Tag Archives: Gold

Trials, Gold, and Dross

So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel.
Ezra 6:21 (NIV)

On Sunday, after I gave the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, Wendy and I were having our normal lunch date together. Wendy had given the message the previous Sunday. She shared the story of her journey through infertility. This past Sunday I spoke about secrets and my own experience with secrets that kept me spiritually imprisoned.

There was a common theme in our messages. We both slogged our way through long stretches of trial and difficulty, and we both experienced previously unknown depths of joy and freedom at the other end of our respective valleys.

As we dined and debriefed, we discussed a few of the things that some religious people cling to as if of vital importance. Things such as church membership and adherence to a particular denominational institution. For the two of us, such trappings hold very little importance. To a certain extent, I realized that our journeys and struggles through hard spiritual terrain had refined our perspectives on what it means to be followers of Jesus. Membership certificates and institutional inclusion are of very little importance to us compared to the more tangible daily realities of our own personal, daily spiritual trek among our community of Jesus’ followers.

In today’s chapter, the returned exiles complete their construction of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. There is a very small distinction in today’s chapter that is easily lost on a casual reader. The returned exiles are referred to as “Israelites.” When Jerusalem was besieged and the exile began, they were the nation of Judah. For hundreds of years prior to the exile, the tribes of Israel were separated in a bloody civil war. “Israel” was the northern kingdom. “Judah” was the southern kingdom. Now, upon return from their exile and the restoration of the Temple, they were simply “Israelites” along with Gentiles, like Ruth, who had chosen to follow their faith.

I couldn’t help but think that the experience of exile over 70 years changed some things for those who went through it. Old conflicts and prejudices fell by the wayside. Those who returned had a renewed understanding of what was truly important and what things simply didn’t matter all that much in the eternal perspective. That’s what exilic experiences and the spiritual struggle through valleys of pain, grief, and trouble will do for a person. It refines things. I’m reminded of Peter’s words to fellow believers scattered across the Roman Empire experiencing dreadful persecution:

May the thought of this cause you to jump for joy, even though lately you’ve had to put up with the grief of many trials. But these only reveal the sterling core of your faith, which is far more valuable than gold that perishes, for even gold is refined by fire. Your authentic faith will result in even more praise, glory, and honor when Jesus the Anointed One is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7 (TPT)

In the process of refining metal, which Peter uses as a metaphor, the gold remains while the “dross” (literally “scum on molten metal”) is removed as useless and worthless.

In the quiet this morning I find myself pondering those things that my trials have refined and revealed to be the gold of eternal importance and those things that my trials have revealed to be worthless scum in the grand scheme of things.

Refining and Revelation

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel 10:2-3 (NIV)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the things our team of teachers has been grappling with of late is a continued season in which we are experiencing an unusually high number of deaths. From young to old, from expected to unexpected, and from natural to painfully tragic, we have had almost two hundred families touched by death in two years. It has been a long season marked by grief that seems to continue. We are going through the very human experience of trying to process and find understanding within it.

The last half of the book of Daniel is a record of dreams and visions that he had. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the strange images inside. It all seems as confusing as an acid trip for even learned readers. I find that most people bail on it quickly and move on.

I have learned along the way, however, that some of the great lessons I’ve discovered in my perpetual journey through God’s Message are not in the details but in the macro perspective when I step back and get a handle on what’s happening on the landscape of the chapter. Today is a great example.

Daniel’s strange visions are not unique to him during this period of history. Ezra and Ezekiel were other Hebrews in the same exile experience having eerily similar visions and visitations of a fantastical nature. They were all experiencing a particularly painful time of being captives far from home. They were all in mourning for their people, their home, their culture, and their faith in uncertain times and circumstances. They had spent a lifetime in exile and were eager for a sign or promise that their people would return home from captivity, that their Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that restoration God promised through the prophets would actually happen (think 90-year-old Cubs fans prior to 2016). In today’s chapter, Daniel had been fasting, praying, and mourning for three weeks before the vision in today’s chapter was given to him.

