Behold, Angels

Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared… I will fulfill the number of your days… And I will set your border.” “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Exodus 23:20,26,31; Psalm 34:7; 91:11

What great promises of the presence of the angel of the LORD, the preincarnate Christ, and these mysterious beings God assigns to us! For the Israelites, having crossed the Sea into a land rife with enemy inhabitants, the pledge of God’s angel going before them, to guard and guide their steps in taking over the land, was a trumpet call of encouragement. The mighty God would lead the way, His host hemming them in behind and before; He would know where to go, and would fulfill His plans exactly according to His design. With such a conquest promised, how could they not go forth in confident obedience? (Exodus 23:21; Psalm 139:5)

Colorado Rockies, view from the top, lake, distances

Next to this Exodus passage, I have several notes over the years that remind me today of God’s remarkable, merciful, constant faithfulness. Over a decade ago, I claimed this promise for our children as they navigated next steps, trusting the LORD to guard them and go before them, to make their way to His prepared places of education and work clear. Ten years ago, two beloved family members were nearing their end of life, and I took great comfort believing my God had numbered their days and would fulfill all He intended to before taking them in death. A few years back, we were selling family property and considering a move, and had confidence God was readying a home and delineating our boundaries; He would lead us and establish us. God’s word has always proved true, and Jesus keeps every promise. His angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who inherit salvation,” and I am a grateful recipient of their ministry through the seasons of life. (Hebrews 1:14)

Taking time and thought to consider these promises, to recount how the Lord has fulfilled them, to recognize His hand, the ministry of His angels through numerous decisions, journeys, combats with enemies of doubt, temptation, heartache, and health challenges over the years, magnifies our God and increases our faith. I love that God’s instructions and promises here begin with “Behold”! We must open our eyes! When we look for Him eagerly, expectantly, joyfully, we will not only see Him, but we will be encouraged by His good word to us and His ministry on our behalf.

Lord of Hosts, I know with Job that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. As I anticipate places You are preparing for me, areas of my heart where You want to dig and cleanse and reform, new places of friendship and service and habit, new boundaries of faith and devotion and understanding, help my unbelief. Keep me beholding all You have done, and trusting You for all You will do. Above all, keep me beholding You, glorious and worthy LORD. (Job 42:2; Mark 9:24)

God’s Math: Making a Difference with Multiplication

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of… the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others… because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I used to grow mint, relishing the summery fresh fragrance and the zing it adds as a flavor enhancer or garnish. Once planted, it is hard to get rid of- it roots and spreads like miniature kudzu, popping up its lush green leaves that give a delightful scent to any swath of ground, but also dominate its limitless domain. I want my giving to be prolific like mint, to have an impact of refreshment and ‘life’ and overflow in thanksgiving and praise to God, from whom all blessings flow.

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We recently spent time in a special place where a fledgling ministry started decades ago with the vision of one man, then the passion of several, then the investment of prayer, time, hard work, and material gifts of many. Generations of students have now been challenged, discipled, forever changed by God’s work there, and have gone on to professions and communities to keep on giving. This Christian Study Center concept is now replicated throughout the country. Generous sowing has brought bountiful reaping in relationships and vocations, priorities and families, and continues to multiply to the building up of God’s people and the praise of His glory over years and throughout the world.

When individuals, called to make a difference and willing to obey that call, begin giving, God lavishes His grace and sufficiency, He enriches and supplies, and the ‘pressed-down and shaken’ offering becomes supernatural means for blessing and gratitude. The God of wondrous math is He Who is recognized in the multiplication, and if our chief end is to glorify Him, why would we hold back?

How willingly, cheerfully, am I sowing seeds of truth, love, blessing to others? What inhibits generosity? Selfish desire to spend my time and resources my way? Fear of want in letting go? Am I guided by emotion, a yen for immediate self-satisfaction and temporal, worldly interests, or compelled to invest in what is eternal, what will make a lasting difference for others? How easily am I deterred by inconvenience? Where do I need Him to change ‘sparing’ into ‘bounty’ in me? (Matthew 6:19-20; 13:3-8)

Measureless, all-sufficient God, replace my penchant for self with adoration of Your infinite worth, and immediate generosity. May I, in deep thankfulness, cheerfully and widely open my hands for Your use and multiplication. As I offer treasures to make a difference, may Your praise ever be my goal and glory. (Exodus 22:29; Matthew 6:11-12)

From Faithful to Fickle

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness.. by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink…’ The people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?..’ And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'” Exodus 17:1-3,7

At most only three months had passed since the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and the heart-stopping wall of water, the roar of the wind and crunch of millions of feet hurrying to the opposite shore, the breathless amazement at being caught up in an unimaginable, victorious deliverance had to be still fresh and tingly in their minds. Who could ever forget? Its account is in chapter 14, followed by a lofty song of praise and two more miracles of bitter water turned sweet, and the delivery of manna from heaven, but, almost unbelievably, we hear the Israelites’ grumbling. Really? Not only had God in immeasurable power held back the Sea for this whole nation to cross on dry ground, but He had generously and remarkably met their immediate needs for food and drink with His supernatural flair. Did they really doubt His motive and His keeping, His love and care? How quickly they moved from strong, joyful faith to fickle complaining– because all was not easy.

