Sage Succession

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.’ Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation  who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’ So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey… At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.’ And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD directed through Moses.” Numbers 27:12-23

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Moses is a stellar example for all who would step aside for another to take up the helm. In his case, he would not personally have chosen this, having faithfully led the Israelites through the wilderness, putting up with incessant grumbling and hardship, only to be denied permission to actually enter the promised land; we can only imagine his deep regret at his impulsive anger, and sadness for what would never be. But he accepted God’s harsh punishment and was concerned that God’s plan continue, whether he led or not. He exalts God and His marvelous Lordship, appeals to His wisdom, tends to the welfare of his sheep and the seeing through of God’s good plans. When Joshua is identified as his successor, Moses immediately obeyed. There was no delay or dishonor with this command; he was wholly His. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

Do I get fixed on the now instead of focusing on the future, limiting my vision with present plans over preparing for perpetuity? Do I care about credit and a glory crown for what I have done more than advancing God’s greater cause? Am I ever tempted to dig in my heels and say it must be this way and my way, or am I willing to step aside when He indicates, to yield to, even embrace, God’s new and different way? What do my prayers reveal about my attitude and will?

God of all, guard me from any bitterness or resistance when You change my plans. Keep me so entwined in You that Your purposes and glory, and the good of Your people, are my end.

 

Above All

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11

We never know what a day will hold, nor when our end will come. Peter had seen his Lord be crucified, and his fellow apostle, James, was martyred, with Herod’s intent that he, Peter, would be next. He had a clear understanding that the times were tough and time was limited, and therefore, it was imperative to stick to right priorities. Stay alert, and be about loving one another, and keep being about it. There would be suffering– his whole letter testified to that– and there would be sin, but it was vital that the church keep loving one another to the extent that sin would be covered, needs would be met, the church would be uplifted, and God would be glorified. (Acts 12:1-4)

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Do I love in such measure? How often do I let the stresses and weights of the days lure me to get bogged down in the temporal, and away from looking to the big picture and God’s overall purpose in things? What precludes my self-control and thinking soberly? What criticisms and excuses do I allow to stand in the way of my genuinely, generously loving my fellow believers? Am I willing to let love be bigger than petty sins against me, and bigger than my comparing others’ sin against mine? Can I see Jesus so clearly and love so largely that I do not see sin at all? It’s hard to stay angry with or bitter against someone you are praying for and actively loving. Do I find myself grumbling at interruptions and efforts demanded of me, or happy to oblige, welcoming God-ordained opportunities to extend attentiveness, refreshment, grace, time, kindness to others? Do I hoard my gifts for selfish use, or offer them with abandon, saying ‘here am I, send me’? (Isaiah 6:8; Romans 12:6-8)

And inspiring every duty, every act of love, am I seeking God’s glory above all? He is the one Who calls, supplies, rules, and gives purpose to everything, and He as the Source should be the End. (Acts 17:24-28; Philippians 4:19,20; Colossians 3:17)

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.                                                                                                     Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.”  ~Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879)

Amen.

 

 

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

“And the people of Israel came into the wilderness of Zin… And Miriam died there and was buried. Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses… and quarreled and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought [us] into this wilderness, to this evil place, that we should die here?..’ The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Take the staff, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.’ Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly… And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’… And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force [and] refused to give Israel passage… And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, ‘Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah…’ And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain.” Numbers 20:1-5,7-8,10-12,20-21,23-24,28

Being a leader is lonely and difficult enough, but to trek through arid wilderness, and have to deal with incessant grumbling, opposition, criticism from those you lead, increases the stress. Add on grief at losing first one sibling, then the other, who, though not always supportive, had been at your side. Plus the take-my-breath-away punishment from your best friend, God, — not to enter the promised land, your life’s purpose and calling–  for momentary unbridled anger that exalted self over Him, and that you would forever regret. Then mean, unreasonable suspicion and rejection by relatives to pass through their land. Could there be any more sorrow for Moses? Surely he was choking at this point, yet he did not give up, did not get caught up in blame and complain. He knew enough to look up at the One Who had called him and was good and just and would not fail. He continued to obey, to plod along, to do the next thing God commanded. His God was enough, it was well with his soul.

