Every Life of Value

The Lord said to Moses, When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them… Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary.., half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord‘s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord‘s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.’” Exodus 30:11-16

In our day of exacerbated inequalities, of tensions and volatility between people of different background, ethnicity, privilege, it is a beautiful thing to be reminded that before Almighty God, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Instructions for the tabernacle, for sacrifice and worship, make clear that each life counts, and each is equally valued and needful of atonement by its Maker. While taxes to the government may vary depending on income, the census tax to be offered for atonement was equal for all.

Do we hold this same view, and behave as such? Do we truly see others, young and old, humble and pompous, poverty-bound and famous, handicapped and healthy, well-dressed and sloppy, meek and brash, as of inestimable worth? Where have I turned up my nose to avoid someone not like me on a plane or in conversation, turned my back on someone with a deformity or annoying tic who is trapped in body or mind out of his control, or stepped ahead of someone because I’m in a hurry, ie, my agenda is more important? Where have I failed to love my neighbor as myself? Whom do I eschew because ‘we have nothing in common’? (Psalm 139:13-18; Isaiah 43:4; Luke 10:27)

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I know that the times I have obeyed the Spirit’s impulse to sit on a flight next to those with obvious different lifestyle choices, or taken time to converse with another from a background foreign to mine, God has clearly been present. I’ll never forget the smile of a bathroom attendant in an airport when I spoke to her personally as she looked down, avoiding eyes, I’m sure feeling (and being treated as) invisible. I persisted until she looked up, our eyes met, and I thanked her for keeping everything nice. Her face came alive, she and her work had been noticed and appreciated, she was a real person of worth even in this crowded buzz of anonymity. God uses truth and light and personal interest to convey His love; we all have the privilege of being His conduit.

Lord, expose to me even the small places where I show preference or deem myself superior to or more deserving than another. Check me acting out any putting down of another, any demeaning of a fellow image-bearer in impulse or word, and purify me. Replace wrong thinking with truth, default selfishness with Spirit-controlled responses. May I believe, and value, and love, as You do.

Choosing our Clothes

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Isaiah 61:10; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27

Every day we choose what to wear, thinking through where we will be going and what we will be doing, selecting appropriate attire. The scriptures remind us that when we are in Christ, we are spiritually dressed with Him– counted as His children, robed in His righteousness. It is vital to remember this at the start of each day, that as we consider our clothing, we are first to put on Christ, to be assured of His claim on us, to be fitted with Him in mind and body, that He be the One to identify, protect, and adorn us.

Patmos shawls

When once our thinking is right, when the truth is our guardian and the lens through which we discern and plan, when our salvation in Jesus is fixed as our identity, we can set about choosing what gets layered on top. Clean, secure, focused, what will the day require? Only God knows, but Paul instructs in clothing relevant to any task or schedule.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:12-14

Every ‘article’ mentioned here is grounded in knowledge of the Savior, a call to consider Who He is, what He has done for us, and what He can produce in us. He is the source of kindness, peace, and love; His Spirit begets gentleness and patience. The only arming against the flesh is to recognize we battle against the flesh and must be fitted with what is heavenly, spiritual, counter-cultural. What glorious dress He provides! (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 6:11-17)

Heavenly Father, Thank You for clothing me with Your great salvation. May I daily be adorned with praise to You and clothing that reflects Your loveliness, grace, compassion, and love. Place on my head the graceful garland and beautiful crown of Your wisdom. Since You know what the hours will hold, guide me in putting off ugly attitudes, fear, grumbling, faint-heartedness, malice, and pride to be able to be perfectly fitted with Your character and splendor, Your strength and fortitude. May my dress identify me as Your bride, to Your glory. (Isaiah 61:3; Proverbs 4:7-9; Revelation 21:2)

Worn and Borne

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron… You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. You shall make a breastpiece… You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper… There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes… So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” Exodus 28:2,9-12,15,17-20,29,36,38

The priest’s holy garments, “made for glory and beauty,” were designed by God with his ministry in mind. The priest would wear the names of Israel’s tribes as he went about his duties, and would bear them on his heart before the Lord, for remembrance, consecration, and cleansing. This Old Testament practice was a shadow of what our Great High Priest, Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, did for us on the cross and does for us daily. What comfort, what assurance, what strength we can derive from His ongoing ministry to us! (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24)

