Touching Heaven

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, ‘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. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, “My name shall be there”. 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.’ On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown.” 1 Kings 8:22-23,27-29,38-40,66

What a magnificent scene: the new, resplendent, God-inspired temple completed, the ark of God’s presence carefully placed in the inner sanctuary beneath the cherubim, and Israel’s wise and humble leader standing before the people, then kneeling with arms raised in reverence before almighty God, to beseech Him on behalf of His nation, His heritage. The event itself would bless those witnessing it, and the words of Solomon’s prayer displayed before all what the temple and altar represented: God is present with man, and hears our cries. This Old Testament foreshadow elevates our imaginings and plays our heartstrings for heavenly awe and worship…how can it be that this transcendent God would abide with man of earth? Today we also kneel, and touch heaven through the completed work of Christ on the cross and over the grave, our prayers reaching the highest heaven through the torn veil. Alleluia.

As the quiet still of morning opens to the bustle of day and demands on mind and body, it takes effort to keep in touch with heaven. Sacrifices offered early can be forgotten as activity calls out our attention, energy and affection, but as the people went on their way joyful and glad of heart, we can maintain the contact, the sweetness of communion, wherever we are.

O worship the King, all glorious above, and gratefully sing His power and His love; My Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail; Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend.” ~ Robert Grant (1833)

God on high, blessed are You Who maintain our cause and hear our prayers. Draw me near as each day dawns and each day requires, to bless Your high and holy name, to seek Your compassion, to delight in Your good promises, to exalt You alone. Incline my heart to You, and make it wholly true. (1 Kings 8:49-50,52,56-61)

Replacement Surgery

You must no longer walk in the futility of [your] minds. You learned Christ— and were taught in him, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to 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. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:17,20-29,31-32

Joint replacement surgery has become a popular and welcome remedy for many who suffer pain and debilitation from age or injury. The old is removed, the new is put in, and healthy function is restored. Recovery is not an easy process and can be painful itself through therapy and relearning, but the surgery is well worth it for those who can enjoy movement again.

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Paul gives the Ephesians smart instruction that is a remedy for the pain (often in results or consequences) of futile thinking and worldly behavior, and it involves full replacement of former living with new thinking, new self, new behavior. Pretending, deceiving, any falsehood is to be replaced by speaking truth. How often do I shade straight truth with innuendo or exaggeration? Anger is to be dealt with, sans sinning, and quickly. Do I prefer to stew, keep a record of wrongs, allow anger to take root and take off? Thieves are to work rather that steal, and tongues used to build up and give grace rather than gossip, criticize, complain, and slander. Idleness is a haven for sin of hand and mouth; if I have too much time on my hands, I best get to serving and singing. A renewed mind that is intent on Jesus will manifest itself in outlook and actions that reflect His. New habits take practice, and that can be painful as we replace old ingrained responses and create new default settings, but this is our mandate.

Masterful Surgeon, transform me by renewing my mind. Replace what displeases You with what honors You so there is no room for old practices, and teach me to walk after Your likeness. (Romans 12:1-2)

Obey? How?

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as You would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” “Slaves, obey in everything…with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Ephesians 6:5-7; Colossians 3:22-24

We chafe at the thought of being a servant, and at the command to obey; many cultures promote independence, self-promotion and -sufficiency, achievement. In the west, start-up companies appear like spring flowers, entrepreneurialism is taught as a college major. Individuals get around obedience by being offended, and assert their right to do things their way because all ways are equally valid (and mine is right). But God has included the command to obey all through Scripture, for our good, and here gives a key to how we do so.

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If we learn to see ourselves as His servants, created to live for Him, to come under His lead as our Master and to spend our lives in gratitude giving to Him and others for His sake, our obedience takes on a beautiful dimension of love to Christ and passion to bring Him honor. If I begin each day by reverently fearing Him who called me out of slavery to sin unto slavery to righteousness, my heart fills with wonder and gratitude for my new position and the opportunity to serve Him Who gave everything for me. Sincerity and gladness follow as I obey, and my work takes on a robustness, a heartiness that springs from God’s power working in and through me. It is He Who equips me with everything good that I may do His will, He Who works in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ and for His glory. How can we, in proper fear and thankfulness for Him, not submit and obey? (Romans 6:16-18; Hebrews 13:21)

Lord Adonai, my Master, You have declared me, from birth, your servant in whom You will be glorified, and my right is with You. Remind me daily of my purpose and my position, and make me desire to do Your will because Your law is in my heart and You have captured its affection. Bring delight to obey Your good ways, and those people You have set over me, that the world may see the beauties of living for You and not themselves. (Psalm 40:8; Isaiah 49:3-5)

The Importance of a Team

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..” 1 Kings 4:1-6

“He who walks with the wise grows wise. Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” Proverbs 13:20;15:22

King Solomon, endowed with great wisdom from God, assembled a stellar team around him to help him lead Israel. He was orderly, prudent, and attached men to himself who had strengths that were theirs to complement those that were his. I love especially that Nathan was “priest and king’s friend.” We need godly people who can come alongside us as friends as well as counselors, those who will live out Jesus before us, call us to task, point us heavenward, pray with us, listen and guide and admonish and encourage us.

