With What Shall I Come?

“‘With what shall I come before the Lordand bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8

It is the human condition that we want to contribute what we want to give toward our acceptance by God, in our worship, for our very salvation. There is something in us that wants credit, wants acknowledgement for our sacrifice, wants to ‘do’ so we can know we’ve done something to deserve God’s favor–it’s in our DNA since Adam. And it is a method God rejects. Here in Micah He exposes this pride, this self-will, this desire-run-amok, and counters the proposed list with a very simple requirement that costs what we don’t like to measure: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. That’s all.

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That ‘all’ is not easy when we want to determine our own gifts for God, when we want to choose what we will give up and what we must hold on to, and when and how we will serve. We say we have rights, we have needs, we deserve comfort, we can control our worlds and donate some from our bounty and that’s enough, we can give when it is convenient and feels good. God says I want your heart, your willingness to see the world and your life my way, in the grand scheme of my perfection and purposes; I am asking that you surrender your self-righteous ways at the cross, to walk alongside me in humility, to live extravagantly in kindness toward others in ways that are subversive to our culture, and to love unselfishly and mercifully as I do. That’s all.

“Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”  ~Augustus Toplady (1740-1778)

O LORD, only You can work this willingness in me, and train my perspective to be like Yours in every encounter, every choice. Release me from my lists and write Your good word on my heart and into my living. Mark my moments and days with justice, lovingkindness, and humility of Calvary, that You are the One seen and known in the works of my hands.

Though not seeing…

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 1 Peter 1:3-9; Hebrews 11:1

It is God’s gift to us that we cannot see everything, because this is His way of developing our faith. Our new life, our living hope, our sure and perfect inheritance kept in heaven, our full salvation– these are invisible and good gifts God, in His mercy, lavishes on us and guards for us, but does not yet allow us to see fully. We are assured of them because He has told us they are secured by Jesus’s blood. By faith we hope for them because His word is trustworthy. And by faith, though not seeing Jesus, we love Him, believe in Him, and rejoice in glorious joy that one day we will. Blessed be our God for His gift of faith! (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 John 3:2)

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Were all His promises immediately fulfilled and visible, we might take them without thought or thanks, and perhaps with a sense of entitlement or having earned them ourselves; our longing would be limited and not bear out the patience and anticipation that fuels our faith. How many earthly inheritances have been squandered by impatient, immature impulses that failed to understand and appreciate the heart of the giver! It is the eager expectation and glad wonder at what is in store that expands our hope and swells our love for the One Who has promised and perseveres. Joy increases when it is fixed on the invisible and builds over time.

Lord, thank You for keeping much unseen, and so testing my faith. Cause it to grow strong, that that my love for You abound, and my faith’s exercise results in Your praise and glory and honor.

Honoring

“Outdo one another in showing honor.” “Pay to all what is owed to them:… respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Romans 12:10;13:7; 1 Peter 2:17

Honor. There is something so moving about the shiny black of the cars, the flap of half- mast flags bowed in humble respect, the hush of a dignified, uniformed procession carrying a color-draped casket, the silent devotion and reverence of people lining the streets at attention as a respected deceased President passes by, regal bells tolling. I was struck by a neighbor who had taken the time to lower his flag in honor of this man who served our country in World War II, surviving being shot down, and then in various public offices, most recently as President.  I was stirred by the man himself who had honored his wife over 70 years in word and behavior, his children with love, others with whom he disagreed as fellow humans, and the highest office in the land because it was a public trust. It has become our entitlement, even the norm, to criticize those in authority, to play side-line coach and nit-pick their decisions, to dishonor with our rebellious attitudes, rolled eyes, and vitriolic words, that I relish this time to stop, be still and thoughtful, and honor. To hush. To be thankful for the freedom to serve others and for those who consider their lives as not their own and believe in causes larger than self, to focus on the good instead of the imperfections we all bear, to show respect for the sacrifice, to bow the head.

