What We (Want to) Hear

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

Fearfully facing aggressive Babylon who is encroaching on Jerusalem, Israel’s leaders ask Jeremiah to seek the Lord and His will for them. May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” Jeremiah spends over a week praying, listening, and reports back that in order to preserve their lives, they must not flee to Egypt; if they do, all that they fear–the sword, famine, and pestilence– will come upon them. Their vow, which had been so convincing, is short-lived. (Jeremiah 42:5-17)

When Jeremiah finished speaking, all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to live there.”‘ So all the commanders and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah, but the commanders took all the remnant of Judah and they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes.” Jeremiah 43:1-2,4-5,7

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As shocking as this account is, it is a mirror to ourselves and exposes our fickleness and resistance to anything– advice, admonishment, imposed restraint, work, a change in agenda, unfulfilled dreams, difficult relationships– we don’t like, or want to do. When Jeremiah’s words do not line up with what they thought best, they rebel, refusing His message and striking out on their own. Having just promised to “do whatever,” they admit by their belligerent response that they really just wanted Jeremiah to affirm their already-formed opinion, to say what they wanted to hear.

Don’t I mimic their behavior and attitude? How often do I form my plans, based on my selfish desires or fear of what-ifs, and then ‘consult’ with God, trying to convince Him of, or asking His blessing on, my brilliant ideas? What commands that are clearly defined in Scripture does our culture, and do I, twist sideways to accommodate personal preferences? Where do I ask, Lord, what is Your will, then resist and complain when He denies mine? Do I really think, with my limited knowledge and vision, that I know best?

Benevolent, all-knowing God, may I seek sound teaching from Your word always, and be quick and whole-hearted in obedience to it. No matter what looms, You know the end, and I can trust that it is good.

 

Daily Bearing

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up….He is the one who gives power and strength to his people.” “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Psalm 68:19,35; Isaiah 46:4

Daily. What a comforting, fortifying thought. God does not say, today I’ll bear you up, and see how you do, and then decide about tomorrow. His promise is lasting, for daily sufficiency, daily sustenance, daily encouragement, daily power. Every first waking moment He is nigh, His everlasting arms underneath as we rise. He bears us up–not as a burden, but as our stable support, as we go on our way. He hoists us up to see as He sees and to breathe His air, to move in His direction and sense His strength through every moment, every hour. He strides with us in every encounter, sits with us through every sorrow, abides with us in decisions and relationships and difficult tasks and storms. And He bears us through day’s end, and on to bed. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. ” O, what a God He is! (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 4:8; 3:5)

Sunset w orange, clouds, rain

Lord, Lifter of my head, I bless You for faithfully, consistently bearing me up. May my daily and everlasting song bear high Your Name and glory. and immeasurable worth

Check the Bitter

When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar…. Then Absalom commanded his servants, ‘Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Strike Amnon,” then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.’ So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded….Jonadab said, ‘Amnon is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar.'” 2 Samuel 13:21-22,28-29,32

Absalom’s story in 2 Samuel 13-18 is a sad one, and from the time he enters the stage, he seems bitter. Perhaps his extreme good looks gave him a sense of swagger and entitlement among all his half-siblings in what had to be a crazy royal household. When his sister is raped by their half-brother Amnon, David is angry, but as far as we know, does nothing. Absalom stews, and his anger grows into bitterness toward the culprit as well as, we can assume, his father who did not intervene. He has Amnon killed, flees in fear of retribution, returns after three years by order of the king although David won’t face him (perhaps he is unsettled by his own- be it forgiven- sexual sin and murder plot). Absalom’s bitterness multiplies into rash, destructive behavior, igniting Joab’s field to get attention, then conspiring  over four years against his father to become king himself. His bitterness takes over reason as he presses his agenda, displaces his father, and goes into David’s concubines “on the roof, in the sight of all Israel,” a horrendous display of disrespect and self-exerted authority.

Johnson grass

How does a bitter impulse grow so destructive? It went unchecked. In my garden I used to try my best to extricate the Johnson grass, that awful green stuff that spread its roots underground like a disease. If I pulled up what I saw, it could just snap off, and would reappear within a day or two. But after a rain, I could gently pull, and up would come all its trailers and other sprouts. Unchecked, it could take over the garden, but when removed thoroughly by the root, its damaging sway was removed. “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” We must beware, be vigilant, and see to checking any bitterness in ourselves and those we disciple. Allowing wrongs done to us fester, imagining the worst from a terse email received, stewing over circumstances we abhor or unmet dreams we think we deserve, are all poison to the heart and to any community. (Deuteronomy 29:18; Hebrews 12:15; Romans 12:19)

O God Who sees and knows all, give me eyes to recognize and bold will to confess and check any bitter impulse in me, and leave all its reasons with You. Uproot it immediately that it not spread its wicked tendrils. May I rather grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

The Make and Use of Pots

“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”  “Can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” Romans 9:21; 2 Timothy 2:21; Jeremiah 18:6

Sculpture was a favorite class own high school. For any project, the clay is kneaded to find and remove impurities and to prepare it to shape. To create an object, many techniques- rolling, pinching, hatching, layering, smoothing- are used. To ‘throw’ a vessel on the potter’s wheel, pressure is applied strongly and evenly from both outside and in until the desired shape is achieved. The properties of clay- malleable, re-workable-while-soft, ability to hold stain or glaze and stone-hard after firing- make it a substance of choice for an artist.

