Breath of the Lord

“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” “With the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” “Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth… The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan.” Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4; Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9

At creation, after fashioning man from the dust of the ground, God breathed into him, initiating the wondrous gift we call life. From the beginning, the invisible, powerful breath of God has given life, and throughout Scripture, this same breath revives and calls to renewed life the languishing, the weary, even the dead. And it is this divine breath that will one day do away with the evil one, our enemy. With one blow. ‘Whoo.’ The hope and promises and vitality from God’s breathed word are ours to learn from, be trained by, and own. (Isaiah 40:28-29; Ezekiel 37:4-6,9-10; John 11:43-44; 2 Timothy 3:16)

When I think about God’s very breath, I imagine the unspeakable and perfectly ordered power that spoke into being all His magnificent creation, that “said, and it was so,” that stopped the sea at its edges, that blows clouds across the sky, sways leaves and grasses, turns up the sea in white frothy caps to remind us Who is in control. I also marvel that He Who takes us into the storms is He Who measures their buffeting with His love and care, and when His purposes are complete, speaks them still and calm. (Genesis 1:9; Job 38:8-13; Psalm 107:25-29; Isaiah 42:5-6; Luke 8:24; 1 Peter 5:10)

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Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” Mark 15:37,39

To add a dimension to the marvel of the creative and calming breath of the Lord, we must consider Jesus Who, fully God, came to earth as a breathing human to “breathe His last” for us.

“Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.”  ~Stuart Townend (1995)

Where my breath mocks, His loves beyond measure. Where I speak out of turn, He speaks truth. When my words sting and destroy, His soothe and heal. Allelujah. Where do I need a fresh blow from God today?

God, breathe on me afresh this day, and train me to inhale You as I exhale all that is not of You. As long as I have breath, may Your very life be mine, and the words I breathe bring honor to You and bless Your holy name. (Job 27:3-4; Psalm 103:1; Daniel 5:23)

Mercy That Gives

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.  Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.’ So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, O LORD, please let the LORD go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’” Exodus 34:1-2,4-9

Grace is God’s giving what we do not deserve, and mercy is God’s not giving what we do deserve. This passage expresses God’s wide mercy with voice and arms, rather than a withholding, as He meets with Moses. Following Moses’s throwing down and breaking the stone tablets in anger at Israel’s golden calf, we never hear a reproach from the Lord Who had inscribed them with His hand, Who Himself exhibits righteous anger, but we do hear a calm, firm “Let’s do it again.” When Moses readily obeys, the Lord meets him and proclaims Himself all Moses could ever want or need in a Master and Redeemer and Friend. (Exodus 31:18; Matthew 21:12-13)

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My mother always taught me never to say, “I told you so,” never to dig into what has already been regretted, or bring up what is past and cannot be undone. When we tend to remind someone of their error, or point out that we knew better, or prove our expectations were met in their blunder, or even teach an unnecessary lesson from another’s failure, our underlying motive is to elevate self and diminish the other. Pride swells into a cloud of my expertise, my righteousness, and the one who is already ashamed or sorry has no clear way to redemption.

Wouldn’t we benefit and build up others more by extending wide mercy that flows from a heart aware of our own foibles? If I tend to the plank in my own eye, I am much gentler with the splinter in another’s. When I acknowledge with humble gratitude that God in Christ has forgiven all my sin, my heart is kinder, more tender to forgive others. (Matthew 7:3-5; Ephesians 4:32)

Merciful Lord, may my attitude and treatment toward others exemplify Yours toward me, proclaiming Your great name and lavishing Your generous mercy.

