Tag Archives: church


An Open Letter to Blockbuster Sermon Church

(Editor’s Note: This post is a response to an actual job listing for a pastoral position. I chose for the headline a nickname for the church (from a website they referenced and/or created) rather than the actual stated church name. I did this in the hopes that, should they abandon this particular branding experiment, my post will not be the first thing people read about their church when they search for it online.)

To Brad and the good people at Blockbuster Sermon Church:

I hear you’re looking for a pastor! How’s that going?

I’m not available or anything, I was just curious. I saw your job listing for a pastor when a friend of mine posted it to Facebook, and — okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I did laugh at it. Several times.

I’m not proud of that, I’m just admitting it because it’s truth. My friends and I, we often use Facebook as a form of entertainment, and sometimes that entertainment comes at the expense of others, especially others in churches.  You might’ve done this yourself. Sadly, the combination of smartphones, social media, and churches has created an ever-flowing stream of cringeworthy content.

(If you’ve ever laughed at the “Jesus Is A Friend of Mine” video, you know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, this section of the job listing is what caught the eye of my friend, and it’s what I want to talk to you about (yes, I know you’ve since changed some of the wording here, but I think your first draft was more honest, so I’m going with that):

Here is our concept. If a worship leader can take a song from Chris Tomlin and play it just like the album and that is 100% accepted in the church why can’t you, as a pastor, copy or do word per word of a sermon from Craig Groeschel and add 10% of your own style to it just like the band does. This concept would work great mixed with your own sermons about 20% of the time.
Meaning let’s give Blockbuster Sermons to the people. Proven messages or hit sermons then add 20% to 50% of your personal sermons based on a mutual agreement and or the congregation response. Test it out and see how it goes.

So Brad… can I call you Brad? … I salute you for being willing to experiment and try things that other churches aren’t doing. Being a West coast guy myself, I salute your sense of adventure and what I think could a willingness to move in whatever direction the Spirit of God is leading.

Nevertheless, I need to object.


What Traffic Cops Can Teach Us About NFL Protests

So yesterday, on the way to church, I received a citation for speeding.

It happened while I was listening to a song from my middle school years, in a blast of nostalgia. The weather was nice, I was grooving along, and before I knew it, red and blues were flashing behind me. 75 in a 55, with my wife and two nephews in the car. My interaction with the officer was civil, if not pleasant. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think he pulled me over because I was black and driving a nice car (though the thought did cross my mind). Not my finest hour, but I’ll take the penalties and try to do better.

What’s interesting is that at church, our guest preacher also had a story about being pulled over by police. Except it wasn’t for speeding, but for continually driving in the left lane, a practice that is illegal in the state of Washington, several other states, and in my opinion, should be illegal everywhere.


God Is In The Transition.

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a sermon for the good people of Kaleo Covenant Church on August 14th, 2016. I didn’t intend for it to be a blog post, but a few people on Facebook might be encouraged by it, so here we go.


We’re in the middle of August.

Labor Day is just two weeks away. The summer is flying by, and then comes September, where we’re gonna hit it hard. But even though we’re not in school YET, we can kind of see the signs. There are back to school commercials on TV, football training camp is starting up, the days are starting to get shorter and shorter. We’re in what are often called The Dog Days of Summer, where most of the cool summertime activities or trips have already been taken, but it’s not time for a full-on ramp up into the fall. We’re in an in-between space.

A transition.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably sick of transitions. If you’re like me, you tend to greet any transition with the same sentiment — let’s get it on already, geez, this is taking forever!

Now, because I’m a large black guy who has been conditioned his whole life to be as non-threatening as possible, I tend not to lash out when I get frustrated (well, unless I’m behind the wheel, then all bets are off). No, when I get really sick and tired of waiting for something, my default response is not to lash out, but preoccupy myself with something entertaining to pass the time. I keep my phone in my hand, and as soon as something happens that I don’t like or as soon as I encounter something even mildly unpleasant, my first thought is, “what new games or apps have I downloaded recently? or what’s new to read on my favorite website?”

