Pure White

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:1-7,9-10,12,16-17

Over the years, my white towels, regularly washed and occasionally bleached, have lost their pure-whiteness, a fact I recognize best when I compare them to new ones. Only purity shows up sin’s slow creep.

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It takes care to trace how sin, often through media and our culture, slithers into our lives, and gradually, insidiously, stains our way of thinking, warps our perception, and eventually weakens our determination to hold fast to truth. It pollutes our mindset, arouses feelings to trump reason, and turns God’s pure standards upside down and inside out. As it perverts our convictions, sin actually muddies the outlines of universal truth to loosen our belief in it altogether. When immersed in this grand distortion, do we even know what ‘pure’ looks like, and consequently, are we capable of desiring that with which we are not familiar? A horizontal mindset is a dangerous place to live if we are to be purified by our Lord, because it keeps us from the knowledge that there is something higher, better, holy.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  ~C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Where have I taken a slippery slope down in my attitude toward sin, my daily habits? Are there behaviors, conversations, entertainments I now condone that my Spirit once checked? What makes me settle for mud pies when I could be building sand castles, and what will I do about it? The Lord delights to meet a contrite heart with mercy.

Lord, cleanse the whole of my inner being, that my secret heart be clean and pure, my spirit right, for Thee.

Not Silent

The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: ‘Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’ The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak… I am God, your God… The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!’” Psalm 50:1-7,23

A blazing dawn, fire in the heavens, brings me to my knees before our Creator’s perfection of beauty, His shining summons. Indeed, in all His glorious array He is not silent, but shouts from His throne His transcendent knowledge of all things, and blazes light that reveals every thought and deed and executes righteous judgment. I am undone. “‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” (Isaiah 6:5-7)

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In the quiet of the day we hear God best, before the clamor of noise, pressure of responsibilities, demands of schedules, distractions on a screen. And God is never silent here. Just as His heavens loudly declare His glory, His word speaks truth, adjusting right thinking and shedding light on the just way, and His Spirit testifies with ours to proclaim and assure our position and resources in Him. It is in this stillness He exposes the ugly thoughts that have poisoned words, the wayward affections for things and affirmation and notice, all idols before Him. And it is here that when we are open and honest in confession, He cleanses with fire and restores in mercy. It is in this place He communes with us and shows us the inclinations to check, the counsel to give, the people and places in which to invest, the way to go. (Psalm 19:1; 32:8; John 1:1,4-5; Romans 8:16)

What keeps me from meeting my God here? Where have I given in to habits that shut Him out, and what must I implement to change this? Need I arise earlier, close a closet door, leave a phone’s allure, fall on my knees? To be silent before a God Who is not takes thought, preparation, resolve, time. He is always faithful to show.

Almighty, glorious God, gather me to Yourself morning by morning, to listen as one being taught, that I might, with thanksgiving, declare Your praises and show forth Your salvation. (Isaiah 50:4)

 

Every Part Necessary

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-20,26

I worshiped in a congregation last week who, during their prayer time, mentioned several members in specific need, then pled for those grieving after another mass shooting in their state. At home, prayer was focused on the violent storm destroying homes and lives. All of us gathered in unity, serving the same God, each concerned for the particular part of the church that was suffering. It was a beautiful picture of the Body.

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Around the world, those who know Christ hurt and rejoice in distinct cultures, under different regimes, with unique challenges and pressures, yet in Him we are one. We are not meant to be able to do everything, but we can live fully our part, giving strength and support to others who pull their weight in their place and gifting that the Body function healthfully as a whole. It is important for me to be aware of what others are suffering, where God is moving in mighty ways, where there are great needs, so I can care about more than just my little jurisdiction of life. While we cannot know and do everything, we can open ourselves to care for God’s Body where we are, and expand our love to spread abroad as He leads. You are… members of the household of God,.. Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Lord, enlarge my heart for Your universal church. Wrest me off of myself and out of my small provincial world to exercise myself for Your larger Body. Direct my love and efforts to build up Your people, wherever You would have me be, whatever You want me to do, for Your honor and glory. (1 Peter 2:5)

Good Gifts for the Good of All

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills… As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… God has so composed the body,.. that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed [you, with your gifts] in the church.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-11,18-20,24-25,27-28

Apportions. Arranges. Composes. Appoints. Sovereign God knows what He is doing in fashioning His people with gifts that serve the church, and we are accountable for knowing how He has gifted us, and using those gifts for the good of all. For us to determine what is more honorable, more necessary, or more dispensable, is to be proud and to dishonor the One Who has made all for His good purposes. For us to build up and pay attention to those with certain abilities we esteem, and ignore or put down those whom we deem ‘lesser,’ is to insult the Giver of every good and perfect gift. For us to covet another’s strengths and abilities, or lag in energetic exercise of service, is not to give ourselves fully to God’s work, to participate in the Body as He intends, to the detriment of ourselves and others. Every gift is given and empowered by God Himself; we would do well to accept His assignments with zeal. (1 Corinthians 15:58; James 1:17)

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Am I jealous of those who have gifts I admire and want for myself, and in doing so, diminish the importance of, or reject outright, the ways God has designed for me to contribute? Would I prefer a more public gift when God has assigned a background one, or vice-versa? Do I languish in my gifting, waiting for some convenient time or appealing situation to help, or exciting chance to show it off?