My takeaway from this is that these dreams and visions were given to a specific group of mourning Hebrew exiles after a long period of suffering and in the midst of a time of intense personal struggle against doubt, despair, and grief.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to particularly stressful and painful stretches of my own journey. It was in these dark valleys of the journey that very specific and important spiritual lessons and personal revelations came to light. Is there a connection? I believe that there is.

In my message on Sunday, I quoted from Peter’s letters to the suffering believers scattered around the known world. He compares the trials they are experiencing to the way fire refines gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). I have come to believe through experience that it is in the midst of suffering and trial that the non-essential trivialities with which we daily concern ourselves are burned away. When our hearts are broken and our spirits laid bare with suffering we are particularly open to what God described to the prophet Jeremiah (33:3) as “great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

[Note: Speaking of messages, I realized in writing the post this morning that it’s been a while since I updated my Messages page, which I subsequently did for anyone interested.]

Fire, Dross, Faith, and Joy

Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)
Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)

Son of man, the people of Israel have become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver.” Ezekiel 22:18 (NIV)

In today’s chapter God uses the metaphor, or word picture, of dross to describe the ancient nation of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the people (specifically the rulers and power brokers). So, this morning I’ve been doing a little internet search on metallurgy and learning about dross.

Dross is solid waste material made up of impurities and appears when you fire metal with intense heat into it’s molten, liquid form. The impure dross floats on top of the molten metal and, in the way it would have been dealt with in Ezekiel’s day, was skimmed off as waste.

The word picture is clear to those who had been following and listening to Ezekiel’s messages. The fire of God’s judgement would reveal the impurities in the rulers of Jerusalem, marked by corruption, idolatry, and moral failure. When the heat was turned up (the Babylonians were coming to lay siege to Jerusalem) the corrupt and impure leaders would be skimmed away like dross off of molten metal.

The thing I love about the metaphors God uses throughout His Message is that they are layered with meaning across time and space. Over 500 years later God would speak through Simon Peter in his letter to persecuted Jesus followers scattered across the land:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 Once again we find the fires of persecution blazing, this time in the form of the Roman persecution of anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. Instead of the fire revealing and skimming off the dross, the fires accomplish a different purpose. The fire refines and reveals the genuine gold, which is the faith of those who were willing to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Circus rather than recant their belief in Jesus.

Today, I am reminded that all of our lives are subject to times of suffering intense heat in circumstances that can run the gamut from judgement to persecution to tragic circumstances that defy reason. I have learned along life’s journey, however, that there is purpose in the pain. Suffering reveals things about our souls and our character. It separates the pure metal from the dross. For those who have faith to see, we find inexplicable joy amidst the suffering.

Top Five Things Wrong with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

hobbit posterWendy and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. As with all of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, it is expertly done and an entertaining film in its own right. I will certainly see it again and will eventually buy it for our personal library. Nevertheless, there are reasons Tolkien purists will take issue with the film. Here is a quick list of my own personal head-shakers (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the film you might want to wait to read this list):

