In the Longing

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,.. to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world… Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles… So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Romans 1:1,7-13,15

There is something poignant about the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Romans. The quintessential Jew, he loved and longed to visit the predominantly Gentile church in Rome, a congregation that was known across the empire for its faith. Hindered from doing so to this point, but anxious to meet with them as part of his gospel call to the Gentiles, Paul used his period of longing and waiting constructively, to compose what Martin Luther described as “the epitome of the Gospel.” He took time to write, and prayed for the church from afar, endeavoring to build them up and motivate fruitfulness. He decided that although he could not accomplish this in person the way he had hoped, he would do what he could to stir them up in mutual and increasing faith by way of a letter that would lead to spiritual maturity not only for them, but for millennia to follow. Imagine what we could have missed were Paul’s longings immediately met!

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We can have noble plans, planted in us by the will of the Father, that do not always come to fruition in our timetable. We can long for spiritual sight or humble repentance in those we love, and not see much evidence of the Spirit’s work. How actively, earnestly do we wait, and what should our priorities be in the meantime? 

How willing am I to make a plan B when the Lord prevents me from carrying out my plan A? Where do I see and take new opportunities, or try fresh methods, to serve, love, write or speak truth into others’ lives? If I long to be with those far away, are there some near in the meantime who need my encouragement? Who in my path could benefit from a ministry of love and mercy and gospel truth? In this day of bite-sized electronic messages, who needs a note that can be read over and over?

Father, thank You for Your redeeming purposes in my longing. Teach me to make the most of the time You ordain before what I desire, or what You intend, comes to pass. Bear fruit in my every word and deed. May I know You better that I can make You better known. (Ephesians 5:15-20; Colossians 1:10-11)

When Lightning Strikes

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, “A shower is coming.” And so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat,” and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?'” Luke 12:54-56

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.” “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:8

Summer storms are nothing to trifle with, though wondrous to behold. How often do friendly conversations begin with a discussion of the weather? It is a point of common experience, and something everyone is affected by in some way. We can complain about the heat, or exaggerate the wind or cold, but never get to what really matters. What an accurate illustration of how we can treat as trivial great invisible power, even watching an afternoon storm in awe while unaware of the destruction it can unleash. Jesus says, ‘the weather is no small thing, and has lessons for us. You think you understand it and make rules by its changes, yet you fail to recognize its more important warnings.’

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Recently we observed many who, oblivious to the menacing charcoal clouds that brewed over their shoulders, the escalating wind gusts, played on in the horizontal beauty of surf and sand. While we took action to get under shelter, dozens never looked up and read the sky, and were caught unaware in torrents of lightning, cracking thunder, sheets of rain. The natural warnings Creator God has set in place were not just ignored, they were never considered.

In our day, there is much weather to watch, many wolves to be aware of, and twisted words to catch. Jesus warned of His glorious return, reminding the disciples to watch, to be ready. He knew the tendency of man to make much of temporal things and little of the eternal. Alerted to the wiliness of the enemy, we are foolish not to heed scripture’s warnings, yet our tendency can be to get caught up in the surf of work, play, pontificating that our ears are deaf to truth’s alarm and our dimmed, distracted eyes never see the lightning.

Am I sober-minded? Is my thinking more informed by the holy scriptures than the culture’s droning of talk and in-your-face display? How alert am I to nuances of speech and world-view, the signs of the times, so I can avoid getting caught in the undertow of false security or the eddies of unsound reasoning? (Isaiah 33:5-6)

Lord, keep me steadfast and watchful, alert to Your word and world. Grant me discernment and wisdom, and increase my heart to help others heed Your warnings also. (Colossians 4:2)

 

View From the Heights

Hear this; stop and consider the wondrous works of God… Do you know… the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?” “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” “We give thanks to you, O God; for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.” “Praise the Lord in the heights!” Job 37:14,16; Psalm 40:5; 75:1; 148:1

As I saw the looming incline before me, I found myself leaning forward and pressing on step by step, step by step. I was reacquainted with certain leg muscles that throbbed their hello, and my heart escalated in rhythm to the urban sounds and my anticipation of reaching the top. Climbing a steep hill is no easy task, but a most rewarding one. There is nothing that matches the exhilaration of ‘cresting’ and pausing to take in all that lies around and below you.