Before I criticize, I must ask, am I such a chameleon? Am I a glad worshiper, a steady follower, a compliant obeyer as long as things go my way and I am comfortable and satisfied, but a whiner and blamer of God when the going gets rough? Do I lip-serve God as my Sovereign, but live as though life is really all about me? When this is my story, my M.O., I am really believing that I know best and I deserve that best, rather than trusting God to be Who He is and to rule my life as He sees fit. Look for the evidences: irritations at glitches, impatience at roadblocks and delays, frustration at changes of plans, anger when others do not heartedly agree with my view and condone my decisions. Am I, too, a grumbling Israelite, grateful for every grand display of God’s blessing and power, but miffed when He doesn’t go along with what I want? When He blusters storms of cold and snow, do I whine for sunshine?

Oh God, lift my sights and desires to You. Make me remember not only what You have done, but why, trusting Who You are and how marvelously You accomplish all You intend. You are writing a beautiful story, You are weaving the whole plot and know the perfect ending. Increase my trust in You as the Author and perfecter of my faith, and turn all my grumbling in the present to expectant, joyful praise to You Who hold the now and the glorious to come. (Hebrews 12:2)

 

Inventory of the Heart

Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. Make room in your hearts for us… You are in our hearts… I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 2 Corinthians 7:1-4; Luke 6:38

Unless the heart is cleansed, it has no room for that with which God wants to fill it. I remember a godly friend years ago, when I spoke with her about a situation I was uneasy about, where God was convicting me, holding out her hands as fists, palms up. She said, as she slowly unfolded her fingers and opened her hands, that unless I let go what He was asking me to let go, I had no room to receive the blessings He had for me. The visual was powerful, and I recognized where I had been holding on with wrong motives and reasons: to satisfy the flesh, in fear of the unknown if I let go, for false security, thinking only of present pleasure and not eternal treasures, of my comfort and not God’s glory. Heart-felt confession and genuine repentance brought glorious freedom, and my merciful God replaced my sin with renewed vision, fresh anticipation, deep joy.

Paul, in encouraging the Corinthians to value their covenant relationship with the Lord, urges them to do away with defilement and make room in their hearts for him, as he has for them. And holding them, a young church of believers he loves and prays for, in his heart, has also afforded him comfort and joy.

What is taking up room in our hearts? Have we cluttered them with earthly preoccupations, intrigue for people whose lives have no bearing on ours, fear over the constant drone of “news” someone has decided we need to know, concern for what others think of us, inordinate affection for things that have displaced God or require distracting maintenance, prurient habits to which we give unhealthy attention and time, worry and fretting over events out of my control? Maybe it is simply a glut of thinking about ourselves? A heart full of self strangles our ability to prefer others. When once I identify the ‘junk’ I hold inside and cleanse its defilement, I am free to open my life wide for others God would have me love, care for, serve, and bless; I have time and energy for His occupations. And He always, always, gives back more than I can give away. (Romans 12:3,10)

Father, give my Your eyes and understanding to take inventory of my heart. Reveal what I am hoarding there, what is taking the place of what You desire I value, and cleanse me through and through. Cause me to cherish what means most to You, and above all, You. Fill me to overflow as a conduit of Your grace, light, truth, and joy to others. (Exodus 20:3)

The Blaze of Old Age

For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.” “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” Job 14:7-9; Psalm 92:14

There is something captivating about the blazing sky at sunset, the contrast between what I feel, winding down as productive hours have passed, and the magnificent fiery display of the sun’s last breath of day. Although it will soon dip to disappear from my view, it burns on, swathing the west with breath-taking red glory, illuminating our senses to delight. My energy may wane, but the sun burns vivid, colorful.

