Look and Listen!

I marvel at the fact that God speaks personally.

In Genesis 18:1, Abram is resting by the Oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, and the LORD appears, and they spend the afternoon conversing. In Nehemiah 7:5, “God put it into [Nehemiah’s] heart to assemble” all the returned exiles and enroll them.

In Matthew 16, the Pharisees ask for signs, and Jesus renounces their fickle ways, saying He does speak but they don’t take the time to discern and understand. His disciples, after listening to Jesus, understood (16:12). They spent time with Him, answering His questions that brought them to discovery. In Matthew 17, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Peter acknowledges, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is there Jesus reveals Himself, and God declares, “’This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

In Acts 16, the Spirit of the Lord led Paul, Silas, and Timothy, preventing them from speaking in Asia and Bythinia, but directing them to Macedonia where He opened Lydia’s heart in Philippi. The Bereans, in Acts 17:11, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily.”

Bid me up the mount, O Lord, leaving behind distractions of phone, schedule, responsibilities, other voices, to rest under the Oak with You, to hear and heed Your voice to me. “Morning by morning, awaken my ear to listen, as one being taught.” (Isaiah 50:4) “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

Staying the Course

Nehemiah and his men, in chapter 6, had rebuilt the wall, but not yet set the doors in place, and opposition continued with repeated urgency. “Come, let us meet together in the plain of Ono,” but each time, Nehemiah said ‘oh no’ to the distraction of Ono, knowing they intended to do him harm. Then deception hit—a false report on his intent (rebellion to become king), and Nehemiah quickly refused its lie and prayed, “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Next came discouragement in the form of a threat for his safety and resulting temptation to take cover in the temple. His constant prayer gave him insight to know he was the target of hired enemies. His refuge? Prayer. He left the issues and the perpetrators in God’s hands, and set his own hands and mind to ‘finish the wall,’ and finish it he did.

“Be strong and very courageous, being careful to do all…commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night. Do not be frightened, do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9

“Arm me with jealous care,                                                                                                              Thy calling to fulfill,                                                                                                                          And may it all my powers engage                                                                                                     To do my Master’s will.”                                                                                                                         – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

O, Master, when distraction, deception, discouragement come, keep my mind and hands strong to stay in the center of Your will, to do all You have assigned, and to leave all cares to You.

 

Be Astounded!

“Look, be astounded, for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you would not believe even if one tells it to you.” Habakkuk 1:5; Acts 13:41

In Habakkuk 1, this refers to God’s intent to use wicked Babylon to punish wicked Assyria for punishing wicked Israel. His ways are mysterious and sovereign. In Acts 13, Paul is preaching to the church at Antioch, and urges them to take the freedom offered in Christ, both to receive His marvelous work at the cross and to beware His mysterious work of judgment. God is always at work, His oft-hidden sovereign hand moving the chess pieces and weaving the yarns of the tapestry together. He knows beginning from end, and all in between, and none of His purposes can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring beginning from end and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purposes.’” Isaiah 46:9-10

Naples sunrise 10-16

He is the invisible director of every sunrise (Psalm 19:1-6; Isaiah 40:22), ruler of all nations and kingdoms and history (Acts 17:25-26) who superintends the seating and deposing and authority of presidents and kings (Proverbs 20:1; Romans 14:1), the potentate of time Who numbers our days (Job 14:5), the designer of every storm– “tilting the waterskins of heaven” (Job 38:37) and rebuking winds and sea (Matthew 8:26), the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Father, keep me astounded at You, and expectant for the marvelous work You are doing to accomplish Your good purposes. May my hope in You and Your plans awaken hope in others.

Prepared for Battle

I heard from a beloved friend the other day, “I came unarmed, not practicing swordsmanship by reading the word daily.” How wise to recognize the spiritual reality and the antidote to being unprepared! This individual knows the truth of Ephesians 6:10-18, especially the command to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Reading Nehemiah 4, the bullies are flesh and blood, but the training for their vicious onslaught is the same. On God’s mission, Nehemiah endured anger, great rage, jeering (4:1), public demeaning, criticism, mocking (4:2), belittling (4:3), more anger, plots, fighting to confuse him (4:7-8), discouragement from his own people and his enemies (4:10-12). How did he respond to these attacks meant to harm him and bring him down and stop his work? Prayer (4:4), perseverance (4:6), more prayer (4:9), focus on the Lord, strategizing and staying alert (4:15-23). He knew God’s character, truth, and promises, and turned to his Lord in times of attack. He was a practiced swordsman.

