Ever Present

The sky is all thick oils this morning, no watercolors for tropical depression Alberto. I know the sun has risen because it is light out, and I know it will continue to shine as it gets dark here tonight because I know by its gravity we are kept in orbit. Its power, its pull, its warmth are ever present, though today we cannot see the grand fiery ball we call the sun.

“God is a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

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“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” Psalm 77:11-15,17-19

Ever present, often unseen. Ever present, never failing.

This is our God, the great I AM, all-sufficient, almighty, omniscient, lovingkind, always good.

Lord God, You are present and near. May I be fully present to you.

The Poison of Unbelief

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts the events of Numbers 13-14 with perspective. God’s promise had been, “See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession.” Moses had added, “Do not fear or be dismayed.” But instead of looking to God and believing His promise and obeying His word, Israel looked at the “greater and taller people” and “cities fortified up to heaven,” and rebelled. These troublemakers then spread their poison.

They murmured, they accused God of ‘hating them and planning their destruction.’ They blamed their brothers who’d spied out the land for ‘making their hearts melt.’ Their lot and misery were everyone’s fault but their own. Had this been today, they would have barraged social media with complaints and stirred a firestorm. Oh, how toxic is the sin of rebellion, how contagious murmuring and unbelief! Focusing on perceived threats and obstacles, instead of their God and His promises, poisoned their outlook and attitude; all they said and did was warped in unbelief and self.

Path uncertain, MyanmarThe only remedy is as Moses patiently instructed: “The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did in Egypt and in the wilderness, where you have seen how he carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way until you came to this place. He went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you the way you should go.”

Self-centered living is easy. It is promoted all around us; we are constantly told what we deserve, what is too difficult, what is offensive. But it is pernicious. Christ-centered living is hard. It requires faith to take God at His word, time to give attention to His character and ways, and committed resolve to keep on when the way is tough. But it is freeing, fruitful, and victorious.

Lord, lift me above the fearful, murmuring, self-focused, unbelieving masses to be a Caleb, a Joshua, who is ready to take the good land You have offered.

The Mocking Bird

In the cool outside this morning, uneven strings of pink and grey cloud are strewn low across the horizon. And the birds—a flock just flew by, a string of black vees against the other-worldly colors—O God, thank You for the birds! Amidst all the singing, a mockingbird stands out, delighting from its high perch, imitating those of other species in their voices. Twitters, then chirps, then trills, rhythms, then rolled rrrrs, tweets, cheery chrrr-eeeps. Ah, Lord, this creature surely proclaims your glory– as Hillsong sings, ‘then so will I.’

Sunrise pink and grey

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Paul did what it took to identify with and communicate to others, “becoming all things to all people, that by all means some might be saved…for the sake of the gospel.”  (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) What prejudices, preconceptions, fears might I need to lay aside in order to relate to others not like me? What words do I need to learn in order to speak a culturally foreign language? What initiative do I need to take, interest can I show, questions can I ask, eye contact can I use, love can I expend, to convince others they are important and have inestimable value?

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…telling men from every nation in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God.” “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Acts 2:4-5,11; Romans 8:26, Hebrews 4:16

Father, teach me to be a mocking bird, to listen well and learn to speak in others’ languages, to ‘become all things to all people’ that they might hear my melody, take notice of You, and rejoice.

Called, Beloved, Kept

“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1)

Last night I introduced, by text, two recent high school graduates, heading to the same college. I struggled to choose my words, desiring a substantial, appealing, yet succinct portrayal of each that would connect them. If only I could have consulted Jude! Is there any greater identity, security, comfort, cause for delight and hope than Jesus’s half-brother’s description of God’s children?

