The Art of Self-Control

So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem… I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem…’ And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” Nehemiah 2:11-18

Nehemiah is a manual for godly leadership. Upon hearing report of Jerusalem’s trouble and shame, this Israeli official fasts and prays, then strategically asks for permission and provision to return there to help his brothers. God honored his humble, measured reaction by granting him generous favor from the heathen king. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he once again exhibits self-control; rather than exclaiming at conditions or talking up his plans, he quietly, privately inspects the city, thoughtfully (and prayerfully, we can assume) makes his strategy, and presents his plan persuasively to those who would do the work. No need for broad loud announcement, no place for drawing attention to himself or for excess chatter. And the leaders bought in, inspired by his focused leadership.

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When faced with a problem or task, do I spontaneously react, or with self-control assess and respond? Do I immediately go to friends or the internet, or to all-wise God? Do I crowd my mind with others’ ideas and advice, or ask God for His perspective? Do I start spilling out my words and plans, or quietly seek the Holy One? Do I scatter information about my doings, or simply get to work with those who are part of the solution? How well am I allowing the Holy Spirit to measure and direct my actions?

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise of heart is called discerning.” Proverbs 17:27; 16:20-21

Lord, develop in me maturity in discernment, and Your Spirit’s fruit of self-control in my thinking, speaking, and doing. I commit my work to You that You might establish my plans, to the praise of Your glory. (Galatians 5:22-23; Hebrews 5:14; Proverbs 16:3)

Changing Tack

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority… These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'” Matthew 10:1,5-6

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him. But Peter explained it to them… ‘The voice from heaven [said], “What God has made clean do not call common…” If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:1-2,4,9,17

When we are headed one way in life, in the path at that time obedient, with a set of directions, expectations, what-has-always-been, it is hard to change tack. But as a lusty wind requires a sailboat to ‘come about’ in order to stay on course, so in our lives, sometimes God requires a change of direction, and makes His demands when we least expect it. This He did for Peter, initially called to minister distinctly to the Jews, and now, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, dramatically redirected to include the formerly “unclean, common” Gentiles. Surely, God had no preference, only strategy in seasons of time. He gave Peter a jarring, clear vision, which he at first resisted, citing his commitment to his religious vows and to Jesus’ specific earlier call. The sovereign Master persisted, and Peter obeyed, trusting the divine Messenger, Who orchestrated events to confirm this new direction.

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Consider Abraham, when called to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” He not only had to change direction from all he had ever known, but to leave behind some people and things he loved. We can imagine he, like Peter, was criticized, but he followed God’s voice in faith, setting up altars to worship and seek God’s further direction each place he landed. It is vital we keep our ears open to God’s voice, and guard against getting so ingrained in “our way,” or so attached to our things and comforts, that we fail to hear and heed the new instruction, or even have any desire to do so. (Genesis 12:1,6-9; Hebrews 11:8-10)

What new thing from God might my busyness or complacency be preventing me from experiencing? Do I, even subconsciously, put in earplugs of fear, preference, prejudice, love of ease, stubborn resolve, to shut out a call to be stretched, taught, maybe made uncomfortable by almighty God? If every day is a gift from Him, to be spent for Him, then He can be trusted to be in charge. It is a privilege to be included in His kingdom work, but it requires my cooperation and willingness to change tack at His bidding.

Lord, You are the Master of doing new things, and have authority to call me to set aside what lies behind and press on with You to new ministry, relationships, and opportunity ahead. Keep me unencumbered, eagerly listening and willing to go at Your command. (Isaiah 43:19; Philippians 3:13-14)

 

 

Inspection Report

“”The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord … and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth… While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.'” “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;  who can understand it?” “Jesus knew all people…he himself knew what was in man.”  Genesis 6:5; 8:20-22; Jeremiah 17:9; John 2:24-25

A friend recently told me of a 30-page inspection report on a house they had considered, rendering it a hodgepodge of out-of-code fixes, alterations, and problems. Who would have known from its inviting charm? I know of another that was over 90 pages, a detailed MRI of everything wrong with a seemingly polished, well-maintained home. We had a neighbor whose house was struck by lightning, and afterwards stood serene and lovely from the exterior, but was charred on the inside, like a body ravaged with a strangling disease. It is easy to hide the wicked in our hearts.

