The Sovereign Conductor

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king…’ Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, ‘Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.’ And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there… When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant, ‘Come, let us go back…’ But he said to him, ‘There is a man of God in this city, who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. Let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go…’ As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, ‘Is the seer here?’ They answered, ‘He is; just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place…’ As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them…

“Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: ‘Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel…’ When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, ‘Here is the man of whom I spoke to you!..’ Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD.'” 1 Samuel 8:22; 9:3-6,11-12,14-17; 10:1

Lost donkeys? Unable to be located in several regions? A servant who knows a prophet in this particular city, the fifth they’d reached in their search? Women drawing water at just that place and moment? Samuel arriving for a scheduled sacrifice that very day? God’s preparing Samuel the prior day with specific instructions? There are no coincidences or surprises with the LORD. Like a conductor, our God knows the whole piece of music, ordains how all the parts fit together, the timing and nuances, crescendos and largos and melodies, and in grand perfection orchestrates every performer and instrument and voice to make His symphony.

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With our limited sight and provincial living, we can get narrowed into considering and fretting over small incidences, making big concerns out of mere pieces of a much larger life that God is designing for us. Am I letting inconsequential annoyances, setbacks, difficulties, obstacles eat away at my expectation for (and submitting to) God’s greater purposes? Or does the concern of how it all works prevent me from joyful delight in a single intrument’s lovely strain, of the significance and meaning of the facets of His character God reveals every day, as part of His big plan? Will I raise my eyes from the petty to seek and worship and trust the Master Conductor, Who over all things wondrously reigns? (Psalm 22:28)

LORD, keep me trusting Your sovereign baton, attuned to Your marvelous music, adoring Your masterful ways.

 

Morning Storms

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Psalm 23:4; 1 Peter 5:6-11

Night extended into this morning as a thick curtain of storm cloud held back dawn’s light. Electricity flashed to give quick peaks into the view, thunder growled low and shaky, and then came the rain, ushering in a new day.

August morning storm

Some days begin this way– dark, dreaded, grumbly, untenable. Our cares and responsibilities, the realities of another rejection, an ill beloved life-partner, a wayward child, loneliness or an empty womb or uncertain future, realization that I no longer have (on this earth) a parent or close friend, may weigh heavy like these wet clouds. Yet the Lord is still nigh, ever present and bearing supernatural light even in the storm. He is our sun, the bridegroom striding from His chamber, leading in glory and joyful purpose, redeeming every wind that buffets, every storm that drenches with fear or despair. Beginning the day with Him washes us with hope and lifts the veil of darkness to give expectation for good in and from all things. (Psalm 19:4-6; Romans 8:28)

When I am overcome by the noise and pressure from storms– raucous and crushing from without, or taunting and pestering from within– do I, in my fear, or exhaustion, or dismay, remember the light? Will I by faith cling to the hope that the sun still rises and brilliantly shines behind the clouds, the earth still spins on its axis, and God reigns? The valley of the shadow must be walked, there is no escaping; yet it does not go on forever. And my Sovereign walks beside me all the way.

“O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!”  ~Robert Grant (1833)

Lord on high, in the morning when I rise, may I rise with You, fixing my gaze on the One Who rules above and below.

The Dead Life

How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life… We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him… For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:2-4,6-8,10-14

It may seem strange to describe life as something dead, and death as life, but when we live biblically, this makes sense. The concept is a spiritual one that bears itself out in our flesh. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” While we live and breathe here on earth, when we know Jesus Christ and have been redeemed by His blood, our old self has been crucified with His on the cross, and our ‘new creation’ life is a transformed life in Christ, inspired and lived out by faith. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20)

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What does this look like, how does this play out in the day to day? We’ve died? We are to consider ourselves dead to sin, not let it reign? These phrases are charged with electricity that jolts our wills to action. No longer slaves? Freed from sin to offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness? May the power flow full throttle! If it is indeed true– an irrefutable fact– that sin no longer has dominion over me, then I, under grace, can walk in this newness of life! The old self diminishes its influential sway as I practice living the new. I can bear the fruit of God’s spirit in my relationships, my pondering, work, ministry, challenges, confusion, and pain. By faith I can know and live out love, joy, peace, and patience. I can exhibit kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Hallelujah! (Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:5-23)

Father, thank You for making me a new creation in Christ. Every day, may I live with all my being as though this is true, to Your great glory.

Access by Faith

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us… We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-5,11

Paul is a master at explaining big words and concepts, and here he opens wide the beautiful, narrow gate of justification to invite believers into the lush garden of delights Jesus has prepared for us. [Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Once justified, a bounty of faith, grace, and hope of God’s glory are ours. (Romans 4:24-25)

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As we enter this life defined by His grace, our eyes are opened to more and more of God’s gifts to us, many realized as we suffer. Endurance is developed for the long and difficult road of unmet longing, injustice, hurt, unanswered questions, hard relationships. Character is honed by intimate time with the Almighty, by constant washing as we rub and tumble in life’s battles. Hope in eternity and ultimate healing grows brighter on our horizon, urging us to keep putting one step in front of the other. And God’s immeasurable love deepens and grows in and through us as His Spirit transforms us from glory to glory, making us more like Jesus. Surely, we must rejoice in this ready access to His banquet table! (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What evidence is there in my attitudes, my demeanor, my conversations, that I have walked through His access and identify with and am living by faith in my Savior? Can others recognize by my peace, hope, the love of God that flows through my heart, that I have been with Jesus? When I speak, do I give out words of life and spiritual wisdom? How has my character changed and become more like His over the months and years? Do I fret and fluster, dodge and race, or stand firmly, contentedly, joyfully, in the grace of God? (John 6:68; Acts 4:13; 5:20)

