not be called as a prophet or a great king, but He doesn’t throw us away when we mess up. He has always had a plan for that, from the Garden of Eden till now.

Photo by Pixabay

The Trip to Mount Doom


J.R.R. Tolkien left behind a great legacy of literary work. “The Great War” (WW I) served as an expansive source for his mythic tales of The Hobbit and later, The Lord of the Rings. When both major works were translated onto the movie screens, people from all over the world that watched the movies became familiar with the work even though they may not have read the books. Most were struck by the imagination depicted in scene after scene on the screen.

Tolkien’s hobbit characters were born from his experiences in the trenches. Here, ordinary men lived in the subterranean tunnels dug across the European landscape for mile-upon-mile in conditions unfit for human life. Death haunted them from not only the shelling and poison gas, but from the rat-infested, disease-ridden trenches themselves.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Tolkien had grown up loving the beauty of the English countryside and all things of nature. The industrialization that was beginning to flourish was something he rebelled against. That perspective helped form the world of the hobbits in a region of “Middle-earth” known as “the Shire.”

Dr. Joseph Loconte gives us a view into Tolkien’s imaginative source in A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War:

“The house of his famous hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, takes its name − “Bag End” − from his aunt’s farm in Worcestershire.

From A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War by Dr. Joseph Loconte

When Tolkien considered the overreliance on technology, industrialization and its invasion of his idyllic English farmland, he used his views of these and what he saw in The Great War in creating scenes in The Lord of the Rings:

“Hence, the hateful realm of Mordor is sustained by its black engines and factories, which Sauron introduces as his forces invade the Shire.” 

Dr. Joseph Loconte

It would also be the challenges Tolkien faced living in the trenches and his resulting illness, as that likely spared Tolkien’s life. Had he been with his 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in late spring of 1918 near the Aisne River, he may well have died or been captured. His entire battalion was thought to be dead or captured as prisoners after this battle.

His service at the Battle of the Somme left indelible imprints in his mind that we get glimpses of when Frodo and Sam try to navigate the Dead Marshes on their trip to destroy the ring on Mount Doom.

“…Tolkien’s description of the Dead Marshes matches precisely the macabre experience of the soldiers in that battle: ‘Many soldiers on the Somme had been confronted by corpses, often decaying in the mud, that had lain undisturbed, except by the bombardment, for days, weeks and even months.”  

From Dr. Joseph Loconte quoting historian Marin Gilbert

The impact of The Great War left those who experienced it despairing of hope and God, but from these experiences Tolkien’s mythic stories bring hope, and speak into the present reality as the forces of evil rage against light.

“The war against evil is the moral landscape of our mortal lives: a journey of souls degraded or redeemed, dragged into the Darkness of self or led into the Light of grace.” 

From Dr. Joseph Loconte

What inspires us about these stories?

What lessons must we learn from “The Great War?”

Photo by Connor Bowe on Unsplash

The characters in them must face and fight their fear in the crises that have come upon them. And so must we one hundred years after “The Great War” that influenced Tolkien’s work.  We cheer on these hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men because we want them to win against the darkness. We want to believe we can do that as well in our own stories. We need to believe there is somewhere within us the courage to stand for what we know is right, to resist the evil and the hatred that is bent on destroying any image bearers of the One who is true light.

We resonate with the heroes in The Lord of the Rings.

“…Tolkien presents us with two kinds of heroes: the extraordinary man, the hidden king determined to fight for his people and regain his throne; and the ordinary man, the hobbit, who, like many of us, is ‘not made for perilous quests’ and prefers the comforts and safety of home.” 

From Dr. Joseph Loconte

It is Samwise Gamgee whose faithfulness to the quest echoes in our minds and hearts long after the book ends or the movie credits have finished running on the screen.

“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” 

From script of Fellowship of the Ring

Our quest may not be the same, but we also are caught up in a great unseen battle between light and dark, good and evil that plays out every day. In the seen world we experience it in heartache, illness, loneliness, confusion, chaos, and more − the dark enemy will use anything that can dissuade us or distract us from our focus on the return of the King.

Yet we are called to stand, to be unyielding to all that tempts or taunts us, to be the image bearer, and anticipate His coming and tell others the Good News.

“Put on truth as a belt to strengthen you to stand in triumph. Put on holiness as the protective armor that covers your heart.”   

