Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.



“It’s important,” Alison says, “to never forget.” 

She speaks this quietly as we drive into the town, northwest of Philadelphia, where we lived for almost a decade.  It has been over twenty years since we left.  As we enter the familiar streets, memories are flooding back.  Both good and bad ones.

When we moved there, the town had fallen on hard times.  The steel mill, the heart of the borough – economically and geographically – had been shuttered.  The closer that one lived to the vacant factory lot, the cheaper the house and the more suspect the neighborhood.  We bought a property about four blocks away, happy to find something we could afford in the Philly suburbs.  We had no clue to the trouble that would follow.

We pull to a stop on our old street.  The emotions are too strong for Alison, and she stays in the car while I walk down and take some photos of our former house.  We had many sweet times with our young three boys here.  But we struggled to get by on my freelance income.  Our Victorian home needed more care than we could afford to give it.  And we became trapped in an escalating conflict with neighbors who ran an unregistered day-care full of verbal abuse and neglect.

Hard times, indeed.

But the town has changed.  The main street now is dominated by bistros and micro-breweries.  Rows of tall, new apartment buildings fill the former empty steel factory lot.  And the foundry, the building I used to walk past and marvel at its ruined shell, has been transformed into a swank meeting and event venue.  Only a huge gear remained outside, as a silent witness to its former life.

It is healthy to remember our former foundries.

But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20)

Deliverance is a thing to be celebrated.  For Alison and me, it is the word God whispers to us at every turn, with every unearthed painful memory.  God got us out of this.

But trials, like furnaces, are also potential instruments of good.

Fire can be terrible in its destruction.  And marvelous in its deconstruction, burning away impurities, making hard metal malleable.  So, God uses the fire and heat of hard times, transforming us into something beautiful and shaped for his purposes.

These streets today remind my wife and me that our years here were beneficial to us.  For they reshaped us into a family that knew, experientially, of God’s faithfulness.  Our faith, tempered like steel in the furnace, became better able to bear the weight of waiting on God with each resolved trouble.

We realized, with each answered prayer, that we are “the people of his own inheritance.”  And even in our current situation of anticipation of God’s deliverance (albeit in a much more amiable town), we are assured that he will answer.  The lesson of the furnace is that God is at work, even now.

Yes.  This is important to never forget.

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

Lord, we cannot love the hard times you lead us through.  But we can love you for using them to shape us.  Make your times of deliverance in our life always fresh in our memories.

Reader – How has God forged you through difficulties?  Feel free to share a story with me.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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