The first trek, eyes fixed forward, I continued on to my meeting, only to realize, in disappointment, I had failed to turn around at the peak and behold the view from the top. There is always a smack of regret in getting lost in the drudgery of plodding, panting through the steep climb of responsibilities, the urgent, hardships, even straightforward schedules, and forgetting to stop and relish all that has transpired, all we have passed through, the faithfulness of God over our miles and days. While it is important to look ahead and keep our eyes on a worthy goal, it is also healthy for our spiritual growth to see where we have come from, to recount God’s good providences, to rejoice in the pinnacles and vistas along the way, the fresh perspectives on God and His world, on His methods and the paths He’s appointed for us.

It is important always to keep our view broad and deep, to ask for spiritual vision and practice an eternal perspective. When we bend over and lumber along with tunnel vision, we can miss the glories of progress made, the new facets of God‘s attributes He has revealed, the ways His character is being formed in us. Taking moments to look down from the top reminds us that amidst the nadirs in life, there are peaks, points from which we have greater understanding and can turn and walk on again in new strength.

“I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.’”  ~ Johnson Oa
tman, Jr. (1856-1926)

Father, keep my eyes open to see Your sovereign, purposeful hand all around me, to be thankful not just for where I am going, but for where I have come from by Your grace, and for the actual journey I walk by Your enabling. Cause me often to stop to catch my breath, and behold the wonders You have done. And spur me on to keep climbing as You bid me higher.

Facing Foes, Facing Up

O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.” Psalm 3:1-4

Any day, numerous foes confront the soul, wily tempters to discouragement, depression, doubt, and despair. Physical enemies of fatigue, stress, pain, wasting disease attack the body, while responsibilities and demands and decisions required of specific roles and job assignments tax the mind. How many are these foes! Rising, pressing, choking, taunting, they are relentless!

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But You, O LORD! Against the claim that God cannot save, He does! Amidst the agony of desperate cries, He hears! Against the pressure and cacophony of all that would destroy us, our Lord is a secure shield round about us, enveloping us and lifting our faces to behold in hope His glory!  Allelujah!

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!…In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” “Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice.” Psalm 4:1,8; 5:1-3

Again and again, David the psalmist describes the agony of need, the unstinting pouring out of the heart, met by the gracious, present, personal, loving response of his God. How prone are we to be as honest, as vulnerable, as specific with our need of His help and relief? Am I more apt to confront my foes solo, to attempt to muster the strength to deal with them head-on by myself, or to cry out to my King Whose ear is open and Who has command over all resources, authority over every power? Do I rely more on grit than groan? God alone is our glory in any situation, and He lifts our heads– amazing thought. His all-powerful hand tenderly lifts my head, my face, to His, so that all I can do in my distress is look up. It is there alone I am satisfied, resolved, at peace.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!”  ~ K. (attributed to George Keith, R. Keen) (1787)

LORD, whatever foes You assign to my days, keep me crying to and trusting in You. Lift my head above my circumstances to see Your glory, and reflect it in the here and now.

Staying Plumb

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”  Psalm 1:1-2; 32:2; 51:6

Plumb: “exactly vertical or true.” An old house gives good illustration for floors and walls that are not plumb. It is usually rather evident, by visual inspection or skewed balance, that floors have sagged, doors hang uneven, and walls and corners no longer pass a level’s test. While these places have charm and character, they would likely not stand up to today’s rigorous standards.

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It is a daily challenge to remain ‘spiritually plumb,’ to be filled with truth, to stay pure in a world that readily poisons with words, suggestions, images, philosophies. No matter how uprightly we begin, over time we can settle in to ease, complacency, habits we grow accustomed to that no longer hold strong against new and enticing pressures. When we lose our “sharp,” when we allow slippage from our Rock-bed, we begin to get off-kilter, to sink, sometimes so subtly and insidiously we do not even recognize the distortion. A bit of language here, some new recreation there, a door ajar to new and wayward affections, the entertaining of modern logic that negates eternal truth, the claiming of culture-determined ‘rights’… soon we have welcomed, maybe unconsciously, unperceived cracks that will eat away at our foundation and bring spiritual weakness, even ruin.

Behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:2-3

As foundations are riddled, what do we do? I must first recognize what and who is wicked, and not loiter in their presence. No walking, standing, or sitting with those who would turn my heart astray, my talk to scoffing, who entice my mind to doubt, my resolve to dissipate. Are there individuals, or programs, from which I need distance? I must intentionally delight myself in my Lord, and in His word– churn it over in my mind, apply it to my affections, trust in its power. I am regularly to expose myself to the Spirit’s searching and testing and repent of any foreign allegiances. I must be keen to listen to my Lord’s voice, and walk according to it. I must deliberately establish time in the scriptures to reinforce the foundation of my thinking and doing. (Psalm 37:4; 139:23-24; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:20-21; Matthew 7:24-25)

All these ‘musts’ are not to be attempted in my own power, but will be the fruit of a life yielded to my Sovereign. It is Christ Who works in us, Who gives the will and strength to stay firm. (Philippians 2:12-13; 4:13)

Lord, keep me ever plumb with the foundation of Your true word, accurately reflecting Your design, that You may be glorified in and through me, Your holy dwelling place. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

 

Your God, My God

“[Naomi] was left without her two sons and her husband… She had heard… that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!’ Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?.. Go your way, for I am too old to have a husband… Even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?..’ Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go… Your people shall be my people, and your God my God... May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:5-17

Having been bereaved in a foreign (and heathen) place, where they had originally trekked for food during famine, Naomi left Moab to return to her homeland. Moved by the loving support of her widowed daughters-in-law, she urged them to stay with their people, where they would have a better chance of finding husbands. Orpah reluctantly agreed, but Ruth had made a deeper commitment to this family than just through marriage– she had come to love their God. Her life was no longer a matter of fulfilling her own wishes, or meeting cultural expectations of a family, but had been caught up in the higher matter of faith, of putting away gods to know and align with the true, personal God of Israel. Her devotion was not only to Naomi, but to the mighty LORD she represented, and she was all in. She would follow, forever.

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It is easy to begin each day with ‘my want,’ but as we grow with Jesus, He gradually transfers my dreams and self-driven desire for satisfaction to Him and His: ‘Your want.’ Orpah’s loyalty to Naomi was no less than her sister-in-law’s, but she had not yet surrendered to a life lost in the LORD.

What, and who, captivates me? To what measure is my devotion to Almighty God seen in the alliances I keep, the choices I make, the directions I take? Are there idols in my foreground that hold sway over eternal God?

LORD on high, I claim You as my God, from Whom I cannot be separated. May I ever align with and grow alongside Your people, and follow You. (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5)

 

The Deadly Put-off

“‘We have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him’… When the governor [Felix] had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I cheerfully make my defense. You can verify that… I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd… But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God,.. that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.’

Felix put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’ Then he gave orders.. that he should be kept in custody… After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’ At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” Acts 24:5-6,8,10-12,14-15,20-27

Felix the governor, endowed by his authority to decide cases, liked his position and the power it held. Sadly, it held fast his heart from warming to truth that would have set him free. Paul, in stating his legal defense, also presented the gospel, and Felix heard it repeatedly with mixed reactions. He was drawn, knowing enough to be curious, attracted enough to include his wife; but he was also disturbed by the clear reasoning of Paul’s faith and being confronted with righteousness, acts of the will, and judgment. Conviction chafed, so he resisted, and procrastinated. He allowed truth to tease, but not penetrate. His heart, stiffened by the ulterior motive of greed, his mind, tainted by the swagger of his pride, and his will, preferring control over surrender, all contributed to his ultimate, deadly put-off of Jesus. (John 8:31-32; Hebrews 9:27)

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Where do I dismiss the Spirit’s voice in my conscience, His presence in my preferences and habits, His commands in my plans and activities? Are there areas where I deign to seek His guidance, but dawdle when it involves sacrifice, or changing my thinking, or adjusting my lifestyle? Do I sing “I surrender all” but actually let go of very little? What evidence is there in my day-to-day that Jesus is my true hope in life and judgment?

Holy Father, reveal to me where I give You only lip-service and am half-hearted in my choices. Purify my confession, match my actions to it, and keep me all-in, for the magnification of Your life-giving truth.