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Whom are we called to honor? The King, all government authorities over us, our parents, our spouses and marriages, the brotherhood of believers, all God’s image-bearers. There are lessons to be learned for every day from a country’s honoring of one of its highest dignitaries: Make the effort to show honor, be deliberate in taking the flag of my pompous heart to half-mast; deflect attention to prefer and salute another; set aside your own agenda for a while and stand still and silent, let the other speak and affirm– with no qualification– what he says; use words not to pontificate about self-absorbed opinions but to build up and exalt the other. (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 5:33; Hebrews 13:4; Psalm 15:4; Proverbs 14:31; James 1:19; 1 Corinthians 14:3)

Above all, let us honor mighty God, Who alone is worthy of all glory, honor and praise. Let us honor Him with our first and best, with lips and heart, with praise befitting the King of kings. 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.” (Proverbs 3:9; Matthew 15:8; Revelation 4:11)

“All glory, laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer King; to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas sing. Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David’s royal Son; now in the Lord’s name coming, the King and Blessed One. The company of angels is praising you on high; and we with all creation in chorus make reply. The people of the Hebrews with palms before you went; our praise and prayer and anthems before you we present.” ~ Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans (c. 820)

Lord of lords, as I am mesmerized by the showing of honor here on earth, may I ever take it up as my banner toward all. Your creatures are worthy of honor, and You alone are to be exalted above everything. May my attitudes, words, and actions bear Your nobility, and honoring You be the rhythm of my living.

“Come, Let Us Go Up…”

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem… For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Micah 4:1-2,5; Matthew 7:13-14

It is one thing to walk, and quite another to climb. The first is rather easy and can be done without much (if any) thought or effort–it’s simply what we do in order to get somewhere. But climbing ‘above the hills to the highest of mountains’ takes planning, resolve, energy, effort, and strength; it never “just happens.” Walking is the wide way, climbing is the narrow.

My husband and I love to hike, and climb. Hiking on level paths is invigorating, and enables us to take in the beauty all around us, but climbing requires more strategy, concentration, skillful steps and balance and sweat, with an upward focus. The journey is exhilarating, expectation for the summit motivating, and the views are always worth the extra effort taken to get there.

In our lives, we can walk as most, in the name of our god– our children’s wants and demands, our educational and vocational pursuits, our desired agendas of fitness, recreation, indulging, ‘connoisseuring,’ or we can choose to walk in the name of our the Lord and climb His mountain, that He may teach us what can be understood only on the heights. Why do I choose to stroll in the lowlands when God bids me ascend? What apathy or complacency do I need to shrug off in order to climb unencumbered to learn God’s ways? What low, confined, and worldly views do I need to trade for glimpses of freedom and light broad perspective at the mountain top?

Lord on high, You have established a high place for us and bid us come. Prompt and compel me to climb, each day, to sit with You in the heights, learn of You, and beckon others to come to know Your ways too.

 

Before and After

“David departed from there and escaped to the cave at Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul gathered to him. And he became captain over them.” 1 Samuel 22:1-2

“These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth… wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar, [who] was with David when they defied the Philistines. He rose and struck [them] down until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And next to him was Shammah. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory. And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, ‘Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!’ Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David… Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and killed them and won a name beside the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three. And Benaiah was a valiant man, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he struck down an Egyptian [who] had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the [his] hand and killed him with his own spear. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.” 2 Samuel 23:8-16,18-21,23

Isn’t it amazing what God, good leadership, and time can do to transform people? We have all seen remarkable before and after images, but none is so startling, and so beautiful to me, as these in scripture. Who on earth would choose those who are all Ds- distressed, in debt, and discontent- to become his A-team? Yet God used these very men to develop His leader David, and through him, the men themselves. Hardship and stress pressed everywhere as David was pursued and his resolve and trust in God’s call tested, but he persevered. David had to discern and develop skills and character in his team for them to combat the enemy effectively, and he did so with God’s help. His Lord proved Himself over and over, and as David’s faith and skills grew, so did those of his followers.

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In an age when military duty in most places is not mandatory, and the setting apart of “teenagers” and promoting of extended adolescence are accepted as a norm, it can be a challenge to effect the kind of transformation recorded here. But isn’t this what Jesus does spiritually for us all? He came to earth to live among us ‘losers,’ disobedient and distant enemies of God, strangers to Him, and won our hearts on the cross. He transformed us from children of wrath to His own, saving us, raising us up with Him to new life and a seat in the heavenlies. If this is what He can do, and does, for us spiritually, He can do anything for us and those we love practically! He is the original and best author of Before and After for our sin habits, attitudes, marriages, rebel hearts, relationships, weaknesses. Where do I need a metamorphosis today? (Romans 5:6,10; Ephesians 2:1-7)

Lord and Redeemer, You are the Artist of transformation. You give a new spirit, You turn hearts of stone onto hearts of flesh. You redeem, restore, reconcile, make new. You are able to make all grace abound, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may turn from our worldly ways and abound in every good work. Have Your way with me, that I may be a mighty man that honors You. (Ezekiel 11:19;36:26; 2 Corinthians 9:8)

A Charge to Keep

Then David called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. [He] said to Solomon, ‘My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But [he said], “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. His name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.”

