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Grace Notes

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E
by Philip Owen

Trying times serve like the eye chart on the wall of the optometrist’s office.  We can all see the big E at the top and mistakenly believe that our vision is fine.  Trials, however, may disclose that those little letters—Is it a B or an  R?  Was that an  X  or was it actually a  K?—are really indistinguishable.  When the sky is blue, the breeze warm, when the annual physical confirms that we are as healthy as we feel, when the bills are paid, when the weightiest decision we have to consider is where we’ll vacation this year, it’s easy to become complacent and smug and to confuse the sense of ease we feel during times of physical health and economic prosperity with faith and rest in the Lord.  Times of testing sometimes show that our vision is blurred, our perspective is wrong. 

The New Testament is filled with words and phrases like “stand firm,” “be devoted,” “endure,” “persevere,” “be steadfast,” and “be diligent.”  We may think our eyes are fine and that we have a proper view of our spiritual state, but the eye exam of trials often reveals that what we thought was an “X” is actually a “K.”  Our faith is not as firm and fixed as we had believed, our Christian virtues not as deeply- rooted as we had thought.

 A pernicious virus has infested the professing church today and is infecting much of the real church as well.  The culprit has been identified as Laodicean virus.  John disclosed its symptoms:  “[Y]ou say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).  Largely in the west, we have mistaken huge auditoriums, large crowds, seven-figure budgets, electronically-connected audiences, and oratorically polished messages for spiritual health.  Our brethren elsewhere may beg to differ with us.  In China, for example, Christians see their church buildings turned to rubble; those meeting secretly in homes risk imprisonment.  In India, pastors are beaten, even murdered, and houses of believers are spray-painted with emblems identifying them as being occupied by Christians, enabling the government (or government-sanctioned mobs) to harass the residents, or worse.  Believers in many Muslim-controlled nations are summarily killed.  Those believers have no difficulty reading the bottom line on the eye chart.

Certainly, difficulties will not make a saint out of a sinner, nor even make a weak saint strong.  But they will reveal the reality and quality of faith, and, ideally, they will draw or drive a real saint closer to the Lord.  And getting closer to the Lord is the equivalent of taking a few steps closer to the eyechart:  the picture becomes clear.

The Apostle Peter understood trials, especially those involving persecution.  Referencing the blessings of salvation, including a secured eternal inheritance and protection by the power of God, in which believers rightly rejoice, he acknowledged, “even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6b, 7).  Trials are intended to expose our faulty eyesight so that we might move closer to the Lord and “see.”

Whether present circumstances seem to us to be severe or only a “light affliction,” God intends them to draw us closer to Him in order that we might be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58b).  Such efforts are never vain, as Paul assures us:  “knowing that your toil is not vain in the Lord” (v. 58c).  What are the present circumstances revealing about your eyesight?  Have you been thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to think (see Rom. 12:3)?  And having done all, will you stand (see Eph. 6:13)?  Do you love the Lord more than your comfortable life?  The eyechart gives an accurate assessment.   

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