Tending the Light

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. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, 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.” “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.” Exodus 27:21-22; Matthew 5:14-16

From the establishment of worship in the tabernacle, God intended for light to shine. He gave the Levites the privilege of tending that light during the dark hours from dusk to dawn, which involved maintaining a regular supply of oil and watching over the fire. He gives us this same charge, both a privilege and responsibility, in the darkness around us today.

A call to shine our light requires we be where the darkness is, to recognize where vacuums of truth and hope lie and to be willing to go there. Jesus doesn’t call us to isolate ourselves, whether physically or in attitude, from those who walk in darkness, or do not share our lifestyle or opinions; rather, He modeled for us how to “pass through Samaria” and take the light to those around us. He was always winsome, always exhibited compassion, interest, concern, love. And He always spoke truth. A lighthouse stands tall on the edge of danger, at the very place where threatening nature and humanity meet, a beacon to those needing hope and direction in the face of darkness and tumult. (John 4:1-26)

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Tending the light also necessitates being emptied of dark sin ourselves and filled with the Spirit. Checking our own hearts for disdain, favoritism, pride is vital to our being clean vessels for carrying God’s pure oil. Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins shows the wisdom of keeping flasks of oil at hand, anticipating need with our lamps ready. We never know what a day will hold, but decreasing self, and filling up every morning with the light of God’s truth and power of His Spirit, ensures we will be prepared for what He brings to pass– shocking news, an encounter with a difficult person, unfettered negativism, the need to be available, the sudden curveball of an emergency or hard diagnosis. All of these present a darkness that needs the light of grace, patience, kindness, wisdom. (Matthew 6:22-23; 25:1-13; Luke 11:35-36; 12:35-37; John 3:30; Ephesians 5:18)

Father of light, make me a faithful steward of the light entrusted to me. Give me boldness and compassion to enter dark paces with Your truth, Your irresistible love. Keep me filled with You that I may persistently, passionately, brightly shine Your light before men, that they recognize and adore and glorify You. (James 1:17)

 

Understanding ‘Understanding’

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:1-11

I have always wanted to understand things, the ‘whys’ behind concepts, operations, decisions. While I can be rather compliant, obedience and acceptance have always been easier when I understand the background reasoning. This passage from Solomon, himself endowed with vast wisdom from God, appeases my life-long penchant, and assures that it can be satisfied. He describes the perfect match of a willing vessel ready to receive and a gracious Giver eager to fill; a treasure seeker who knows the value of his prize and goes to great lengths to secure it, and the Guardian of the storehouse ready to open wide its doors. The blessedness for us is in knowing God fulfills His promises in His way and time. My ears, eyes, and heart must be open; He will grant understanding as I wait and as I walk. What I continue to discover is that the understanding granted is more of God’s character and ways than of actual situations and events. And isn’t that understanding what true ‘understanding’ is? (2 Chronicles 1:7-12)

Yesterday I saw sprays of birds in the sky, swirling flocks almost unseen, then bursting white like fireworks as their wings caught the sun. Over and over, two or three circles of spotted light would surprise, sparkle against deep blue and then disappear, a beautiful reminder of the Master Artist at work. He is present always, but His appearance comes as He chooses; I must be looking. He will astonish and even delight me with what He reveals of Himself.

He Who is behind every design of creation is the One Who, as I start my morning digging for wisdom and go about my days open-eyed and receptive, gives morsels of wisdom, shines glimpses of His attributes and next steps of His paths, surprises with ‘aha’ comprehension of facets of His eternal purposes.

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How eager am I for the intangibles of God? What do my habits reveal about how much I value God Almighty’s wisdom and understanding? Do I treasure His spiritual goods more than the things, attention, approval of this world?

Lord, thank You for teaching me how to hunt. Please keep me on that path, hungry and searching, digging deep in Your word and looking up for revelation. May all I do and say be permeated with godly understanding, to the exaltation of Your wisdom and ways.

Fixing Your Aim

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Finally, brothers. As a last mention; before I sign off; and the most important thing is; of all I have said, remember this. And you are family, my brothers and sisters; I say this in love; you are special to me; I value our relationship. Paul closes his long letter to the Corinthians by setting a target that is the capstone of his message of unification within the church and with him in his ministry. He gives a charge that is seldom heard, and much less heeded, today. Restoration, comfort, agreement, peace, welcome, affection– are these the theme of my song all the day long? His closing blessing from the triune God is a fitting sign-off, the parting gift that makes his commendation possible. Without Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Lily pads, ruffly, SIngapore Botanical Garden

To establish this aim, I must gratefully understand that I am part of the family of Christ, of fellow image-bearers; none is more valuable than or superior to another. What can I do to pursue restoration, comfort, agreement, peace? I can recognize the itches in my attitudes and check my words. Rather than spouting off, debating, or stirring argument, I can hold my tongue and be generous in affirming with, “that’s a great idea,” “what do you think?,” “yes, let’s do it,” “I agree,” then say no more. I don’t always have to be right, qualify my statements, or have the last word. My opinion is only as important as another’s, and I would do well to concur with my loved ones’ just for his sake. I can also practically serve another– make a visit, prepare and take a comfort meal, hold a hand. I can deliberately promote harmony by speaking well of others, building up godly qualities, steering conversation to foster common ground and stimulate loftier ideas. When do I go out of my way to show affection and appreciation, to prefer others, to bless them with specific encouragement, positive words, unselfish actions of love?

