Refiner's Fire

October, November, December 2007

Want to learn more about Refiner's Fire? Use these Bible Studies for personal devotion, group Bible studies, or teaching a church class. Below are links to the lessons in this 13-part series.

Lesson 1: The Shepherd's Crucible (Psalms 23)
All my life I have heard that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and I am one of the dumb sheep. I accept that. I know I need protection. I know that I can make some really dumb decisions. What occurred to me for the first time last week is that the sheep also get sheared and eaten! Their lives are preserved by the shepherd so that they can in turn give up their lives for others. Why don't we discuss that part of the sheep analogy? Is it because we don't want to, or because the focus of the illustration is elsewhere? Let's dive into our study today and find out what Psalms 23 has to say about the sheep story!

Lesson 2: The Crucibles that Come (Deuteronomy 28, 1 Peter 4, Romans 1 & 2)
What should a committed Christian expect in life? The Bible gives us all sorts of advice for living better lives. Deuteronomy 28 promises us that if we bey God He will give us a better life here on earth. On the other hand, if we are careless about obeying God we will have a difficult life here. Why, then, do we find these texts in the Bible which tell Christians to expect bad things? Let's dive into our lesson and see what we can learn from the Bible!

Lesson 3: The Birdcage (Exodus 14)
Sometimes life gets discouraging. This past week I argued an important religious liberty case. The judge did not want to hear the argument that I had taken many hours to prepare. Instead, he wanted me to give "yes/no" answers to a series of questions that could only be harmful to my client. Worse, they involved potential defenses of the opposing party which it had never raised - and, in my opinion, were not properly a part of the case. Many people had been praying for me in this argument - and I considered it to be a disaster. Why is it that you do the right thing and disaster comes? Let's dive into the Bible and consider a story that illustrates this problem!

Lesson 4: Seeing the Goldsmith's Face (Romans 8, Job 23, Daniel 12, 1 Peter 1)
"A bad day in paradise is like a good day anywhere else." I'm sure I don't have this quote exactly right, but it is something that I've heard from people who believe they live in a pretty nice place. The sense I get of this quote is that they like where they live even when things are not perfect. Our lesson this week is about a similar idea. Even when the Christian is "having a bad day," his character is being refined. Even bad days are good! Let's dive into our lesson and learn more about "living in paradise!"

Lesson 5: Extreme Heat (Genesis 22, 2 Corinthians 1)
There are stories in the Bible, just like there are sad events in life, that I do not understand. Sure, I have explanations and, I suppose, a partial understanding. But, in my human intellect (see 1 Corinthians 13:12), the matter is not clear. One of those stories is the sacrifice of Isaac. My plan is to spend most of our time this week on this story to see if any light shines into our minds about how God tests us. Let's dive in!

Lesson 6: Struggling with All Energy (Luke 13, Colossians 1, Romans 7 & 8, Matthew 5)
Struggling. What a difficult word. Hebrews 12:4 speaks of the "struggle against sin." Is struggling what God wants of us? Is it all He wants? I feel so inadequate because God has to forgive me of the same sins over and over again. I teach others, why am I still struggling? God offers to lift our burdens, should I ignore my sin and let God handle it? If that is true, how can the Bible speak of the "struggle" against sin? When Luke 13:24 tells us "to make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many ... will try to enter and will not be able to" this sounds like serious work. I believe in righteousness by faith, not righteousness by works. How can these texts be true? Let's dive into the Bible and see what we can learn about the Christian's struggle!

Lesson 7: Indestructible Hope (Romans 5, Job 1, 38-41, Jeremiah 29)
My daughter and I were recently discussing depression and suicide. I told her that if I ever got to the point of thinking I should kill myself because of my problems, I would simply move to Florida and hire on as some sort of helper on a boat. I remember the days when I had a simple job - I would just go back to something like that in a place with sun and nice weather. That answer did not impress my daughter as a potential global solution for depression and suicide. Her response was that depression causes some sort of mist of darkness to settle over you so that you cannot see out of it. You cannot imagine the sunny boat in Florida. It seemed to me the difference between the two views was hope. (Not that my understanding of depression was realistic!) I had hope in my solution and she described a situation without hope. Our lesson this week is about hope, so let's hopefully dive right in!

