Dear Visitor to Gems for Living…

I am taking a break in writing Gems because I am recovering from surgery. Each new Gem takes about six hours to research, write, and publish. I need the time now for rest and rehab. I expect to begin publishing Gems again in about two weeks. In the meantime, please bring up some of the earlier Gems that cover so many Scriptures as they apply to so much of life. Altogether, there are 826 Gems on the Gems for Living website. There will be more!

God bless you

Chip Norton

Treasure In Heaven – Johnsonburg Bible Study

Acts 17:11, 12

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

My first church was in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, a town that often had a bad smell because it was home to a large paper mill. Paper mills had a reputation of stinking up their localities! First Baptist Church of Johnsonburg was a small church of about 60 active members, 45 to 50 attending for the Sunday morning service. I served as their pastor for four years, 1972 to 1976. Johnsonburg was a Roman Catholic town for the most part, about 80% of the residents claiming the Catholic faith as their own.

I was invited to a Bible study led by a young man who was a candidate for the priesthood. He served at Saint John’s Catholic Church in town, and the Bible study was for the young adults in the parish. It was held in the rectory next to the church. The young priest (not yet a priest, but I can’t remember his name, so I will call him a priest) welcomed me. As he led the study, he was promoting a system of works for salvation, climbing up to God a step higher with each good deed. I was a thornpoking him and those in attendance that evening because every time the priest would emphasize salvation by works, I would come back with,No! It is not of works, but by grace, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross!” I quoted several times Ephesians 2:8 and 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” One of the young men in attendance was Earl. He later told me that he went home that evening and went to bed. But Earl couldn’t sleep! He kept hearing me say, “No! It is not of works, but by grace, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross!He said he could get no peace until he finally got out of bed, knelt down and asked the Lord to save him!

That young priest and I became friends. I don’t know if he embraced salvation by grace through faith, but I hope to meet him again in heaven. One day he came to me with a request. He was being ordained as an official priest, and then he would be reassigned to another parish. He had asked the three other priests at Saint John’s if they would take over his young adult Bible study, but no one was interested to add more work to a busy schedule. So he asked me, a Baptist minister, if I would take over the Bible study! I told him yes, I would love to!

The head priest was infuriated when he learned that half a dozen of his young adults were now meeting at the Baptist parsonage for Bible study each week! But what he never could understand was, instead of losing them to Saint John’s, they became more active in that church…such as leading CCD classes and working with youth in other ways.

A couple of young adults from First Baptist joined the Bible study, and we became a close knit group, studying the Bible together. The group reminds me of what Luke wrote of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey in Macedonian Greece. He escaped a mob riot in Thessalonica (see Acts 17:1-9), and fled southwest to Berea. There, he received a more heartening reception, for it says of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, “…they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures…to find out whether…[the things Paul taught] were so. Therefore many of them believed….Yes, many of them believed in our Johnsonburg Bible study!

I can’t remember all the names, but…

  • Earl was a faithful participant and became a good friend!
  • Linda started attending regularly, another close friendship developing! We still keep in touch 45 years later! I remember a week of evangelistic services at First Baptist with Bob and Peggy Boyd. At the invitation one evening, Linda came down the isle with the biggest smile on her face…ready to announce her decision to accept Jesus Christ as her Savior!
  • Cathy, Linda’s cousin (I think), was another Catholic young adult who regularly attended our Bible study and who opened her heart to the Lord!
  • Clifford, not a member of First Baptist or Saint John’s, started coming every week. He grew in his faith, and even preached one time in my church!
  • Ceile was already on fire for the Lord when she arrived back in Johnsonburg after being out west for a couple of years. She bopped back into town, a barefoot hippie! But, oh what a blessing this young nurse was! She went back to the wild parties of her younger days, but now to rescue those from the drug culture she used to be in herself!
  • Jerri was Ceile’s sister. I remember her sitting on our couch during a Bible study, and suddenly exclaiming, “I got it! I got it! It makes sense now!Another person born into God’s kingdom!
  • Donnie was a few years younger than most of us, a teenager. But Donnie opened his heart to Jesus and became a strong Christian!
  • Leslie was another who regularly attended. She, at one gathering, expressed her desire to accept Jesus as her Savior!
  • Bonnie was part of the group. She is still walking with the Lord!
  • Bob was from First Baptist and was one of the originals of the Bible study when it moved to the Baptist parsonage. I stayed in contact with Bob, and he is walking with Jesus, as is his family!
  • Kathy came to me one late afternoon in tears. She said she had talked to several ministers about the heavy burden she felt because of her sins. I explained salvation by grace through faith, and she opened her heart to Christ! She was now free of her sins and full of joy! She attended the Bible study as often as she could from then on.