“‘Now, my son, the Lord be with you, so that you may succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as he has spoken concerning you. Only, may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. With great pains I have provided for the house of the Lord 100,000 talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron; timber and stone, too, I have provided. To these you must add. You have an abundance of workmen: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of craftsmen without number, skilled in working gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Arise and work! The Lord be with you!’ David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying, ‘Is not the Lord your God with you? Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God.’” 1 Chronicles 22:6-19

David had fulfilled his charge from God as warrior-king, and now faithfully executed his charge as father to prepare his son Solomon to succeed him and to build the temple he had envisioned. What strikes me is David’s thoroughness in all aspects of passing on the kingdom. Not only did he make organizational and financial preparations, but he made sure Solomon knew what was most important: that he have discretion and understanding, that he adhere to God’s law, that he be strong and courageous and not fear in his role as sovereign, because God had appointed him and was with him.

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Are we prone to supply all manner of things and education and resources for those entrusted to us, but neglect the greater charge of instilling spiritual truths and values in them? Are we more apt to spend our time and energy working to pay for lessons and school and stuff, to driving them here and there for ‘enrichment,’ than we are to expend ourselves in earnest, specific prayer for their souls and character, in training for righteousness, in raising them in the nurture and instruction of the Lord? Do we teach them by our priorities that awards and accomplishments and experiences are more important than humility, holiness, wise decision-making and responsibility? Are we elevating a high view of them above a proper high view of God? Do we give the charge to perform and succeed and win but not to be thankful, to serve, to glorify their Maker? Fulfilling God’s charge for our life is of utmost importance, but it is vital we do so His way: with His understanding, wisdom, strength, the power of His presence, and in alignment with His word. These are the lasting treasures we leave with those in our charge.

“A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify, a never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky. To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will. Arm me with jealous care, as in Thy sight to live, and O, Thy servant, Lord, prepare a strict account to give. Help me to watch and pray, and on Thyself rely; and let me ne’er my trust betray, but press to realms on high.”  ~Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

My King, when You bid me prepare others for life and charge them with Your purpose, may I faithfully, consistently point them to You, and keep You as top priority in every supply and encouragement and training. Only in You, and with You, and for You, can we build for Your eternal glory and praise.

From “But” to “Then”

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord… But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up… So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice… But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!’ And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” Jonah 1:1-4,15,17;2:1-2,9-10;3:1-3

God always gets His way. Sometimes we fidget and fuss and rebel, sometimes we get lazy in delay and deliberation, sometimes we turn hardened and complacent in disobedience, but He will always win out, and we save ourselves a lot of pain and distress if we would yield when first He calls. Jonah learned the hard way, but God prevailed. Jonah took every open door to hasten away from God, away from Ninevah, and his numb conscience lulled him to sleep on a ship headed the opposite direction. But gracious God brought a storm, then conviction when the sailors awakened him. He orchestrated a fish to swallow him whole, and had him ‘stew’ just long enough to relinquish his “buts.” In His mercy, He didn’t chastise him with “I told you so” and “Why don’t you ever get it right?” He simply orchestrated these remarkable events to give Jonah a second chance and bring about His purposes in Jonah’s heart and for the city of Ninevah. This time, Jonah obeyed.

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Where am I resisting God’s word, or delaying obedience, and why? Is my reluctance mired in self-comfort, tradition, preference in my ‘better way,’ stubbornness, prejudice? How often is my first response “but…” instead of “yes!”, and where am I not loving His mercies, extending His grace and love, accepting His plan, trusting His higher and better purposes?

Gracious Father, heed my ears to Your voice and give me a willing spirit to obey, first time; dissolve my “buts” into glad surrender. May I never flee Your presence, even in my will. Thank You for Your mercies when I resist and You patiently prevail. You are God; You are good, and do good, and Your word is good. (Psalm 119:68)