Again, Lord, Again!

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.” Psalm 71:15-21

Many times a day, we make decisions based on what we know to be true, assumptions  on what has transpired before. We interact with others according to how we know them to be and act, we choose places of business because of records and reviews. The psalmist here is replete with first-hand experience of his God’s righteous acts, deeds of salvation, mighty and wondrous deeds, and it is upon these that he lives, rejoices, proclaims God’s power to others, and trusts for his present and future. ‘Because You have done all these good kindnesses through my life, and because Your character remains the same, revive me, bring me up, comfort me again.’

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How often do we take time to recount the mighty works of God? Would we take sleepless nights, or quiet moments during a day, and turn our thoughts to recall God’s righteous acts in our lives, His deeds of salvation? How He changed our heart of stone to one of flesh, opening our eyes that were blind, recreating us in Christ? The times He protected us from harmful situations or choices, answered specific prayer for wisdom, words, or strength, or directed us at a crossroads? (Ezekiel 36:26; John 9:25; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

And once remembering myself, how readily do I pass along the wonder of these deeds? Do I make a point of telling of His goodness to loved ones, colleagues, those the Lord has placed in my life for more than just cursory acquaintance? My faith grows when tested and repeated, and the more I speak of God’s faithfulness, the more real it is to me. As the psalmist implies, a life steeped in the marvels of God is one that spills over in life-giving grace and truth to others, is one that counts on God’s character and intervention over and over, again and again.

So when I see troubles and calamities, and as I grow to old age and gray hair, when I face disappointment or rejection, or deal with physical pain or effects of aging, I can look to the Lord God Who does not fail, and trust His revival, His encouragement, His consolation, again.

There is none like You, my Lord. May I never cease to count on You to do again what You have done before. Keep me singing Your praises and telling Your deeds, for Your glory, laud, and honor.

 

Unchecked Passion

Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.’ And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.  But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, ‘Come, lie with me, my sister.’ She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me..; do not do this outrageous thing… But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, ‘Get up! Go!’ When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar… ‘Absalom has struck down [Amnon].’ ..And David mourned for his son day after day. So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead..” “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” 2 Samuel 13:10-12,14-15,21-22,30,32,37-39; 2 Corinthians 7:1

The vestiges of passion-gone-wild in David trickled down to his sons, and sadly, when untempered and undisciplined, in ways that would bring deep dissension and heartbreak to the family and nation. Amnon’s sexual desire deemed “love” grew uncontrolled, and fueled, rather than checked, by his cousin, brought shame and brokenness upon his half-sister Tamar, even as it immediately flared in hatred toward her. Anger and bitter vengefulness then grew in her brother Absalom. This went unchecked by their father David, who, though aware of what had transpired, probably struggled in knowing what to do since he had been guilty (yet forgiven) of the same unbridled passion. After two years of fomenting rage, Absalom arranged for Amnon’s murder, then fled in fear (and guilt?), triggering more mourning, separation, eventual divisiveness whose stain would linger through generations.

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At any one point, the Lord calls out ‘Come, cleanse yourself! Turn! You are Mine!’ But caught up in the fury of passion, whatever the cause or object, we get muddied our ability to think rightly, and undependable emotions take control. Our ears fail to hear His invitation because of louder rage, our wills so tenaciously cling to rights, defenses, lusts, that we react rather than reasonably respond. Roots of bitterness and self-will are dangerous culprits in determining our life-course, and when not yanked out of our heart-soil, will wreak havoc with relationships and inner peace. (Matthew 13:20-22; Hebrews 12:15)

Where has the gift of passion gone astray, creeping into places where it ought not rule? Would we daily ask God to search, dig, redirect? Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Great Lord, may my only unchecked passion be for Thee. Pull out all my stops in loving, rejoicing in, serving, and honoring You, King of kings.