“My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
  I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
    And that He died for me.”  ~ Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

God of grace, God of glory, I am overwhelmed at the access into Your eternal presence Jesus made for me, and I thank You for the gift of faith to enter. May I ever rejoice in and take advantage of all You make available as You conform me to Your image, to the praise of Your glory. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Exclamation Point Pleas

Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” Psalm 143:1,7-12

“In almost all situations that do not involve immediate physical danger or great surprise, you should think twice before using an exclamation mark. If you have thought twice and the exclamation mark is still there, think about it three times, or however many times it takes until you delete it.”  ~Howard Mittelmark, How Not to Write a Novel

With the exclamation mark’s overuse and bad publicity these days, it piques my delight to see so many in this one psalm. David’s prayer is indeed exclamatory to the God he knows and trusts. His pleas are emphatic, urgent, passionate, and desperate. His admissions of faith, praise, dependence, and God’s ownership are sincere, bold, and heart-felt. I imagine a ruddy man-king on his knees, heavy with burden, hearty with breath, hands wrenched in fists, then open and reaching, wrestling with his Sovereign, pouring out his cries to the point of crescendo, then resolving in perfect peace, hushed  and confident in what God’s steadfast love would accomplish, fully submitted, surrendered. Amen.

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Do I pray with such fervor? Have I grown lazy or complacent with comfy posture, repetition, recitation of lists, wandering eyes? When I go to prayer, do I tuck away and kneel and agonize and go deep to be heard by my Father in secret, or do I talk-walk along, eyes opened, distracted by many things? If He is the accessible Almighty Who reigns over all, is He not worthy of my attention, vulnerability, and reliance? (Matthew 6:5-13)

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

“Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

“Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.”  ~ Joseph Scriven (1819-1886)

LORD, keep me earnestly praying, for you are my God!

 

In Hope, Against Hope

“The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith… It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring… [Abraham believed in] God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:13,16-21

Romans is rich with mysteries of faith and the sovereignty of God, and it is hard not to be moved by the way God worked in and through the faith of Abraham. God’s promise came first, yet there is a magnificent picture here of Abraham responding in faith to grasp what appeared, and physiologically was, impossible. His faith in its fulfillment was unwavering because his hope was in the Promise-Giver, the One who calls into existence the things that do not exist. He knew that he knew that he knew that unshakeable God could be held to His word, that He was not only able, but committed, to performing what He said He would do. Being His work, all depended on, and was guaranteed by, His grace, and so it would be.

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Human doubts get swallowed in the hope of faith when we look to God. Distrust is of the flesh, but we can be confidently convinced when we rely on and put our hope in the words of our inerrant and powerful God. If we trust in the strength or gumption or strategies or methods of man, we will be disappointed; faith in these will fall empty. But the word of God– perfect, sure, right, and pure– can be trusted implicitly because it is backed by the perfection and authority of Almighty God Himself. “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.” Every word. (Psalm 18:30; 19:7-8; Proverbs 30:5)

Do I spiritually languish because I live in the sphere of man, the swirl of worldly pontificating, biases, opinions, promotions? Are my days lacking significance, my efforts weak, because they are founded in uncertainty of purpose, or on the shaky foundation of self-effort and pride? Am I spiraling in helpless hopelessness, looking for earthly remedy? What need I do to be more familiar with God’s good promises? Faith and hope in Him may not be popular, but they are sure bets. Those who trust in the supernatural Lord of lords will stand apart, and will stand firm. Every promise is yes and amen in our Christ. (Psalm 125:1; Jeremiah 17:7-8; 2 Corinthians 1:20)

Father, keep me believing You and standing strong in Your promises. In hope, against hope, may I ever give You glory.

Stone of Hurt, Stone of Help

Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.’  So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts… The Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.  And the ark of God was captured… brought from Ebenezer to Ashdod. The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. 

Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’ So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel.” 1 Samuel 4:1-4,10-11; 5:1; 6:1; 7:9-13

Ebenezer: “Stone of help.” From their camp at Ebenezer, Israel was at first defeated, then nearly slaughtered, by the mighty Philistines. How could this be the Lord’s will, His help to them? What ensued after the ark was captured is a strange blend of man’s superstition and God’s sovereignty. Following the ark’s return, Israel’s lament, and Samuel’s leading of Israel to return to the LORD with all their heart, the tables turned and the Philistines were routed. In this place of victory, Samuel named a stone monument Ebenezer, citing the LORD’s help. (1 Samuel 5:2-7:8)

Scotland stone marker: Take a moment to behold

Can the place of harm and hurt also be our place of help? Do we see with such limited vision that we think God’s help is delivered only in pretty, easy-to-open packages? I recently spoke with someone about a painful time that has led to deep understanding of God’s grace, and the joy and freedom in forgiveness. Would this Ebenezer have been established apart from the earlier wound? Isn’t help best defined, and appreciated, from a well of great need?

Will we be so bold as to name our hard places, our battlegrounds with temptation, loneliness, debilitating disease, ongoing discouragement, unmet expectations, ‘justified’ resentment, troublesome people, Ebenezer, and from there advance in courageous faith to win? Will we, in gratitude for God’s abiding presence and help in these very places He has ordained, establish stones of remembrance for our worship and others to see?

LORD, may I daily raise my Ebenezers to You in praise, and to glorify You before others.