Ever Changing, Ever Growing

He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God…’ From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man…’ And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when… a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” Matthew 16:15-16,21-23;17:1-5

Just because we know Jesus doesn’t mean we will always live as if He is our Lord. Many relate to Peter because of his out-there vivacity, his earnestness, his oft-misguided impulsiveness, his passion. His heart is right but his impetuous action hinders his learning. What I see in these passages is a man who sincerely acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, but has limited understanding and appropriation of all that means; it will do him good to be still and really know Jesus, that He is the one exalted, not us. (Psalm 46:10)

I watched the sunrise this morning, the clouds a fanfare of grey, then pink-red, then blazing orange, then subdued gold as that celestial ball climbed toward the horizon. Within moments, the play of light and cold air changed the same cloud formation, much as the light of God’s truth along with life circumstances change us, albeit no so quickly for us. What is true- that the light is always there and the course of our planet is sustained by its Creator- does not change; but we change as we are exposed to more and more light, as we learn to think the things of God and grow through choices and failures and victories in our days, over time. Life is dynamic when lived with Jesus. (Hebrews 1:3)

How vibrant is my spiritual walk? Have I stagnated in routine, or complacency, glutted with things and activities that have no eternal bearing? Or do I seek the Light afresh each day, taking in and applying all I can learn, thinking about and feasting on what is true, noble, right, excellent? The more light absorbed, the greater glory reflected. (Philippians 4:8)

Lord, may Your light flood every recess of my mind, my heart, my will. Satiate me with Your word, deepen my understanding, stretch my faith. Change me to be more like You, from day to day and glory to glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 

 

Relentless Opposition, Persistent Resistance

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?’ Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!’ Hear, O our God, for we are despised… So we built the wall… But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.’ And our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.’ At that time the Jews came from all directions and said to us ten times, ‘You must return to us.’ And I said to the nobles and officials and the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your [families], and your homes.’ We all returned to the wall, each to his work…

“Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it, [they] sent to me, saying, ‘Come and let us meet together in the plain of Ono.’ But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.’ And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. They all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 4:1-4,6,7-12,14-15; 6:1-4,9

Anger, rage, taunting, mocking, whining, threatening, distracting… opposition from without and within pelted Nehemiah from the start of his rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, and he never got ruffled, never veered off-course. He said “oh, no” to Ono and every other distraction and temptation. He stayed focused on the work God had given him to do, and encouraged his co-laborers that God was awesome and their cause worthwhile. He responded when appropriate, like renouncing false accusations, and he knew when to keep quiet and pray; and pray he did. (Nehemiah 6:5-8)

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When the enemy is relentless in my life, do I fluster, get chafed and defensive, fret in fear, play victim, deviate, give up? Or do I keep to task, emboldened with the truth that “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Oh, to be a Nehemiah! (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Father, when I face an onslaught of opposition, may I walk before You and be blameless, stay beside You to be strengthened, and follow You as my Shield and Guide, that all perceive that my resistance has been accomplished with the help of You my God. (Genesis 17:1; Nehemiah 6:16)

Example of an Example

Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” Nehemiah 5:14-19

All leaders have certain privileges, and many who appreciate their responsibilities would not refute their right to exercise or enjoy them. But Nehemiah refused what he could have accessed. After correcting the practice of the nobles’ and officials’ exacting usury from their Jewish brothers, urging them to walk in the fear of God and to guard His reputation before foreigners, he himself kept on as an exemplary servant-leader. He chose not to dine luxuriously nor impose the tax burden on his people that would require, as had his predecessors. He would not lord it over the people, as even the servants of previous governors had done. He got dirty, working alongside his people, and welcomed them to his table, sharing delicious but not over-the-top bounty with everyone. The more we read of Nehemiah, we see this is simply who he is: a God-centered official whose aim it is to honor Him, and to serve those entrusted to him as he leads them to do the next right thing. God appointed, so God would lead and provide, and it was up to Him to protect and reward. (Nehemiah 5:7-9)

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When I am in a position of leading others, or have access to privilege and abundance, are my decisions self-serving, fueled by narrow self-consciousness or a pride in my rights, or by humble fear of the God Who placed me there, and large love for those for whom I am responsible? How willing am I to deny myself pleasures or ease that could be mine, for the sake of others and a greater cause? Whether some criticize, or question, or need the money for daily bread that I would have spent on my fancy, if my heart is fixed on the Lord of all, I will consider in every situation what He would have me do. Jesus, equal with God and through Whom all was made, came not to be served but to serve, and He calls me to do the same. (Mark 10:45; John 1:1-3; Philippians 2:5-7)

Father, You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and it overflows. May I always set You before me, await Your counsel, and so live and lead that all are drawn to share in Your bounty. (Psalm 16:5,7-8)

 

Christ’s Abundant More

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Matthew 14:15-21

What the disciples saw as desolate, Jesus saw as ample. What they thought needed to be bought, Jesus supplied for free. What they skeptically deemed “only,” Jesus confidently pronounced “enough.” When they looked doubtfully about, Jesus looked gratefully up.  What they assessed as minimal, Jesus blessed and multiplied to be ample. What they gave to Jesus whole, He broke and returned to be distributed to crowds. And the hungry, thousands of them, were satisfied. Then the disciples collected His abundant more.

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There were twelve baskets of leftovers, one for each disciple, a personal visual aid to remind them that this One Whom they followed performed miracles beyond what they could even envision, and they were part of His cast. He was powerful, intentional, lavish in His compassion to men and His ability to provide. He wanted to use them, to teach them to assess their resources, and boldly entrust them to Him. He was the wonder-worker, He would execute His good out of what they offered to make a difference in others’ lives and in His kingdom, He was able to do far more than they could ask or imagine, and delighted to do so.