And unfortunately, this impatience with transition even extends to my spiritual life. When I’m in a time frame where I feel like I’m waiting to hear from God or I’m waiting to see God move in a particular area or I’m waiting for a specific answer to prayer, then I tend to ignore God. I tend to put him on the back burner. Not intentionally, but more like, “okay God, well I’ll check in with you as soon as I get the sign I’m looking for, and until then, I’ll be on my XBOX, mmmmkaythxbai, later gator.”

But one of the things I’m learning right now is that checking out during transitions is a mistake. Mindlessly preoccupying ourselves with trivialities while we wait in a hold pattern for God… that is a mistake.


Going Rogue Threatens God’s Mission for Justice

Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is out in theaters, and it dutifully fills all the boxes in the spy thriller checklist. Lifelike masks? Death-defying stunts? Car chases? Gunplay and physical combat? Glamorous locales? Check, check, checkity-pop-zoom-bam-BOOM.

One thing that stuck with me was the title; an interesting development, because action movie titles are often pretty irrelevant. They’re designed to sound intriguing-and-dangerous-but-vague, and too often come across instead as techno-gibberish. (Does anyone remember what “Ghost Protocol” referred to in the fourth M:I installment? Don’t look it up on Wikipedia, that’s cheating.)

On the contrary, a whole nation going rogue? That’s much easier to understand. The phrase picked up steam in the broader consciousness after Sarah Palin entitled her 2009 political memoir Going Rogue, reclaiming a definition of a rogue not simply as “someone who lacks judgment or principle,” but “someone who deviates from the expected norm of behavior.”

(Say what you want about Sarah Palin, but she’s amazing at deviating from expected norms.)

In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the rogues in question take the form of a nefarious collective of foreign agents called The Syndicate, all united in the pursuit of a terrorist agenda.

So with the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) shut down by Congress, super spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) must rely on his friends, comic relief Simon Pegg as Benji, the steely-eyed Jeremy Renner as chief analyst Brant, Ving Rhames’ muscly perma-smirk as the homie Luther, and Rebecca Ferguson as mysterious femme fatale Ilsa Faust – all working together to defeat The Syndicate, and to a lesser extent, justify the IMF’s existence.mission impossible cast profiles


If You Love American Music, You Have Andraé Crouch to Thank

(Editor’s Note: Yes, the title is a bit clickbaitey, but hang with me. I’ll back it up.)


Yesterday, Andraé Crouch slipped into eternity, present in full with the Lord, in perfect peace.

I’ve been half suspecting, half dreading that this day would come for a while now, and yet now that it has, I still feel completely unprepared — probably because it’s hard for me to imagine a musical landscape where Andraé Crouch was not still creating such soul-stirring, inventive, revolutionary music.

Part of the reason why it’s always profoundly bothered me when I hear someone make the blanket declaration that “Christian music sucks” is that it never tracked with my reality.

Because how could it? Sure, my parents played Earth Wind & Fire like any self-respecting Black people did, but my childhood musical diet consisted mostly of Christian music, from luminaries like The Winans, Walter, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Imperials, and then much later, Commissioned (then eventually as a teen and college student, Fred Hammond). But towering above them all was Andraé Crouch, a man who I would later come to realize was a musician’s musician — that is, the kind of musician that other great musicians consulted, collaborated with, and gathered around.


Black Jesus Modest Proposal: Watch It At Church

(Editor’s Note: If you don’t know the history behind the term “modest proposal,” you won’t understand unless you read the whole thing.)


Well, last night happened and, as far as I can tell, the four horsemen of the apocalypse have yet to appear.

Which world-shattering event am I referring to? A new development in the Israel-Palestine conflict? A new executive order signed by President Obama? Another Mark Driscoll scandal? No, no… I’m talking about something important. 

Last night was the premiere of the new Aaron McGruder comedy, “Black Jesus.” For the uninitiated, here’s a trailer:


Hey Baby What’s Your Sign? Your Church Sign, I Mean.

So in the last five to ten years, as hip-hop culture has continued the march from being simply popular from becoming a downright universal lingua franca — and if you think I’m overstating that at all, consider that right now, at this second, The Roots are now the house band on The Tonight Show — there have been so many terrible hip-hop parodies by Christians aimed at Christian audiences.

So, so many.