We are called! From eternity past, God has always known us. “Thus says the LORD, who created you…’I have called you by name, you are mine.'” “Those he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son…he also called.” “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (Isaiah 43:1; Romans 8:29-30; 2 Timothy 1:9)

We are beloved! We are God’s “treasured ones,” loved perfectly, steadfastly, now and forever. “You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” “The LORD has chosen you to be his people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. It is not because you are more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you…but it is because the LORD loves you.” (Psalm 83:3; Isaiah 43:4; Jeremiah 31:1; Deuteronomy 7:6-9)

And we are kept! We are held, never to be snatched out of our Lord’s hands. “You hem me in, behind and before.” “Holy Father, keep them in your name. While I was with them, I kept them in your name. I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost. Keep them from the evil one.” “You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” (John 10:28-29; Psalm 139:5; John 17:11-12,15; Ephesians 1:13-14)

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These are true truths that hold fast in any wind of adversity, betrayal, doubt, misunderstanding, uncertainty, insecurity, sorrow, flux. These are anchors for our soul.

Father God, You give abundant life that is marked by Your image, is purposeful and secure. Called. Beloved. Kept. Amazing love, how can it be? Allelujah, what a Savior!

Good Teacher

In 2 Chronicles 1, God asked the new King Solomon what he should give him. Solomon asked that God’s word be fulfilled; “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God granted the wisdom and knowledge, an anointing that would carry him through his glorious, influential (albeit not pure) reign.

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“You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge. The anointing you have received abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:20,27

A good teacher knows his subject, understands his students, anticipates questions, and leads his students to discover truth themselves. He inspires curiosity, whets appetite to seek and learn, and explains when needed in comprehensible terms. He not only imparts information, but models and coaches through the learning process. The secret is the relationship, the connectedness, the abiding in what we know.

What do we need for today? There is One Who knows what lies before—the people we will meet, the questions we will be asked, the decisions we will be called upon to make—and He is present. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8) “Your Teacher will not hide himself. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20-21)

My Good Teacher, You know all things, and have chosen me to know You. Please “awaken me morning by morning, awaken my ear to hear as one being taught,” and keep me abiding. (Isaiah 50:4)

Light’s Revealing

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But 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.” 1 John

 “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 Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 

My large kitchen window was a clear eye opening to the green world and sky beyond, and a shiny dark eye before dawn. But at sunrise, early bright beams diffusing their rays through the glass, distance became close up, their light showing up all the spots from the sink beneath. Light always exposes contamination and sin.

I can prefer to focus on what is outside me, to plan or order or pick at and criticize external things, but the more I allow the light of God’s word, to shine in my life and my heart and my mind, Holy God Himself exposes my impurities. “In your light, we see light.”(Psalm 36:9)

Light of the world, shine bright upon me. Reveal all that is not of You, and burn it away. May I be a clean and clear conduit of Your truth and glory.

Supporting the Church

“Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6

Leviticus and Numbers detail the ongoing work of those God called to Israel’s priesthood. They were responsible for care of the tabernacle, including transporting, setting up, maintaining, and guarding it; they had to be consecrated, wear special clothes to make offerings, and keep the altar fire and lamps burning continuously. The priests offered twice-daily, daily, and other sacrifices, which involved explicit selection and handling of bulls, rams, goats, lambs, oxen, birds, and grain; they exercised spiritual leadership of the people, upholding both sacred and civic standards, discerning guilt and innocence, executing judgments. They were health and home inspectors. Theirs was not an enviable job.

So when the Lord commanded the taking and dividing of the Promised Land, He provided for the priests through the rest of Israel. Only the Levitical tribe would have no assigned territory; theirs was a specific calling that necessitated a ‘scattered presence.’ So God instructed, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in, and you shall give…[adjacent] pasturelands around the cities for their livestock. Each in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites.” (Numbers 35:2-3)

Looking up in Jerusalem

In God’s design, since the onset of the church, people have given to support its work. As my father used to say, “The air conditioning needs to run.” Paul addresses sacrificial giving in many of his letters, commending gifts given to churches to supply needs and that partner with him as he ministers in God’s name, and promising God’s bounty back on those who give. (Philippians 4:14-20; 1 Timothy 6:17-19) Giving glorifies our Savior, Who gave His all for us. “God loves a cheerful giver. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:7,11-12)

Lord, how beautiful is the institution of the church! Thank You for the faithful ones who have answered Your call and lead with unwavering commitment. Open my hands and heart that I may I give gratefully, gladly, and generously to support the church, Your living Body.