Wisdom’s Feast for our Times

And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ ..Take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children… so they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.

“Watch yourselves very carefully…  Take care, lest you forget… Seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul… For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them… Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments… that it may go well with you and with your children.” Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6,9-10,15,23,29,31,39-40

He will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.” “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Isaiah 33:6; James 1:5

It is one thing to prepare a feast for someone, a spread rich in colorful, delectable enticements, and another thing to take their hands and pull them forward, offer them a plate, and urge them to ‘come, partake, savor, have your fill!’ Our Lord does this with His wisdom. He embodies wisdom beyond compare and measure, and not only makes it readily available to us in His word and for the asking, but prods us with consistent admonition and encouragement to seek, take hold, ingest, keep, apply, and pass it on.

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In the volatility of today’s frenetic events, gloomy forecasts, and untenable unrest, we need wisdom. The electricity of conflict, relentless information, and a myriad of dichotomous expert opinions charges our affections and demands our time. The God who understands the dilemmas of our tenuous times offers a firm foundation in His written truth, generous knowledge to fortify our stability and make us wise. Wherever we are, whatever we presently face, do we intentionally seek Him prayer, and take time to glean from His word divine wisdom and perspective? Will we consciously view ourselves in light of His kingdom purposes, and act accordingly? (Proverbs 3:3-6; Romans 12:3-8)

Lord, You embody all I need for the present. Grant Your wisdom for my times, that Your perfect will be done and Your righteous authority be exalted.

Composed to Care

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

For the body does not consist of one member but of many…  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose… God has so composed the body,.. that there may be no division.., but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:14,17-18,24-27

One of the beautiful mysteries, and mysterious beauties, of the Body of Christ is the deep, compassionate care we have for one another. The palpable comfort we give and receive in love is inexplicable, as real and strong as the greatest powers we know: “Love is strong as death… Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LordMany waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” Whether in grief over the solitary burial of a 60-year spouse, the tragic death of a young adult son, or the victims of violence we’ve never met, there is nothing like the Body to come alongside, to undergird in prayer, to weep and hurt in anguish as an interconnected people. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)

Hannah Lane, "Soul Tribe"

God Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and perfect plan, composed His Body to integrate us, so our pain would be shared, our tears would flow together before His throne, our cries to Him would rise like pungent incense to buoy the hurting, our support could be felt and our hearts synchronized over long distance. (Psalm 141:2; Proverbs 17:17; Galatians 6:2; Revelation 5:8; 8:3-5)

In times when we are unable to personally express or practically exhibit our care, we can pray. God understands and transcends every dimension of hurt. His Spirit translates our groanings when we know not exactly what to pray, and ministers to those for whom we pray. He works invisibly and divinely through heart concern and inexpressible longings to perform His bidding and to redeem suffering. He works ultimate good as He has promised, and we glimpse His glory to be revealed through the invisible connection of shared sorrows. (Romans 8:18-28)

When separated from those whose lives are in turmoil, how will we reach out? When will we commit to pray for those who may never know, but will be affected? Is there a particular way God would have us today salve a wound, bridge generational pain, be a balm in another’s Gilead of mourning? (Jeremiah 8:21-22)

Father, thank you for the gift of shared grief and the privilege of upholding those who are suffering deeply. Help me care well for Your Body, that the hurting taste Your comfort and long for future glory.

Where Point our Passions?

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 17-25

We all have passions, and indeed they are a gift from God, distinguishing us from other creatures He has made. How we fuel them determines where we direct them. And where we direct them makes a difference in how we see and what we seek, how we relate to others and what we glean from relationships. God gives us free will that can be exercised either to indulge worldly enticements, which lead to scoffing, divisiveness, and pride’s self-gratification, or to maximize our passions’ effectiveness and delight by developing faith, love, self-forgetfulness, and mercy that blesses others. (James 1:14-17)

Fireworks, Telluride

God’s word calls us to beware those who would pull our passions away from the Lord and point them toward the world. When once we lose sight and ‘tight’ with Jesus, our passions can run amok with unchecked attitudes that inflame loose tongues that castigate those with whom we disagree, destroy reputations of those we do not like, and foment anger, derision, and dissension. (James 3:6)

But we have One who is able to keep us from stumbling, who envelops us in love and is gracious in mercy, who imparts most holy faith that restrains our impulses and shows itself in bold, selfless ministry to the weak and needy. He is worthy of our passionate allegiance, and though it receives the glory, majesty, and dominion that is due Him.

