The Insidiousness of Suspicion

Now after this Nahash the king of the Ammonites died, and his son reigned in his place. And David said, ‘I will deal kindly with Hanun the son of Nahash, for his father dealt kindly with me.’ So David sent messengers to console him concerning his father. And David’s servants came to the land of the Ammonites to Hanun to console him. But the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun, ‘Do you think, because David has sent comforters to you, that he is honoring your father? Have not his servants come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?’ So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away; and they departed. When David was told concerning the men, he sent messengers to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, ‘Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return. When the Ammonites saw that they had become a stench to David, Hanun and the Ammonites sent 1,000 talents of silver to hire chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia, from Aram-maacah, and from Zobah. They hired 32,000 chariots and the king of Maacah with his army, who came and encamped before Medeba. And the Ammonites were mustered from their cities and came to battle. When David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men. And the Ammonites came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the city.” 1 Chronicles 19:1-9

My oh my! What a conflagration escalates from one misunderstood kind gesture on the part of king David! Thirty-seven tons of silver spent, tens of thousands of troops mustered, and eventually almost 50,000 men killed over misplaced, unreasonable suspicion of another’s intent! When I think the worst of others, when I seek and listen to only one opinion and react in jaded, hasty judgment, I am in danger of not knowing the whole picture, and allowing a limited, even perverted perspective to determine my next steps. When self is placed at the center, and everything revolves around me, my needs, my rights, I can become myopic in my view of others, suspecting their motives, judging their intentions, twisting their innocent words to mean what they do not. One misunderstanding leads to fast inflammatory talk leads to roiling emotion and no understanding at all– ears are closed to reason because touchiness and offense trump all.

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“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?… How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Luke 6:37-38; James 4:1;3:5-6,13-17

Father, You are reasonable and the embodiment of truth. Grant me wisdom that is from above, where no selfish ambition or agenda taints and no suspicion distorts. Make me not only open to reason, but willing to initiate, full of sincere mercy and peace, reasoning together with others.

Choosing a Storehouse

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’  And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?”  And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”  But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’ And he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing… Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also… Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.’” Luke 12:15-23,31,33-34,48

It takes care to choose your storehouse. In a season where we are bombarded with commercialism, messages of what we must have- more, more, new, and better- and even as I get out decorations and put some things away temporarily to make room for them, I hear Jesus’s call to seek treasures for heaven. Don’t just collect “stuff” that makes moneybags grow old and invites decay, but actually lay up treasure in heaven by seeking God’s kingdom, by giving to those in need. (It intrigues me that ‘Cyber Monday’ is followed by ‘Giving Tuesday’- why not the reverse order?). God presents us with choices: He has given much and therefore requires much, but leaves us to exercise our wills in whether we invest for the eternal or the temporal, clean out or add to our closets, hoard or release, purchase for me or give to others. It takes His divine perspective and absolute trust in His ongoing care and promises to open our hands ureservedly– but that is when the true and eternal treasure comes. He is enough, our chief delight and sustenance, our true treasure that lasts forever.

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise; Thou mine inheritance now and always; Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.”  ~8th century Irish hymn

Lord, my Treasure and very great Reward, all I have is Yours. May heaven expand and show bright through my treasure, my focus of this season be Your inexpressible gift of Jesus, my adornment be not in things but of my heart. Direct me to the needs of others, fling open and free my fists, define me with generosity, have Your way in my every investment for Your brilliant glory. (Genesis 15:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Peter 3:4)

In These Days…He Went To Pray

 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

“And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you.'” Luke 6:12-20

I watched in delight this morning as the dawn broke, ink black giving way to deep periwinkle, suddenly resplendent in blazing color, and within minutes, monochromatic grey. I thought how being alert, eyes and heart open in the moment, taking quiet time alone and listening, is necessary if I want to experience the treasures God has for me.

The resolve and work of prayer is always worth it. For Jesus, prayer was part of the vital flow of His life on earth. It is a pattern for us. During His days, His ministry, the ordinary and the spectacular, He stole away to pray. It took effort for Him to leave the crowds, to climb the mountain, to get quiet, but it was here in the secret place He could think through His concerns, consider His hours, commune with His Father, take in His treasures, and go forth to discern, to call and encourage and lead, to heal, to bless. The power with which He lived was ignited in His time alone with His Father.

Lord, may this be so for me. Keep aflame in me the determination to take time away and alone with You, to seek Your vision and power and insight for my days and duties. Fill me to give Your best blessing to others, and all glory to You.

Who Am I? Who Is He?