In our culture of inflammatory talk, the right to be easily offended, prejudices that peg others before any understanding is even attempted, critical attitudes and self-promotion, the restoration of civility in relationships and harmony among those with polarized views or even irritating habits seem impossible. But Paul leaves us with the secret for achieving this high aim: By the grace of Jesus Who has forgiven and saved us, with the love of God poured out in our hearts, and in fellowship with the Holy Spirit Who inspires, counsels, enables with supernatural power, and unifies, we can make a difference as effective ministers of reconciliation and peace. (John 16:7;17:11; Romans 5:5;8:11,16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,18-20)

Lord on high, fix my daily aim on this lofty charge. Remove all that hinders me in each area, and compel me with joy to will and act by Your grace, in Your love, for Your glory. (Philippians 2:13)

Like Sun on Honey

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men… For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life… And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John 1:1,4;3:16,19-21; 1 John 1:7-9

Sunlight has many properties: it gives comforting warmth, and exposing light, it causes growth of plants and seeps needed vitamins into skin. It dries what is damp, melts what is hard, hardens what is soft. And we like that it penetrates crystallized honey and softens it to the sweet substance we bought it to be.

Honey in jar

While not true in every language, it is illustrative that in English ‘sun’ and ‘Son’ are homophones. Certainly, John speaks of Jesus the Son as the Light in and of the world, and we see some of the same characteristics in His ministry to us that we know of the sun. The light of truth exposes the places and practices we have hidden, laying bare prejudices and self-centered attitudes, disclosing “secret” habits we have excused or thought we could keep undiscovered. It shines on our hard hearts to soften resistance to change or repentance, over time dissolving our crystalized chunks of pride, favoritism, worldliness, pleasure in sin. The light of the Word teaches, corrects, and trains, to effect spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. When we are brave enough to uncover and unmask ourselves before the Son, He welcomes us in grace and works deep cleansing and restoration in us, in order to use us to pour out His “sun” to the world. (Ezekiel 36:26; John 9:5;12:46; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12)

Do I convince myself I am sweet as honey, but am actually crystalized and stubborn, irritable, impatient, whiny? Where do I remain hardened against naming and relinquishing certain ‘pet’ sins? If I am honest before the purity of God’s light and truth, what is laid bare? As difficult as it might be to recognize or admit, nothing brings the sweetness God intends like allowing my Redeemer’s loving, merciful light to cleanse, forgive, and restore. He died and rose again like the sun to bring life abundant, and is ready and waiting to have His way in each of us. (Psalm 27:1; John 8:12;10:10)

Light of light, shine on and in me, then through me to the dark and needy world.

Beach Roses, Leviathans, and Other Marvels

“God does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.” “He is wise in heart and mighty in strength —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?— he who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.” “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.”Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror. His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them.” Job 5:9; 9:4,9-10; 41:1-2,14-16; Psalm 104:25-26 

The wooded path opened to the broad view of coast, a panorama of beauty in the bay surrounded like a horseshoe with rocky heights. The beach was dotted, be-gardened, with sand roses, dozens of them, each one distinct, each one breath-taking, the artistry of industrious mollusks having no idea the marvel they left behind as they burrowed down.

The other day I watched a mother and baby dolphin, arcing in parallel intimacy through blue-green water, enraptured at the beauty and grace of fluid motion, delight, playful freedom, synchrony.  I read an article about a new swallowable device being developed with the capability of delivering time-released insulin injections, a capsule designed to “upright” itself in the stomach the same way an African tortoise can right itself when turned on its back. Who would imagine copying the shape of a tortoise shell to help diabetics? Our God of marvels has indeed created layer upon layer of magnificence in His vast array of things visible and invisible, revealing the infiniteness and perfection of His wisdom and love.

He not only intelligently designs, but He wondrously acts, with precision, compassion, and sovereign power. Who else could orchestrate a long-planned wedding weekend out of town to coincide with the untimely death of a friend’s teen, enabling a personal visit; or align a need in one organization with the life details of an individual in another, to meet that specific role at just the required time? The God Whose heavenly lights mark seasons and times has also measured the waters in the hollow of His hands and stayed proud waves at the border of the sea. God’s description of the leviathan, mountain goats, ostriches, horses, displays His intricate knowledge of their makeup and tendencies, and He Who knows His animal creatures knows well the heart of man. His pity for the wicked city of Ninevah includes His concern for their cattle. (Genesis 1:14-15; Isaiah 40:12; Job 38:8-12; 40:6-41:34; John 2:25; Jonah 4:11)

Keep my senses and mind sharp and discerning, O God, though they can only scratch the surface of Your marvels and the infinite love they display. Your intricate involvement in all You have made swells me with wonder and praise– may they never dwindle or be smothered by cares of this world. All glory, laud and honor be to You.

