Treasures of Darkness

“For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lordjoy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Isaiah 51:3

A friend recently showed me her night-blooming cereus plants, and pictures of their spectacular flowers. One, with thick tongue-shaped leaves, blooms only once, at night, and only for a few hours; the other, ganglier with even longer leaves, had a bud that has since blossomed at night and stayed open until morning dawned. But they never bloom in the daylight.

For man, blooming in the ‘light’ of happy circumstances, good health, compliant children, ordered circumstances, financial ease, comfortable surroundings, self-directed schedules, is almost effortless. Like plants, we can flourish in good conditions. But what about the gloom of sorrow and loss, the night of waiting and longing, the grief when loved ones choose destructive paths, the shadow of the unknown prognosis or frightening future? How do we bloom there, and then? Only by the Creator’s power and life-giving impulse. He Who brought life and salvation to us who were dead in sin calls to magnificent, joyful bloom what seems impossibly hopeless–and it’s the dark that makes the glory possible. God forges treasures of darkness with incomparable beauty.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. The glory of the LORD will be revealed.” “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. I, I am he who comforts you.” Isaiah 40:3,5; 51:11-12a

Lord, You speak and stir in the whirlwind. You order waste places and wildernesses to make all the more glorious the beauty of Your life, hope, and joyful song. Keep me connected and growing in the darkness, dependent on You Who brings beauty there, that I may bloom in every place You plant me, to the praise of Your glory.

What More Can He Say?

I remember a family outing to a state park when I was young, and the fun my older brothers and I had jumping from a rock ledge into the deep blue lake. My still-younger sister was not so convinced of our delight, preferring to hang back with my mother and pick daisies in the meadow– until my father scooped her up in his strong arms. Resistant and fearful as she was, he assured, “I have you,” and jumped in, holding her tight. Safe was she, still clutching her droopy flowers when they emerged from the water.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are precious in my eyes, and I love youFear not, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43:1-3,5

As beloved friends face heart-wrenching challenges with family, significant health crises, and tenuous or gloomy futures, the comfort and hope and prescription to allay fear is not that the trials can be avoided or will disappear, but that You love us and are with us. That iis enough.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,                                                                               is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!                                                                                 What more can He say than to you He hath said,                                                                           to you, who for refuge, to Jesus hath fled?

Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,                                                                                 for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,                                                           upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.                                                                                                                                                 

                                       When through the deep waters I call thee to go,                                                                                                   the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,                                                                                  and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.    

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,                                                                           My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design                                                                                   thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. 

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose                                                                                    I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,                                                                     I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

–Robert Keen (1787)

God, in the presence of our enemies and when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with us, You hem us in behind and before, Your rod and staff comfort us, Your goodness and mercy follow us. Thank you, in uncertain and unstable times, for these good and unshakeable promises. (Psalm 23:4-6; 139:5)

In Charge

Isaiah 45 is a striking account of the sovereignty of God. At the end of chapter 44, King Cyrus of Persia is named as God’s instrument, “my shepherd, [who] shall fulfill my purpose.” He is the pagan king God used, after Persia defeated Babylon, to return His people to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile.

“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, ‘I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of ironthat you may know that it is I, the Lordthe God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.'” Isaiah 45:1-7

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It is easy to hear opinions, and come up with our own, about why the stock market or kings and kingdoms rise or fall, why treaties are crafted or broken, why populists are gaining traction, why economies grow or slow; but in the Bible the reason is clear: God is in charge. “I am the LORD, who does all these things.” “You are God the LORD, and there is no other.” “You speak the truth, and declare what is right.” All Your deeds reflect your orderly, powerful control, and work toward accomplishing Your ends, that we might learn to trace Your hand, understand Your ways, and know You.