God, Who made man to know and glorify Him, knew when Adam fell, and invited him to fess up in the garden; Adam and Eve had hid themselves. Isaac questioned Jacob when he suspected deceit, but Jacob lied behind fragrant food and hairy gloves. David spent months covering up his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, until the prophet Nathan exposed him. Jesus invited people to admit their sin, and uncovered the greed and self-indulgence behind “clean” appearance, knowing only the truth would set them free. (Genesis 3:8-10; 27:14-23; 2 Samuel 11:1-12:14; Matthew 23:25; John 4:16-18; 8:32)

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How prone we are to putting on in public what betrays our private selves, to glossing our exteriors so we don’t have to face the scrutiny of others, to donning a front to hide our shame. The more we practice this deception, the more we believe it- as one observing, not living, our life. It is the enemy’s way to convince us of the lies that hidden sin ‘doesn’t count,’ that virtual sin isn’t real, that as long as we aren’t caught or as bad as someone else, we are OK, that if we were exposed we could never recover. But God is concerned with what lies under the surface, and pursues our interiors in measureless love. In grace, He will make us miserable until we are honest, because He is in the business of washing away our sin and restoring our fellowship with Him and others. On the cross, He bought us freedom from what binds us, and that gives new identity. Why would we not choose to come clean to this merciful Redeemer? What pride or fear is more compelling than His promise to forgive and power to make new? (Psalm 32:1-5; Isaiah 1:18; 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

Lord, You know all, and love me in spite of that all. I open my deepest parts for Your daily inspection and cleansing. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in meConvict, cleanse. I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For You have clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. May I live without guile or pretension, hiding behind nothing but Your glorious dress, adorned in the light of Your amazing grace. (Psalm 139:23-24; Isa 61:10)

To Be An Enoch!

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died… When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah.  Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” Genesis 5:3-11,18-24

After the fall in Eden, the wages of sin (death) visited every man, as this genealogy from Adam to Noah testifies. Each man is born, lives a number of years, produces children, then dies. Except for Enoch. His account is distinct: instead of just “living,” he “walked with God… and then was not.”  We know that people began to call on the name of the LORD during the life of Adam’s grandson Enosh, but Enoch, several generations later, is the first individual described as walking with God, his death an immediate translation into God’s eternal presence. (Genesis 4:26; Romans 6:23)

I read the obituary this morning of a long-time family friend. It included his hometown, education, career, family, and hobbies, but there was no mention of his having walked with God. Would our lives be so described? Is our ‘living’ caught up in our family, work, activities, earthly relationships, ministry, recreation, but absent an effort of moving along with our divine companion? Do we live as though our spiritual life is separate from our practical one, a Sunday practice or an occasional devotional check-off-the-list rather than a consistent step by step striding that energizes the very core of who we are?

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When I walk with God, He walks and talks with me, imparting wisdom, pointing out truths and beauty, listening to and refining my thinking. His grace illumines how I see other people, current events, the world. His presence affects my demeanor, my choices, my language, my sense of humor, my loves. My walking with Him is intricately bound up in every aspect of how I live. (Proverbs 13:20; John 15:4-5; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 4:1-3)

Lord, You give every breath, and I want to live walking with You. Align my stride with Yours, my daily priorities with Your plans, my character with Your holy attributes, my goals with Your glory. May I live in such a way that no matter my credentials, others recognize I have been with You. (Acts 4:13)

Beware the Adversary’s Tangle

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, ‘You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.’ Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” Ezra 4:1-6

As so often happens, immediately after a victory, the enemy sets his target on the victor and pounces. The returned exiles had just celebrated the completion of the temple’s foundation, and their adversaries attacked. The first ones set out to edge their way in to be co-builders, attempting to deceive them with claims of a common faith and distracting them from the work. Then the people of the land discouraged them through intimidation and frustration, including false accusations of ulterior motives. The attacks were relentless, and as with wrestlers attempting to disable the opponent, no holds barred to stop the building. (Ezra 4:23-24; 1 Peter 5:8)