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?  And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant’s sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things. There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt? And you made your people Israel to be your people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord, let the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house be established forever, and do as you have spoken, and your name will be established and magnified forever, saying, “The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, is Israel’s God,” and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you. And now, O Lord, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O Lord, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever.’” 1 Chronicles 17:16-27

This prayer of David’s always moves me, not only because of his humility before God, his swelling heart at God’s love for and favor upon him, but because he has such a deep understanding of God’s marvelous and bountiful ways. When he received the message through Nathan the prophet that he would not be the one to build God’s house, but his son would, his eyes were opened to the vast and sovereign plans of God that spanned not just his reign, his life, but a much wider time. He was overcome at this God Whose heart was good, Whose plans were eternal, Who saw the big picture and worked everything perfectly to accomplish it, Who lovingly revealed His plans to His own, Who was unique and incomparable, Who redeemed His people and kept them forever. Based on God’s greatness, David had confidence in His promises, and claimed them as his own.

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When we know Who God is, how He works, and what He says, it is right, not haughty, to trust Him to do all He says He will. Every word of God proves true, and we honor Him when we live in bold, confident faith. One who says, “I can’t presume upon God for this” is one who is more focused on himself than God, and  has not taken in His promises or understood His character. When we, like David, are consumed with God, we gladly and courageously receive His good word. (Psalm 119:89)

Lord, keep me sitting before You in wonder and humble amazement, accepting with gratitude all You reveal to me about Yourself, Your will, Your ways, Your plans for me. May I take full advantage of Your confidences, taking them as my own and living in the light of them, blessing You forever. (John 15:15)

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Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ…comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Thessalonians 1:11;2:16,17

Benedictions are given at the end of religious services, a final blessing as a culmination of all that has transpired during the service. Here, Paul gives these cogent benedictions at the close of his substantive teachings, so they are to be received and applied in light of what has come before. We are called to do good works, but we are called to do them “now,” now that we know all Christ has done for us, that the best work has already been done by Him– He is our High Priest, the One Whose word has penetrated our lives in power and conviction, the One Who has saved us and presently enables us to live by faith and in strength and purpose. We know the desire and fuel for this good comes not from ourselves, but by the Holy Spirit of God, our mysterious sanctifying Co-worker, Who “works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Nothing we are called to do is impossible, because He Who calls is He Who enables, He Who begins a good work is He Who completes it. Amen! (Philippians 2:13;1:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5;2:13;5:24)

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How well am I cooperating with Him? How actively am I taking in what He has accomplished for me and what I am called to do in response? Are His truths only that- doctrines I believe, but never put into practical action?

Oh Lord, You have done and still do all the work, yet You beckon me to roll up my sleeves and get into Your flow. Keep me clinging to all that has gone before, and live as a benediction to others, that Your name be blessed forever.

Extraordinary Things

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.  And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’  When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.  And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’ After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Luke 5:17-27

Extraordinary things: that experts in the law, implanted with holy desire, would gather to listen to Jesus. That men, compelled by an urgent love, would take their limp, paralyzed friend up on a roof to let him down in front of Jesus. That Jesus, filled with compassion and life-giving power, would forgive and make the paralyzed walk. That amazement and awe, gifts from regenerated souls, would be given our worthy God. That a shrewd rich man, supernaturally moved by Jesus’s call, would give up everything to follow Him.

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…That any, inspired by the Holy Spirit, seek and live for Jesus. The desire to spend time with Jesus in prayer and His word, to stop the complaining thought and rest content, to choose to bless and encourage rather than criticize, to prefer another over myself, to say no to what is not healthy for the better choice, to be patient and kind and generous, to  do menial work happily and not think less of those who do not, to have resistance softened to glad acceptance of different ideas and willingness for new duties, to be willing to bear the cross for another’s sake, to be thankful–all these are extraordinary things God does in and through us when we are surrendered to Him. Should I not invite His filling and control?

Lord on high, may I never cease to marvel at Your extraordinary things, and yield myself to those You want to perform in me. Keep me amazed and glorifying You.

Compelled to Make a Way

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.  And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you. Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.” Luke 5:17-20,24-25

When friends have compunction, they will do anything to help one another. What a beautiful visual this is for ones who care so much for this paralyzed man they would not give in to obstacles, but press on to find a way to get him to Jesus. The crowd is too thick? Let’s go to the roof and remove some tiles—extraordinary measures to accomplish their aim, and it was worth it. The Great Healer was moved by their faith, fueled by their confidence in what He could do and love for their friend, and He freed him, giving new and joyful life.

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Am I so willing to go out of my way for the sake of others? Do I even take the time and thought to recognize the condition of those around me–their paralysis of fear, their despair over hopelessness, their shallow living, their baggage and pain? And once I do see these things, how deliberate am I in praying for them, and for how God would have me involved in bringing them to Jesus? What if it takes unordinary measures, methods that are not easy or natural for me? Surely, when God gives the discernment and compulsion, He will make the way and give me eyes to see it. He may require I go to some out-of-the-box place (the roof) and remove some preconceptions or prejudices or preferences (the tiles) to effect His purposes. So be it!

Lord, I want Your eyes and heart for those around me. May Your love compel me as Your ambassador. Give me boldness and creativity when facing opposition, and remove any tiles of resistance, excuses, love of ease. Make me willing and ready and open for Your appeal to others through me. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)