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“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”  ~Horatio Spafford (1873)

When circumstances turn sour or destructive and overwhelm, when I am accosted by threats or false accusations, or buffeted by loss of loved ones or relationships or dreams, how do I respond? In sorrow upon sorrow, and inexplicable hardship, God is worth my follow and praise.

Good Father, my Fortress, whatever comes, may I sing of Your strength and steadfast love. May I praise You, my Refuge, in all distress. Thank You for making all well with my soul. (Psalm 59:16-17; Romans 5:1)

In the Year the King Died…

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’  And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.'” Isaiah 6:1-4

Uzziah had been monarch for over half a century, seeking God and leading Judah to follow Him, reigning with great success and military acumen, earning wide fame for his strength, prosperity, and order… until he became proud. The revered and beloved king grew pompous, and after his blatant elevation of self and unfaithfulness to God, he was stricken with leprosy and banished from the house of the Lord. A half-century reign is something few peoples can even imagine, and the spiritual slide of their king, along with the ensuing time of disappointment, unease, and uncertainty, was sure to have left all Judah shaken. It was then that Isaiah saw the LORD, highly exalted. Their leader might have puffed to the point of making himself like God, but God would bring him low and show Himself the true Holy One to His servant, Isaiah. (2 Chronicles 26)

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God reveals Himself as King of kings amidst the turmoil of life, and we, like Isaiah, can turn our eyes upward to His unshakeable throne and worship Him there. When a loved one or widely known respected leader falls; when all you have ever known is shaken, or gone away, look to the LORD. When hopes are dashed, or the unexpected call comes; when sin’s consequences are unyielding and irretrievable; when pain is so deep it takes your breath away, gaze at the LORD. When loss leaves emptiness, storms devastation, tragedies ruin, behold the LORD. When finances go south, or are depleted, when failure comes–again, when you meet rejection of efforts, desire, or love, look at the LORD. When all is confusing, disordered, doesn’t make sense; when a relationship is stuck, and no resolution or communication seems possible, look for the Lord. Do I believe He is high and lifted up above all these formidable trials, hurts, challenges, disappointments? Can my heart that is breaking and stretched unlike ever before cry with the seraphs, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”?

What a blessed, powerful reminder God gave Isaiah: He was the immutable Ruler, He alone holy. No human can ever fill that place, nor should he, and God’s glory and government overrides and covers all events we see with limited perspective on this earth.

“All great saints have a great God. He fills their universe. Therefore do they move about in a fruitful awe, and everywhere there is only a thin veil between them and His appearing. Everywhere they discern His holy presence.” ~ John Henry Jowett (1864-1923)

God of gods, may I ever contemplate Your good providence and holy ways, looking up above the transient to see You high and lifted up, glorious in splendor, holy, holy, holy.

Be Different!

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: ‘Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling.’ I will wait for the Lord,.. and I will hope in him. And when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God?.. To the teaching and to the testimony!” Isaiah 8:11-14,17,19-20

God spoke to His prophet Isaiah with firmness and clarity: Be different from the people around you. Do not behave as they do, do not fret and complain as they do, do not be fearful as they are, due to low, horizontal thinking– a limited view of God’s higher purpose and the inability to untangle themselves from hypotheticals and preoccupation with temporal unknowns. God said look up as you fall down. Honor Me not yourself, exalt Me not your fears, contemplate My might not what might be, listen to My truth not others’ speculations. And know this, that your living this way will not be popular and might even be labeled as weird or rejected as repulsive. Because it is different, it will be maligned, misunderstood; it will trip up people in confusion or offense, wonderment or resistance, but I will be your sanctuary, your perfect peace, your high ground. (1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 4:24; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:1-2,9-10)

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A life hid with Christ is a life that is different from the world. Thinking, habits, vocabulary, social mores, motivations are different for us, or at least they should be. How distinctive am I? When I hear agitation over statements by “the other side,” snippy criticisms, haughty judgments, vicious suspicion, or wide-sweeping blame, how bravely do I inject calm, reason, a higher perspective? When others hand-wring in worry over the weather and political bickering and health and economic what-ifs, how can I lovingly show trust in God’s goodness, order, and faithfulness? When all around me is a constant chirp of “enlightened” opinion and sound-bites, and an incessant mutter of the latest scholar’s pontificating or elite star’s expertise, do I fly to the word and my God, do I take time in His sanctuary, will I offer His cup of the water of life? (John 7:38; Revelation 21:6)