Father, my offering of self and means is meager, but You are inexhaustible and generous. Here I am. Break, bless, use me as You will for Your kingdom purposes. To You Who are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to You be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

So Shall It Be

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great…’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be… Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation.” Genesis 15:1,5,13-14,16

God’s covenant promise to Abram was powerful, revealing not only amazing things He would do for this sojourner, but the amazing God He was. That the LORD was his shield and very great reward was arresting enough, but how He would be? Unimaginable! At age 75 this childless man would have numberless descendants? They would be afflicted for 400 years on a foreign land, then returned with great bounty? Because Abram obeyed and worshiped and walked with and knew his LORD, it would be so! “He believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:6)

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Do I as readily take God at His word? Do I believe His promises for what seems to me impossible– a softened heart or changed attitude, love for the unloveable, restored relationships, good to be worked out of today’s tragedy or disaster, ability to accomplish all He requires, sufficient strength for the day’s calling? Do I trust that exile from loved ones, afflictions of persecution or chronic pain or sorrow, can be used by God over time to bring new wealth of maturity and understanding, an increase in faith, a bounty of growth and grace I would not otherwise know? (Abraham would wait another 25 years before Isaac was born.) (Ezekiel 36:26; Joel 2:25; Zechariah 10:6,8-10; Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13,19; James 1:5; 1 Peter 5:10)

Our God orders everything present and future, and though He does not always reveal what is to come, we can rely on Him to act consistently with His character and to fulfill His promises. Seeds of doubt sprout and grow when we get stuck gazing at the mire of impossibilities; seeds of faith take root and blossom when we look up at the Maker and Numberer of the stars, and believe Him. He is trustworthy and true. (Psalm 147:4)

Lord, the sum of Your word is true; may I, like Abram, always believe it and live my days accordingly. May all I do and say give evidence that I know for sure You are God, and that what You say, so shall it be. (Psalm 119:160)

The Art of Self-Control

So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem… I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem…’ And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” Nehemiah 2:11-18

Nehemiah is a manual for godly leadership. Upon hearing report of Jerusalem’s trouble and shame, this Israeli official fasts and prays, then strategically asks for permission and provision to return there to help his brothers. God honored his humble, measured reaction by granting him generous favor from the heathen king. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he once again exhibits self-control; rather than exclaiming at conditions or talking up his plans, he quietly, privately inspects the city, thoughtfully (and prayerfully, we can assume) makes his strategy, and presents his plan persuasively to those who would do the work. No need for broad loud announcement, no place for drawing attention to himself or for excess chatter. And the leaders bought in, inspired by his focused leadership.

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When faced with a problem or task, do I spontaneously react, or with self-control assess and respond? Do I immediately go to friends or the internet, or to all-wise God? Do I crowd my mind with others’ ideas and advice, or ask God for His perspective? Do I start spilling out my words and plans, or quietly seek the Holy One? Do I scatter information about my doings, or simply get to work with those who are part of the solution? How well am I allowing the Holy Spirit to measure and direct my actions?

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise of heart is called discerning.” Proverbs 17:27; 16:20-21

Lord, develop in me maturity in discernment, and Your Spirit’s fruit of self-control in my thinking, speaking, and doing. I commit my work to You that You might establish my plans, to the praise of Your glory. (Galatians 5:22-23; Hebrews 5:14; Proverbs 16:3)

Changing Tack

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority… These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'” Matthew 10:1,5-6

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him. But Peter explained it to them… ‘The voice from heaven [said], “What God has made clean do not call common…” If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:1-2,4,9,17

When we are headed one way in life, in the path at that time obedient, with a set of directions, expectations, what-has-always-been, it is hard to change tack. But as a lusty wind requires a sailboat to ‘come about’ in order to stay on course, so in our lives, sometimes God requires a change of direction, and makes His demands when we least expect it. This He did for Peter, initially called to minister distinctly to the Jews, and now, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, dramatically redirected to include the formerly “unclean, common” Gentiles. Surely, God had no preference, only strategy in seasons of time. He gave Peter a jarring, clear vision, which he at first resisted, citing his commitment to his religious vows and to Jesus’ specific earlier call. The sovereign Master persisted, and Peter obeyed, trusting the divine Messenger, Who orchestrated events to confirm this new direction.

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Consider Abraham, when called to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” He not only had to change direction from all he had ever known, but to leave behind some people and things he loved. We can imagine he, like Peter, was criticized, but he followed God’s voice in faith, setting up altars to worship and seek God’s further direction each place he landed. It is vital we keep our ears open to God’s voice, and guard against getting so ingrained in “our way,” or so attached to our things and comforts, that we fail to hear and heed the new instruction, or even have any desire to do so. (Genesis 12:1,6-9; Hebrews 11:8-10)

What new thing from God might my busyness or complacency be preventing me from experiencing? Do I, even subconsciously, put in earplugs of fear, preference, prejudice, love of ease, stubborn resolve, to shut out a call to be stretched, taught, maybe made uncomfortable by almighty God? If every day is a gift from Him, to be spent for Him, then He can be trusted to be in charge. It is a privilege to be included in His kingdom work, but it requires my cooperation and willingness to change tack at His bidding.

Lord, You are the Master of doing new things, and have authority to call me to set aside what lies behind and press on with You to new ministry, relationships, and opportunity ahead. Keep me unencumbered, eagerly listening and willing to go at Your command. (Isaiah 43:19; Philippians 3:13-14)