My Morning Star

A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” “”And I will give him the morning star… Behold, I am coming soon… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end… I, Jesus,.. am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 1:19; Isaiah 60:3; Revelation 2:28; 22:12-13,16

Light was from the beginning created and ordained to distinguish out of chaos light from darkness, morning from night, to identify the Shekinah glory of God’s presence, to expose all that He would make and give to man. Stars were made to determine and rule day and night, to be signs for times and seasons, to give light by which we could see, comprehend, and know the way before us, and to twinkle and shoot in streaks to evoke imagination and wonder, humility and praise. The naming of Jesus our Redeemer and Savior as the bright morning star magnifies Him as the Revealer and Sustainer of all He has made and all that is good, the One Who orders our calendar and all of history, and the Victor before Whom all will one day bow. (Genesis 1:3-4,14-18; 37:9; Job 9:9-10; 38:31-33; Psalm 8:3,4,9; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3)

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My Jesus, King from royal lineage, Light of the world, resplendent One Who was and is and is to come, is the poetic Bright Morning Star that sings in each new day. He is the hope of nations, and conclusion of history. He holds a scepter of power, loyalty, and righteousness, He is the One whose spirit rises in my heart to give understanding of the prophetic word, the promises, the sound truth of the holy book.

Because of Him, I live certain, unshaken, not fearing bad news because He holds all authority and righteously reigns. I live in confidence, because He lights the way before me, even if only a step at a time, and knows the way I take. It may be long, it may be hard, but he refines and sanctifies me as gold. I live in dawn’s perpetual hope, because His mercies are new every morning. (Job 23:10; Psalm 112:7; Lamentations 3:22-23; John 8:12; Revelation 1:8)

“Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him…’ And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Matthew 2:1-2,9-10

My Morning Star, cause Your brightness to rise in me. May I steadfastly follow You, and daily worship, offering my treasures of which You are worthy, bowing in humble amazement and surrender, and praise.

What We Leave Behind

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus..” My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:58
I marveled, looking at the sticky sand, noticing the miniature pyramids of sand balls that the crabs left outside their holes, like a ready arsenal for a miniature battle. They grabbed my attention because of the symmetry of the little spheres and the tidiness of the piles, and I do not know quite how the little creatures make them. It intrigues me that while intent on their purpose, which is to dig, to move forward, to keep on crafting their tunnel, they are oblivious to the beauty they leave behind for others to behold.
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May I live the same way, digging in and moving ahead with my eyes on the task at hand and the joy set before me, not concerned about how I measure against others, how much affirmation I’m receiving for my work, or what legacy I’m leaving behind. If my eyes dart constantly at my periphery, tallying others’ opinions and approval ratings, I get unhealthfully distracted and my course will be haphazard and sloppy, determined by whim, emotion, a false or inconsistent standard. If I fix my eyes on my Master, and press on to do His bidding, I will follow where He leads and be assured of my direction. It’s up to Him to leave the beauty behind. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Isn’t there something attractive, distinctively memorable, about a beautiful expression of love or kindness that lingers lovely and sweet long after? It’s one thing to announce my coming by spraying perfume, and quite another to leave a surprise bouquet of fragrant blooms, words or comfort or unexpected generosity, that piques the senses long after I am gone. What is left behind is often unconscious outgrowth, an exquisite by-product, because the serving and the doing are not concerned for self or being remembered but only for blessing in the now. We are called to obedience; all results and lasting effects are up to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7; 13:4-5; 1 Peter 3:3-4)
“Search my heart, make me clean, it’s your approval I long for; rule my life, be my King, do what You will, I belong to You.” Twila Paris
Good Father, steady me on Your course, propel me with godly zeal that burns for You. May I go about my days pressing forward, taking thought only for You, exercising every effort for the sake of Your purposes, exaltation, and honor. And may every result, all that is accomplished and left behind, show forth, and point others to, Your beauty and splendor.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all… He poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 
Isaiah 53:3-6,12; Matthew 1:20-21