Most of them were content to simply ape a few hip-hop mannerisms and call it funny because of the obvious contextual and cultural disconnect — look, it’s that violent ghetto music being performed by non-stereotypical hip-hop people! Normal people, like us!  It got to the point that even a bunch of guys rockin’ mics in an ode to Christian side hugs could get 100K views, just because the rest of the competition was so lame.

Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: Only Help

Tye Tribbett, Fresh, “Only Help”

So I’m going through some things.

Like, the kind of “going through” that you might hear from one of the saints who’s been around the block a few times and is waiting on the Lord to get their breakthrough… that kind of “going through.”

One of the things I’ve noticed is that when I’m going through something big, or maybe not even anything that’s a super-big deal, but if I’m just in a bad mood or whatever, the music I’m playing tends to fall into one of two camps.

Either it’s…

1.) I’m really not doing okay and I want to listen to something languid and full of melancholy and ennui that expresses a measure of the blah feeling that is plaguing me… or,

2.) I’m going to be a grown-up, practice what I preach as a professional Christian and worship-leader-type, and listen to something that will encourage me and/or help me to worship, despite whatever I happen to be feeling.

Many times I’m quite aware that the right thing to do, the thing that will promote the most edification and be the best for me long-term is option number 2, but sometimes I just can’t stand doing option number 2, because sometimes it just feels so doggone FAKE. It’s like, no… I don’t feel like being a happy, shiny, good Christian. My life sucks right now, and *I* suck right now, and I feel like garbage, so I’m not trynna hear all that bless-the-Lord crap.

Into the void comes, “Only Help,” this tune by Tye Tribbett, from his 2010 release, “Fresh.”

I love it because when it starts out, it’s a great confessional tune. Like David the psalmist laying his soul bare before the Lord, Tye holds nothing back:

I can almost tell you each time I’m gonna fall
Devil always paint the same picture, sweet frame and all
I wanna change
And you would think by now I’d catch the scenario
Sorta like a old sitcom playing the same show
I wanna change

I’m listening to this and I’m like yep… that’s me. THAT’S ME. *I* feel that way, yes, thank you. Thank you for voicing these feelings!

But he doesn’t stop there. As a response to his own futility and brokenness, a desperate plea of praise and adoration wafts out…

I lift my hands to You

You’re my only help.

And just like that, Tye Tribbett has done what few songs can do for me… help me to get from where I am, to where I need to be.


What a tremendous gift.


And apart from the emotional and spiritual dimensions to the song, I like how the accompaniment really sets the mood. The verses are sparse, with a few bass notes and a few chords and sound effects scattered about, like hardwritten scribbles in a journal.

But when the chorus comes, the vocals usher in a soft, floating ascent into a different musical space, and even though it’s auto-tuned, it’s anything but cold or antiseptic. And at the end of the tune, the Hammond organ swells and takes over, providing the only accompaniment, and after the vocals fade, it keeps going, like a testament to the rock-solid faith of saints who have gone before and made the same plaintive cry… yes, Jesus, you are our only help.

I had to put that one on repeat for awhile.

And that is why it’s today’s jam of the moment. You can listen here, buy it here.

(And by the way, if you’re really blessed by this song, don’t just use the first link. Use the second link, too.)

You can listen  to Tye Tribbett talk about the song here:


Untitled Poem, by James Lopez-Ericksen

(This poem was written to me by my friend James, after he witnessed a particular exchange I had with my uncle at a church function. Without unpacking all of my personal history, I can say that I found it to be deeply moving and personal. If you know James personally, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. At any rate, the way these words connected to my past and present was really valuable to me, and helped to compensate for any latent awkwardness over the idea of a dude writing a poem for another dude.)

I remember the days
I’d put on my dad’s
old dress shoes
at Eight, Ten and Twelve

I dreamt of the day
I’d walk in his ways
Then, at Eighteen
I put on those shoes
and wore them till
I had to buy
a pair
of my own.

I say this to you
out of respect of those
who came before you

I’m speaking of the generation
who laid the foundation
for you to
play and rap and sing

This sound booth Those mics
Are yours

Own them
They’re yours

By the way
Love the shoes


Tried By Fire & Coming Out Gold

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23:10 (NIV)

Being a card-carrying citizen of the hip-hop nation, I have a passing familiarity with gold.