It was always an informal study, with questions raised by those attending, and those questions guiding the direction the study would take. We even celebrated Communion! Sitting on the living room floor of the parsonage, we shared the bread and cup. I’m sure the priests as Saint John’s would have a fit if they knew! I even baptized a couple of the Catholic young adults in the Clarion River! The priests, if it got back to them, would have an even bigger fit!

There were others who came and were blessed, either accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and growing as a Christian, or already as a believer and maturing in their faith! As I said, I can’t remember all the names, but I think the highest number of attendees one evening was 21!

I loved those of the Johnsonburg Bible study! And I still do in my memory of the commitment and growth of those precious people. I may not meet most of them in this life, but I will see them in heaven!

Treasure In Heaven – Richard

I Thessalonians 2:19, 20

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Paul is writing the Thessalonian Christians, a few months after he first visited this city on his second missionary journey in 51 AD. With the conversion of many (see Acts 17:4), a church was founded in this Roman city. When the apostle wrote to the believers there a few months later, he said this about them in I Thessalonians 2:19 and 20:

     For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?  
     Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus 
     Christ at His coming?  For you are our glory and joy.

Paul is speaking of these Christians as his reward in heaven as he and they stand before Jesus at the Bema Seat Judgment (see I Corinthians 3:11-15; II Corinthians 5:10). They, and we, will receive rewards (or lack of them) of crowns (see I Corinthians 9:25; Philippians 4:1; II Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; I Peter 5:6) and assigned responsibilities! (See Luke 19:16-19).

Richard is one who is my glory and joy!

When I pastored in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Richard’s wife came to me, troubled over his involvement in sexual sin and thievery. I, and a deacon from the church, visited this man at his home. We found a gentle person, in his fifties, who graciously received us. We didn’t mention anything directly about his sinful actions, but I told him, “If we can do anything to help you, please let us know.” He thanked us for coming, and we left.

The next Sunday , Richard, who had not been in church in a long time, came to the evening service! And he attended every evening service for several weeks! About six weeks into his attendance, when the gathering was leaving, Richard broke down crying! His lifestyle had gotten to him! As others gathered around him to comfort and pray for him, he kept his head down as tears continued to bawl. I don’t know if Richard had previously accepted Jesus as his Savior, but this was still a conversion time for him! When his tears stopped, Richard asked those who had surrounded him, “Who was the person next to me, that one who was wearing a long white dress and sandals?

No one was there of that description ,” several people said.

Yes there was!” Richard exclaimed. “Someone was right next to me. My head was down so I didn’t see the face, but there was someone there who had a hand on my shoulder and was calming me!

Who was that one who wore sandals, a long white dress (or robe), and had a real calming effect on Richard? He, and I, believe it was the Lord Jesus Christ!

This gentle man became my best friend! And he was a great blessing to the church and also to God’s ministry beyond! Richard was instrumental in starting two ministries:

  • Addicts Victorious – The name says it all.
  • The Lighthouse – A ministry to unchurched youth in the local area. This ministry continues today, 35 years later, with a budget of $2,000,000 a year!

A busy church can be a stressful time for a pastor. I was no exception. Many times I would call Richard and shout, “Pizza attack! ” And we, with our wives, would head for our favorite pizza parlor where we would have a wonderful feast, and solve the problems of our church and the world!

I moved, called to another church on the other side of the state. At times I would travel back to visit some of the dear folks of my former church. Without notification of my coming, I would show up at Richard’s doorstep with suitcase in hand, and announce, “Here I am for a few days!” He and his wife would warmly welcome me, and they never tired of me as their guest!