“Each labored on the work with one hand and held a weapon with the other. We labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I said, ‘Let every man…be a guard by night and labor by day.’ So none of us took our clothes off; each kept his weapon at his right hand.” Nehemiah 4:17, 21-23

How am I practicing swordsmanship? How snugly does my armor fit? How vigilantly do I work and watch? Oh God, I dare not go alone against the foe! May I dress in Your word each day, “taking up the whole armor of God, that I may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Victory’s Result: A Test

Abram, in Genesis 14, faced a dilemma. His nephew Lot, who had settled near Sodom (13:12) was now dwelling in Sodom (14:12), and had been taken captive when four mighty kings, who had already swallowed many peoples, defeated an alliance of five kings in the Valley of Sidim. When he was alerted, Abram rallied his army of 318 (!), strategically divided his forces, and rescued Lot, his people and possessions. His response? To sacrifice.

“After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him,” Abram was greeted by two kings. Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God Most High, brought bread and wine and gave him a blessing. “Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” The King of Sodom offered him the goods he’d retrieved, but Abram refused, intimating that all glory for this victory was God’s, and he wanted no tie to this leader of a wicked city. His natural, immediate response, in receiving impossible blessing and bounty from “the Possessor of heaven and earth,” was to give, to offer a sacrifice of gratitude and praise.

“Worship is giving God the best He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love gift…in a deliberate act of worship.” – Oswald Chambers

The world tells us we deserve accolades, privilege, credit, reward, ease—we have a ‘right’ because ‘we did it.’ But “whenever right is made the guidance of life, it will blunt spiritual insight.” (Oswald Chambers) Most High God is the only One Who deserves all riches, honor and praise in the victories He works for us.

“What do you have that you did not receive?” 1 Corinthians 4:7

May my first impulses stream with gratitude, my first response to any victory be ‘all for Jesus.’

Cornwall, England, Charles Wesley's church sign

And Then He Made the Stars

Driving home from the airport last night with the top down, tufts of cloud hovered near, revealing the vast, inky sky beyond. Directly overhead, in a square break of the clouds, stood the hunter warrior Orion, a constellation set in place at creation. “And then he made the stars.” (Genesis 1:16)

Job wrote earlier than 2000 B.C., “[God] alone stretched out the heavens; made the Bear and Orion, the Pleides and the chambers of the south.” (Job 9:8, 9) “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together? Can you bind the chains of the Pleides or loose the cords of Orion? Do you know the ordinances of heaven?” (Job 38:4, 7, 31-33)

And Amos, a shepherd-farmer and prophet in the 8th century B.C., said, “He who made the Pleides and Orion, and turns deep darkness into morning and darkens the day into night, the LORD is his name.” (Amos 5:8)

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth—all things were created through him and for him. And in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

“[Jesus], through whom [God] made all things…upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:2, 3

Orion was set in place millennia ago! It was identified over 4000 years ago, recorded 2800 years ago, and still stands sentry today! I catch my breath. I am known and cared for by this God! “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man, that you care for him? Yet, you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5

Kenya 10-16 rain and light near sunset

This, this is the God Who sustains me! He spreads His majesty before me, daily displays His power, and underneath are His everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). Where is room for concern or fear? For fretting over lesser things?

Daily may I gaze in wonder at the high and holy God, and rest (and rejoice like the morning stars) in His order and purpose.

The Dangers of Cold

It had been extremely cold here in St. Louis—in single digits, for consecutive days, when days are short and dark is long. This prolonged freeze has caused pipes to burst, leaving neighborhoods without water. Mechanical systems fail, some plants die. The bitter air keeps people inside, hindering interaction with others. Heavy clouds block the sun. It is easy to slide into winter doldrums.

Aren’t these like the effects of a hard heart? When we are cold toward the Lord, there is no free-flow of His living water to nourish and refresh us. We tend toward dissension and isolation in relationships, and slip into unwillingness to venture out into vulnerability and generous compassion. Our resistance to sin, to despair, complaining, discontent, is low, and we can settle into a weighty cloud of negativity, narrow thinking, limited vision.

When Abram arrived at his new, unknown land in Genesis 12:1-9, every place the LORD his God led him, he built an altar and worshiped. When Nehemiah heard of his people’s trouble, he fasted and prayed to the God of heaven, confessing sin and pleading for mercy and favor (Nehemiah 1:1-14). Both men, chilled by circumstances, stayed warm persisting on their knees and looking upward, their soft hearts burning with passion.

Sunset over Christ Church, Oxford 9-17

Lord, keep me near Your altar’s fire!

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:11-12

“O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be;                                                     Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.                                       Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to eave the God I love!                                              Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.”                                        Robert Robinson (1735-1790)