Angles on Partiality

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” James 2:1-6,8

This passage is sharp, dividing the motives of the heart, and goes deep if we allow it. On the surface, we read that we should not favor the pretty and wealthy ones, those who appear to have their lives together and therefore cause us minimal distress, and may, in fact, benefit us. But what I see God teaching more deeply is that when we think this way, we err, not in failing to show compassion to the poor, or feeling sorry for him, but in thinking any differently of him at all. James is pointing out the horror of thinking too highly of ourselves, of ever feeling superior to anyone–that I am better, I deserve better, I should be first, treated preferentially, or with the bold and beautiful (as if they are ‘better’ in any way)–my standards are all wrong when I base any decisions on superficial measures. (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:3)

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Do I really think I am more valuable than anyone because of any privilege, financial or educational resources, business acumen, physique, background, family advantages, dress, opinions? Of course I deny this, but where has this insidious attitude crept in to my behavior, my speech, my expectations, my treatment of others? Where have niggling thoughts given birth to rolled eyes of the heart, to unspoken dismissal or invisible mistreatment of those I encounter? God created man and woman free from all these trappings man tends to value, and declared His crowning achievement “very good.” Jesus communed with the elite Pharisees as well as the publicans and “sinners.” (Genesis 1:26-31; Luke 15:1-3)

Lord, dig deep to uncover any hidden partiality or wrongly-justified prejudice in me. Expose the absurdity, the wrongness, of preferential treatment. Uproot my sin, cut off its spread. May I see and love and honor and extend grace to all Your image-bearers as generously as You do.

Unwavering

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered. After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, he planned with his officers and his mighty men… He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance. And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” 2 Chronicles 31:20-32:1-3,5-8

So far, Hezekiah had done everything right, and here came trouble, in the person of the godless and greedy king of Assyria. Was God out of control? No! He was very much superintending all that transpired and would use it to strengthen His people and glorify Himself. Would Hezekiah get angry at God because he deserved better?  No! His faith was grounded in the One He worshiped, and this challenge prompted immediate preparation and confident trust in the LORD Who was really on the throne and had brought him thus far. With readiness plans accomplished, Hezekiah called his people to trust that God was on their side, with them in this new opposition. When Sennacherib taunted them and tried to diminished their God in comparison to manmade gods, Hezekiah gave him no credence but cried to heaven, and “the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side.” (32:22)

Jesus Image

Conflict and attack and trials are part of life, and one hid with his God can face them unshaken. The One Who was and is will always be– mighty and on our side. No matter what comes, we are secure. Confronted with loss, pain, taunts to our identity in Christ and our faith, abandonment, betrayal, the challenges of aging or illness, we can look from those to God and be unwavering.

Lord my Shield, in You my heart trusts and I am helped. You Who know every enemy and secure me as Yours, fix my hope and confidence in You at all times here in the world where You have sent me. And as You strengthen me, may I encourage others to trust You, and rejoice. (Psalm 18:2; 28:7; John 10:28-29;17:15,18)

God Said, It Was So, It Was Good.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good… And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And it was so… And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures… And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:1,3-4,6-7,9-10,11-12,14-15,18,20-21,24-27,30-31

The Creation account in Genesis 1 is beautiful, personal, orderly- just as is creation itself. We see the triune, sovereign God’s plan, and the careful carrying out of that plan, day by day, each new facet preparing the way for the next, each perfectly accomplished, each declared good, with the crowning glory of creation, man, bringing a final ‘very good.’ All God says, He does, by the power of His breath and in His perfect way and will. All He begins, He completes. The Book of Beginnings sets out this premise as a foundation for our lives: He is intimately involved in all our ways and His plans for us cannot be thwarted. We can trust this good Ruler. (Psalm 18:30; 139:3; Job 42:2; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 1:3)

Sunrise in winter, St. Louis

At the beginning of a new year, I can know this King is on His throne, alert, in control, certain in purpose, wielding all power and authority. I can rejoice in all that comes to pass, because it comes through His hands of love and grace. I can plan with confidence, because He leads me and knows the future. I can serve with abandon, because He is worthy of my all. And I can venture into unknown waters with courage and without fear, because He is with me and on my side. (Isaiah 6:1,8; 43:2-3; John 10:3; Romans 8:31; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Colossians 1:10; Hebrews 2:8)

Creator God, You Who made all things well, may my life pronounce Your ways “good.” Create in me a clean and uncompromising heart, that I may robustly praise Your name and eagerly live according to Your plans, moment by moment, for the glory and honor You deserve. (Psalm 51:10; 119:2,34)

The Slide of Pride

Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper… Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war. In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God.” 2 Chronicles 26:3-5,9-11,15-16

Like father, like son. Had Uzziah followed his father’s early example, he would have remained true to his God, but sadly, he, too, fell prey to the lure of elevating self above the God Who had called, exalted, and prospered him. Uzziah was widely gifted, and used his God-given talents to build up Israel’s military and reputation, to lead them to the cutting edge technologically, and to make the land fruitful. But when he’d reached the pinnacle of success, he got antsy and wanted to try his hand at the priests’ role, so he entered the temple to offer sacrifices. God graciously sent eighty priests to warn him, but now his soul, engorged with pride, erupted in rebellious anger. His consequent curse of leprosy excluded him from the house of the Lord until death. He who had been marvelously helped now marvelously fell, at his own hand of willful unfaithfulness.

