All In, All The Time

Then the king [Josiah] sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin join in it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.  And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.” 2 Chronicles 34:29-33

It is hard to read this passage without the “alls” jumping out and awakening holy desire for a comprehensive overhaul. “When he was yet a boy, [Josiah] began to seek God,” and he reigned over Judah with the highest standards and care. When the law of God was found in the temple, he responded to its words with humility and contrition for his nation’s erring ways, and led them in earnest recommitment to God and His commands. I imagine the difference this revival made in the country– in worship, in attitude toward work and fellow citizens, in behavior and service to others, generosity, mutual respect, moral and physical health. Neighbor to neighbor, home by home, as all the people applied this word, cooperation and harmony and fruitfulness and joy increased.

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What alls is Jesus asking of me today? When I give all my attention to all I read from His word, all my affection to Him my Lord, all my heart and soul to His will, and ask Him to remove all my ugly thoughts and ways and tendencies, much is transformed. Laying aside selfishness, outlook is rosier, vision broader. Conversation becomes more pleasant and meaningful, work and serving are energized, tone of voice is gentler, expressions are softer, compassion is deeper, love for others is purified and multiplied, and giving is more lavish. All is elevated to loftier living.

“All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my being’s ransomed pow’rs;
All my thoughts and words and doings, All my days and all my hours.                                    Let my hands perform His bidding; Let my feet run in His ways;
Let mine eyes see Jesus only; Let my lips speak forth His praise.”                                         ~Mary Dagworthy James (1810-1883)

Oh Lord, may all my hours be spent for You, Your good purposes, Your glory. May all my heart beat for You and all my soul be sealed for You all my days, that all I encounter see You and want to know You.

Can It Be?

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asheroth, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.’ And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” 2 Chronicles 33:1-4,6

Manasseh was one of the worst. Born during the latter (weak) years of his famous father Hezekiah, much of his long reign was spent undoing the good established before him, and once he got started, his wicked and idolatrous practices spread like infectious gangrene throughout the land. But God, Who loves sinners, pursued. When words had no effect, He used captivity, and it was there in his distress that Manasseh saw the light, entreated the Lord, and humbled himself. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” The Lord returned him to Jerusalem, where his new spirit was evident in his removal of idols and restoration of proper worship. “He commanded Judah to serve the LORD.” Can it really be? Yes, God can indeed change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh! (2 Chronicles 33:13,16; Ezekiel 36:26)

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Where am I dealing with an impossible? A besetting sin habit I can’t ‘shake,’ choices of a loved one I see going nowhere good, an addiction, a financial disaster, loathing of someone I am to honor and respect, a looming health issue that has grown tentacles of smothering fear, a breaking marriage or strained familial relationship? Those of us who know Jesus were all headed in the opposite direction from God when He broke in; those of us who have been changed in any manner know His power. He Who transformed abominable Manasseh can do anything He pleases, and His plans will not be thwarted. Though we, or loved ones, may combat and chafe and run the other way, when God pursues the rebel He will win in the end. He pierces light into darkness, He makes beauty in the harshest places, He softens the resistance of our flint wills. Take heart! It is never too late for a mighty work of God! (Ephesians 2:1-6)

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.                Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”                       ~Charles Wesley (1738)

God on high, I put my hope in You today, offering up all my impossibles to Your throne of grace and might. Have Your way with me and with those I love, to Your ends and for Your glory. (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 1:37)

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)

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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.