Change the Subject

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving… Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret… And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:4,6-12,18-20

Our world is full of words, and the input we get from both media and mingling often presents an onslaught of crude and meaningless chatter to which we must respond. Some will sink in by osmosis, some we cannot turn off, none can we ‘un-hear,’ but we can choose to change the subject.

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The filthy and foolish are “out of place;” we may not always be able to abandon their ‘place,’ but can resolve not to let them take up residence in ours. Give no attention, guard mental barriers, lift our focus instead to thanksgiving to God. There is nothing so powerful as gratitude to fill in and fill up our brains with good. Empty words breed deception, and we must turn from their darkness to light, from falsehood and waste to truth and substance, from filling our minds with the trivial and meaningless to practiced discernment of what honors God. He calls us to change the subject of our interests, from voyeuristic intrigue over tidbits of salacious information and the debauchery of others, to contemplation of His loveliness, from the trickling of gossip from our mouths to filling them to overflow with the music of praise and thanks.

Where do I need to turn a corner to change the subject? If my mind goes dark, to places unpleasing to God by way of criticism, or comparisons, or self-loathing, or prurient interests, will I deliberately re-focus my thoughts to things above and the light of truth? When complaining and criticism creep in, and out, will I replace that thinking and spitting with melodious thanks? When conversation goes raunchy, what words will I use to elevate it, to offer a new and wholesome and more interesting subject? When demeaning banter begins, how will I change gears and direction to upbuild others, to affirm value? (Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:1-2)

Living Word, give me wisdom, and fortitude, and practical help, to change the subject when called for. Guide my thinking and my mouth’s responses to all I hear, that I might cause others to consider, and give thanks to, You.

No More Breath

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” 1 Kings 10:2-5

Her visit to the king yielded far more than she ever would have dreamed. The Queen of Sheba anticipated an official visit to share formalities, extend peace, establish good will, and exchange gifts. What she saw, and learned, and was given by Solomon, went beyond her imaginings and captivated her senses.

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Her observations of the king strike a deep chord when we consider what we can learn of our almighty King. When we come to Him in silence, with the eyes of our heart open wide, there is no end to our gleaning. When we pour out all that concerns us, He hears, answers, teaches, and guides. When we open His word and trace His hand through history, He reveals the architecture of His grand purposes. As we drink Him in, and soak in His ways, we recognize His delectable and sufficient provision for our needs. In worship and contemplation of His attributes, we behold His order and magnificence in all He has made, and realize that every creature and all of creation, in reverence and song and beauty, serves His glory. We cannot help but be captivated by His perfect wisdom, His infinite grace, His measureless love, His glorious splendor, His inexpressible, regal worth, and be undone.

What effort do I expend to go see my King? Is there a habit, a love, I am unwilling to set aside in order to do so? When I spend time with Him, how lavish are my expectations?  Are they limited by selfish wants and an unreasonably low view of Him, or are they based on His royal stature and authority? Are my meetings with Him casual and quick, or do I take time to prepare my heart for His presence, to reverently bow, to sit and commune with Him, to consider His ways and works, to walk and talk through life’s days with Him, and watch and listen? What in this world keeps me panting, worn out in the chasing, only to leave me limp with meaningless fatigue?

King of kings, take my breath away. May I so behold Your beauty, and wonder at Your ways, may my heart be so captivated by You that You arrest me. Plant in me the holy air of eternal praise.

That They May, That He May

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart… If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land. Likewise, when a foreigner comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you… 

“The Lord our God be with us. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:23,37-43, 57-60

Solomon, who grasped the high transcendence of Almighty God, prayed with high motive and purpose. At the dedication of the temple, his pleas to God were earnest and specific, not for limited action but lofty results- that people would know God, revere His name, delight in His ways, and that this wondrous God would hold sway in their lives.