Back in the late 80s, if you wanted to be rapper, you needed to look the part. That meant gold chains. Big, ostentatious, glittery gold ropes were the accessories of choice, along with gold rings — four-finger rings if you were a DJ.

(Or Radio Raheem.)

Of course, nowadays it’s not enough to have gold around your neck. It’s gotta actually be in your mouth. Makes me long for the days when the only gold you saw in a kid’s mouth were gold fillings.

This preoccupation with gold is not just with the young rappers, either. Older, down-and-out rapper MC Hammer has taken to shilling his likeness on commercials for Cash4Gold.

(Hammer probably agreed to this once he realized that his 24k gold chains no longer counted as collateral for his mortgage refinance.)

Even without gold itself, people still love the idea of gold.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers redesigned their uniforms for the arrival of LeBron James, their color scheme was not simply maroon-and-yellow. No, that would never do. In a nod to the upper-middle-class fans who attend most NBA games, the Cavs identified their colors with the two classic symbols of decadence: wine and gold.

This gold fixation is everywhere.

We eat hamburgers under the Golden Arches, and cereal with Golden Grahams. Photographers have the golden ratio, and philosophers have the golden rule.

It’s not enough to have a regular old American Express card, you’ve got to have the AmEx Gold card. Same thing with XBox Live, you can’t just have the silver account, you gotta have the Gold membership… you slap the word “gold” on there, it makes anything look valuable.

It’s what makes the Olympics so popular — everybody wants to go for the gold. And lest you think this is simply a problem of modern society, may I remind you: the Olympic games have been around for a long time.

Obsession with gold is not just a modern trend; it’s a symptom of the human condition.

* * *

It’s against this backdrop that the Bible offers a stunning contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

The world simply chases after gold.

As followers of Christ, as servants of the most high God, we are to become gold.

Metaphorically speaking, anyway. (No, I’m not on some King Midas Greek mythology trip.)

In this short quote from the book of Job, the Lord reveals to Job His own methods for bringing out the best in humanity, and Job expresses it with the language of the refiner. “I will come forth as gold,” he says.

It’s no coincidence that it’s Job making this proclamation.

The story of Job (rhymes with “robe” … the e on the end is both silent and invisible) is a story of tremendous trial and testing. Job sustained an unbelievable series of losses, none of which her his fault, each more tragic and crippling than the next. Job’s losses were the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

I mean, Job got a raw deal. He had an ordeal for every weekday, and a bonus crisis for the weekend.

Job went through so much drama, he had tragic angling for story rights.

I mean, Job’s life was so hard, he used to watch the evening news to cheer up.

Job’s situation got so bad, it got to the point that when he would walk past the lepers, they would give him money.

Job’s situation was, as Charles Barkley would say… turrible.

Fortunately, his story ends well. In the final reckoning, Job gets his life back — and then some. Truth be known, Job ends up with a fuller life after going through trials then he did before.

Today, we’re going to look at Job’s story, as well as some other key Scriptures, in order to ask a big question, a question that many of us will ask at one point or another — why.

Why was Job’s life fuller after such a string of horrific losses? Why did God allow those things to happen? Is there a purpose for such hardship? Is there any comfort to be had in such trials?

These are important questions, because all of us go through seasons of trial and testing.

And because we’re all in different places along our journey of faith, many of us have already been through the fire, time and time again. Everyone who follows of Christ lands somewhere in this process. We’re all slowly being conformed into His likeness, and some of us have been going through it longer than others.

So just because we’re taking the time to focus on this as a church doesn’t mean that this is a new thing.

On the contrary, God has been doing this for awhile.

So if these questions are burning inside you, I pray that together we’ll find some answers in God’s Word.

* * *

Before we do that, though, let’s take a closer look at the gold itself.

Gold has always been a popular, valuable commodity, but in thinking about Job 23:10, I started wondering… why? Why is gold so valuable? What makes a precious metal precious?

To find some answers, I did some basic research (which is code for, “I looked it up on Wikipedia.”)

