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Turning Inkblots Into Angels

June 11, 1995 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Romans 8:31-39

Joseph Craik.
My guess is that that name means absolutely nothing to you. However, if you had grown up in Scotland, that name would be instantly recognizable. He lived in Scotland a number of years ago, and he became known all over Scotland as “the man who turned inkblots into angels.” Joseph Craik was a talented and creative penman who could write and draw beautifully. He was appointed Writing Master in a village school in Scotland. Often, as children will do when they are learning to write, his young pupils would leave inkblots on their pages. Now most teachers would chastise their students for leaving inkblots on their work, circling them in graphic red and taking away points for sloppy penmanship. But Joseph Craik would do something quite different and delightful. Joseph Craik would take his talented pen in hand and, beginning with the blots made by the children, he would add a line here and another one there—and out of the inkblots he would draw pictures of angels. So when the students received their papers back, they weren’t all marked up with harsh criticisms. Rather, they were wonderfully decorated with exquisite angels! The children were delighted and pleased and encouraged—and Joseph Craik became a legend in his own time, known far and wide as the man who turned inkblots into angels.

I think the story of Joseph Craik is a parable of the Christian faith. By the miracle of God’s grace, God can take the inkblots of our lives and turn them into angels. He can take our feeble efforts and use them for good. He can take our mistakes and redeem them. He can take our burdens and lighten them. He can take our heartaches and heal them. That’s precisely what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him.”

Those words are made all the more meaningful because Paul said them. For Paul, as well as anybody, and better than most, knew all about hardships and problems and burdens and disappointments and heartaches. He knew first-hand the emotional pain of rejection and the physical pain of persecution. He had been criticized and jailed, ridiculed and run out of town, falsely accused and beaten within an inch of his life. Yet through it all, he never wavered; he never lost faith. He knew that God was with him and that God can redeem any situation, that God can turn inkblots into angels.

For example, when Paul first became a Christian, many of the early Christians in Jerusalem were afraid of him. Others were suspicious. Still others doubted him. Little wonder. After all, he had just recently been the leader of a campaign to snuff out the Christians in that part of the world. So they rejected him; they pushed him out; they wouldn’t let him in. I know that must have hurt Paul. Here he had been converted; and with his new-found faith burning within him, he wanted to be in the inner circle of the church, but they wouldn’t let him in. But look what God did with that situation. He turned “an inkblot into an angel.” Since Paul couldn’t get in with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, he became the great missionary to the Gentiles. He took the Gospel to new places and to new people, dramatically reminding the church that Jesus Christ came for all people. Now stop for a moment and ponder what would have happened if that inkblot had not come into Paul’s life. If Paul had been accepted with open arms into the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, more than likely, he never would have gone to Ephesus, to Galatia, to Corinth, to Philippi, and to all those other places he touched with the message of Christ. And consequently, more than likely, we would not be here today praising the name of our Savior. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Or remember another blow which befell the great apostle. Later, in his ministry, he wanted to go to Spain, the outermost region of the world at that time. But he never got there. It was a dream denied. A dream destroyed. Instead, he went to prison in Rome. Now Paul, languishing in prison could have been filled with resentment. He could have cursed the darkness and cried out: “After all I’ve done to build the church, why did God let this happen to me?” But, no, look at what happened. God turned the inkblot into an angel. There, in his prison cell, Paul took the opportunity to write—and what he wrote became the sacred pages of our Bibles. After twenty years of nonstop missionary wanderings, now, suddenly, Paul had time on his hands, and God by his side. He had time to think deeply and penetrate the great mysteries of Christ and the Christian faith—and then he had time to write it all down. And where would we be today without those letters he wrote from prison?

The point is clear. God can take bad things and turn them into good things. He can take inkblots and turn them into angels. Now let me show you how this great truth from the Bible can work itself out in our lives …

God can turn our despair into hope.

God can take the inkblot of despair and with a line here and there, can turn it into an angel of hope.