Psalm 105 recounts God’s providential hand with Joseph, and Moses, fulfilling His “holy promises” to His people. “Great and amazing are your deeds, O God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” “I am God, and there is no other. My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Revelations 15:3; Isaiah 46:9-11)

King of kings, You know the captivity, the waiting, the wrestling. You understand, allow, and even guide our strategies, preparations, initiatives, solutions. You perfectly orchestrate all circumstances to bring about Your good will. Turn anxiety and hypotheticals to glad surrender to Your sovereign, righteous rule, and align our most earnest efforts and striving with Your good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

The Distances of God

There is nothing like contemplating the distances of God to underscore the finiteness of man, and rouse our fitness in Him. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Revelation 13:10

Known since before creation– wondrous thought! Revelation 13:8 mentions the beast who had authority over “all whose name had not been written before the foundation of the world in the Lamb’s book of life. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:15,16)

I bear my sin no more! “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25)

Clouds w light, Florida summer

His love is measureless! For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” “[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Psalm 103:11; Ephesians 3:17-19)

He is with us everywhere and forever! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Psalm 139:9-10; Matthew 28:20)

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” These truths are enough to bolster endurance and faith, no matter what. (Psalm 139:6)

Lord, You have gone the distance for me, to the Cross.  May I in faith endure, and go the distance for You. 

First and Foremost

“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” “I will not share my glory with anyone else (yield my glory to another).” Isaiah 42:8; 48:11

The jockey who rode Justify to Triple Crown fame at Belmont, when interviewed about the race, said, “First and foremost, I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for the blessing of this wonderful day…” All else paled. Having just made history, his first ‘glory,’ was to God.

Taipei sunrise 1

God has called some to be jockeys, some preachers, some businesspeople, nurses, good neighbors, servers, ministry leaders, care givers, authors, architects, teachers, public servants–and for all, there is a “first and foremost.” For me, will it be my occupation? My education or credentials? My activity or accomplishments or experiences? My children, or grandchildren? When jobs are completed, events are over, finished lines are crossed, tasks are checked off, who receives credit? “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“To our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:14

O God, when others meet me, hear me, see me, read my words, may my life say, “First and foremost, Jesus.”

Irresistible Light

I met a woman recently and in getting to know her, asked how she came to know Jesus. She was raised in Switzerland, in the church, but it was after moving to the states, marrying and raising twins, that she met a young mother strolling twins in her neighborhood. “She had a light, a peace, that I had never seen, and I wanted. We struck up a friendship, she invited me into her home and shared with me about Jesus and what He had done for me.” Jesus’s light, through this ‘willing vessel,’ warmed my new friend’s heart, and Jesus drew her irresistibly to Himself.

Sun glory behind clouds

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” O, what light He shines, warming and drawing our hearts to faith! “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven.”  “Do all things…that you may be children of God without blemish in a warped and crooked generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (like stars in the sky) as you hold firmly to (holding out) the word of life.” In Judges 7, the Israelites went to battle with torches in pots, and simultaneously broke them open, the fire blazing fear into the enemies so they were humbled and overcome. The light of truth and life is powerful! (2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Matthew 5:14,16; Philippians 2:15-16)

I am Your vessel, Lord God, a jar of clay, with Your light my great treasure. Burn bright; crack me, break me, use me to shine Your light in this dark world, that others are drawn irresistibly to You.

The Hands of Friendship

A beautiful portrait of friendship emanates from Exodus 17. Moses is under it as leader of 2 million murmuring whiners, and his inner circle comes through. His understudy and assistant, Joshua, takes command of the men to fight Amalek, and as Moses wearies, holding up God’s staff over the battle, his brother Aaron, and Hur, climb to the top of the hill with him, move a stone for him to sit on, and, one on each side, hold up his hands for him.  “So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” 

I had several conversations this week with friends where we shared heartaches, grave concerns over health and loved ones, ministry and relationship challenges; where feedback, encouragement, and advice were asked for, given, and received; where we prayed together over imminent needs and longer-term concerns; where we talked through how to think rightly and biblically on specific situations; where we told of God’s faithfulness and grace, stirring in one another gratitude and wonder; where just hearing the other’s voice was a balm in Gilead.

How sweet the gift of friendship! Of others who go to battle with and for us, exercising gifts we may lack, united in purpose. Of comrades who know or listen to our needs and come alongside, giving support, rest, companionship, help, correction, willing to be off-center as we complete our God-given tasks. Of those whom we trust enough we bare our fears and sin, that we might turn one another to Jesus and the truth; those who sharpen us, and stimulate greater faith that we might all grow wiser.

“I will look in favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.” “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” “Faithful are the wounds of a friend. The sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.” Psalm 101:6; Proverbs 13:20; 27:6,9,17; Psalm 119:63

Thank You, Lord, for those You have brought alongside to minister to me, and for those I’ve been privileged to love and serve. May I be ever eager to make new friends, and love the old ones well. Keep me willing and able to hold the sword, the staff, and the hand–at Your bidding.