No Sighing

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” John 6:1-13

Jesus had been teaching, traveling, healing, compassionately dealing with crowds of needy individuals. Matthew and Mark tell us He had just learned of the cruel death of His cousin John the Baptist, so He was grieving, and grief is exhausting. His disciples were detailing reports, curious and helpless crowds kept pressing in, and He finally got away with His small group of close friends to rest and refresh… and still they came. (Matthew 14:1-14: Mark 6:17-34)

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Jesus doesn’t even sigh. Where I imagine an audible exhale, a rolling of the eyes, a weary resignation, Jesus had none. His focus and energy are supernaturally fueled, and He cannot help but be the God He is, electric with loving sympathy, careful strategy, holy purpose, and power. He proceeds to work a miracle that leaves everyone in awe at His orderly organization, His divine supply, His use of His people to satisfy others’ needs, His bounty above all we can even imagine. All are satiated.

This is our Savior. He never grows weary or takes off time. His eye is always upon us, His prayers are unceasingly for us, His plans are always in motion. He never leaves or forsakes us, and nothing can snatch us from His hands or separate us from His love. He is not surprised at world events, nor confused by numberless prayers; He is in control and reigns in peace and order. (Proverbs 15:3; Isaiah 40:28; John 10:28; Romans 8:34-38; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 3:12)

He it is who sustains us when life presses in. He is our enough, and our above and beyond. (Isaiah 40:30-31; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 3:20)

Father, may I never sigh at what You ask of me, nor weary in doing good. Fill me to overflow with Your grace, wisdom, and love. (Galatians 6:9)

Missing the Point

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

“Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed, and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man?’ …The Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” John 5:2-12,16

The first person to miss the point in this story is the invalid. Any hope and expectation for what could be had atrophied; his life view was distorted into how he had always been and forever would be. When the wonder-working Jesus asked whether he wanted to be healed, he could not even imagine anything beyond immediate complaint and helplessness. The truth was that Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost, and he recognized neither his own actual need nor his Savior’s omnipotent majesty. (Luke 19:10)

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Along came the Jews, whose intent on the prescriptions of the law warped both their judgment and hearts. Compassion had no place alongside their dictates, and rather than seeing a human being freed from decades of illness and rejoicing, they tripped over a broken rule and castigated both the healed and the Healer.

And can’t we walk so hard and fast in our scheduled days and regulated plans that when Jesus shows up in an unexpected way, we fail to notice the treasures He has for us? Where are we so trapped in the temporal that we miss the spiritual point?

When the Lord enters our ordinary and presents a jarring offer, how do we respond? When sovereign God breaks into our expectations and turns our lives topsy-turvy, do we chafe and resist the inconvenience, or seek the deeper meaning in what He is doing, the aspects of His character that shine anew? When unusual circumstances require we change our usual, do we complain and accuse, or humbly ask what He is teaching about priorities, idolatry, sacrifice? Do we have the courage to repent, and make deliberate adjustments?

God intends for nothing to be wasted in life’s twists. He invites us to get up and walk out of our self-determined, self-regulated habits and live on His plain, think as He thinks, love what He loves.

Father, help me learn and embrace Your point in every aspect of life. Teach me Your ways and show me Your glory, that I might be fully engaged in Your heavenly, holy purpose. (Exodus 33:13-19)

 

Hold On!

“Cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Joshua 23:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14; 10:23

The green Gulf had whipped topping this morning, dotted with cherry balls that bobbed as the wind pulled them aslant from the pots tethered beneath. Concentrating on keeping my own balance, I wondered at their tenacity, the fidelity of their knotted connections to their raison d’être. No matter the weather, they would stay put so the fishermen could find their quarry.

These styrofoam spheres have a lot on us humans. They submit to their craftsmen, and perform their duty with diligence, without complaining. They don’t fly or flee in tempest, they hold tight in current and pull, simply doing what they were made to do with cheerful color.