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It is true that once we exercise new roles and gifts, we become more proficient, yet rather than our success conveying license to act independently from God, it should compel us to depend all the more on Him to fulfill His design for us. God Almighty had conferred a great stewardship on this king, and Uzziah ended up squandering his trust. Sadly, the sum of his life was how he finished, far from the Lord. It is interesting that the prophet Isaiah, after Uzziah’s death, saw a magnificent vision of God glorified as King in the temple- He is always Victor. (Proverbs 3:3-7; Isaiah 6:1-5)

“Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more- a grateful heart.” ~George Herbert (1593-1633)

Good Father, may I daily set myself to seek You and be a grateful and steadfast steward of all You entrust to me. Instruct me to be generous in my resources, industrious and fruitful in my talents, humble and wise in every grace. May I live and serve for Your purposes and glory, faithful to the end.

 

After-Christmas Resolve

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:1-2,9-11

Christmas was over, and the wise men, hearing of Jesus’ birth, made the trek to see the young child. There was no sitting back, no big sigh, after the ‘great event,’ but only holy compulsion to meet this royal One, and worship Him. They followed the guidance they had, a star which God had said from the beginning would be used for signs, having taken care to plan for the long trip over hundreds of miles, with one goal: to meet the king of the Jews. The picture of these men, likely more than three, arriving at a humble home and bowing before a baby or toddler boy, offering him valuable treasures, is both startling and sobering. Am I as willing and ready for this journey after the festive activity of December? (Genesis 1:14)

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It is easy when the holidays are over to take our gifts and go…on with our lives. Clean up and “put away Christmas” and head out into a new year with exciting fresh ideas and resolutions and plans, and forget the wonder of the One born to take away our sins. If we would be wise, we would seek Him; we would plan every day to make the journey of time and effort to follow His light, to bow before Him, to offer as a gift to Him all that is valuable to us, for His honor and use. (Matthew 1:21)

Oh God, I want to be wise, and do as the wise men did. Teach me to carry the wonder and joy of Christmas into every new day, and to expend what it takes to do so. Keep me attune to following Your light and kneeling before You in praise; ever prompt me to listen, to open wide my hands and heart to my worthy Savior.

Beware the Half Heart

Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart. Then Amaziah assembled the men of Judah… and found that they were 300,000 choice men, fit for war, able to handle spear and shield. He hired also 100,000 mighty men of valor from Israel for 100 talents of silver. But a man of God came to him and said, ‘O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down.” And Amaziah said to the man of God, ‘But what shall we do about the hundred talents that I have given to the army of Israel?’ The man of God answered, ‘The Lord is able to give you much more than this.’ Then Amaziah discharged the army that had come to him from Ephraim to go home again. Amaziah took courage and led out his people and went to the Valley of Salt and struck down 10,000 men of Seir… After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them. Therefore the Lord was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, ‘Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?’ But as he was speaking, the king said to him, ‘Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?'” 2 Chronicles 25:1-2,5-11,14-16

What makes us at one moment devoted and obedient, even at current loss or discomfort or hard consequences, and the next, greedy and rebellious? A half heart. Amaziah seems to be doing so well when he is willing to give up money spent and his own plans for the better way outlined by the man of God, and has great victory fighting in God’s power His way, but then immediately takes and bows to foreign gods and rejects the warning from another God-sent prophet. It seems unwise and unbelievable to us, yet how have we done the same?

Suspension Bridge, W Coast NZ

When have I taken an assignment, done it well, and wanted some credit, while the calling and enabling came from God? When have I, devoted to my Lord, gone to, or left, church with my own agenda? How many things and plans do I treasure as much or more than I value God’s plans for me? How whole is my heart for my Jesus? It either is, or it isn’t; there is no fraction when it comes to true worship. The half-heart is a weak heart, prone to wander and rebel, and we must take care to guard against it.

Lord, give me an undivided heart, that I may fear You above man and praise You all my days. May I never give glory to another, or take any for myself; You alone are worthy of my full allegiance and worship. (Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 48:11)

Resolution of Firsts

Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old. In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites and said to them, ‘Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the Lord, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel’… They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and… went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron.

“Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the Lord. The Levites stood with cymbals, harps, and lyres, and the priests with the trumpets. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord began also. The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped. Then Hezekiah said, ‘You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.’ And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people.” 2 Chronicles 29:1-7,15-16,20,25-31,36

New king, new reign, new year, new resolve. Hezekiah came to power following his idolatrous father Ahaz, who had shut the temple doors and made altars to other gods in every corner of Jerusalem. First of all, he opened God’s temple door–a vivid picture of holy priority. He set out to cleanse the temple, identifying its impurities, and that necessitated the consecration of the religious leaders who would take on the task. He reestablished proper worship that resulted in abounding joy, as it always does.

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Hezekiah’s first actions set lofty vision for his people, as they do for us. He invites my ‘first of all’ to be opening the door of my Lord, delving into His word and presence, with receptive mind and will to His ministry and voice. He invites my ‘rising early’ to be a consecration of self, repenting of sin that has blocked our communion and entangled His effectiveness in my life, and an ensuing offering of deep gratitude and praise. Cleansed and thankful, my life will be characterized by glad rejoicing and generosity. Why would I not begin a new year, a first month, this way, setting the table for a bountiful feast with Jesus that is never ending, and a pathway for Him to do wonders among us? (Hebrews 12:1; Joshua 3:5

King of kings, I offer myself for You to consecrate and use. Work Your character and will in me, that I might exalt You and my life cause others to praise You and rejoice. (John 3:30; 4:34; Romans 12:1)