Do we rev our day’s engine devoid of the Spirit, or nurturing our faith by praying in the Spirit? Are we handling the fires of doubt and flesh by adding to destruction, or rescuing others from their heat and pointing them to the Savior?

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14

Lord, keep me in Your love and purify my passions as only You are able. Point them always to Thee, and energized by Your Spirit, to effect Your mercy and joy in the world.

Love Both Ways

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure…  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you… By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  1 John 3:1-3,11,13,16-18

When we confront and deeply contemplate Jesus’s love for us– the ultimate sacrificial love of our Savior– it captures our hearts. And when our hearts are seized and enveloped, Jesus’s love swells in our hearts and spills over into love for Him and for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is nothing like familial love in His body– generous, life-giving, fruit-multiplying love.

Heart-shaped fruit, Naples

First, we see His love, what kind it is, what it does when lavished on us. This is a love that saves forever and promises we will one day be like Him. This is a love that knows all about us, and scoops us in a holy embrace in unbreakable affection, adopting us into God’s family. We become children of God! Siblings of Christ! We reciprocate this love between parent and child. (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5; Hebrews 2:11)

This certain truth and hope of two-way love compels us to pure hearts washed clean of grudges and preconceptions, favoritism and the puffery of superiority and irritations we give room. The palpable reality of Jesus’s love wells up in and out of us so we forgive as we have been forgiven, demote our preferences in honor and deference to others, genuinely care for the needs of individuals and the brokenness of our world. Laying down our lives for others means saying every morning, ‘Lord, I am available. My breath, my agenda, my resources, my time– all for You. Love through me. Work through me in deed and truth so others see, hear, and feel reflected the magnetic, perfect love of Christ.’ (Romans 12:3,9-10,15-16; Ephesians 4:32)

As God has freely set His affection on me, how freely and deliberately do I set my affection on others? What alien loves and pet indulgences must I forsake in order to make my heart accessible to develop and extend His love to others? Where am I holding back tenderness or compassion because of inconvenience, prejudice, selfish wants, past hurts that have grown bitter roots? (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Philippians 2:3-7; Hebrews 12:15)

Lord of love, complete Your love in me and help me love as You so love– lavishly, sacrificially, without reservation. Spread Your love abroad in my heart so fully that the body of Christ, and the world, will know and adore You. (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:11-12,16-17)

He Delivered Before, He Will Again

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

“We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again…

“The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you,.. was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-10,19-22

One of the beauties of Scripture is the repeated themes that illustrate and emphasize the steadfast faithfulness of God. Paul mentions just a few in this chapter– mercy, comfort, suffering, strength to endure, deliverance, hope– elsewhere woven through the Bible in Jesus’s blood red, reminding us again and again of God’s unfailing promises. He and His word can be trusted. Every time Jesus freshly ministers, undertakes, helps, blesses, or confirms, we have another entry in our spiritual journal of experience with Him that can be carried to the next test.