Here are a few things I found:

Gold is more resistant to rust and other forms of corrosion compared to other metals, which means that it’s safer to expose to the natural elements.

Gold, when purified, is an effective conductor of electricity. It’s often used in high quality wiring for the purpose of preserving signal fidelity.

Gold is also soft, making it unusually ductile and malleable compared to other metals. This makes it useful for fashioning into things.

And of course, it’s considered beautiful.

Gold is a mineral, so it’s found in the ground, picked and chipped away one nugget at a time. Then it goes through an intense process of refining before it becomes desirable to the eye.

In order for gold to be refined, it must be subjected to an intense fire. This fire is what purifies the gold, because it separates out all of the impurities in the gold, also known as the dross. As the dross is burned away, only the pure gold remains. The refiner knows when the gold is sufficiently purified when he can look into the nugget of gold and see his face in the reflection.

This refining process is the only way gold is made. There are no alternatives, and no shortcuts.

Which leads me to the first lesson…

Refining is a process for every believer.

“Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” Psalm 26:2-3

Let’s move off of Job for a minute and look at another popular Bible character. This psalm was written by King David.

I don’t know about you, but on first glance, this passage seems awfully arrogant. It makes it sound like David was just a perfect guy.

But if you actually read the Bible, you find out — David was anything but. David was sort of an Everyman of Bible times… he has his moments of epic triumph (“down goes Goliath!!”) and just as many epic failures (“Bath-sheba? Isn’t she married?”).

But this does not stop David from honestly petitioning God to be tested. Amazing.

If I had all the same colossal failures on my record as David did, there’s no way I would want to ask God to be testing me. There’s no way I’d be boasting about being blameless and above reproach. I’d be wearing a ski mask (or something similar) and sunglasses, hoping nobody could identify my hidden sins.

The fact that David says what he says in Psalm 26 means that he wanted to know and please God more than he wanted to get away with any misdeeds.

As a matter of fact, in the previous psalm, David makes reference to sins that were eating away at his insides because of his concealment, most likely an allusion to his murderous affair. This leads me to believe that by the time he’s writing this psalm, he’s writing from a place of restoration. Having repented of his previous sins, he appears to writes this psalm out of a holy fear of God and a desire to remove any barriers of relationship to Him.

It’s because of this kind of radical devotion to God that David is known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). This is the legacy of one of the greatest kings in the history of Israel, who, despite his victories, was a tragically-flawed hero.

Which means that the rest of us… well, we have no excuse.

If we’re going to learn anything about God, we must be willing to be tested. James 1:2-4 tells us to consider it joy when we face trials, not if we face them. What James knew then is what we need to be reminded of now and again:

Just like in school, testing is not just for the smart kids. It’s for everyone.

Here’s the second lesson:

Refining is a process that we do not control.

Let’s go back to Job.

The beginning of the book of Job starts with God. God is having a conversation with Satan, and God is bragging about Job. “Have you seen my servant Job?” God says to Satan. God is proud of Job, proud that he is above reproach and fears Him only.

But Satan is cynical, and accuses Job of false motives, saying, essentially:

Yeah? He only does that because you do good things for him. Take those away, and he’ll curse you to your face.

So God makes an agreement and allows Satan to harm Job, just to see what his response will be. In short order, Job loses all of his wealth, all of his worldly possessions, and even his children are killed in a freak accident. So Job becomes saddened and despondent, but he clings onto God’s sovereignty. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, he says.

This was Job’s first test.

So then Satan goes back to God and says:

Oh yeah? A man will do anything to protect his health. If I make him sick enough, THEN he’ll curse you to your face.

So God allows Satan to afflict Job will all these horrendous sores all over his body. It was so bad, the only way Job could get some relief was to scrape his wounds with pieces of broken pottery.

Now you would think that after all of this, Job would have nothing to do with God. But Job 2:9-10 records his response:

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’

He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

Here Job makes a profound theological statement — God is in charge.


This means we cannot cheerfully and freely accept his blessings and then turn around and curse him when things are not going our way. It’s the refiner who decides how hot the fire needs to be.

Sometimes as believers in Christ, we believe in our minds that God is in control, but we live as though we think that God somehow owes us prosperous circumstances. We wouldn’t come right out and say this, but we tend to operate on the principle that if we give our life to God, then that means that life should be easier, not harder.