Ephesians 6:14(TPT)

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

The Clock Is Ticking


In January 2017 members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board announced they were moving the Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to midnight. By January 2020, it had moved to less than 2 minutes to midnight. This clock has been maintained since 1947 by members of this group and represents the likelihood they feel exists for a man-made global catastrophe. By their calculation that puts us at 2 ½ minutes to midnight.

Their estimation and statement results in fear and panic in some as they consider the fate of the world. Too often the information does not lead us to consider where that should point us if they are accurate. If true, it would seem logical to repent and turn to the Lord to “set our houses in order.” The problem is that none of us naturally repents and obeys. We would prefer to suppress and deny the truth. It is too easy to vacillate between two poles: “I’m not that bad” or “I am such a mess, so terrible.” We can also dismiss current events and point to other times in history when everything appeared dire.

I am not so concerned about the Doomsday Clock, but it causes me to consider the biblical scriptural possibility that we are moving toward what we call “the end times” at an accelerated pace. For those of us who believe, scripture has never been more current and relevant to where the world is in the present day. From the beginning of God’s Word of the many things he tells us, He points to the future and what we can expect. He used the prophets inspired by His Spirit over and over again and as we trek through the Old Testament we see more than a little evidence of the truth of their fulfillment.

We should not be surprised! God is a loving Heavenly Father who desires that none of us be separated from Him. He wants us to be prepared for Him, turn to Him, and be watching with anticipation for what He will do.

More and more Bible theologians and writers are encouraging us to read Ezekiel 38 and 39. Much of what we are seeing in Russia and Iran are setting the stage for Ezekiel 38 and 39.

The headlines that disturb us become our focus.

 I wonder if we have forgotten that God is at work behind the scenes ruling and overruling the affairs of mankind. That should give us a sense of anticipation even though we do not know the day or the hour that something is coming, Someone is coming.

In Mark Hitchcock’s book, Russia Rising, he senses the clock is ticking and counting down.

“Never before have so many signs converged so quickly in such a short span of time that correspond to the matrix of end-times events predicted in Scripture. The pieces are moving.”

From Russia Rising by Mark Hitchcock

In Clash of Kingdoms: What Does the Bible Say about Russia, ISIS, Iran, and the End Times, Charles Dyer and Mark Tobey refer to the Ezekiel chapters and wrote:

“The parallels between Ezekiel’s prophecy and events today are compelling, almost frighteningly so.”

From Clash of Kingdoms: What Does the Bible Say about Russia, ISIS, Iran, and the End Times by Charles Dyer and Mark Tobey

Of all the “signs of the times” that mark “the beginning of the end”, the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the return of the Jews is considered to be a “super sign” that sets many gears in motion. Mark Hitchcock says, “Israel is God’s timepiece – his clock. When we want to know where we are on God’s prophetic timetable, the first place we need to look is Israel.”

A. W. Tozer has said:

“The point of Bible prophecy is not to alarm us but to alert us to the circumstances leading up to the Lord’s return. This alertness is to spur us on to be ready; and the Bible says a lot about how we can be ready for His return.”

A.W. Tozer

Our responsibility is to be ready and to not only be waiting, but to be watching. In Mark Hitchcock’s book (Russia Rising), he shares a story that shifted my focus beyond the headlines and lifted my heart to where I sense we should all be. I want to share it in full as I finish this post. I hope it will encourage your heart and fill you with excited anticipation.

“I like the story about a bunch of sailors who were returning from a long voyage away from home. As the boat approached shore, the men were all looking eagerly for their wives and girlfriends on the dock. As the men scanned the crowd of women lining the railing, the air of excitement and expectancy grew. One man, however, was all alone as he watched all the other men find their wives and girlfriends, and they all embraced. But his wife was nowhere to be found. Worried, he hurried home and found a light on in his house. As he entered he was relieved to see his wife. She quickly turned and said, “Honey, I’ve been waiting for you.”  His response displayed his deep disappointment. “The other men’s wives and girlfriends were watching for them!”

From Russia Rising by Mark Hitchcock

Are we just waiting for Jesus, or are we watching for him? Are we watching closely?

The clock is ticking.

Live looking!