Antique cross on wood

I know the privilege and peace of carrying loved ones before God’s throne in pleading prayer, and cannot help but be encouraged by the greater knowledge that the Perfect One bears my name, etched in the nail scars on His hands, before God’s throne, and always intercedes for me according to God’s will. Allelujah! (Isaiah 49:16; Romans 8:27,34)

Lord on high, help me hold fast my confession, trusting You in every temptation, regularly drawing nigh to Your throne in great confidence of Your bountiful mercy and grace. May my life bear Your glory and beauty because of Your priesthood to me. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Tending the Light

You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.” “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Exodus 27:21-22; Matthew 5:14-16

From the establishment of worship in the tabernacle, God intended for light to shine. He gave the Levites the privilege of tending that light during the dark hours from dusk to dawn, which involved maintaining a regular supply of oil and watching over the fire. He gives us this same charge, both a privilege and responsibility, in the darkness around us today.

A call to shine our light requires we be where the darkness is, to recognize where vacuums of truth and hope lie and to be willing to go there. Jesus doesn’t call us to isolate ourselves, whether physically or in attitude, from those who walk in darkness, or do not share our lifestyle or opinions; rather, He modeled for us how to “pass through Samaria” and take the light to those around us. He was always winsome, always exhibited compassion, interest, concern, love. And He always spoke truth. A lighthouse stands tall on the edge of danger, at the very place where threatening nature and humanity meet, a beacon to those needing hope and direction in the face of darkness and tumult. (John 4:1-26)

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Tending the light also necessitates being emptied of dark sin ourselves and filled with the Spirit. Checking our own hearts for disdain, favoritism, pride is vital to our being clean vessels for carrying God’s pure oil. Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins shows the wisdom of keeping flasks of oil at hand, anticipating need with our lamps ready. We never know what a day will hold, but decreasing self, and filling up every morning with the light of God’s truth and power of His Spirit, ensures we will be prepared for what He brings to pass– shocking news, an encounter with a difficult person, unfettered negativism, the need to be available, the sudden curveball of an emergency or hard diagnosis. All of these present a darkness that needs the light of grace, patience, kindness, wisdom. (Matthew 6:22-23; 25:1-13; Luke 11:35-36; 12:35-37; John 3:30; Ephesians 5:18)

Father of light, make me a faithful steward of the light entrusted to me. Give me boldness and compassion to enter dark paces with Your truth, Your irresistible love. Keep me filled with You that I may persistently, passionately, brightly shine Your light before men, that they recognize and adore and glorify You. (James 1:17)

 

Understanding ‘Understanding’

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:1-11

I have always wanted to understand things, the ‘whys’ behind concepts, operations, decisions. While I can be rather compliant, obedience and acceptance have always been easier when I understand the background reasoning. This passage from Solomon, himself endowed with vast wisdom from God, appeases my life-long penchant, and assures that it can be satisfied. He describes the perfect match of a willing vessel ready to receive and a gracious Giver eager to fill; a treasure seeker who knows the value of his prize and goes to great lengths to secure it, and the Guardian of the storehouse ready to open wide its doors. The blessedness for us is in knowing God fulfills His promises in His way and time. My ears, eyes, and heart must be open; He will grant understanding as I wait and as I walk. What I continue to discover is that the understanding granted is more of God’s character and ways than of actual situations and events. And isn’t that understanding what true ‘understanding’ is? (2 Chronicles 1:7-12)

Yesterday I saw sprays of birds in the sky, swirling flocks almost unseen, then bursting white like fireworks as their wings caught the sun. Over and over, two or three circles of spotted light would surprise, sparkle against deep blue and then disappear, a beautiful reminder of the Master Artist at work. He is present always, but His appearance comes as He chooses; I must be looking. He will astonish and even delight me with what He reveals of Himself.

He Who is behind every design of creation is the One Who, as I start my morning digging for wisdom and go about my days open-eyed and receptive, gives morsels of wisdom, shines glimpses of His attributes and next steps of His paths, surprises with ‘aha’ comprehension of facets of His eternal purposes.

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How eager am I for the intangibles of God? What do my habits reveal about how much I value God Almighty’s wisdom and understanding? Do I treasure His spiritual goods more than the things, attention, approval of this world?