 

Over the course of our lives, as clay in the hands of the Divine Potter, He shapes and uses us for many different purposes. He consistently works impurities from us, and handles us with skilled care. While a pot that has been fired in a kiln cannot be reshaped, God calls us to remain soft in His hands, developed and utilized by Him in different roles and places in different seasons, or even different days. In service to our King, we may be His chalice of the wine of truth and life; or hold lively blooms of love and light at His gates, announcing His beauty, order, and care to all who seek Him; or be a vessel pouring living water on a weary invalid or thirsty seeker; or bear coins, or oil, or tinder for a variety of necessary uses in His kingdom. What He calls me to do today may not be what He intends for tomorrow.

O Lord, may I never forget that I am a pot. Keep me malleable in Your good and sovereign hands. May I be equally willing to do humble tasks as to hold Your light on a stand, to serve as cupbearer to the king as to keep flowers in the garden. You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Romans 12:16; Luke 8:16; Isaiah 64:8)

Regret; Renew

“‘Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess…I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The Lord, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.'” Judges 11:24,27

Jephthah, a ‘mighty warrior but son of a prostitute,’ is outcast by his half-brothers until help is needed by the elders of Gilead to fight the Ammonites. He agrees to be their head and exhibits strong leadership by not negotiating with the king of the Ammonites. Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand,  then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’” (Judges 11:29-31) What was he thinking? His rash vow, his bargain with God, while expectantly confident and full of gratitude, was capricious. After the Ammonites were subdued, his daughter, an only child, was the one to walk through the door.

I’ve always reeled at this tragic account, and chastised Jephthah for his foolishness, yet with this story am regretting more than one recent decision I have made. It seems all too easy to have holy resolve and mental sharpness in the morning, and slip into impulsive decisions later in the day that disregard the big picture and ignore consequences. How can thoughtful surrender so readily become thoughtless choice? Thank You, Father, that You do not leave us there.

Starfish w regenerating leg.JPG

I saw a starfish on the beach yesterday, one of its legs broken off, but regenerating, and thought how like that creature I am. I cannot always undo, but in Christ my sin can be removed and I can re-do. I can learn and come into a fuller understanding of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and power.

Lord, You rebuild, You renew. You bore not only our bad choices, but our regret and the fallout from them on the cross. Grace, contrition, returning, are all of You. When Your Spirit brings righteous regret, see it through in me to genuine repentance and full return to You. Keep sway over all of me. (Mark 10:26-27; Jeremiah 24:6; Acts 15:16)

 

Even the Prickly

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-2,4-7

 Put to death what is earthly in you: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:5,8,9-12,14,17

Most evergreens look prickly, but looks can be deceiving. I think the phrase “rubs me the wrong” way came from pine needles, because if you touch them the ‘wrong’ way, they stick and hurt, but if you rub them the other way, they are soft to the touch. Even the most prickly people can be softened by God’s careful hand when their tendencies are yielded to Him. There are advantages to having great drive, ambition, well-informed opinions and a strong personality — leadership qualities all. But when these are used in a boisterous, rude, capricious, or self-serving way, they are prickly to those around them, and any effectiveness falls flat. When submitted to God’s gracious kneading, and lordship, filtered through concern for others and expressed with love, the same qualities are received softly and gratefully by those being led, and can be used by Him for much good, positive influence, and the advancement of His plans.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:23-24

“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” 2 Samuel 22:36; Psalm 18:35

Lord, guard me from planning or executing anything from selfish ambition or conceit, driven by my accelerator rather than Yours. Replace touchiness and prickliness with others-focused kindness and love. May I genuinely consider others as more important than I, and do everything for their sake, and Yours. Make me strong, and gentle. Philippians 2:3-4

From Glory to Glory

“To this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3: 14,16-18; 4:6

Since Jesus died and opened the way for us to approach God, through His blood and the torn veil, we are now being transformed into His image. Created in God’s image, all humans reflect aspects of His character–we have eternal souls, we exercise will, we have dominion over the earth. And when we are in Christ by His grace, His Spirit sanctifies us, ‘fitting us for heaven’ even as He transforms us from one degree of glory to another here on earth. This passage can read that we are ‘beholding’ HIs glory, or ‘reflecting’ it; certainly as we gaze, we absorb and reflect Him. It is He Who shines in our hearts the light of the knowledge of His glory, and light in us cannot help but ooze out and be reflected in our faces, our manner, our outlook. (Genesis 1:26,27; Psalm 8:5-8)

Reflection, clouds in water

“Finish then Thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
perfectly restored in Thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before Thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.”                                                                                          ~Charles Wesley (1747)

Lord Christ, You are in me my hope of glory. Keep sanctifying me, that I may be a clear reflection of You. Identify and remove all that would obstruct Your work in me and Your light to others: self-serving agenda, neglect of time with You, sloth, prioritizing other loves above You. May the hope of heaven and seeing You face to face be my impetus to yield daily to Your transforming power. May Your light in me so shine that others see and glorify You, my Father in heaven. (Colossians 1:27; 1 John 3:2-3; Matthew 5:16)