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I heard someone say recently to a young man interested in his daughter, “There are two types of people, those who bring you closer to the Lord and those who drive you farther from Him. Which kind are you?” That was the test he taught his children when they were choosing companions. In life we will encounter all types of individuals, and are called to love and serve them, to be salt and light around them. But in specific endeavors, and for our daily living and growing as God’s people, it is vital we develop friendships that will support and enable us to accomplish the work God has assigned, those with whom we can also fellowship and seek and apply  truth.

Lord, guide me moment by moment, and lead me to healthy relationships where we can honor You together as we grow and serve Your will. Make me a good and worthy friend to others, a helpful teammate who adds strength, insight, comforting companionship, and cheer.  

To the Praise of His Glory

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we… might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit… to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-14

Paul is the master of cogent thought, and sums God’s purpose in our salvation: that we might be to the praise of His glory. This was, in all of life, his goal, and he reminds the Ephesian church it was also the purpose of their sealing by the Holy Spirit. What a high calling! And one that, if penetrating our consciences and captivating our wills, is inconsistent with many of our natural tendencies. 

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When do I speak up in conversation to draw attention to myself or something I’ve achieved? When do I even consider a completed task or feat “my” accomplishment, and taken praise myself instead of giving it to God? What priorities do I set, decisions do I make for every reason but for the praise of God’s glory? Are my plans motivated by my wants, my choices driven by ease or self-satisfaction or even practicality, or do I seek what would honor my Lord the most? How have I diminished others with my tongue, intending to elevate myself and actually tarnishing God’s glory in another? 

O God, capture and bridle all my senses and will to be for You, and help me do all I can, as Paul did, to build up Your children to understand their chief end and live with the same motivation. May we encourage and stir up one another to love and good deeds, to the praise of Your glory. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The Highway to Zion

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My souls longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of streams; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:1-2,4-6

If a highway is a route between two places, the Psalmist says I am blessed if I progress from the present to the place where I will behold my Savior face to face and be like Him, if my heart’s destination is the dwelling place of God. My heart’s affection, my soul’s yearning, my flesh’s song, is to be there. The highway must be traveled; there is no shortcut. Life’s journey, with all its lessons, challenges, setbacks, discoveries, even painful potholes and unexpected detours, is one mapped out by my gracious God, my constant companion. He has ordained my work, He sets my tempo, He enables me to make springs in the valleys, He metes out strength for each moment and day. He is teaching me here on earth the manners of heaven. (1 John 3:2; Ephesians 2:10)

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Lord, You know the way I take, and the highway set before me. Carve Zion in my heart as my chief delight and highest joy. Keep me fixed on her beauties and steadfast on her pathways as You prepare me for glory. Teach me all You intend as I travel this life. (Psalm 139:3)

You are the One that we praise,                                                                                            You are the One we adore,                                                                                                       You give the healing and grace                                                                                                 Our hearts always hunger for.”   ~Selah

 

From Everlasting to Everlasting

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:2

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-2

Being around mountains, beholding their splendor from the flats, climbing them on curvy cut-back roads, and hiking their slopes along winding, ascending paths all give sense of their greatness and just how long they must have been in place. There is something about their stately grandeur, their majesty in solid form with craggy peaks dusted with powdered sugar snow, that seems eternal, immovable, yet, they were made by the preexistent God! Eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, immeasurable God is He! 

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What difference does it make in my daily life that God is from eternity past to unending future? It means He knows all, and has been at work accomplishing all His good purposes from the beginning of time, way before He created me. It means He Whose Providence is perfect is not surprised by anything that befalls me, and He orders all things to their good end. It means that He is steadfast and His attributes are infinite. He does not change, and never fails. Because He so reigns, I live in glad freedom and security in the present, and with unshakeable hope for the future, which He has promised and holds in His mighty hands. (Psalm 139:16; Romans 8:28; Joshua 1:5; John 3:16)

God unchanging and everlasting, stay my eyes on the hills, on the heights that remind me You are sovereign, almighty, my foundation, help, and strength. Keep my going out and my coming in forever, that through endless days I may exalt Your name. (Psalm 121:1-2,8)