Imagine the announcement to Joseph, then to Mary, that this One they were to raise was the long-expected Jesus, the sorrowful Savior Who would be despised, afflicted, crushed. We know both received the message, Joseph responding in ready obedience, Mary with quiet trust and thankfulness. To bear the holy Son of God was a high calling, a peculiar honor Mary appropriated with praise and pondering. (Luke 1:26-38,46-55; 2:19,51)

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This side of Calvary, do I receive His life with the same wonder? What difference does the Man upon the cross make for me each day? Am I taking time to contemplate His grief over sin’s fallout in broken relationships, idolatry, tearing down of people and reputations and institutions, pain of disease, and the love He pours out in response? Do I appreciate the suffering He bore on my behalf? If I am grateful, does it show? Do I thrive as one redeemed, forgiven, healed, or slog along in complaint, defeat, discouragement? He bore sorrow so I can live with joy. He was ruined so I can be whole. He was chastised so I can have peace. His bearing my sin’s burden frees me from the weight of self-focus and pride to live for Him and others. Is my life imprinted with the work of the cross?

“’Man of Sorrows!’ what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
‘Full atonement!’ can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
‘It is finished!’ was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”  ~Philip P. Bliss (1875)

My Savior, keep me contemplating You on earth, on the cross, and at the right hand of God in glory. Promised One Who perfectly fulfills Your purpose and Whom I will one day see face to face, may my life ever sing hallelujahs. (1 Corinthians 13:9,12; Ephesians 1:20; 1 John 3:2)

Let the Heavens Praise!

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?..  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them.” Psalm 89:5-8,11-12

The thought of heaven itself praising God the Mighty Maker, Master Designer, stirs me to wonder and delight. The twinkle of a star a smile, the curve of the moon a bow, or lifted hand, the woosh of the wind a song of praise, the boom of thunder a bass beneath timbrel rain, all are owned by Him, rejoice in Him, and serve Him with gladness and praise. (Psalm 98:7-8; 148:4)

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Looking up at the sky makes us small. Taking in its vastness, its boundless reach to infinity, beholding the exquisite beauty of cloud shape and movement, color, suspended heavenly lights, causes my soul to soar and at the same time bow to this indescribable One Who would so craft such a universe. He is indeed greatly to be praised and feared, delighted in and revered. I who have eyes to see and a mind to understand cannot help but respond to the splendor of His handiwork by joining in with all creation in extolling the uncreated One. Face to heaven, hands high, heart swelling full with the melody of joy, this is what I was created for. (Isaiah 43:7)

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

“Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!”  ~St. Francis of Assisi (1225)

Will I watch the heavens praise God and join in their song? Lord, open my eyes and heart, and loosen my tongue!

“Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

All fairest beauty, Heavenly and earthly,
Wondrously, Jesus, is found in Thee;
None can be nearer, Fairer, or dearer,
Than Thou my Savior art to me.                                                                                       

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

Amen and amen.

Standing in the Breach

They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt. Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them. Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord… They provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them… Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed… Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” 
Psalm 106:19-21,23-26,29-30,43-45

We deserve judgment. In reviewing Israel’s history, the psalmist recounts their wanton rebellion, their blatant rejection of God’s commands, and surely God was righteous and just to return to them what they had sown. But he is also merciful, and used both Moses and Phinehas to intervene on their people’s behalf. According to God’s covenant love, appealing to His mercy, they stood in the breach and interceded on their behalf, imploring God to withhold judgment and be seen as glorious and merciful.

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Of course, the greatest Breach-Stander is the One Who became the Passover Lamb, our Savior Who willingly gave His life on the cross to bridge the gap between sinful man and holy God. He opened wide His arms when He died for His people to give them life and hope and meaning. He lives to uphold His own, giving strength and understanding and energy to handle all we face. He is sufficient, the only mediator. It is His love that ultimately fills the breach in every intercession. (Psalm 107:1-2; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Timothy 2:5).