Let me tell you something.

If someone told you that being a Christian would automatically make your life easy and drama-free… they lied to you.

Which brings me to the third lesson:

The refiner’s fire is fueled by suffering, which makes us like Jesus.

Hebrews 2:5-10 says this:

5It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7You made him a little[a] lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet.” [b]

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Two main points to highlight here. First, it says in verse 8 that God left nothing that was NOT subject to Jesus. That means everyone, and everything, was, is, and will be, in the final reckoning… subject to Jesus.

But the second more important point is that because Jesus was made perfect through suffering, He has the same process in store of each of us. Each of us are working out our salvation and slowly being made perfect… through suffering.

And by going through this suffering, we become more and more like Jesus.

No matter how you may feel about the suffering itself, this is VERY GOOD NEWS. This means that our suffering is not in vain, that there is a purpose behind it.

Being more like Jesus is that purpose.

So when Job proclaims that he will be as gold, he is foreshadowing the gold standard of human expression and achievement – Christ Jesus.

Just as the refiner knows his gold is ready when he can see his face in it, we’ll know that we’re becoming more like Him when others can look at us when we’re going through suffering… and see His face.

This is what it means to be tried by fire and come out gold.

Gold Characteristic: Non-Corrosive

Consider the first characteristic of gold that I mentioned — it’s non-corrosive. That means it doesn’t rust. It’s not affected by natural elements like wind and rain. It retains its molecular configuration.

Romans 12:2 says:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

As believers in Christ, Jesus sends us into the world to make disciples for Him, but He wants to make sure that the world doesn’t make disciples of us first.

This is why sometimes He allows us to experience certain ways of the world, in all of its brokenness and moral depravity, so that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, where those roads lead.

As believers in Christ, some of us experience suffering because we still find ourselves drawn to these worldly ways. Not saying we’re not saved, or that we’re not trying to live for God… maybe we are, but we still find ourselves intrigued and mesmerized by the enemy’s counterfeit pleasures now and again.

So God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, allows us to experience the consequences of our actions… and we suffer as a result.

You know that you’re becoming more like Jesus when you can face those temptations square in the eye, whatever they are, and choose to run like crazy in the opposite direction. When you’re able to resist being conformed to the pattern of this world, but instead, choose to actively engage in God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to renew your mind… that’s when you know:

You’re comin’ out gold.

Gold Characteristic: Preserves Signal Fidelity

Gold is also great conductor of electricity, which means wiring made of gold has strong ratio of signal fidelity.

John 5:19 says:

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Jesus made sure he had a clear signal coming from the Father at all times. With all of his miracles, he only did what God the Father was already doing.

So being more likes Jesus means we allow His fire to burn away all the impurities in our life that prevent us from really being connected to Him.

Some of us have a problem hearing from God because we have habits, situations, maybe even certain people in our life, who are causing interference.

Jesus is standing there, like the Verizon guy, saying “can you hear me now?”

If we can’t, then He turns up the heat. He allows someone to hurt us, or allows a negative situation to come about, knowing full well that pain and suffering often get our attention and open up the lines of communication.

How many of us have ever gone through something difficult, and then realize that our relationship with God is better for it?

God uses our suffering to purify us, so that we can receive clear signals from Him. The more we’re pure, the more we’re like Jesus.

So when you find that you’re no longer groping around in the dark trying in vain to discern His will, that’s when you know.

When you can encounter Him in your times of private and public worship, reading His word, and having in conversations with other believers, that’s when you know.

When you can lay aside the distractions and dead weight that prevent you from really fulfilling your calling, and when you can fall asleep at night with a Godly satisfaction, knowing full well that you’ve heard from God and you’ve expended every ounce of energy possible pursuing His call… that’s when you know:

You’re coming out gold.

Gold Characteristic: Soft and Malleable

Gold is also much softer than most metals. This softness makes it more malleable, which makes it ideal to be fashioned into whatever the refiner wants.

Consider Mark 10:1-12:

1Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

2Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

6“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one.9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Normally when this Scripture is preached, the point is to reinforce the idea that God hates divorce. And make no mistake… this is true. God hates divorce.