Have you heard about the tour guide who was noted for embellishing the truth? He was kind of like Tony Campolio whose son Brad once said of him: “Dad doesn’t lie, he just remembers BIG!” Well, this tour guide was “remembering big” as he led a group through the wilds of Africa. As they made their way through dense jungle, the guide pointed out a place where he claimed to have outrun an elephant. They passed a river, and he said that once, in that river, he had had to outswim a hundred crocodiles. Later he pointed to a big tree and told how he had dug behind that big tree to outwit a charging rhinoceros. Finally, he showed them a place where he had escaped from a ferocious lion. “How did you get away from that lion?” they asked. The guide pointed to a tree limb some twenty feet above his head. “Oh, don’t tell us that you jumped way up there to grab that limb,” they said. To which the guide replied: “I missed it going up, but I caught it coming down!”

So often that happens to us spiritually. We miss God on the way up. We are so busy trying to get ahead in life that we miss Him on the way up, but He’s always there to catch us on the way down. The truth is that God is never nearer to us than when we’re hurting, when we’re down, when we are in despair.

The noted writer, Frederick Buechner tells about a low time in his life when God broke through in an unusual way. Buechner was terribly depressed. His daughter was critically ill. He was scared to death, and worried sick. He needed a word of assurance from God. He was seated one day by a roadside, unable to lift himself out of his gloom and depression. Suddenly, a car appeared and he got his word from the Lord. The car had one of those personalized license plates. The license plate bore one word—but it was the one word Frederick Buechner needed most to see in that moment. The word was “TRUST”. For Frederick Buechner, it was one of those life-transforming moments that cannot be explained. The burden he had felt was lifted. He did trust God again, and he was renewed, restrengthened, reborn. And who was the owner of the license plate that said “TRUST”? Some theologian trying to communicate hope to a desperate world? Some minister giving a one-word sermon on his license plate? Actually, it was the trust officer at the local bank! God does work in wondrous ways! Later on, that trust officer gave the license plate to Frederick Buechner. He placed it on a bookshelf in his home, and to this day it serves as a daily reminder to trust in God. Buechner says: “It’s rusty around the edges and a little battered, but it’s also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.” God can turn the inkblot of despair into the angel of hope.

And God can turn our obstacles into opportunities.

Back in 1850, during the California gold rush, a young man from Bavaria came to San Francisco. He was twenty years old at the time, and he brought with him some rolls of canvas. His plan was to sell the canvas to the gold miners to use for tents. Then he would use the profits from the sales to finance his own diggings for gold. However, when he headed up into the Sierra Mountains, he tried to sell the canvas, but there were no takers. The miners said: “We don’t need tents.” The young man prayed: “Lord, please help me. I’ve come all this way, and they don’t need my canvas for tents. What am I going to do?” Shortly thereafter, he got his answer. One of the miners said: “Son, you’re wasting your time. We don’t need tents. What you should have brought was pants. We need tough, durable pants. Pants don’t wear worth a hoot up here in the diggin’s.” The young man from Bavaria decided right then to turn the rolls of canvas into pants, blue pants that would withstand the rigors of the gold mining camps. He had a harness-maker reinforce the pockets with copper, and the pants sold like hot-cakes. Of course, the young man’s name was Levi Strauss. He called the new pants “Levis”. More than 900 million Levis later, they are the only item of wearing apparel whose style has remained basically unchanged for 140 years. God can turn our obstacles into opportunities.

And then God can turn our defeats into victories.

One of the most significant breakthroughs in medical history occurred in 1967 when a South African surgeon, Dr. Christian Barnard, performed the first successful human heart transplant. In telling of his experiences later, Dr. Barnard said that very often one of the first requests of the patients was to see their old heart. Dr. Barnard would comply with the request. He would put the heart in a jar for the patient to see. Often the patient would then say: “Thank you, doctor, for taking away my old diseased heart and giving me a new one.”

On a deeper level, that is precisely what God can do for you and for me. He can take away our old diseased, defeated heart and give us a new one. That’s why we in the church talk about new life, new birth, or being born again. So let me ask you a personal question. Do you need a new heart spiritually? Do you feel down and out and defeated in life? Well, the great physician, Jesus, can give you a new heart and a new start. He can turn your despair into hope, your obstacles into opportunities, your defeats into victories. Paul was right, “We know that in everything God works together for good with those who love him.”

Or to put that another way …

God, by the miracle of His grace can turn your inkblots into angels …

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