We are called to care about and for those entrenched in hopelessness, those struggling with the challenge of confused and ailing parents, or watching a loved one’s life slip away, or overwhelmed with circumstances and responsibilities and unmet needs. To be a Moses or Phinehas, we stand in the gap for them by interceding on their behalf, by pleading for the Spirit’s intervention in their souls, and by reminding them that they are loved. This takes compassion, desire, time, concentration, effort, all supplied by God to the willing, trusting heart. (Philippians 2:13; 4:19; James 5:16)

For whom will I stand in the gap this day, will I kneel in intercession? Whom will my open arms embrace? Whose way of sorrow or desperation or unbelief will I carry to the cross? It is our privilege, as those saved from slavery and experiencing God’s fullness, to stand in the breach for those still shackled, for the Lord’s sake.

Lord and Redeemer, thank you for standing, arms spread wide, in the breach for me. In compassion and divine love, may I be deliberate to stand there too, at the foot of your cross and throne, for others.

He Awakens My Ear

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear… The Lord God helps me… Behold, the Lord God helps me. Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Isaiah 50:4-5,7,9,10; John 10:2-4

The very early morning is silent, almost. The birds seem to awaken first, and I like to think “awaken the dawn” with their praise of another day, even one not yet visible. Cheery triplets in perfect pitch, coos from doves, chirps and tweets in harmony, their music awakens the senses and introduces a symphony of glad anticipation for more. The ear must be open to take it all in, the soul ready to absorb the beauty and respond. (Psalm 108:2)

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What is my need today? When first I awake, there are choices, challenges, decisions before me that are unique to this moment and known by my God. I can prepare for both known and unknown by opening His word and my heart, and attuning my ear. It takes quiet to hear as those who are taught. It takes ears, too, that are open, (mouths closed), to receive, to hear the Shepherd call by name and instruct how to proceed, where to go, what to say. He knows not only my need, but the needs of others to whom He will send me, and He promises to be my help.

How often do I hear a parent speak for a child, or a sibling for a sibling, and wish the primary person would speak? Am I guilty of seeking the secondary voice, or being the first one? When void of direction, is there temptation to search out another, perhaps one I know would agree with me, or trust in my own smarts? Do I prefer someone else to speak for Him, or will I go directly to the Lord and His true word? Would I first ask my omniscient all-good God, my perfect Counselor? (John 14:26)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8

Father, awaken all of me every new day that dawns. Open my ear, teach me, help me, guide me. Be my first voice. Relying on You, may I speak words that upbuild and sustain, and spread blessing and light wherever You lead. (Matthew 5:14; Romans 2:19; Philippians 2:14-16)

From the Womb

The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ He… formed me from the womb to be his servant;.. I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength. Thus says the Lord:
‘In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you… Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.'”
 
Isaiah 49:1-3,5,8,15-16

Can we read this beautiful passage and not be overwhelmed at the magnificent love and generous providence of Mighty God in our individual lives? His intimate knowledge of us, affection for us, and specific involvement in our every minute? In the womb He forms every precious life with shape and substance and mouth and senses to know and serve Him and His purposes in this world, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Each new life is a masterpiece, God’s handiwork in His image for His sovereign plan in time and history. He Who carved us in His hands on Calvary named us in eternity past, crafts us according to His perfect knowledge and will, and bears us up to keep us in those loving hands all our days.

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As students we want to know what to study, as parents or teachers how to plan, how to train and advise our children. As adults we wrangle to know what are next steps, what our talents are and how to exercise them, where to work, where to live. And all the while, our Maker has designed us uniquely, planted in us a will to live, and called us by name with a high, divine calling that transcends these earthly concerns, and that He enables us to live out in His strength, with His help, for His honor.

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16

Father Almighty, You Who have known me from before I was conceived are intricately involved in every breath I take. May I breathe You, in and out, for the blessing of other lives, for Your glorious and eternal purposes, and always for Your praise.