 

The Search for Truth

Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After he said this, he went back outside.” John 18:37-38

In Pilate’s consternation over what to do with Jesus, in whom he found no guilt, he flirts with wanting to understand who Jesus is, but never allows himself to get close enough. A head on a stiff neck can ask a lot of questions without listening to answers. He reminds me here of Judas, who, having walked with Jesus for three years, never opened himself to the truth Jesus taught or exhibited. On Jesus’s final night before His crucifixion, when He washed the disciples feet, humbly illustrating the truth of His purpose, Judas took bread from him, then “immediately went out. And it was night.” He went straightway to arrange with the religious leaders for his Rabbi’s betrayal. It is more natural for a hard heart to avoid truth than to yield to its softening. (Mark 14:43-46; John 13:5-30; 18:1-3)

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There was a time when unconditional truth was our banner and reigned supreme- we cherished it, guarded it, wrote about it, defended it, taught it, were guided by it. Infallible truth still stands, yet it has been pushed to the wayside and muddied by opinion and emotion and everyone’s right to assert and choose their own ‘truth,’ what feels good and is convenient for the time being, what may change in a whim if they so choose. This kind of ‘truth’ exalts self over holy God, and should bring real trembling before Him.

Where do I go for truth? Have I decided, because of religious persuasion, political affiliation, or prejudicial thinking, that I can determine my best source of truth, whether from specific media, an author, or particular teachers? Does my belief change when my feelings or circumstances do? Am I more prone to quote people than God’s word? Where do I elevate a person’s opinion as expert on any particular subject, without praying for spiritual insight and weighing what I am told or taught with Scripture? What time do I dedicate to reading the Bible and listening with my heart and mind to its unchanging truth?

In the beginning was the Word,.. and the Word was God... In him was life, and the life was the light of menAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.'” John 1:1,4,14,17; 14:6 

Lord, Your law is perfect and sure and right and pure, reviving the soul, making wise the simple, enlightening the eyes. The sum of your word is truth. May I press on to know Jesus better every day, and boldly live by His truth. (Psalm 19:7-8; 119:160; John 17:17)

 

Backwards and Forwards, Be Holy

” For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” “ Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Leviticus 11:45; 1 John 3:2-3

On either end of Scriptures is the command to be holy, to consecrate ourselves, to be pure, and the reasoning stretches on either end of time, to the past and to the future. The Lord delivered us from slavery to be His own, therefore be holy. The Lord will come again to deliver us forever from the presence of sin and death, therefore be holy. This Lord God is holy, therefore, as His children, be holy. Because of Who He is, what He has done and will do, we have a pressing responsibility, a high calling, to be like Him as His representatives, His ‘little ones,’ in this world.

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When Paul writes about the Day of the Lord, he urges the Thessalonians to be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation… Do not quench the Spirit. Test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” This being holy is a cooperation of the willing and submissive believer and the sanctifying Spirit of God at work in us, and is both a propeller and end of our hope. If we are His, we are to be identified by and with Him in every way. How clearly do I bear His holy imprint in my demeanor, language, ways I spend money, choices of entertainment, topics of conversation, activities? What areas need His specific purifying fire? (1 Thessalonians 5:8,19,21-24)

Father, have Your way with all of me. Increase my understanding of Your holiness and my desire to be like You. Shape my will by gratitude for all You have done for me, and apply my sure hope of seeing You by making me holy as You are, to the praise of Your glory.

 

Slipping into Soul Poverty

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:30-34

Solomon’s wisdom was honed by keen eyes and active thought. The man described, whom we do not see, had every resource: property protected by walls, and grapevines, but by their condition we understand his proclivity to sloth and mismanagement. Closing his eyes to the deterioration of his walls and the creep of thorns necessarily riddled away at his defenses. Lacking sense and unaware of the slow slide, the lazy man was overtaken, held captive by his ease and the wily, deceptive thief that would strangle any yield from his vineyard, thereby ravishing his means of provision. (John 8:44; 10:10)

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A nap here, a small slip there, a pinch of giving in, a guard let slightly down– these “little slumbers” add together in our lives to make for a big sleep that allows room for the enemy thorns, roots, nettles that break down defenses and choke our fruitfulness. No matter our initial good intensions, and even healthy beginnings with ample supply, if we fail to maintain vigilance in the maintenance of our vineyards, we will not only fail to produce anything worthwhile and lasting, but will slide into ruined, wasted lives. There is no middle ground. Our souls must be kept, our hearts guarded, our minds protected, our lives abiding in Jesus, if we are to live abundantly for Him. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 23:3; Proverbs 4:23; John 15:5; Philippians 4:6-9)

What specific areas am I neglecting to manage, instead preferring superficial comfort and ease? What niggling pests of greed, selfishness, or irritation have I allowed to sneak in and eat away at thankfulness, optimism, peace? Where have I failed to drink in God’s rain of refreshing, enlightening truth, and begun to dry up and wither? What defenses, margins, protections have I relinquished due to laziness or apathy, and what stresses, frustrations, complaining, slippages of discipline are evidence of their absence? When and how will I shrug off my sluggard clothes?

