Come Early, Come Eager

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain’… So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…’ 

“And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’ ‘Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you…’ When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Exodus 34:1-2,4-10,29

Vast mountain, rough dust and rock path through tangly growth, heat and stretched muscle effort– yet there is much beautiful and holy about this exchange. Almighty, covenant-keeping LORD personal speaks to His man Moses, ‘Come up again, let’s do this again, I’ll rewrite the commandments on fresh tablets that you dropped when you saw they were broken. Come early, eager, alone.’ (Exodus 32:1-20)

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The way of obedience, of the morning, of the mountain, led this servant to see his God in new light. This God of second chances proclaimed His mercy, faithfulness, and holiness: His love would not fail, neither His justice. Moses’s covenant LORD was also his Master Lord. He could only bow, and plead on behalf of this benevolent Master’s grace, ‘Please go with us, we need You.’ When he humbled himself, the Sovereign of the universe made an astounding promise of awesome work He would do.

When we go to our Lord early, unfettered, unveiled, He welcomes us and speaks. Humbled and desperate, we discern and become familiar with new facets of His perfect character, and learn to converse on their merit. We absorb the light of His very Person, taking new boldness, expectancy, brightness, resolve, and then unconsciously reflect His mysterious glory to others.

LORD my Lord, captivate me with all You are. May I bow before You eager and early, and ever seek, marvel at, and declare Your unsearchable, awesome deeds. (Jeremiah 33:3)

The Spigot of Generous Sowing

The point is this: 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 your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The spigot’s volume of flow in our lives has everything to do with our hearts. A sparing heart is one bereft of gratitude, a vacuum of interest, love, and compassion for others. Just like having air in the pipes makes for a sputtering, inconsistent flow of water, so self-importance and greed make for miserly outpouring in a life turned in on itself.

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But when we, with Christ’s eyes, see needs and are moved by the Spirit to fill them, we become a generous conduit of God’s bountiful grace and generous resources. Cheerful, thankful hearts cannot help but overflow. How do we cultivate such an attitude and proclivity? By practicing gratitude in all things. (Exodus 35:5)

Have I rested, and awakened to another day in which the sun has risen? Am I breathing, thinking, able to read and feel, respond and emote and adore? Thank God, the Maker of air and the lungs to inhale, the Craftsman of our senses and color and song, the Fount of knowledge, understanding, hope, and love, the Weaver of nerve synapses and ideas and relationships. Great is He and worthy of praise! (Psalm 145:3)

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

As I make a habit of thanking God for my salvation, for eternal life and all its attending opportunities, abilities, pleasures, security, challenges, and mysteries, His living water wells up in me, stokes desire to share, and spills out to others. (John 4:14; 7:38)

Father, may I ever express my gratitude for Your bounteous grace and riches by lavishing them on others in Your name. May my living generously reflect Your extravagance and glory.

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.