(Lest you think I’m reading too much into this, I offer Malachi 2:16a: “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel…”)

But I want to draw your attention to a verse that is often overlooked in this passage — verse 5.

Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard.

What Jesus seems to be implying here is that by asking about the rabbinical laws concerning divorce and remarriage, the Pharisees were completely missing the point.

Where man looks at outward behavior, God sees the heart. Divorces happen because men and women harden their hearts toward God and each other. Therefore, God doesn’t just want to change our outward behaviors, he wants to change our hearts.

In this way, becoming like Jesus means allowing our hearts to soften.

See, God always has purpose for what He does. And He has a perfect plan for each of our lives. But many times, we become so fixated on the hurt and pain that we’ve endured that we harden our hearts against Him.

When this happens, we’re no longer flexible. We’re no longer submitted to His will. We’re no longer able to be molded and shaped as He sees fit.

This is why sometimes God allows us to go through tests and trials, because pain and suffering can make our hearts soft again. Because we know what it feels like to suffer, we can be more compassionate toward those who are suffering.

That may have been why Job went through so much drama. I don’t really know if that’s what Job needed or not. Scripture seems to imply that this was all Satan’s idea and God was just going along for the ride. There’s certainly nothing in Scripture that implies that Job needed or deserved to experience so much tragedy.

But God always has a purpose for these things. Perhaps He wanted Job to continue being humble. Maybe God knew that without some adversity coming his way, Job might have eventually become like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who thanked God that he wasn’t like all the other sinners.

Like I said, I don’t know. To me, the Bible isn’t explicitly clear about this.

But what is clear is that God values softness of heart. This is why God hates divorce so much, because divorce is the ultimate embodiment of hardheartedness. It’s a blatant reneging of a sacred covenant, and in many cases, a sure sign of unbelief — for how can you have enough faith to submit to God’s plan for your life, when you’ve already rejected a large part of God’s plan for your life?

Having said that, divorce is still not the end of the world.

And speaking of the end of the world, Jesus already taught us that by the time the resurrection happens, there will be no marriage as we know it. So divorce is obviously not by any means an unforgivable sin.

But it’s evidence of a hard heart, and God has a cure for hardness of heart. It’s the divine heat of the refiner’s fire, where anything that is impure, anything that is not like Him, is burned away. Anything that is left over… looks like Jesus.

So when you find a way to finally push through the anger and bitterness and forgive the person that has caused you so much harm, that’s when you know that you’re coming out gold.

When you’re afraid of the unknown, but you still allow God redirect your plans, even though it may mean the postponing of some of your needs being met… that’s when you know that you’re coming out gold.

When you find yourself in a situation you did not anticipate, engaged in a form of ministry you never thought you would ever do, and even though it’s not what you asked for, you find a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction doing this thing than anything else ever before, including the thing that you thought you wanted so badly… THAT is when you KNOW… that you’re coming out gold.

Beware of gold-plated counterfeits

Remember, when it comes to the refiner’s fire, there are no alternatives and no shortcuts. Even so, the enemy of your soul would have you believe otherwise.

It’s not for nothin’ that he’s called the Father of Lies.

He wants you to believe that there are shortcuts, and that suffering is for suckers, or for people who don’t have enough faith.

Satan’s offer is to make you gold-plated. He wants you to look the part without knowing the material. He wants to give you a form of godliness without the power.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t go for the okey doke.

The world doesn’t need another church full of CHINOs… Christians In Name Only.

If the world is going to truly experience the redemptive power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and resurrected to break the power of sin and death, it’s going to have to see real Christians live out their suffering, up close and personal.

So it starts with you, and it starts with me.

The world needs to see you and I, not being conformed to the world, but being renewed day by day.

The world needs to see you and I, standing firm amidst suffering, because we know that God will use it to make us more like Jesus.

The world needs to see us being tried by fire, and coming out gold.

As I close, consider the words of John Rippon, author of the great hymn of the church, “How Firm A Foundation”:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

Set to music and verse, these are the words of Jesus.

As the refiner’s fire burns, I pray that His thoughts, words, and actions would become ours.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.