From Comfort to Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

The Gulf is dimpled glass this morning, reflecting blue. On the bottom I see but cannot reach are sand dollars, imprints of starfish, and crab craters. I paddle above schools of fish, dash-sized and larger, and watch their morning exercise sweep them in esses and pock the water like silver rain. I spot a sea turtle and he spots me, quickly to re-submerge his crackly head. A flock of pelicans glides gracefully by. All is calm, all is bright. Eight hundred miles to the north, all is raging, all is dark, as Hurricane Florence unleashes her wrath on the North Carolina coast.

A year ago, her cousin-once-removed, Irma, was wreaking violent havoc with where I am now. I know the pulsing anticipation, the sweaty preparation, the concern for the unknown, the opening of the hand on all you own and planned for, the waiting. And I know the untouchable peace of the God of all comfort Who rides every storm. There is nothing like enduring the wrath of a hurricane, or the death of a parent or grandchild, the pain of a loveless marriage, the journey of a debilitating or terminal illness, to teach us lessons of breath-taking suffering and God’s palpable comfort, and to enable us to empathize with and offer comfort to others in similar distress. There is a mysterious draw to, a connection with, others who have shared our sorrows.

Lord, broaden my heart and care for others. May no storm, no suffering, no grief be wasted. May the inexplicable comfort You give regenerate through me into comfort shared.  Because of my storms, I will never be the same; because of the storm You suffered for me on the cross, life is never the same. Allelujah.

That You May Know

“Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them. You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am the Lord; I have spoken—. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. And you shall know that I am the Lord. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 5:13,15; 6:6-7,9-10,12-14

These are hard words, but God’s words. His character is perfect and complete, and His righteous anger and judgment are as much a part of Him as His compassion and love. He does not delight to judge, but in His holiness He must, and He has divine purposes that point to the greater, all-encompassing, cosmos-changing judgment Jesus bore for us on the cross. (Job 32:12; Ezekiel 18:23,30-32; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:9)

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” Psalm 7:11

Rainbow, Sunday morning

He Who shows forth His majesty through the glories of color, the upholding of our earth in orbit and the certainty of day and night and seasons, the love between husband and wife, parent and child, the humor in a dog running figure-eights or a description of a character in a book, is the One Who will not yield His glory to another, and Whose holiness causes us to fall as unclean. (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11; 6:1-5)

The beauty of these passages is the stated intent (which I regularly mark in my Bible with a symbol), “that you may know that I am the LORD.” This high and holy transcendent God is also personal, immanent, and wants us to know Him! Like the facets of a polished diamond against black cloth, how beautiful His mercy against the backdrop of our sin and the righteous condemnation and judgment we deserve! The God Who judges sin without winking at or excusing it, is the God Who in immeasurable love sent His perfect only Son to bear on the cross the punishment we deserve. He exercises His whole character so we can know Him fully, and respond in richer worship.

My Father, increase my knowledge of the perfections of Your character, that I might know You better, and worship You more completely.

 

 

My Sanctuary

“Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.” “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” Ezekiel 11:16; 37:27-28

Sanctuary: a place of refuge or safety; a holy place; the holiest part of a church containing the high altar; haven, harbor, shelter, retreat. Our great God promises that He is our sanctuary. When His people were in exile in a foreign land, He did not abandon them, but was present and near.

Penzance, England

I carry Him; He carries me, always. No matter where we are: in a clinical room awaiting a diagnosis or chemo, a crowded commuter train, a difficult workplace or marriage, enduring loneliness or sleepless nights, traveling hotel to hotel in a foreign country, facing persecution due to our stand for truth or awaiting an ominous storm, God is our sanctuary. No walls are needed: He hems us in. No door is required: He closes us in. No altar must be present: the veil has been torn and the way opened to the Holy of holies. God is our very present help in trouble, in our midst, with us as our ruling Peace. He is our place and object of worship. We can hide in Him and be secure, wherever and always. (Psalm 139:5; Genesis 7:16; Mark 15:38; Psalm 46:1,5,7; Isaiah 9:6; Exodus 15:17; Proverbs 18:10)

“A little Sanctuary art Thou to me! O Jesus, best beloved! I live with Thee;                              My heart has found it’s everlasting home, its sure abiding place where’er I am.                        A little Sanctuary art Thou to me! My heart is stilled beneath love’s canopy;                        The ‘Holiest of All’ is opened wide, And I may enter and be satisfied.                                         A little Sanctuary art Thou to me! No fabled shrine, but deep reality!                                  Thou saidst it should be so when at Thy call I rose and followed gladly, leaving all.                A little Sanctuary art Thou to me! All joyfully I pitch my tent with Thee;                                  Or ready still to journey at Thy word– ‘In Thee’ I ‘live and move,’ most blessed Lord.            A little Sanctuary art Thou to me! I always am ‘at home’ on land or sea;                         Alone, yet never lonely now, I prove The ‘Hundredfold,’ Lord Jesus, in Thy love.”                   ~Emily May Grimes (1864-1927)

O Lord, my Sanctuary, may I ever delight in, rest in, worship in, Your hallowed Presence.