Iceland ice floes under clouds (NK)

What do my prayers reveal about my ultimate goals and deepest motives? We can pray for the transitory, the temporal, the easing of pain and discomfort in the here and now. We may get what we ask for, we may not, and either way, we might question God’s concern and be confused at His purpose. Or we can lift high our wonderings, take time and attention to praise, and seek eternal things above. We can plead that we and others will know and revere God through every trial, opportunity, conundrum, situation, and decision. We can ask that God have His way with our will, exercising full reign of our hearts and taking residence in our every drive and passion. When we so seek Him, He will be magnified no matter what, and for that, He is worthy. (Colossians 3:1-2)

Exalted Father, fix my heart on You. May all my pleadings be for Your highest renown, and others’ highest good.

 

Eager for Unity

I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… We are to grow up in every way into… Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love… We are members one of another… Share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear… Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:1-7,12-13,15-16,25,28-29,32

I watched as thick seals lounged, stretched, pushed, plopped, hoisted, finagled, amassed together on a large buoy, barking at each other as they forged their own space and piled against one another. What a picture of God’s people playing the daily balancing act of working together to be unified: different shapes, colors, voices, personalities, and strengths, throwing and shifting weight around to ply together, to both weather and enjoy the ride of ever-changing times.

Harbor Seals on Red Buoy, Dana Point, CA

We are made for and called to unity, equipped to attain it, and urged to be eager to maintain it in the Body. God has united us in Spirit, granted us differing and complementary gifts, and commanded us to grow and strive together to build up each other unto maturity in Christ. Life’s conditions will constantly change, relationship seas may be turbulent or calm, weather from circumstances will vary from stormy to idyllic, but in the love and power of our Redeemer, with humility and a generous willingness to forgive, we can pile together with unified purpose and peace in a manner worthy of our calling.

Harbor Seals at rest on Red Buoy 3, Dana Point, CA

Where am I lacking gentleness and patience? What drives me to prefer myself over others, and how can I begin to practice unselfish actions and conversation? Where am I holding a grudge or revisiting old hurts, instead of remembering Jesus’ mercy to me by extending it to others? Will I choose to swallow words that break down, that sting and stir dissension, and voice instead those that build up?

Lord, identify in me the areas where I disrupt Your intended unity in the Body, and remake me. Fill me with holy eagerness, and the will to match it with action.

 

 

Dry unto Life

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ As I prophesied, there was a sound, and a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them… and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet… I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” Ezekiel 37:1-8,10,14

Hard flat roofs, glazed with dew, glisten in the shade like hard hearts that resist offered water. Once the sun rises, the surface dries, bereft of moisture and inanimate.  The bones Ezekiel saw were just as dry and lifeless. Yet in God’s masterful intent, He deigned revival, and told the prophet to speak His words of life over them. First a rattle, then muscles, and flesh, and breath, life into the lifeless was born in a spectacle that delights the imagination.

Wet roofs at Laguna

I can feel dry, energy-less, spent, uninspired. At times I am all dry bones. I know the Lord is near, with His fresh dew of life available, but until I open myself to His wonder-working power, I lie lifeless and remain spiritually arid. It is the God of grace and bounty Who builds, breathes, and opens my life to deep renewal. It is He Who rattles away my sloth and fatigue, shakes away what holds me down, and blows new life in by His magnificent word. (Genesis 2:7; 1 Peter 5:10)

What triggers dry spells? Are there habits or schedules that need to change in order for us to remain lively? How faithful, how consistent am I to drink in His word, and trust His presence to soak in, revive my soul, and become my life power?

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

Lord of Life, Who raises the dead and gives them life, please renew my life today. May I ever know You afresh in ways unknown before. As You revive my body and spirit, may my every living breath rejoice and make You known. (John 5:21)

Constant Companions

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.” “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Galatians 2:1; Proverbs 13:20; 27:17 Barnabus, Titus