But we? Our proud nature chafes against our Sovereign’s control, and resists being tied tight to another’s will. When rough waters stress and manhandle our comfort, we want to escape to quiet seas and smooth sailing. Our natural penchant deters us from learning the rest that comes when we cling to our Captain and Victor. It can dissuade us from true lasting good when we choose what is good (and feels good) for me- now. It can twist solid belief and clear confession into the mud of fluctuating ‘truth,’ what seems to work for the present.

The freedom that comes in holding on, in glad submission to our Maker and what He made us to be and do, is unlike any self-imposed bondage. But it takes letting go, a step of faith, and then another, to test and feel secure on the tether. What anxiety or trepidation is keeping me from releasing my will and holding on to Jesus? There is no fear, no hypothetical, no loss, that His love will not cover and vanquish. What area of pride is preventing me from saying, “Thy will be done”? Only God’s way is perfect; He is the unique source of salvation, light, and safety. (Psalm 18:27-30; Luke 22:42; 1 John 4:18)

So hold on, dear one! Though winds rage, cling to Jesus, the anchor for your soul!

Lord my God who upholds me, may I not let go but cling to Thee. No matter the cold tempestuous sea, when Thee I hold, secure I’ll be. (Psalm 63:8)

Three Times Deeper

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. I seek not what is yours but you. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls… This is the third time I am coming to you… Christ is powerful among you.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,14-15; 13:1,3

Early in his life with Jesus, Paul had some remarkable revelations, and we can infer that God intended them to teach him profound lessons about God Himself. But God also had lessons for Paul: ‘Don’t ever touch My glory,’ ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ He touched Paul with an affliction that would prevent him from boasting in these supernatural encounters or relying on his own strength. Three times, Paul pled with Him to remove it, and three times, in mercy and without chastisement, God said ‘No, I have something deeper for you.’ ‘Deeper.’ ‘Deeper.’ With each request, Paul’s self-will diminished a bit smaller, his fists loosened a bit more, his heart was kneaded a bit softer, and he understood something deeper of his Savior. It took this successive process to bring the newest revelation about his Lord: in Paul’s weakness, God was strong, and more greatly glorified in that strength. (Isaiah 42:8)

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When Christ goes deep with us, we learn to go deep with Him, and others.

What this season taught Paul inspired and fortified him to persist in building up the early churches. Not all would be easy, challenges would come, but his deep life with Christ enabled him to abound in grace and truth and persevere in ministry to His people.

When we bring the same issues to Him repeatedly, and over and over He declines to answer our way, what is He teaching us? How might He be changing our intentions, our desires, our plans or preferences? How is He reshaping our affections and will? Where has He taught us patience, or surrender, or deeper trust, through progressive disappointments or long obediences? What have we gleaned about His perfect and limitless character as we have waited on Him? What new and profound have we discovered through long seasons of prayer, and waiting? (Psalm 130:6; Isaiah 45:3)

Where and how are we sharing these treasures with others? How is God’s grand sufficiency, beautiful character, and bountiful love spreading through us to His Body, and to the world?

Lord God, keep me seeking and trusting You to teach great and unsearchable things I know not on my own. Compel me to spend myself for others, to go deep in ministering for their good, and the exaltation of Your power and glorious sufficiency. (Jeremiah 33:3)

Beautiful Savior!

Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, to serve me as priests. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. They shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. 

You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel… You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree [and] set [them] on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord… You shall make a breastpiece of judgment… Set in it four rows of stones [in gold filigree]. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be like signets, each engraved, for the twelve tribes… So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord… You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, ‘Holy to the Lord.’  And you shall fasten it on [the front of] the turban by a cord of blue.” Exodus 28:1-5,9,11-12,15,17-21,29,36-37

God’s instructions for the dress of His priests detail the ‘beauty and glory’ in which they would be adorned for this holy work on behalf of His people. These were the spiritual leaders, the transporters of the tent, the caretakers and communicators of God’s word, the ones who offered regular sacrifices for the people and tended to the service of the tabernacle where God’s glory dwelled. The priests at this time were the spokesmen for God and the mediator between Him and His people, prefiguring the splendid, completed work of Christ for His own.

