Kingdom Calling to the Equally Fallen

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14:10,13

How thankful I am for God’s patient training and mercy. To consider another’s weakness and see myself as strong, and therefore superior, is flat out wrong. If, as my nurse friend says, the hospital gown is life’s great equalizer, then so is our fallen sin nature. We may look distinct and sin differently, but we are all made of the same fallen cloth. One who may not pilfer from a place of employment or a store may steal a reputation through gossip, or the tender aspiration of a child through constant criticism; one who would never lie under oath can inflate a story to enhance reaction, or break a confidence by loose talk. Paul’s admonition in Romans 14 readjusts vision by changing out our default lens of criticism and judgment to one of relatability and compassion. Instead of wagging a sovereign finger from a throne of superiority, I’m called to clasp hands as a fellow earthling in kind and selfless brotherhood and mutual love in service to a better King.

fabric-charlottesville-farmers-market-1.jpg

The Lord does change us; His sanctifying Spirit transforms our heart’s bent and behavior. The Christian life is a daily exercise of putting off and putting on, and the longer we wear our new clothes, the better they fit and more comfortable and becoming they are. If then you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things that are above. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you; put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 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 3:1,2,5,8-10,12-14)

Good King and only Righteous Judge, cause me daily not to see myself more highly than I ought, but with sober judgment according to Your grace. May I see and treat others as brothers in equal need of You. Make me willing to give up privileges and rights You afford for the sake of others, whom You love. May I, with a kingdom mindset, serve You and others by pursuing what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding. (Romans 12:3; 14:18,19)

 

The Power of Voice

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!'”  “When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.” Psalm 29:3-5,7-9; Jeremiah 51:16

Almost all humans are born with voices, each distinct, recognizable, and used to communicate personality, impression, and opinion. God’s voice is so much more. It speaks forth His divine living and active word, but also is His instrument for the creating and the ruling of nature and the world, for guiding His own, and for judgment. (Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-4; 10:27; Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8)

water in light

While the activities of these two voices seem disparate, I must consider the power of my voice to create or destroy confidence or hope, to encourage or tear down, to build or break a spirit, to express love or disdain, to calm and comfort or incite fear, to point to truth and God’s path or lead astray, to speak blessing and gratitude or utter complaint.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:1-2,4

O Living Word, Giver of my voice, I offer it to Thee. Guard my mouth that I not sin with my voice; may its tone be pleasant and honoring to You, Pour Your grace on my lips, lace my words with praise and kindness, and use them to upbuild, encourage, and console. (Psalm 39:1; 19:14; 45:2; 1 Corinthians 14:3)

Oh, the Depth!

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’” Romans 11:33-35

My father was fascinated with Blue John, or “Derbyshire Spar,” a magnificent streaked and colorful semi-precious stone mined only in Derbyshire, UK. The first new vein in 150 years was discovered three years ago. Rare, beautiful, its quantity is limited, and a coveted find for a collector. Here in Romans 11, Paul finishes his brilliant section on the mysterious, majestic sovereignty of God by breaking into a doxology at the limitlessness of God. What on earth is finite, in the Creator and Ruler is infinite. Allelujah.

Blue John

King Solomon, with a preface from chapter 1, in Proverbs 2 commends his son to set his life on a treasure hunt for God’s wisdom:The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. 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.”  And Paul, who certainly had a proper fear of the Lord, knew that plumbing the depths of the Divine was a lifelong pursuit, one that would humble, captivate, satisfy, and inspire to greater mining. 

As I daily go to God’s word and observe His world, interacting with Him and others, He is the One Who reveals Himself in different shades of color, sometimes raw and complicated, sometimes polished and simpler to understand. It takes time and effort to listen with my ears, incline my heart, to ask and seek and search. It takes willing determination to receive and absorb and treasure what He gives–and oh, the rapture of the reward when I realize I’ve only scratched the surface of my Sovereign!

Lord, make me an expert and persistent miner of all things You. For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

Under or Above?

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” “You shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.” Isaiah 40:31; 58:14

Two gentlemen bumped into each other walking on a sidewalk, and one said to his friend, “How are you today?” “Oh, alright, under the circumstances.” “What, pray tell, are you doing living under the circumstances?”