R.S.V.P.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel… But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba,.. the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’  So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’ ..But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. And the Lord sent Nathan to David.” 2 Samuel 11:1-5,27-12:1

Therefore I will judge you, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:30-32

David was brilliant in his element as a military strategist, and went out of his way in diplomacy and kindness to others. But he also let spare time, his ‘right to a day off,’ get the best of his sin nature. With one turn of taking it easy, and one lustful look, the widely-respected king started a downward spiral that resulted in adultery, betrayal, deception, and murder. God in His mercy made him miserable, and extended an invitation He extends all through scripture, to which David would RSVP with repentance. (2 Samuel 12:1-13; Psalm 32:3-5)

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R.S.V.P. Repondez s’il vous plait. “Respond if you please.” God’s grand invitation comes to us in daily choices. With every fleshly urge, mind game, morsel of gossip, ease of a lie, we choose how to respond. Jesus says Come. Turn. Cast it away. Flee the devil. Don’t even begin to step on the path of death. Many devices, entertainments, idols, and philosophies, are vying for our attention, and to heed the prophets’ warning is to stop, listen well, consider, and boldly RSVP “Yes” to Jesus. I will choose You, I will follow Your ways and not those of the world. Emotions and fatigue lure us to doubt, despondency, comparison, fear, confusion, anxiety, and when these feelings run amok,  distorting our thinking and arousing unhealthy actions, we can RSVP to the Lord of lords, “Yes.” I accept that You love me, You made me for high purposes, You died in my place and redeemed me unto everlasting life, hope, and peace that is unlike anything the world gives. What makes us tarry and not respond? (John 10:10; 14:27; James 4:7)

“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready, stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.”  ~Joseph Hart (1759)

Father, at every beckoning of the world, may I turn to RSVP to You instead.

 

Sweetest Rest

So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.” 2 Samuel 16:13-14

“[Elijah]  was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life… He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” 1 Kings 19:3-8

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Matthew 11:28; Mark 6:31

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” Genesis 2:2-3

Awakening early, I was overwhelmed at what a gift is God’s plan for sleep, for rest. What emotions had felt dark the night before were lighter, the body that was spent was renewed, weighty and tangled thoughts had been revived to fresh acuity. Rising to stretch, I offered praise for this beautiful, integral part of our very design, and what it accomplishes.

RIver Dee under sun and clouds, Aberdeen, Scotland

 From the beginning, after God created perfect man into a universe with days and nights, He established rest. Man has been made to work and interact, expend energy and execute plans and handle all sorts of emotions and stimuli, and God intends that a part of each day (night) be given to rest. He has made us to need to pause, sleep, rejuvenate, be refreshed for the conversations, the decisions, the battles, the race ahead. What a welcome built-in necessity and invitation to the weary soul!

We never know what a day may hold. These godly men in Scripture met vicious threats, taunting, and pursuing enemies. Our exhaustion may seep in through work, caring for another, grief, temptation, even regular responsibilities. Whatever the cause, our need is real, and God graciously meets us in His delicious gifts of rest and sleep.

What makes it hard for me to stop tending to the ‘urgent?’ What unhealthy pressures steal our time to turn off, unplug, and reset? What must change for rest to be a dedicated priority?

Lord, teach me to relish and appropriate the sweet refreshment You provide for body, mind, and spirit. Rejuvenate me regularly that I can spend myself for Thee.

Overwhelmed, Below and Above

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me… God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts- the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords… They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way.” Psalm 57:1-4,6

Look around, look down: darkness, pressing fear, storms of doubt, immovable dread, pressures and responsibilities, impossibilities, criticism. The world’s frantic urgency and caustic ways can overwhelm us into despair when we get stuck here below. But turn the eye upward, the mind to the High and Holy One, and all changes.

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! ..I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 57:7-10

We find the secure place, the refuge from harsh winds, under His wings. When circling enemies roar and taunt and swipe with sharp claw, we are enveloped by the closer shield of God’s steadfast love. The bowed soul awakens with joyful song, heaviness turns to light glad melody, wailing and pleading to songs of praise.

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We are created with senses, emotions, intuition, the ability to absorb what takes place around us and react. In this life we are bombarded with hundreds of stimuli, outward and inward, physical and emotional, cognitive and relational. There are myriads of choices for products we purchase, constant messages about what we should have done or do or have, a daily barrage of expectations for performance and appearance. Living and investing our lives here we can get tangled in it all, weighed and bowed down. But, always there can be the turning of our faces ahead, outward, upward.

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalm 59:16-17

David wrote these psalms when being pursued for his life, though God had promised him a kingdom. He had to rely on Who he knew God to be, and the irrefutable power of His word to come to pass. His purpose was fixed in God’s eternal plan and would not be swayed off-course by enemies here below. Do I believe God’s unfailing love and vow to fulfill His purpose for me? Can I sincerely sing this same song?