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Ezra’s account is a warning to us that in any endeavor for the Lord, we will meet opposition. The enemy hates joy and fruitfulness, spiritual commitment and progress, the unity of the church and increase in faith. His M.O. is to steal, kill and destroy, and as Christians, it is as though we have a bulls-eye for a birthmark that he constantly keeps in his scope. He is unabating in his distractions, deception, lies that make us fear and doubt, and discouragement. Our key to resisting the devil is to stay focused on the One Who has called us, Whose kingdom we are building, and Who is worthy of our persistence and fidelity. Jesus Himself, when tempted by the wily one, said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,’You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him. (Matthew 4:10-11; John 8:44; 10:10; James 4:4)

My King, it is You alone I want to serve. Untangle me from the enemy’s snares. Keep me watchful, keen to discern his schemes and vigilant in resisting them. Keep me focused on You, my hands diligent in working for Your kingdom purposes and glory.

Alms or Healing?

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” Acts 3:1-10

It is all he ever knew, being carried by others and unable to walk, so it is understandable his daily practice of survival was to beg for alms. But did he ever think he could have more? His whole experience was limited by his infirmity, but one day, God broke in and changed everything. Peter and John shook him awake from his settled lethargy and said ‘we offer you something you haven’t even imagined, and it is available in the name of Jesus!’ I wonder at what Jesus might want to do in and for me today.

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Where do I settle into superficial routines, even in spending time with God, and fail to expect fresh insight, strength and hope? Have loving arms and gospel-propelled feet atrophied due to lack of exercise? What attitudes have become rigid and unforgiving, what paralysis of heart sours my expression and taints my demeanor toward others? Are my words complaining “woe is me” instead of proclaiming “Great is God”? What inspiration of the Spirit fizzles because I do not act on it? Have I slid into sitting and asking for just enough to get by, with no vision for what could be, no pursuit of God in all His power and wisdom, no specific prayer to be healed of selfishness, to be made holy and fully energized by my mighty Savior?

“Jesus! the name that charms our fears, That bids our sorrows cease;                                     ’Tis music in the sinner’s ears, ’Tis life, and health, and peace.                                              Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, Your loosen’d tongues employ;                                     Ye blind, behold your Savior come, And leap, ye lame, for joy.” ~Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Lord on high and Jehovah Rapha the Healer, may I wholly desire all You have to give. Quicken what is lifeless in me, make strong my limbs of faith, love, and joy, that with all my energy I might walk, leap, live, and serve to praise Your name.

What Was, What Is

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,  so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” Ezra 3:10-13

Exiles had returned to Jerusalem under the proclamation of pagan King Cyrus, and went about rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed by the invading Babylonian army decades before. When the foundation was in place, loud praises rang out…along with weeping. Many remembered what was, and perhaps were wistful in recalling the former glory of the temple, the times of great and godly kings leading God’s people in prosperity and holy practices. They wept over what was, maybe longing to go back, to return, to relive the good old days. But God was starting something new. His love did endure forever, and as it had carried and blessed them in the past, it would in the present.

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Where am I trying to hang on to what was, with tears that cloud the glory of the new work of God? How much time and energy do I spend mourning children’s ‘innocence,’ a newlywed ‘tingle,’ work that was simple and a supervisor who shared my values, the way things were in the good old days? Do I fritter away the present by dwelling on the past? “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” What am I missing in what God is doing presently? Where am I resisting change that God has in wisdom ordered? What prejudices or habits do I need to set aside, what thinking needs a ‘reset,’ in order for me to recognize and embrace His marvelous new foundation for today? “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Haggai 2:9; Isaiah 43:19)

God Who makes all things new, renew my vision for Your ‘today.’ Help me to discern the good from what was, and learn from it, and to be fully present as You unfold what is now, delighting in Your peace and refreshment, marveling in Your enduring love and joy that know no bounds. (Revelation 21:5)