As he approached his 80th year, Richard’s health greatly failed. My wife, Hope, and I visited him as often as we could. Then it was the last visit. I told him I loved him and would see him again in heaven. A few days later I conducted Richard’s funeral, a sad but joyous occasion of a saint gone home to his Lord!

     For what is...[my] hope, or joy, or crown of 
     rejoicing? Is it not even you [Richard] in the 
     presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?  
     For you are ...[my] glory and joy.

The Next-to-the-Last Chapter Romans 8:18; Hebrews 9:27

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

I read a sermon a couple of days ago in which the preacher mentioned “the next-to-the-last chapter.” I am taking his idea for this Gem because it is a life lesson we all need to learn, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic!

What is the thinking of so many people in this old world? It concerns the chapters of life:

  • Chapter 1 – We are born into this world and spend our first years learning to walk, talk, and begin to take responsibility for our actions. This chapter includes the years of our childhood perhaps from infant to pre-teen.
  • Chapter 2 – Teen years can be a difficult chapter, as we try to deal with the opposite sex while hormones rage; stretching our wings of independence, yet being under parental and school authority (and often chafing under it); trying out new things (some are good, some are terribly wrong choices) to see if it will fit in what we think our life should be.
  • Chapter 3 – Deciding upon a possible life’s work and training towards that goal (both can change in this pursuit). Also finding that one with whom we think we want to build our life (this also can change..several times).
  • Chapter 4 – Settling upon our choice of the one, and building a life together; adding others into the equation as children make their appearance; realizing and appreciating the sacrificial effort our parents made for us as we grew.
  • Chapter 5 – Having raised our family, we now face ‘empty nesting’ where we hope to get to know that one in a deeper way. With good choices, finances are not such a struggle, for we have advanced in our work or business, savings and investments.
  • Chapter 6 – is thought to be our last chapter, perhaps 20 years more or less, enjoying retirement, doing things you have not had time to do in previous chapters – travel, recreation, taking care of projects put off during other chapters, hobbies, etc.

Chapter 6 is our Last Chapter……..or is it?

Chapter 6 is really the Next-to-the-Last Chapter! We still have Chapter 7 ahead of us! And that Last Chapter can be wonderful beyond description! Or terrible, again beyond description! I have chosen two short Scriptures that highlight all this (taken in reverse order as to where they are found in the Bible):

  • Hebrews 9:27 – “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.We are in the midst of a world-wide pandemic! Many people are afraid of getting infected, becoming terribly sick, and even dying. But we all are already infected…… with sin! And as a result, we all are dead spiritually! And we will die physically!
  • Romans 8:18 – “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This Scripture puts a positive light on our Last Chapter! “Positive, you say? ‘…the sufferings of this present time…’ doesn’t sound very positive to me!

We are told in Romans 5:12, “…through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all… because all sinned….

And in Ezekiel 18 it is repeated twice, in verses 4 and 20: “The soul who sins shall die.

But what about the things good people do? Be- fore God, who is absolutely holy and charges us to also be holy (see Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48), this is how we appear, according to Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteounesses [the very best we can do] are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

The reason death reigns is given in Romans 6:23: “…the wages of sin is death….” When we live in sin, and we cannot help but live in sin since we are all born sinners, we get paid – death!

Why are we so drastically paid? Because when we work at a job or business, we expect to get paid. And most people in the world are trying to work their way into God’s favor! But we are warned in…

     ...Titus 3:5 that salvation and deliverance from sin
              and death are ...not by works of righteousness 
              which we have done.......Galatians 2:16 (English Standard Version) that 
              “...we [should] know that a person is not justified 
              by works...because by one will be 
  • Romans 8:18 – “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This Scripture puts a positive light on our Last Chapter! “Positive, you say? ‘…the sufferings of this present time…’ don’t sound very positive to me!
     God has ordained that this phase of life can be rough... our own sinful and wrong choices.  Isaiah 66:3 
              (God’s Word to the Nations) says, “People have cer-
              tainly chosen their own ways, and their souls de-
              light in detestable things.”  Why?  “The heart is 
              deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;
              who can know it?” (Jeremiah 18:9). the sinful and wrong choices of others.  In 
              Matthew 5:11 (Easy-to-Read Version) Jesus tells us, 
              His followers, “People will insult you and hurt 
              you.  They will lie and say all kinds of evil 
              things about you because you follow Me.Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:12, “...all who desire
              to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer perse-
              cution.✞   But there is coming...the glory which shall be 
         revealed....         ➪   The glory will be revealed when Jesus returns! (See 
              John 14:3; Acts 1:11).  He will come in glory (see 
              Revelation 19:11-16), bringing glory to the earth! 
              (See Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Revelation 11:15).