Creator and Architect of my life, inspire me to watch and learn from Your illustrations in my day-to-day, and sharpen me so I recognize any slippery slope away from You. Keep me on Your straight and narrow, bearing much fruit that will last and show forth Your bountiful grace. (Matthew 7:13-14; John 15:16)

The Hope of Beholding

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord‘s throne is in heaven. The upright shall behold his face.” “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Psalm 11:4,7; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2

These promises that one day I shall see my Savior’s face quicken joyful hope like nothing else. To gaze upon God as He is, to see the mercy in His eyes, the love in His smile, the splendor and brilliance of His glory, the serenity of His limitless power under perfect control, is, as I noted years ago beside these passages in my Bible, “Allelujah, my great hope!” He Who reigns in heaven is the One Who pledges to me, His child, that one day we will meet face to face, and that catches my breath.

Moses’ desire to see God’s face and glory has always resonated with my heart, and Moses and God spoke with each other “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend,” yet the LORD told him he could not see His face and live. We are left to wonder at the invisible intimacy the two shared, the sense of communing so closely and being so close together, yet not seeing. Our humanity imagines with only limited capacity. We know they conversed, listened to and spoke with each other, and were tight in every way. Moses did not want to proceed without the Lord’s presence alongside, and his God vowed to go with him. Such companionship is a beautiful picture of what we can enjoy each day with our Lord. (Exodus 33:11,12-23)

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The more I comprehend my God, the more I want to see Him in all His purity and perfection. But for now, my joy is knowing Him by faith and through His holy word, and walking beside Him, His Spirit’s presence at times palpable in comfort, strength, peace, wisdom. As all my senses yearn for Him, He meets me in His divine ways and keeps my hope for the “one day” alert and expectant.

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.          

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.  

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.” ~Dallan Forgaill (pub 1905)

Confident in hope, established in Your grace, Lord, may I daily rejoice in Your glory, both present and that yet to be revealed. (Romans 5:2)

 

“Your Faith is Showing”

We give thanks to God always for all of you,.. remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers… For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere… For they themselves report… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-9

This letter to new believers in Thessalonica must have been a great encouragement. It is one thing to believe, to have your mind and perspective and life-direction change, and another for people to recognize and affirm the changes as becoming on you. Paul expresses his gratitude to God for this young church’s labor and commitment that were marked by faith, love, steadfast hope, and joy. The secret fuel was their receiving of God’s powerful word as truth, and allowing it to work in and through them. In doing so, their transformation from idol-worshipers to God-worshipers in a living and active faith blazed forth as an irresistible beacon in the whole region. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

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Does my faith so show and shine? Emulating scriptures’ examples, how eagerly do I offer my best, toil in reverent fear of God even if I do not understand His ways, move out and on in trust He will guide and provide? How readily do I take God at His word, and speak it, believing it is living and active, over others in blessing? Where do I choose to identify with God over enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin, and serve steadfastly, knowing my labor is not in vain? How willingly do I take risks when God calls, trusting Him with every need, fear, unknown, and result? Are my days and actions marked with courageous sacrifice, joy in suffering, bold loving, unwavering hope? What evidence of my faith in Jesus do those I love and live among see? (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 4:12; 11:1-40)

Lord, light up my eyes, keep me rejoicing and singing and purposefully pleasing You. May I not weary in doing good but work and serve wholeheartedly, in Your name, and for Your honor. May all my actions give evidence to my faith in Your character and promises, and magnify You as the trustworthy One Who is worthy of every effort. (Psalm 13:3,5-6; Galatians 6:9; Colossians 3:17,23; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 11:6; James 2:17-18)