What opportunities has the Lord put before me to build up His body, whether appropriating my own gifts, or stepping aside from ‘doing it all myself’ to encourage others to develop theirs? Whom can I come alongside to help be bold and participate, to serve with together?

Wise and generous God, may I gratefully accept and earnestly exercise the gifts You have bestowed, for the good of Your body and the glory of Your name.

 

Under the Tamarisk Tree

And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul… Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.” 1 Samuel 31:2,6-13

When these noble Israelites buried Saul and his sons, they were putting to rest what had been to them the hope of Israel. They had insisted on having a king, so they could be like all the other nations, and God granted them one, declaring they had rejected God Himself, and warning them of a king’s over-reach into their lives. Saul had not lived up to their expectations, and they were burying the failure of their own choices, man’s ways. It was a sober day of sorrow, and would be a new beginning. (1 Samuel 8:5-20)

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Jesus offers us the same opportunity, at Calvary’s tree. With Him we can bury our failures, our disappointments, our choices that have brought pain and far-reaching consequences, scars that heal but leave marks nevertheless. With Him we can put to rest long-held bitterness, resentment, coveting, unmet longings, sorrows, and worry over situations that cannot change. We can rise and, like those from Jabesh-gilead, boldly and deliberately take what needs to be left behind and put away forever, and head to the tamarisk tree of the cross, and dig. And from there we can rise to newness of life, to all God has for us from now on. (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:13-14)

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What attitudes, regretted actions, sin habits burden like dead weight today? Naming these, confessing them, and carrying them to bury once for all under the tamarisk tree of Jesus’s cross will bring freedom and new flourishing. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

Lord God, help me identify what You want to put away from me forever. May I boldly come to Your throne of grace and be rid of these once for all. (Psalm 51:2,7; Hebrews 4:16)

 

Handling Loss

Now when David and his men came to [Ziklag], they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God… David inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?’ He answered him, ‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.’ So David set out, and… pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor… David struck down [the band of Amalekites] from twilight until the evening of the next day… David recovered all that [they] had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all… David said, ‘The LORD… has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.'” 1 Samuel 30:3-6,8-10,17-19,23

Avoiding King Saul’s pursuit, David was now rejected by the Philistines, and returned to his home in Ziklag, only to find destruction and desolation. The Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken captive his family. He wept, then found himself the brunt of anger and criticism, threatened by his own bitter followers. But what he does next is an example to all who are faced with devastation and loss. He strengthened himself in the LORD, and sought His guidance and help. He turned to the One Who had never failed him. He knew well this One of greatest worth, the Rock Who was his soul’s salvation and kept him from being greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-8)

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And God answered. He said to go, he would overtake and rescue. He provided a willing spy-helper, and supernatural energy to fight 24 hours without sleep. He preserved David and led him to recover all that had been taken, and then moved David to distribute goods to all who had stayed behind, and gifts to friends in Judah, making a generous way into the hearts of those over whom he would soon reign.

The Lord answers us too, in our loss, our distress, our devastating news. He understands our tears and holds our prayers as incense. He knows every broken heart and spirit, the sin that devastates lives, the fear that forebodes, the storms that destroy security, property, and hope. While He does not always restore our ‘things,’ or loved ones lost to disease or rebellion, He keeps our life, restores our souls, and promises full life in Him. (Psalm 23:3; 121:5,7; John 10:10; Revelation 5:8; 21:3-4)

To whom do we go? When trouble assails, when flesh and heart fail, when we are tired and stumble, overwhelmed with loss, will we find in Jesus our help, portion, and strength? (Psalm 46:1; 73:25; Isaiah 40:29-31)

Lord, may I ever count all loss as nothing compared to the surpassing joy of knowing You. (Philippians 3:8)

Love Over Puff

“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.” 1 Corinthians 8:1,4,7-13; 13:4

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” Romans 14:7

There is much freedom in the Christian life, but our overarching freedom has been granted so we will love and serve one another, not ourselves. Too often, we abuse our liberty with a puff of arrogance, an air of independence, bolstered by our knowledge of God’s grace to us. Clinging to our personal rights, we indulge self while disregarding or judging others for whom Jesus has also died. We can abuse or wave our ‘all things are lawful’ banner, but fail to put our glorious freedom into practice for the good of others. While I may say I’m willing to relinquish my privileges, only a pure, selfless love for Christ and others will compel me to actually do so. When Jesus sets us free from self-promotion and -obsession, He redeems our affections and changes our priorities and what we treasure. (1 Corinthians 10:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

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Are we more prone to spending thought, time, and resources on our own pleasure, perhaps holding back a portion for God, or do we take thoughtful moments, waiting on God, to consider how He would have us behave, give, serve, spur one another on to love and good deeds? Do I make excuses to justify my selfish expenditures, or hold loosely all God has entrusted to me, seeking His leading in stewardship? How willing am I to give up my rights for the sake of another who is less knowledgable in the faith, who may misconstrue my exercise of freedom as a license to indulge in an area that to him causes stumbling and a guilty conscience? Do my actions give evidence that I care more about myself or the faith and good of others? (Galatians 5:13; Hebrews 10:24)

Lord on High, remove any spiritual puffery from my heart, and infuse me with genuine love that manifests itself in selfless, lavish living for others’ sake.