         ➪   We Christians shall be made gloriously perfect, 
              designed to live forever with our God! (See Daniel 
              7:18; Philippians 3:21; I John 3:2). 

There is so much more that could be said about what Paul wrote in Romans 8:18. It would take, and has taken, volumes to describe “…the glory which shall be revealed in us.” But there is something I want to emphasize about this Last Chapter, and it involves the other six chapters:

  • The Last Chapter will last forever! …either in heaven or in hell!
     ✞   In heaven we shall forever be with the Lord God and our 
         believing loved ones! 

         I Thessalonians 4:16, 17 – “For the Lord Himself
             will descend from heaven with a shout, with the 
             voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of 
             God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 
             Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught 
             up together with them in the clouds to meet the 
             Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with 
             the Lord.

          Revelation 21:3, 4 – “And I heard a loud voice 
             from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of 
             God is with men, and He will dwell with them, 
             and they shall be His people. God Him- self 
             will be with them and be their God. And God will 
             wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall 
             be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There 
             shall be no more pain, for the former things have 
             passed away.’

     ✞   But hell is also forever!

     Mark 9:47, 48 – “ [will] cast into hell 
              fire, ‘...where their worm does not die and the 
              fire is not quenched.’ Revelation 20:10, 14, 15 – “The devil...was cast 
              into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast
              and the false prophet are. And they will be tor-
              mented day and night forever and ever....This is 
              the second death.  And anyone not found written in 
              the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.II Thessalonians 1:7-9 – “...when the Lord Jesus is 
              revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in 
              flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not 
              know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel 
              of our Lord Jesus Christ..., [they] shall be 
              punished with everlasting destruction from the 
              presence of the Lord and from the glory of His 

Somewhere in the years represented by chapters 1 through 6, NOW is the time to open your heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ! It is He who died, totally paying for our sins! And He lives forever to receive any and all who come to Him in faith believing. And He gives them eternal life! (See Hebrews 7:25). He only is the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). The only alternative is hell!

Heaven or hell? Chapter 7 is coming!

Is This The Finger of God? – II

Exodus 8:17-19 (English Standard Version)

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Our featured Scripture is Exodus 8:17 through 19, describing the third of ten plagues upon Egypt that God sent by Moses and Aaron to free the Israelites from many years of slavery. This third plague, according to the English Standard Version was “…gnats upon man and beast…!

     ...Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff 
     and struck the dust of the earth, and there were 
     gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth 
     became gnats in all the land of Egypt.  The magi-
     cians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, 
     but they could not. So there were gnats on man 
     and beast.  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, 
     “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart 
     was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as 
     the LORD had said.

With permission from the author, Stan Key, president of Francis Asbury Society, I am reproducing a booklet he wrote, The Finger of God, Who’s responsible for COVID – 19? Here is the second half:

But Why?

But if the Lord God has indeed permitted this global crisis and if He is the One responsible, then the question naturally arises: What are His purposes? Why is He letting this happen to us? What is He seeking to accomplish?

I know no better place to find an answer to questions like these than the verse we often quote when we pray for revival:

     ...if My people who are called by My name humble them-
     selves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their 
     wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will for-
     give their sin and heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14).

We often forget the context of this verse. These beautiful words are spoken by God as a sort of invitation, calling us to turn from our sins and pray for His favor. But the context tells us the kind of circumstances that will provoke the response for which God is looking. While the verse just quoted is well known, few are aware of the verse that precedes it:

     When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, 
     or command the locust to devour the land, or send 
     pestilence among My people, if My people who are 
     called by My name will.... (II Chronicles 7:13, 14).