Lord, thank You for teaching me how to hunt. Please keep me on that path, hungry and searching, digging deep in Your word and looking up for revelation. May all I do and say be permeated with godly understanding, to the exaltation of Your wisdom and ways.

Fixing Your Aim

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Finally, brothers. As a last mention; before I sign off; and the most important thing is; of all I have said, remember this. And you are family, my brothers and sisters; I say this in love; you are special to me; I value our relationship. Paul closes his long letter to the Corinthians by setting a target that is the capstone of his message of unification within the church and with him in his ministry. He gives a charge that is seldom heard, and much less heeded, today. Restoration, comfort, agreement, peace, welcome, affection– are these the theme of my song all the day long? His closing blessing from the triune God is a fitting sign-off, the parting gift that makes his commendation possible. Without Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Lily pads, ruffly, SIngapore Botanical Garden

To establish this aim, I must gratefully understand that I am part of the family of Christ, of fellow image-bearers; none is more valuable than or superior to another. What can I do to pursue restoration, comfort, agreement, peace? I can recognize the itches in my attitudes and check my words. Rather than spouting off, debating, or stirring argument, I can hold my tongue and be generous in affirming with, “that’s a great idea,” “what do you think?,” “yes, let’s do it,” “I agree,” then say no more. I don’t always have to be right, qualify my statements, or have the last word. My opinion is only as important as another’s, and I would do well to concur with my loved ones’ just for his sake. I can also practically serve another– make a visit, prepare and take a comfort meal, hold a hand. I can deliberately promote harmony by speaking well of others, building up godly qualities, steering conversation to foster common ground and stimulate loftier ideas. When do I go out of my way to show affection and appreciation, to prefer others, to bless them with specific encouragement, positive words, unselfish actions of love?

In our culture of inflammatory talk, the right to be easily offended, prejudices that peg others before any understanding is even attempted, critical attitudes and self-promotion, the restoration of civility in relationships and harmony among those with polarized views or even irritating habits seem impossible. But Paul leaves us with the secret for achieving this high aim: By the grace of Jesus Who has forgiven and saved us, with the love of God poured out in our hearts, and in fellowship with the Holy Spirit Who inspires, counsels, enables with supernatural power, and unifies, we can make a difference as effective ministers of reconciliation and peace. (John 16:7;17:11; Romans 5:5;8:11,16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,18-20)

Lord on high, fix my daily aim on this lofty charge. Remove all that hinders me in each area, and compel me with joy to will and act by Your grace, in Your love, for Your glory. (Philippians 2:13)

Like Sun on Honey

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men… For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life… And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John 1:1,4;3:16,19-21; 1 John 1:7-9

Sunlight has many properties: it gives comforting warmth, and exposing light, it causes growth of plants and seeps needed vitamins into skin. It dries what is damp, melts what is hard, hardens what is soft. And we like that it penetrates crystallized honey and softens it to the sweet substance we bought it to be.

Honey in jar

While not true in every language, it is illustrative that in English ‘sun’ and ‘Son’ are homophones. Certainly, John speaks of Jesus the Son as the Light in and of the world, and we see some of the same characteristics in His ministry to us that we know of the sun. The light of truth exposes the places and practices we have hidden, laying bare prejudices and self-centered attitudes, disclosing “secret” habits we have excused or thought we could keep undiscovered. It shines on our hard hearts to soften resistance to change or repentance, over time dissolving our crystalized chunks of pride, favoritism, worldliness, pleasure in sin. The light of the Word teaches, corrects, and trains, to effect spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. When we are brave enough to uncover and unmask ourselves before the Son, He welcomes us in grace and works deep cleansing and restoration in us, in order to use us to pour out His “sun” to the world. (Ezekiel 36:26; John 9:5;12:46; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12)

Do I convince myself I am sweet as honey, but am actually crystalized and stubborn, irritable, impatient, whiny? Where do I remain hardened against naming and relinquishing certain ‘pet’ sins? If I am honest before the purity of God’s light and truth, what is laid bare? As difficult as it might be to recognize or admit, nothing brings the sweetness God intends like allowing my Redeemer’s loving, merciful light to cleanse, forgive, and restore. He died and rose again like the sun to bring life abundant, and is ready and waiting to have His way in each of us. (Psalm 27:1; John 8:12;10:10)

Light of light, shine on and in me, then through me to the dark and needy world.