In this simple description of Paul’s early years of public ministry, we are drawn to the importance of companions. Paul had undergone a remarkable spiritual transformation-  when God brought Paul to his knees, He sent Ananias to confront him. From the beginning, He provided Barnabus, the “encourager,” to be his friend, initially to introduce and defend him, and then, after Paul’s time alone of being steeped in the Lord, to travel with him and share in his influential  work as a strong comrade and confidante. They did not always agree, but God worked much good from their opposing opinions, not only to spread the gospel further as they at one time parted ways, but by giving us an example of how to agree to disagree fruitfully. Here in Galatians, it is Paul who refutes Peter over an inaccurate conduct. Titus, a Greek who learned much about faith in Jesus from Paul, offered this Jewish intellect a non-Jewish perspective, and so, even as his ‘understudy’ in faith, deepened Paul’s understanding of how to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. (Acts 4:36; 9:1-22,26-27; 15:36-41; Galatians 1:15-22; Titus 1:4-5)

We need encouragers, and we need to encourage and disciple. We need different viewpoints. Lives are made rich through interactions and friendships with those older and younger, more seasoned and wise and those who need edification and support. We learn from, and our ministry is enhanced by, those God places around us, maybe for a short season, sometimes through love history. Our interactions should uplift, encourage, and console, we must speak and receive the truth in love, and so build up one another. (Acts 9:10-17; 1 Corinthians 14:3; Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:15)

Four boy friends, Cornwall, England

Would I take an assessment of my companions? Do I prefer to surround myself with those who always agree with me, whose inclination is to go along with my plans and attitudes (including negative), those whom I can lead and somewhat control and who do nothing to build me up in the faith? Am I content to align myself with those who pull me down spiritually, who allow me to relish the world’s satisfactions with the excuse that I am morally superior and just want to relate to others? Do I seek only those from whom I can learn, and I am always the sponge, the taker, even sometimes to mooch, claiming myself inadequate, or not having the time or energy to ever do any good for others? Do I only want to pontificate about my opinions, that are always right? Or am I, in God’s grace, open to a variety of friendships, to learning from others and generously giving back?

Lord, may I unselfishly and lovingly befriend and interact with all sorts of people, be eager and willing to both learn and teach, to take and to give. Please so weave my life with others’ that Your Body radiates love and power to the onlooking world.

 

Can’t Do Everything

King Solomon was king over all Israel, and these were his high officials: Azariah the son of Zadok was the priest; Elihoreph and Ahijah the sons of Shisha were secretaries; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the army; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers; Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend; Ahishar was in charge of the palace; and Adoniram the son of Abda was in charge of the forced labor… And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore.” 1 Kings 4:1-6,29

Solomon had an immense charge over a burgeoning nation, and in his God-given wisdom, knew he could not do everything. It takes a good measure of spiritual wisdom, laced with humility, to recognize we are not capable of doing all that is needed for a large task, and even more practical wisdom to be able to place around us those who can complement our abilities, exercise proficiency in areas where we lack, and come alongside to give needed counsel and refinement. It was Solomon himself who wrote, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety; Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed; By wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory; Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6; 27:17)

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When the Lord calls us to be a leader, He invites us to trust Him to provide for those in our ‘cabinet.’ We must be willing to think of ourselves not too highly, but accurately and soberly, then seek holy insight for those with differing gifts that can be forged together to make for a formidable team. If we are honest, we will admit need for friendship in the workplace, a confidante or two who can listen and speak truth to us when we lose our spiritual grounding, when we make mistakes, to discuss strategy and hurts and personal challenges. When we listen, plan, and manage well, we also recognize the need for vision-casting, training, keeping the team in line with unified mission. Solomon was known for the happiness of those who served beside him, because they spent time with him, they gleaned understanding and expertise as he shared with them wisdom and care, and they thrived in their ‘sweet spots.’ (Romans 12:3-8)

What assignments has the Lord given me? Do I shrink from taking a responsibility because it is too hard, without looking to see how He would have me tackle the job and who He might bring alongside to help? Do I dive in with gusto and burn out because I am trying to do everything, or to control my co-laborers through micro-management? When I take on what is not mine to do, I deny others from learning and growing in their gifts, and I rob God of His glory by taking all the credit.

Father, teach me humility and discernment in all You call me to do. May I ever be malleable and wise, leading with confidence, yet fully dependent on Your supply, so You receive the glory.