Did you hear it? God said He sends drought, famine, and pestilence so that people will humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their sins. That’s the point! Our international crisis is not some random, pointless act of chance. God has a purpose in all this, and it is good! The pestilence of contagious disease is permitted so that we will humble ourselves, cry out in prayer, seek God’s face and repent of our sins. When we do, God stands ready to forgive our sins and heal our land.

This was God’s purpose in Egypt so many years ago when he sent the plague of gnats. The magicians understood; “This is the finger of God.” Unfortunately, Pharaoh’s heart remained hard (see Exodus 8:19). His refusal to humble himself and turn from sin meant that he and his nation would experience God’s judgment and wrath.

Albert Camus’ novel The Plague (Camus, Albert. The Plague, Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Random House, Vintage International, 1991) is one of the classics of existentialist literature. The story is set in a coastal town in North Africa, a walled city named Oran. When plague breaks out, the gates of the city are shut, and the citizens begin to find ways to cope with the tragedy that has befallen them. Camus’ existentialist belief in the absurdity of the human condition means that his book offers no real hope to its readers. The power of the book is found not in its prognosis, but in its diagnosis. It paints a powerful picture of the human predicament: we are all locked in a quarantined city, waiting to see who next will catch the plague and die.

Most of the inhabitants of Oran are just annoyed by the plague. Many deny its existence and treat it as a bad dream or an unwelcomed guest. They make minimal adjustments to adapt to the new realities, hoping that the plague will soon just go away and they get back to business as usual, life like it was before. “Alarmed, but far from desperate, they hadn’t yet reached the phase when plague would seem to them the very tissue of their existence.” (93).

Though writing as an unbeliever, Camus paints a powerful picture of the human situation. He speaks truth when he reminds us that we should not be so naive as to think of the plague as an aberration, an interruption, and unwelcome visitor who will soon go away. The plague defines us. It describes the human condition. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). All of us have already been infected by the sin virus; we all will die. There are no exceptions.

The Good News!

It is only when we fully understand the tragedy of the human condition that we are ready to receive the Good News of the gospel. Yes, the finger of God is moving in our world, confronting us with the reality of sin, death, and hell. This is not some abnormal condition, some unpleasant interruption, that will soon pass away so that we can return to “normal life” as before. This is the human condition. This is what life is all about. The virus of sin defines the very tissue of our existence. “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4).

But Jesus Christ has come. And He too has a finger in what is happening on Planet Earth. “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20). Jesus steps into the human condition, exposing Himself to the deadly contagion, so that He can touch us with His mighty hand and heal us through His saving grace. He has come to forgive sinners, to heal the broken, to find the lost, and to give hope to those in the grip of despair. “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.” (Jeremiah 32:42).

Dear friend, are you hurting? Confused? Discouraged? Jesus calls you and invites you to humble yourself and come to Him. Let Him forgive your sin and bring healing to your troubled soul. He wants to touch you not just with His finger but with His whole hand — and to embrace you in His arms.

     Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I 
     am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
     I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. 
     (Isaiah 41:10).


I, as the author and editor of Gems For Living, will emphasize again an important perspective on the COVID-19 virus! The context of II Chronicles 7:14 was highlighted earlier in this Gem: II Chronicles 7:13 must be taken into account with verse 14:

     When I shut up the heavens so that there is no 
     rain, or command the locust to devour the land, 
     or send pestilence among My people, if My people 
     who are called by My name humble themselves, and 
     pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked 
     ways, then I will hear from heaven and will for-
     give their sin and heal their land.

The Lord is calling Christians (those of us who are called by His name, who carry the very name of Christ when we identify as Christians), to be on our face before Him to seek His face! And if we truly turn to Him, we will turn away from anything that displeases Him – our wicked ways! It is called ‘revival’! And we desperately need God’s heaven-sent revival in this country and around the world! By this pandemic crisis, He is calling us to seek Him – heart, soul, strength and mind! May we Christians respond as did the psalmist centuries ago in Psalm 27:8, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’