Lord, take my darting eyes and fix them on You. Overwhelm all that overwhelms me, and overwhelm me with You. In the harsh noise and grind of this life, may I make joyful, thankful, melody to You Who are worthy of praise.

“Such Things as These Have Happened”

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each… offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”‘ And Aaron held his peace… ‘Why have you not eaten the offering? ..You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.’ And Aaron said to Moses, ‘Behold,.. such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?’ And when Moses heard that, he approved.” Levitivus 10:1-3,17-20

I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.” Psalm 69:2

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me.” Lamentations 1:12

I awakened to news that took my breath away, cloaked all the world in grief and sorrowful wonder, and opened floodgates. The death of friends’ vibrant daughter snuffed out any semblance of regularity in routine, as starkly as her life here on earth is no more. Emotions tumbled into turmoil: bleak imaginings, a torn heart, weeping like a river, unrecoverable loss, the “nevers” that are now inescapable. This is but a glimpse into lives forever altered by unimaginable grief. Struggling to go through morning motions, we find them upended and twisty; and days continue with strange meaning we cannot understand. “Such things have happened.”

And Mighty God, Who reigns on high, knows this. Our Savior, Who wept at death and its unalterable effects, and was Himself a man of sorrows, is nigh in every shock and blow of grief. He Who holds day and night and numbers every breath keeps order when our lives have none. (Job 14:5; Psalm 74:12,16-17; Isaiah 53:3; John 11:35)

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Our peace in such times comes from knowing that our Lord God reigns in perfection, that none of us knows the number of our days. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” How could Job say that, how could he bow and worship after all his children were killed and he’d lost his livelihood? Only because he knew God personally, and that if He was good, then all He would do or allow had the imprint of ultimate good. It did not feel that way, but it was true. While he choked for breath, God gave air. Much of life is a mystery we will not understand this side of heaven. Here we see in a mirror dimly, and we groan, and long to see fully. (Job 1:20-22; Romans 8:23-28; 1 Corinthians 13:12)

God’s people survive grief, but survive changed. Changed by the gift that was, and because it was taken.

Father God Who daily bears us up, when You take us through fire and water to bring us to Your place of abundance, may we cling, and trust, knowing You gloriously redeem all such things as happen to us. (Psalm 66:12; 68:19)

No Random Kindness

And David said, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, ‘Are you Ziba?’ And he said, ‘I am your servant.’ And the king said, ‘Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?’ Ziba said to the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.’ The king said to him, ‘Where is he?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘He is in the house of Machir, at Lo-debar.’ Then King David sent and brought him. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’ And he answered, ‘Behold, I am your servant.’ And David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.’ 2 Samuel 9:1-7

Mighty warrior, executive over a burgeoning staff, busy with a growing family, King David made a priority of looking for ways to show God’s kindness to the family of Saul, his former enemy. He thought about it, initiated, took time to inquire. He extended grace and his gift was ongoing, no ‘one-and-done.’ This was no happenstance coming across a relative of the former king and extending politeness, or handing out a socially-acceptable gift, but a conscious, deliberate seeking and giving out of significant blessing and good, “the kindness of God,” to another. In this gesture, we see the outworking of a king graced with God’s heart. (1 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 23:8-39; 1 Chronicles 27; Acts 13:22)

This is how our God looks out for, and on, us. He is a God Who sees, and sees after, us. He initiates goodness toward us according to His lavish stores of love and mercy. It is His nature to bless, and not only in answer to our requests. As recipients of His rich kindnesses, will not we, in gratitude and with full hearts, look for ways to extend the same to others? (Genesis 16:13; Ephesians 4:32)

Who has God placed in our lives, in places of business, neighbors, extended family, who could taste a bit of Jesus if we were to reach out? Would we ask the Lord to help us think this way, and in His name offer a note, a cheery hello, help with a project, time for conversation, a tea, or a meal? When I want to indulge myself, would I indulge another instead? To whom will I extend the kindness of God today? When we intentionally give for Jesus’s sake, to receive nothing in return, their response does not matter, only that we have reflected and honored Him.

Bountiful Lord, make me keenly aware not only of others’ needs, that I might spend effort to fulfill them, but of ways to show Your kindness when no need is visible. Fill me with Your generosity of Spirit and kindness toward others, simply because they bear Your likeness.