My Body, God’s Temple

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The biblical description of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 details careful craftsmanship and exquisite beauty for the place of God’s holy Presence and worship. “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this [temple] that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this [temple], the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there.’” In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses sexual immorality, which I expand into any gluttony of the flesh and idolatry of the body, by getting to the bottom line: Your body is God’s temple; you are not your own. In other words, the Lord has intricately designed and beautifully made you, and your life cost Him His; therefore, honor Him, not yourself!

Lee's Camera as of Nov 2008 190

 

If I am merely a steward of my body, if God’s Holy Spirit lives in me, if Jesus paid the ultimate price with His crucifixion for my sake, how can I not be deliberate in exalting God with my body? With any decision for food or drink, for activity or inactivity, for self-pampering or serving others, for how I use my tongue, or eyes, or time, am I filtering it through the fact that I am a custodian, and my body is the dwelling of the Holy God? And all I am and present and do should glorify Him?

“God be in my hands, and in my understanding;                                                                          God be in my eyes, and in my looking;                                                                                           God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;                                                                                    God be in my heart, and in my thinking.”                                                                                   ~19th Century

“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.”                                                                                                   ~Frances Havergal 1874

So be it, Amen.

“It’s Just a Thing”

 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them.” Ezekiel 7:10-11, 19-20

I recently discovered something dear to me was broken. I initially felt sick–an irreplaceable decades-old treasure from someone I loved was in pieces. I didn’t even want to look. But as I thought on the ‘travesty’ with an eternal perspective, the freedom started to come, peace took over as I opened my hands. It is only a thing! I will not take this with me! What has given delight in its beauty has served its purpose, and I can rest in that.

God’s strong judgment on Israel through His prophet Ezekiel hits hard on the all-consuming greed and accumulation of man. Amassed wealth of silver and gold, the abundance of things, beautiful adornments, had become their idol– their sustenance and pleasure and identity and cause for boasting without which they were not satisfied. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:2-5) Misplaced affection had taken over as first love, and a jealous God will have nothing to do with that. Is there any thing I am valuing more than I should?

Good Father, First Love, I am rich only in You. Keep all You entrust to me in proper perspective. Remind me, and keep me reminding myself, these are just things, vehicles for the working out of Your plans for me and for the glory of You. (Revelation 2:4; 3:17; Ephesians 2:10)

Gifts from Engedi

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. God equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” Psalm 18:2-3,17-19,30,32,35

David, anointed but not yet crowned king, is in the wilderness, prey hunted by a jealous, capricious King Saul. Engedi is snarly, rough, and a cave would offer welcome relief from the heat but an uncertain security, and there David hid from Saul and his army five times the number of his own… Heart thumping, please don’t echo… the royal entourage is coming in heavily… and Saul stops. Do I take him out, this crazed pursuer? No, he is God’s anointed, and God’s time and ways are perfect. I shall prove my loyalty to my sovereign.

He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord‘s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord‘s anointed.’ So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage.” 1 Samuel 24:6-8 

It was the wilderness of Engedi that manifested the grace of God– His enabling of David’s heart to trust, his hands to do the right thing, his development as a strong, patient, and persuasive leader of his troops, his tongue to extol his divine Protector and LORD. David’s ‘training’ in Engedi was actually divine water to the weary soul of the hunted– not his choice, but God’s benevolent necessity as He prepared him to lead Israel. He wrote at least two psalms from this experience, 57 and 142.

Almighty Master, lead me with steadfast heart to Your waterfall in the wilderness, Your merciful refuge in the storm, Your song in the dark caves, Your way of escape when under attack. Keep me trusting that You are working out Your purpose for me in every Engedi. (Psalm 57:7; 77:6; 1 Corinthians 10:13)

“Whatever You Do”

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of [his] conscience. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24,27-28,31-33 

Paul was sold out. He who had grown up as a stickler for Jewish laws had been transformed into one who followed a different code– that of “whatever you do, do for God– His glory, His purposes, His people, His gospel.” Our human bent is to conform to rules, regulations, diets, schedules, agendas, to-do lists; we crave some kind of order or plan and adjust our lives accordingly to accomplish whatever end we are pursuing.

But the Lord calls us here to invert that thinking inside out, and put Him and others first, always. This is radical, and often requires radical change in our intention and will. Only God can transform my selfish filter of ‘efficient, comfortable, productive, safe, makes me feel good, what I deserve, possible, what I have time for, what I want/like to do,’ into one of ‘helpful, upbuilding, the good of others, the sake of others’ conscience, the glory of God, no offense, please others, their advantage, that they might be saved.’

How many decisions do I make that advance my agenda and satisfy my wants and desires? How might I adjust my daily plans, what might I do differently, what might I give up, if I were really aiming to glorify God in everything, and do all for the good of others?

O God, have Your way with me, through and through! I am Your servant in whom You are to be glorified. You created all things for Yourself. Revolutionize my thinking and motives and energy by Your good and powerful Spirit, that I might breathe, think, plan, and do all for Your glory and the good of others, just as my Savior Jesus did. All to Him I owe. (Isaiah 49:3; Colossians 1:16; Philippians 2:3-5)