Lesson 8: Seeing the Invisible (John 14)
Have you ever said, "Those characters in the Old Testament had a real advantage over me because God spoke directly to them." Do you sometimes feel that your faith could use a real boost by having God speak to you directly? Would you like some tangible proof of God's presence? How about actually seeing God? The "faith chapter" of Hebrews (Hebrews 11) starts out "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." True faith, it turns out, is built on a lack of visible proof. Is there a way to see the invisible? Let's dive into our study to learn more about "Seeing the Invisible!"

Lesson 9: A Life of Praise (Acts 16)
When I was a growing up, I sang hymns at school, in church and at home. All that repetition burned the words (or at least something that sounded like the real words) into my brain. I sang about "throwing out the lifeline," "volunteers" "for the rescue of mankind," building "my hope on nothing less than Jesus Christ" and "cling[ing] to that old rugged cross" "on a hill far away." The theme running through many of the old hymns is what I will do. I will throw, climb, volunteer, hope and cling. Those are fine things to sing about, but I have a very strong preference for contemporary praise songs because, in general, they praise God. They are focused more on God than on me. Our lesson this week is about this idea of living a life that focuses on praising God rather than focuses on our problems. Is that possible? Can we look past our personal pain and praise God? Let's dive in and see what we can find out!

Lesson 10: Meekness in the Crucible (Matthew 5, Psalms 37, Romans 12)
Do you remember when you were dating and you would hang on every word your date would say about you? Sometimes you were pleased and sometimes not. When I was dating my wife (to be) decades ago I recall her singing "My Guy" to me. Here are the lyrics that caught my attention "No muscle-bound man could take my hand from my guy. No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy. He may not be a movie star, but when it comes to being happy, we are. There's not a man today who could take me away from my guy." It was, to say the least, a mixed message. This reminds me of our lesson this week. We are told that if we are described as "meek," (as in "meek and mild") that is a compliment. Being meek is a goal. The value of being "meek" is not obvious, so let's jump right into our study of the Bible and find out more!

Lesson 11: Waiting in the Crucible (Mark 5)
Most lawyers handle cases in the town or state where they live. Unlike most lawyers, my nearest case would often be hundreds of miles away. Many of my cases were thousands of miles away. This meant traveling. One of the lawyers who worked with me announced one day that he "never waited in line." How could that be? I was constantly waiting in line. Getting through security at the airport, getting on the plane, getting a rental car or cab, checking into the hotel: all involved some sort of wait. As I was patiently (or impatiently) standing in line this fellow's words would come back to me. He described a world which, in my experience, did not exist. If you wanted to get somewhere, you had to wait. Our lesson this week suggests that this is a Biblical principle - patient waiting helps us to get somewhere. Let's dive into our study and learn more about what the Bible teaches about why waiting is good!

Lesson 12: Dying Like a Seed (Philippians 2, 1 Samuel 13-14)
The ad campaign for the Commonwealth of Virginia is "Virginia is for lovers." That may be true, but I would add "Virginia is for thinkers." Why? Many years ago some states of the United States decided that they would allow citizens to designate what was on their car license plates. California decided to go for "snob appeal," and charged hundreds of dollars for "custom" plates. Virginia, in contrast, let anyone have a custom plate for a fee of $20.00. The result was that Virginia had a huge revenue flow from this decision (much more than California, even though California is a more populous state). Hundreds of thousands of cars registered in Virginia had custom plates. If you lived in Virginia, what would you put on your license plates? It appears to me that one of the most popular decisions is to have your initials and the number 1. For example, "BNC 1." A lot of people think they are number 1. Our lesson this week suggests another custom plate: "BNC last." I've never seen a plate like that. Let's plunge into our lesson and find out what is going on!

Lesson 13: Christ in the Crucible (Romans 3-5)
Would you volunteer to suffer? This last lesson in our studies on surviving difficult times looks at one who volunteered to suffer. I assume we all would like to avoid difficult times. As we have learned, difficult times generally come to us in two different ways. We either do something stupid and get into difficulty, or something we cannot control happens and creates suffering for us. What about this idea of choosing to suffer? Would you, if given enough time to think about it, choose to suffer? Standing behind this group of studies is the astonishing fact that our God chose to suffer terribly. Why did He do that? Let's jump into our study and see what we can learn about this amazing decision and how it should shape our attitude about suffering and our God!

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