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When has He taught? He will again! Where has He comforted? He will again! Through what valleys or battles has he come alongside? He will again! In what tempests has He navigated and kept me afloat? He will again! In what confusion has He brought peace? He will again! Our God will never leave or forsake us. He keeps His promises. (Hebrews 13:5)

Are we fickle in our trust, refusing to remember His personal and providential care when things aren’t going our way? Do we foster selective memory due to personal affections, and then waver in faith? God remembers our flesh, and is faithful to the end. But we, in our flesh, falter in steadfastness and fail to remember his power. Would we instead say Yes and Amen to Him? (Psalm 78:9-58)

Faithful God, You have marked my life with Your glorious deeds. From everlasting to everlasting, You are my God, and I Your child. May I never forget, nor fail to speak. May I gratefully live with zeal anew, and expectant wonder at all You do. (Psalm 90:2)

Tend to the Hidden Person

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves… Do good and do not fear anything that is frightening… Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:3-6,14-16

“Panic is contagious, but so is calm.” This was the mantra of a special forces agent in a novel I recently read, and one that rings true in getting to the hidden person we cultivate. What we practice in our day to day becomes a continuing habit for us, permeates our attitude, and spreads in our atmosphere. What we hide inside and allow to take up residence will unfurl its aroma and personality in the external and visible.

Effort I expend on outward appearance will result in just that– external adornment, where eventually hair thins, skin wrinkles with age, jewelry corrodes, and clothing fades. Flattery is fleeting. Effort I spend on keeping a quiet heart, maintaining a gentle spirit, will result in something far better that is beautifully imperishable, and have its effect on the way I manage life’s onslaught of good and bad, including suffering, precarious situations, bad news, loss, and disappointment. The hidden person at peace  will attract others to the hope, contentment, and serenity that shows, and open opportunities to speak of Jesus. (Matthew 5:16; 6:19-22)

We have limited time, energy, material means. In what are we investing? Do we separate these resources into ‘buckets,’ and squander whole segments on what does not matter or last? (Do we separate our Sunday spiritual from the rest of our week’s practical?) Or do we see that in Christ, every resource is interdependent on the others, since God is the Giver, and all should be filtered through the same eternal lens and filter? (James 1:17)

What need we adjust to reverse “when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” in our homes and workplaces? Where can I integrate graciousness, cheerfulness, and quiet calm into my demeanor and reactions, my expressions, body language, and words, so my attitude that is caught is life-giving? How can I better reflect Jesus to others, and make Him winsome?

Father, adorn me with Your Spirit. May peace and gentleness and my hope in You cause others to regard You as holy, and put their hope and trust in You, too.

 

The Mountain of Glorious Hope

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.” Isaiah 25:6-10

Mountains lift our eyes. Mountains speak of grandeur, loftiness, solid strength, agelessness. Mountains remind us of the long view, the high view, the distances of space and years, that what is now is only a blip on the screen of the whole of history and life. God understands when we are nestled, even stuck, in the lowlands, shrouded in a veil of human limitation, whether physical or emotional, and His word is a clarion call of hope for the one day that will surely be ours.

Some days it feels as though we are covered, entangled in a web of uncertainty and limitation from which we cannot escape, or to which we see no end. Death has cast its pall, and the dark valley of grief’s shadow cannot be avoided, must be traveled. Disappointment and loss leave us hungry, longing, unsatisfied. Permanent change leaves us confused, insecure, unsure of how to proceed. And into this circumstantial reproach God brings the promise of rich fare to senses and heart, the exchange of heaviness for new garments of rejoicing. He will swallow the shroud that weighs heavy on our souls, to vanquish forever all that leaves us sad, unfulfilled, incomplete. His hand will sweep away the temporal and usher in the glorious eternal for which we were made. We who know Him have great cause for rejoicing! (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Isaiah 61:3; Revelation 21:1-5,10-11,22-27)

When malaise, sorrow, or fatigue overwhelm, would we lift our faces to the mountain of hope, and drink in all the promises encompassed in our salvation?

“I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.’

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”  ~Johnson Oatman, Jr (1856-1922)

Beautiful Savior, make me stalwart in the knowledge that You are saving presently, in the middle of tears and human strife. Your sure and forever promises are already accomplished in Your economy and guaranteed by Your pledge. Fix my heart in Your heights, and fill me with glad hope in the waiting, certain of the glory that is and will be Yours forever. (Ephesians 1:14)