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Our Savior is as exquisite as these descriptions are explicit. Beautiful, worthy, holy is He! Crowning us with compassion! Robed in righteousness, and through His blood, sharing that breathtaking (life-changing) dress with us! Bearing us on His chest, bearing us to the cross where we’re carved in His hands! Remembering our names and remembering our sins no more, upholding us now with secure and everlasting arms! (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 103:4; Isaiah 43:1,25; 49:16; 61:10; John 10:28; Hebrews 8:12; 1 Peter 2:24)

Behold, contemplate, and respond!

“Fairest Lord Jesus,
ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish,
Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.

Beautiful Savior!
Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor,
praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.”  ~German, 17th Century

Beautiful Savior, adorn my countenance with Your splendor, my actions with Your lavish love, my words with Your praise. May all I meet and with whom I communicate encounter You and Your glory in me.

Set Up to Burn!

You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn… Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.” And there shall be a time of trouble… And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Exodus 27:20-21; Daniel 12:1,3

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure… Be without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:13,15-16

Burning consistently and burning bright does not just happen. It takes the pure tested oil of the Spirit, and it takes deliberate establishing and setting to flame that light in the course of our day. Thanks be to God for His limitless supply for us to obey His commands.

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Our world needs light. Nations are in turmoil, wrangling with the known challenges of a still-in-many-ways-unknown virus, and the darkness of anger, grief, fear, confusion, and anxiety permeates homes, communities, cities, countries. Behold the Light of the world, come to dispel darkness and bring brilliant and eternal life beyond the here and now! Behold, believe, and be bold! (John 1:4-5,9-14; 8:12)

How is my supply of beaten oil? What am I doing to empty myself of me, and any blemish of self-serving sin, and remain filled with Him? Am I taking time otherwise spent on lesser things to partake of His word and to pray for brave resolve? What steps and risks am I taking to bring His light into places of darkness? How intent am I on bending my will to God’s daily wisdom, and applying it in good works that make an eternal difference?

Where God calls for regular devotion and regular burning, He provides every means for our obedience. His indwelling Spirit is our inexhaustible oil, His power ignites our flame, and His very breath fans it to burn continually as we abide in ongoing surrender to Him. Are we available, and willing, to burn and be used for Him? (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Lord Jesus, as I follow You, may I hold fast to, and hold high, Your word of life. Fill me with the oil of Your Holy Spirit that I brightly shine to this needy world with Your everlasting love and transformative truth. Burn with such resplendence that people know, and receive, and believe in, You.

Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage!

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 5:15-16

God who created time, and set earth spinning on its axis  and the heavenly lights in place so we could mark time, reminds us through world events that our times are in His hands.  He who is unruffled by what ruffles us, whose gentle eyes see our fretting and says, “Fear not,” is the One who moves the pendulum from birth to death, embracing to distancing, war of disease and emotion and pressure to perfect peace. (Genesis 1:14-19; Psalm 31:15; Matthew 14:27)

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This trustworthy God enlists us to participate in His kingdom work by carrying Him to those around us. His spiritual riches supply for every season, every matter, every changing hour under heaven. He reigns over the present, He knows and rules the future, His plans are never thwarted. Will we trust Him and sing? (Job 42:2; Isaiah 14:27; Romans 11:33; Philippians 4:19)

“God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your power;
crown your ancient church’s story,
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.”  ~Harry Emerson Fosdick (1930)

Father, grant me wisdom and courage to focus on today, knowing that tomorrow is Yours and I can trust Your will to be done. Help me live this hour for the sake of Your kingdom and honor, and this day in light of Your forever. (Matthew 6:34; James 4:13-15)