Small Beginnings

Photo by Pam Ecrement

When we built our home a bit over 50 years ago, we didn’t have a great deal of money and chose to do some of the work on the home ourselves. One of the things we did was to handle putting in the lawn and trees. At that time, all of the trees except a crabapple were ones we dug out of a friend’s woods or offered by a neighbor. The trees we (hubby and my dad) dug up and planted were several different maple trees, a dogwood, and a skinny pin oak tree.

The pin oak was given a lovely spot in the front lawn on the corner of our corner lot. As time went along it seemed to not be as lovely as we thought in that spot and we bought a sunburst locust tree and moved the small pin oak to the far back corner of our lot. We weren’t optimistic about what it would become so we chose a back part of our lawn.

The sunburst locust tree was beautiful from the start and we didn’t think much of the little pin oak tree.

We loved the beauty of the sunburst locust tree that we gave a premiere spot in our lawn. The variation of the color of the leaves from green to yellow delighted us every year and we were pleased with the choice we made when we chose to splurge and purchase the tree from a local nursery. But we soon discovered it wasn’t really very stunning in the autumn and as the tree aged, the beauty we loved at the beginning faded.

All the while, the little pin oak was quietly growing in that spot where we didn’t expect it to get much notice. And in time we were stunned to see how big and beautiful it was becoming. Each fall the leaves would give us a lovely splash of color and no matter how much the winds blew, or the storms raged, the little pin oak tree stood strong.

One day when we were visiting my husband’s mother, she presented us with a coffee can with another small oak tree growing in it that she thought we might like to add to our lawn. She wasn’t sure it would grow, and we weren’t sure as well, but we planted it in the backyard not far from our stalwart pin oak tree.

We weren’t sure what kind of oak tree it was and neither did she, but we put it in the ground and left it be. We had known what oak trees looked like since childhood, but we had much to learn about them over time and what purpose they were designed to fulfill by the Creator.

We didn’t know that any oak tree is a keystone species that has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment or that they keep forests healthy by maintaining a richer mix of plants, insects, birds, and other animals wherever they grow. They are one of the most loved species of trees in the world and often considered a symbol of strength, morale, resistance, and knowledge. Their strength, curvy branches, and incredible root systems keep them standing tall in the midst of storms (even if branches and leaves are torn away).

Photo by Pam Ecrement

A few weeks ago, before the leaves began to shift to their autumn colors, I took this photo of the two oaks planted in our back yard. (My husband stands beneath one of them.) The original skinny pin oak stands on the right and the little tree that came to us in a coffee can is the one my husband stands beneath. How would we have guessed from such small beginnings these trees would now be masterpieces in our back lawn?

The photo at the top of this post is another taken just this week when the shift in colors started. For reasons we do not know, the older tree (the skinny tree we nearly discarded) always begins its showy colors first. That’s curious to me since we learned recently that the younger tree is also a pin oak. Daily we watch dozens of squirrels the oaks have attracted as they scurry up and down the trunks and throughout the trees gathering acorns.

We were on the hunt for acorns well. Our daughter and her husband are building a new home this spring and one of her requests was that we would give her a small starting oak tree planted in a can for their new yard as a reminder of the home she grew up in. She thought it would be special to have a tree from the tree of one of her grandmothers and her children’s great-grandmothers.

With the guidance of a friend who taught biology for many years, we learned all about choosing good acorns, testing them to see if they floated in a glass of water so we would know if they were healthy to plant or not. (Just a tip: those that float are likely infested with a larvae of some sort and should not be kept.) Then we placed them in some combination of dampened soil and peat moss in a sealed plastic bag to winter in the darkness of a cool part of our refrigerator before planting them in the spring. (We have 23 tucked away in the hope of having at least one produce a small tree to pass along.)

This will be another small beginning.

How often we miss the design the Lord has in mind for what to us seems small, maybe even not that attractive or likely to be worth much!

It was the Old Testament prophet Zechariah that spoke the words you may be recalling:

“Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”

Zechariah 4:10 (NIV)

If you are like me, you likely only recall the first eight words of that verse. Have you ever wondered what the context of those words were about?

It literally refers to the building of the second temple which was loathsome to the enemies of Judah and something many of the Jews saw little in as compared to the former temple. But the Lord saw something more, something else. (Ezra and Haggai write about this event as well and the enemies that hated what was being built included the likes of Sanballat and others we read about in Nehemiah.)

God specializes in small beginnings because He has the Master design and knows the purpose and plans of what it will become and how He will use it for his glory and our good.