When circumstances weigh us down, dampening our spirits, clouding our perspective, smothering our hope, it is easy to bend into thinking all is too much to bear. We awaken every day to face the giants of life’s demands and stresses and disappointments; they loom above us, and press us down. But when we choose to live above our circumstances, riding the heights with our Lord, they are put into proper perspective. We see all that comes to us as ordered and under God’s loving authority, as pieces He is assembling in our lives and others’ to accomplish His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

O Lord, make me see as You see, setting my mind and heart on things above, grazing at peace on Your mountain heights, and trusting as You work. (Colossians 3:1-2; Ezekiel 34:14)

Door Jamb Markers and Ebenezers

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’” 1 Samuel 7:12

Cairn, CA coast

When our children were growing up, we had a door jamb where we marked their height every birthday, a measure not only of physical growth but a mark evidencing another 365 days of life, friendships made, studies learned, maturity formed. Those marks, and the developing handwriting of each child, were cause for praise to the God Who had faithfully brought them that far and had promised that He would not forsake them or His plans for them in the future. (Hebrews 13:5; Jeremiah 29:11)

Samuel’s life had already been marked with moments: his miraculous conception and birth, his mother’s giving him to the Lord’s service, God’s audible call on his life; and now he sets another remembrance that would remind all who saw it of God’s gracious mercy to them, His deliverance, His unshakeable word.

When I memorialize God’s faithfulness– answers to prayer or tangible changes He has made– in a journal or a dated note in the margin of my Bible,  I am setting a marker that tells a story of His character and deeds. The next time that account is read, His constancy is magnified and faith is strengthened. He Who brought me this far will work with me still; He Who awakened belief and inspired holiness and prayer will complete what He began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Lord, this day I raise my Ebenezer. You have helped me thus far and will walk with me to the end. May I mark Your faithfulnesses to me in ways that bring You praise and cause others to behold, love, and worship You.

What Stars Teach

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

I was drawn outside in the very early by a particularly large star (planet?) that seemed alive in its twinkling. Mesmerized, I gazed, wondering at its seeming tinges of color as its white blazed bright. As I moved farther outside, my view now unobstructed, I was overwhelmed by the whole expanse of sky, a canopy of stars in varied sizes, perfectly clear Orion, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper; and the longer I looked, the more I saw: beautifully suspended white dot pictures and patterns, a line, a shape with a tail (or handle)…named and held in place by God Almighty.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.” 
Psalm 104:1-2

Stars 2

The more I saw, the greater my wonder as the more vast the heavens became–unchanged, yet more deeply seen and comprehended. Isn’t this so with Almighty God? Taking time to consider Him before the clamor of day and its attending considerations, demands, emotions, decisions to be made, magnifies His limitless power and beauty and heightens our praise. The ink black sky has now paled before a coming dawn, and the stars have been swallowed by light. Had I waited, I would have missed His grand display. The darkness we face, or find ourselves in unwillingly, has inspiration to offer and glory to behold that we would be unaware of otherwise.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. There is none like You Who have designed the stars and know the ordinances of the heavens; they proclaim Your righteousness, and in them peoples see Your glory. Splendor and majesty are before You; strength and beauty are in Your sanctuary. Teach me all You have for me in Your sanctuary of darkness, that I may carry Your glory into the light.  (Psalm 25:1; Job 38:31-33; Psalm 97:6; 96:6)

Look Back, Look Up

Samuel said to the people, ‘Stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers.'” 1 Samuel 12:7

Samuel’s farewell address in 1 Samuel 12 is a cogent plea for Israel to look back, and look up. They had rejected their faithful God Who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt; they had forgotten Him. Samuel reminds them of all the people God had sent to lead them, to deliver them, to fight for them, but they had done great wickedness by insisting on having a king when the LORD their God was King. Finally, He had set a king (Saul) over them. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king. Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” He asks God, and He sends a warning sign of thunder and rain that day, “and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.”

Stormclouds, August 1

Samuel does not keep harping on their sin, their willful pride and stubbornness, but outlines their history as a reminder to look up in the days ahead. The God Who named them and ruled perfectly would not fail them, but they needed to determine He be sole King of their hearts.

“Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”

When we are convicted of sin, or need to correct and guide those who go astray, it does no good to continually dwell on the wrongdoing. That can be a subconscious pride in thinking I can remedy myself, a slap in the face of the One Who vanquished the penalty of my sin, or an exasperation of those I lead. We must see it rightly in context of God’s “way of escape” and His forgiveness, then set out on the right path going forward, looking up to the One enthroned on high. (Ephesians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17)

King of my heart, rule every part of me. Guard me from turning aside to empty things, to submitting to other sovereigns. I want to live wholly for Your name’s sake.