Isaiah was bold to speak for God in a time when Israel was declining because he knew his God and was assured of His call, not the peoples’ receptivity. What he heard from God he spoke, where God led, we went, when God’s strong hand was on him, he went forth in divine gumption. When the Holy Spirit resides in us, He imparts the desire, the will, the strength to do the same; He clothes us with power from on high to be different, wholly His. (Isaiah 6:8-12; Luke 24:49)

Lord, take over my thinking and all my doing, that being grounded in You, I walk only in Your way.

 

No Graven Image

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [T]hey.. exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Exodus 20:3-6; Romans 1:18-21,23

There were no photographs in those days, millennia ago, but there were drawings and graven images. God forbade the making of images of Himself because He knew the idolater’s heart, that our sense of sight can get the best of us and insidiously take over the sense of reason and self-control.  A visual stimulus can trigger all sorts of comparing, wanting, lusting, nit-picking, and God wanted Himself known without any trappings, in spirit and in truth. His creation was made glorious to point us to Him, the Mastermind Creator behind it all Who alone is worthy to be praised. He created the magnificent visible to draw us to His more glorious invisible qualities and nature. (Psalm 19:1-4)

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I have recently been heart-broken hearing of new incidences of visual-stimulated prurient behavior infiltrating a beloved leader and church, a school, a marriage. Glances grow into gazes grow into monsters that devour individuals, families, institutions, sometimes wreaking irreparable harm. Our holy God knew best to outlaw the bowing down to what we see, knowing it becomes the laying down of resolve, the relinquishing of purity, the life ridden with idol poison. The only way to avoid these temptations is to worship and serve Him alone. He must be all in all, at the controls of our mind’s control of our eyes.

Be careful little eyes what you see, and be careful little hands what you make and hold too tight. Where have I constructed graven images that steal my attention from higher things? Where am I allowing even beautiful and good delights to hold my affections here on earth and diminish my first love for Christ? Where have I become too big, and slipped into perceiving Him as too small?

King of kings, You alone are worthy of all glory, honor and praise. I offer my idols at Your altar, for You are my All in all.

We Can’t Unread

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;.. the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 19:7-10

I recently read an article about David Brooks, New York Times columnist for well over a decade, on his journey of faith. I was struck by a quote from his new book: “Celestial grandeur is found in the Beatitudes… I can’t unread Matthew.” It is true that the inspired word of God, written in the same language with words from the same 26 alphabet letters by which we read all else, is alive and gets inside us, piercing to penetrate our souls and uncover, expose our deep heart motivations and inclinations. What we read, we may forget, but we cannot unread, and God’s word never returns void but always accomplishes that for which it was intended. The God of providence is the God of truth that does not fail, and the God of sovereign might Who always fulfills His divine purposes. (Isaiah 14:24; 55:11)

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Why would I not “tolle lege,” take up and read, this beautiful, powerful word of God? St. Augustine, after years of wanton rebellion, heard a voice call this divine command to take up the Bible and read, and the words of Romans convicted him unto salvation and a changed life. It will do the same for us. When we look into the holy word, we find a feast. In reading, I often feel the same as the character Kya from Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing: “I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much, I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” 

Brooks found himself in a place where he was “unplanted, lonely, humiliated, scattered.” Am I? Where do I need change, or do I desire it? A softer more forgiving heart, a fresh perspective, more patience, more zeal, greater self-discipline, richer grace, deeper love for others, less complaining, less greed, less gluttony? Where do I flag in hope, or vision, or inspiration? O soul, read the word! It can’t be unread, and will certainly, eventually, have its way in us! Brooks’ “continued journey of exploration” can be ours, too, as we delve into this good and holy Book and make our own the treasure trove of golden truth God offers there. Brooks found there “another anchor,” and we can too– the hope that is found in Jesus alone. (Hebrews 6:19)

My God, Word become flesh, draw me to tolle lege Your living word today, to drink in its sustenance, see by its light, live by its power. May I read, with no unreading, so it has its full way of grace and truth in me. (John 1:1,14)