Thursday, February 23, 2012


I believe I was in the 4th grade...

On a brisk, fall afternoon, the 4th grade classes of Valley Christian Academy took a tour of a replicated colonial village.  Most of the day was very uninteresting to me.  The mini-seminars on cloth making, butter churning, and broom making didn't exactly get my blood pumping.  However, towards the end of the tour, they did take us into the blacksmith shop.  With cold toes and a face still sticky from the orchard apple I had just eaten, we eagerly huddled into a dimly lit, but warm workspace.  I watched as the blacksmith started with a plain metal rod.  He laboriously heated, re-heated, stretched, hammered, twisted, and shaped the rod into what would later become a beautiful piece of art.  Maybe it was just the fact that this bored young boy was easily amused by metal and fire and pounding on an anvil, but something caught my eye that day.  I was in awe of authentic workmanship.

Hand-crafted products are becoming increasingly valuable in our world today.  All of the advancement in technology has slowly, but significantly bled out the number of true artists who work with their hands, those who take raw hunks of any given material and forge them into beautiful masterpieces.  If you've never witnessed it (or even if you have), I highly recommend you watch this video before you continue reading:  The Forged Rose.

In the grand scheme of things, you and I are just raw pieces of metal, brittle and unrefined.  When we truly encounter the Lord and make a commitment to discipleship, He begins to prepare us for glory.  This formation takes place through every circumstance that we encounter.  But as you saw in the video, the metal has to be heated to an extreme temperature before it is workable.  It's elemental composition has to be broken down for the artist can make something beautiful.  Everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in our lives is all a part of this process.  The Master Craftsman is forging our endurance through suffering, that our endurance would produce character, and character would produce hope (Romans 5:3-4).  The fire of trials may break us down physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.  Yet it is in these most vulnerable moments that we are most desperate for the Lord.  We are ready to be formed.  And when He begins to work, it is unlike anything you have ever experienced before.  It is beautiful and difficult all at the same time, yet the hope that it produces is valuable beyond measure.  

Nobody likes the fire.  We would all rather God just snap His fingers and turn us into something beautiful.  But there is no dependency on His love in that.  There is no desperation for His faithfulness.  There is no choice.  He knit us together in our mother's womb with feelings, emotions, and a will, not so that trials would deter us from Him, but so that these things would allow us to experience His presence and faithfulness more fully.  Even in the fire, we must ask for the grace to glimpse the big picture.              

There will be a day when everything is made new.  Tears will stop flowing, hospital visits will end, and suffering will be but a distant memory.  On that day, we will be beautiful roses on display, wrought from our Heavenly Father's hands.  All of our radiance will be a magnificent reflection of the glory of the One who crafted us.  We may remember our suffering on earth, but only that it brought us closer to this day.

But today is not that day.  Until then, hold on to some hope.




Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Of More Worth Than Gold"

Last week, I stood in front of several dozen young men that comprise the Central York wrestling team and began to shine some light on the road ahead of them.  In some respects, the season had gone better than we had anticipated and in others, we had fallen short.  The regular season is now behind us and from here on out, they have to win to continue on to the next level.  The sectional tournament is just a few weeks away... barely enough to time to troubleshoot the things our guys need to improve on, get in great shape, and then rest so that they can peak.  But regardless of this time crunch, the coaching staff has put together a plan.  We believe it will put our young men in the best position to attain their goals, but only if they stay the course and believe.  Truth be told, the difficulty in training for the coming weeks won't be a walk in the park.  As I explained this to them, I could see the apprehension in their eyes.  They knew that this crazy, bearded man was going to work them hard... really hard. 

I remember another conversation just like this one, except I was on the receiving end.  Almost 10 months ago, I sat across from Dr. Brad Pohlman as he explained my diagnosis.  I felt just like my athletes as he talked.  I believed him because he had been doing this such a long time, but my nervous smile could not hold back the wave of apprehension that swept over me.  He began to explain what the chemotherapy and radiation would do and how they would work.  But as he rattled off the side effects, I had a hard time believing that this would actually help my body.  I had an even harder time believing it when the nausea, dizziness, and fatigue became part of my weekly routine.  

Whether it's athletics, cancer treatment, or just life in general, situations of suffering are so difficult to process because we can't tangibly grasp the end result yet.  It is so difficult to believe that these situations could actually leave us stronger.  The apostle Peter had something to say about it... 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  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.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.      

(I Peter 1:3-9)

The refining process is not a fun one.  We can experience no growth if we remain in our comfort zone.  But even understanding this, some struggles are still so difficult to digest.  How can we focus on faith, when all we can see is the hurt?  The answer is hope (go figure).  This hope is grounded in a heavenly inheritance; it can never be stripped away from us and it gives us the endurance necessary for any and all of life's trials.  Peter says that this faith to endure is of greater worth than gold.  Think about it.  One of the most valuable material items that we have on this earth can't hold a candle to the value of our faith, which is constantly being proved genuine.  It doesn't mean that we won't struggle.  It's not that the road isn't treacherous.  But it does mean that our faith will be proven as authentic as our hope if we will stay the course.  This course is moving us heavenward toward the goal: our heavenly Father's arms.    

As much as I would like to, I can't guarantee my athletes that our plan is 100% full-proof and that they will be state champions if they buy in.  My doctors at the Cleveland Clinic couldn't even guarantee that I would be cured by their array of advanced technology and medicines.  Such is the nature of being human.  But this one thing is for certain.  After nearly a year or struggling with cancer, my faith is just a little bit more refined.  A few more impurities have risen to the top and I am just a little bit closer to that inheritance.

But most importantly, it all resulted in the praise, glory, and honor of Jesus Christ. 

Constantly being refined,