  1. In the book, Bilbo finds “the one ring” on his journey in a moment of good fortune, and it becomes a seemingly innocent and useful magic tool for an inexperienced burglar looking for an edge. Bilbo has no idea of the ring’s history or power. In fact, even in Bilbo’s old age Gandalf refuses to share with his old friend the truth of his precious find when Bilbo dismisses it as a trivial yet useful treasure he picked up on his journey there and back again. In Desolation of Smaug, the ring immediately has a menacing effect on Bilbo who seems to struggle with an inner moral choice whether to put it on or not. You won’t find that in the book.
  2. The introduction of the “she-elf,” Tauriel and the return of Legolas into The Hobbit narrative is perhaps the singlemost troubling element of sacrilege to the Tolkien storyline. The ludicrous development of romantic feelings between Tauriel and one of the young dwarves is beyond sacrilege. It’s an eye-rolling, “wtf” worthy element of ridiculousness.
  3. When Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the dwarves to journey to Dol Guldur he makes this strange journey up a mountain staircase and leap-frogs through some booby-trapped, video-game like passage way. I half expected him to run into Lara Croft, but what he finds there is simply Radaghast who comments “This is a strange place to meet.” Strange indeed. Silly, actually. It makes no sense whatsoever, is never explained, and doesn’t even fit into the rewrite of the story.
  4. In the history of Middle Earth, the journey Gandalf makes to Dol Guldur after leaving the company is a meeting of the White Council to attack the ancient fortress and send Sauron packing to Mordor in hasty escape. The filmmakers choose not to film this large scale battle (What?! Peter Jackson passes up the opportunity to show a protracted, large scale battle?! I guess he figured we wouldn’t want to spend another hour in the theater), and instead shows Gandalf the caged prisoner of the Eye. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
  5. I was shocked at how quickly the filmmakers move us through Mirkwood. In the book, the journey through Mirkwood is a marathon of adventure, but in the film it takes just a few minutes to get through the spiders’ webs to Thranduil’s dungeon, and then Bilbo makes quick work of getting the dwarves out of their cells and into barrel riding, white water action. Ents would surely bemoan this “hasty” treatment of the story, but Jackson wants to move us, post haste, to the Lonely Mountain where he can give us a very protracted (and completely made up) battle between Smaug and the Dwarves that allows Jackson and the Weta team to show off all of their CG wizardry. We have molten gold and a giant golden dwarf hastily made in Trojan Horse type trickery that surely has Tolkien rolling over in his grave.

Yesterday I was listening to The Tolkien Professor’s eight part lecture series on The Hobbit. He begins the series by stating his hope that Peter Jackson does not make The Hobbit into a movie because he knows the filmmaker will feel the need to make Tolkien’s whimsical children’s tale into an epic of Lord of the Rings proportions so that it will fit nicely as a prequel into the filmmaker’s own The Lord of the Rings adaptation. Professor Olsen was prophetic. I’ve provided only a short-list of the discrepancies you’ll find in the film. There are plenty more. Buy me a pint at the Green Dragon and I’ll gladly share a more complete list.

I am not purist enough to boycott the theater. As I mentioned at the outset, I found the film wonderfully entertaining. I understand that Jackson and his team are making movies to sell tickets and amass their own personal dragon hoard of gold. Beware, the greed of dwarves. Honestly, I believe that the filmmaker loves Tolkien as much as I do and, in the big picture, I understand that he’s introducing millions of people to Middle Earth who would otherwise have never have picked up the books. Good for him.

Now, a personal note to Mr. Jackson and his writing team: please leave me off the invitation list to Tauriel and Kili’s wedding.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 22

Lord Voldemort
Image via Wikipedia

Choose a good reputation over great riches; 
      being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1 (NLT) 

There was a certain executive I knew. Bright, intelligent and charismatic, this man made things happen. He made good things happen to the mutual benefit of everyone in his company. This gentleman was a winner and was on the fast track to great things.

Then, one day, he was gone. Suddenly, without warning, he wasn’t there and the company has kept their lips tightly sealed with regard to the reason. One coworker quipped that the departed executive had become Voldemort (e.g. “He who must not be named”). Another, who could not and would not speak of the circumstances for the exec’s leaving simply said of the man, “He’s dead to me now. So sad. Worse than the fortune he gave up was the loss of his reputation around here.”

Perhaps it’s because of that last statement that the image of this person came to mind when I read the first proverb in today’s chapter. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Lord knows, I can’t point a finger without three pointing back at me. Nevertheless, I am reminded this morning that a man’s reputation – whether it is justly or unjustly destroyed – is incredibly difficult to rebuild.