Yesterday I read a beautiful obituary of a 94-year-old man of God, husband for 73 years, pioneer missionary to several countries in Africa for over 50. He blazed fully and long into his sunset, and innumerable lives were touched and transformed by the light he spread. Isn’t this God’s intent for His own? As age marches on, we can ‘come inside’ and choose to give in to lesser pursuits, to smaller worlds, to limited mobility, to confined activity, to selfish comforts, to sighing; or we can redeem the time we have and choose to keep blazing, spreading abroad the honors of Jesus’ name and love, investing in relationships, serving others, giving with abandon, pressing on. “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:4)

Our lives are fleeting; only God knows the number of our years, our days, and all He has appointed for us in that time. But He gives wisdom and grace to understand the times and for every hour, and has plans to accomplish in and through us as long as we are here. For every moment we have breath, we have purpose, and must do what we can to maintain our vigor and keep burning bright. Though flesh and heart may fail, God is our strength, our zeal, and our joy that cannot be contained. (Job 23:14; 27:3-6; Psalm 39:4; 73:26; Isaiah 33:6)

Father, as the day of life wears on and the sun descends, keep coloring my world with Your light, and blazing in holy beauty for others to see. May the divine glory of Your vast love, Your saving mercy and truth emanate from me all my days, all my hours, that my life proclaim Your might and salvation to the next generation, Your power to all those to come. When my strength is spent, power on in and through me. Please crown my years with Your bounty, to the praise of Your glorious name forever. (Psalm 71:9,18; 65:11)

As much As We Can Eat

When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.”‘ And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.” Exodus 16:15-21

As much as they wanted and needed, perfectly measured and adequate. That is how God feeds. For forty years this would be how He supplied nourishment for His people as they wandered in the wilderness, morning by morning raining enough manna for them to eat for their strength that day, double on the day prior to their Sabbath rest.

Istanbul, sunrise above Bosphorus, looking to European side

This supernatural food is God’s reminder of what He offers us each new day– never too much, always sufficient. His food sustains, comes fresh every morning for the taking, as much as we can eat. I find that when the sun gets hot, my draw from Him melts, too, as I get distracted by the press of the day, scheduled activities and demands. The rising sun with its unveiling of the world lures my vision away from His glorious face. When I ‘go out,’ set aside time and attention to gather early what He gives, it is always tasty, satisfying, the needful sustenance for what only He knows my day will hold. I can savor His wisdom, an extra measure of grace or gratitude or love, the check of the Holy Spirit, a warning and impulse to fit my spiritual armor extra-tight, the prompting to pray for a specific person or matter. Why would I ever choose to avoid or neglect breakfast with my LORD and His word, my Bread of Life? (John 6:35; Philippians 4:19)

“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.”  ~William Williams (1745)

Jehovah Jireh, thank You for providing all I need. Keep me coming, choosing morning by morning to take and eat, never to head into the world starved of You. Fill me that I might be spent for You; may Your feeding be for Your glory. (2 Corinthians 12:15)

Thought of

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” “O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?” Psalm 8:4; 139:17-18; 144:3

When the psalmist considers God’s greatness, His sustaining power and order over all things, he is humbled by His thoughtful care of him, His constant vigil over his life, His knowledge of all that concerns him, His abiding presence. Are we not also overwhelmed at His thought for us? That the God of the universe would care about and set His attention and affection on us? “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. I formed you; you are my servant; you will not be forgotten by me.” Thinking thus of God brings deep worship and thankfulness, humble abandon, rest and peace. (Isaiah 43:4; 44:21)

I awakened today, thinking of the woman with whom I would walk in a few hours. She was born and raised in another country, left her family to move here in love and marriage, and has lived in several cities as jobs changed. I thought of her adjusting to a foreign land, and to new homes and communities again and again. I prayed for her, holding her before God’s throne in care, compassion, the love of our friendship. Yesterday, a friend left me a message that she was thinking about me and a situation we had discussed; she was praying for me. What a blessing– to have a heart for others, and to be thought of! 

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Through the years, and in difficult times, I have been humbled, and palpably, inexplicably helped by the supernatural sense that I am being ‘carried’ not only by God but by others; there is real comfort and strength that comes from being held in the prayers of the saints, from knowing others have me on their hearts in loving concern and before God’s throne.

In my scurry of activity, planning, doing, of what and whom do I think? When I first awaken or arise, am I front and center– what I plan to accomplish, what I need or want, how I can fulfill my desires and expectations? Or do I train my mind to think first on my Savior, beholding Him in His glory and worth, and ask Him to place in my thoughts and heart those He would have me minister to, pray for, visit, encourage? Am I self-centered, or God- and others-centered? What motivations drive my choices, decisions, words and tone of voice, expenditures of time and money?

When Jesus died on the cross, it was with me in mind. God carved me in the palms of His hands; when I consider those pierced hands, I remember His thoughts and sacrifice for me. Will I, in gratitude, think on Him, and for His sake, others? (Isaiah 49:16)

Loving God, may I ever hold You, and others, in my heart. May I decrease, and You increase, in my thoughts and in my living. (Philippians 1:7; John 3:30)