Behold, Angels

Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared… I will fulfill the number of your days… And I will set your border.” “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Exodus 23:20,26,31; Psalm 34:7; 91:11

What great promises of the presence of the angel of the LORD, the preincarnate Christ, and these mysterious beings God assigns to us! For the Israelites, having crossed the Sea into a land rife with enemy inhabitants, the pledge of God’s angel going before them, to guard and guide their steps in taking over the land, was a trumpet call of encouragement. The mighty God would lead the way, His host hemming them in behind and before; He would know where to go, and would fulfill His plans exactly according to His design. With such a conquest promised, how could they not go forth in confident obedience? (Exodus 23:21; Psalm 139:5)

Colorado Rockies, view from the top, lake, distances

Next to this Exodus passage, I have several notes over the years that remind me today of God’s remarkable, merciful, constant faithfulness. Over a decade ago, I claimed this promise for our children as they navigated next steps, trusting the LORD to guard them and go before them, to make their way to His prepared places of education and work clear. Ten years ago, two beloved family members were nearing their end of life, and I took great comfort believing my God had numbered their days and would fulfill all He intended to before taking them in death. A few years back, we were selling family property and considering a move, and had confidence God was readying a home and delineating our boundaries; He would lead us and establish us. God’s word has always proved true, and Jesus keeps every promise. His angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who inherit salvation,” and I am a grateful recipient of their ministry through the seasons of life. (Hebrews 1:14)

Taking time and thought to consider these promises, to recount how the Lord has fulfilled them, to recognize His hand, the ministry of His angels through numerous decisions, journeys, combats with enemies of doubt, temptation, heartache, and health challenges over the years, magnifies our God and increases our faith. I love that God’s instructions and promises here begin with “Behold”! We must open our eyes! When we look for Him eagerly, expectantly, joyfully, we will not only see Him, but we will be encouraged by His good word to us and His ministry on our behalf.

Lord of Hosts, I know with Job that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. As I anticipate places You are preparing for me, areas of my heart where You want to dig and cleanse and reform, new places of friendship and service and habit, new boundaries of faith and devotion and understanding, help my unbelief. Keep me beholding all You have done, and trusting You for all You will do. Above all, keep me beholding You, glorious and worthy LORD. (Job 42:2; Mark 9:24)

God’s Math: Making a Difference with Multiplication

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of… the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others… because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I used to grow mint, relishing the summery fresh fragrance and the zing it adds as a flavor enhancer or garnish. Once planted, it is hard to get rid of- it roots and spreads like miniature kudzu, popping up its lush green leaves that give a delightful scent to any swath of ground, but also dominate its limitless domain. I want my giving to be prolific like mint, to have an impact of refreshment and ‘life’ and overflow in thanksgiving and praise to God, from whom all blessings flow.

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We recently spent time in a special place where a fledgling ministry started decades ago with the vision of one man, then the passion of several, then the investment of prayer, time, hard work, and material gifts of many. Generations of students have now been challenged, discipled, forever changed by God’s work there, and have gone on to professions and communities to keep on giving. This Christian Study Center concept is now replicated throughout the country. Generous sowing has brought bountiful reaping in relationships and vocations, priorities and families, and continues to multiply to the building up of God’s people and the praise of His glory over years and throughout the world.

When individuals, called to make a difference and willing to obey that call, begin giving, God lavishes His grace and sufficiency, He enriches and supplies, and the ‘pressed-down and shaken’ offering becomes supernatural means for blessing and gratitude. The God of wondrous math is He Who is recognized in the multiplication, and if our chief end is to glorify Him, why would we hold back?

How willingly, cheerfully, am I sowing seeds of truth, love, blessing to others? What inhibits generosity? Selfish desire to spend my time and resources my way? Fear of want in letting go? Am I guided by emotion, a yen for immediate self-satisfaction and temporal, worldly interests, or compelled to invest in what is eternal, what will make a lasting difference for others? How easily am I deterred by inconvenience? Where do I need Him to change ‘sparing’ into ‘bounty’ in me? (Matthew 6:19-20; 13:3-8)

Measureless, all-sufficient God, replace my penchant for self with adoration of Your infinite worth, and immediate generosity. May I, in deep thankfulness, cheerfully and widely open my hands for Your use and multiplication. As I offer treasures to make a difference, may Your praise ever be my goal and glory. (Exodus 22:29; Matthew 6:11-12)