In Exile, God Speaks

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” Numbers 9:1

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-2

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Job 38:1

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Revelation 1:1-3

Every word of Scripture is God-breathed and instructive (2 Timothy 3:16). God packs even simple words and introductions with meaning, intentionally teaching and encouraging us as we read carefully. When we find ourselves in some kind of exile– from estranged family members, friends who have dropped out of our lives, or the companionship of co-workers because we have chosen to take a stand for God; or whirlwind– of busyness, or whining, or the bombardment of the world’s enticements; or wilderness– of loneliness, unmet longings, betrayal, or the waiting room of prayer, God is nigh.

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He not only visits us, but abides with us there in the dark, and speaks love and insight and messages we could not receive in any other place in the same way. Do I listen? Am I willing to cease from discontent or complaining or working my way out, to be quiet from fretting over the injustice or hurt or the prayers that aren’t answered as and when I like, to tune in to the Almighty? Sometimes He speaks in whispers (1 Kings 19:11-12). These greats of Scripture– Moses, Ezekiel, Job, John– were in hard places, but they were in the Spirit and attentive, therefore inspired, helped, taught, and used mightily through the voice of God to them there.

O You Who ride the heavens to my help, Who are present in the flood and fire, thank You for Your presence in my bereft places of body, mind, and Spirit. May I always prepare a place for You in the wilderness, and respond gratefully and willingly to all You say. (Deuteronomy 33:20; Isaiah 43:2; 40:3)

 

 

Lingering

“When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” Genesis 17:22

Sunset last night was spectacular, the array of clouds making for an ever-changing masterpiece. The colors burned in all their glory as the sun slid down. Many watchers leave right as the orange-hot ball disappears, fire in water, into the Gulf, but it is the afterglow (the after show) that leaves me breathless. Contrasts deepen—pinks become red, pale clouds gun-metal, the wide water ink with glistening surf, and the vibrant display broadens to fill the west from north to south. Even the eastern sky reflects the rouge. All the heavens declare their Maker’s beauty!

Fiery sunset over Gulf

Sunrise is the same, in reverse. While the actual gold-white blaze popping up is a glory to behold, the prelude is not to be missed. The moments ahead, as dawn heralds its regal king’s arrival, are most beautiful. Indigo slowly blushes violet then periwinkle, swaths of cloud begin deep shadow grey before inverting to white as pink orange rules the horizon, pulling back the curtain on the monarch of the day.

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Lingering, so difficult to make ourselves do, brings the greatest gifts.

“And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.” Genesis 18:33

Am I tardy in arriving, or do I get up and leave before God is finished speaking to me? What urgent task takes precedence over getting equipped to handle it? Do I consider my time and services indispensable to others, but not time with my God as indispensable to me? How often do I determine the limits and miss His best part, the sweetest of His intended communion with me?

Lord, teach me daily to linger, to come early in anticipation, to be still on my face, to lift up my eyes and look, and to stay and listen until You are finished speaking. (Genesis 17:3; 18:2)

The Things of Man vs. the Things of God

He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’ From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Matthew 16:15-17,21-23

How can Peter go so quickly from his bold proclamation that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” to taking him aside and rebuking Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord!”? Jesus tells him why, his thinking was of the world, topsy turvy.

The things of man involve the glory of position, power, places of honor. It was a good and pleasing reality that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. But in hearing of imminent suffering and death, Peter’s mind got stuck, and he’d have none of it. It’s as though he didn’t even hear about the promised resurrection (“and on the third day be raised”). It was God Who revealed the truth about Jesus as God’s Son, but when human feeling comes into play, the message about pain and death gets clouded by emotion and preference. As humans, we want to avoid suffering; we crave comfort, smooth waters, ease—and in our culture we are told this is the good life. Pain is a foreigner we abhor and refuse to entertain. We can adore a God of benevolent goodness but shrink at the way of the cross. What we miss with this attitude is the way of grace, the beauty of redemption, the power and life in resurrection. Without illness, there is no healing, without suffering there is no solace and comfort.

Jesus, foreshadowing a lesson from His impending cross, continues His teaching: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This world’s clamor of empty promises of carefree ease and eternal youth, and clutter of temporal luxuries and the things of man, knows nothing of true life. Only the seed that dies bears fruit. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'” (Matthew 16:24-25; John 12:23-24)

Lord, it is Your suffering and death that wrought Your resurrection glory. Turn my mind from the incessant barrage of the things of man to the things of God, that I might love the things of You most of all.

Low Tide

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

We went to the beach at low tide last evening, the gloaming gentle like the water, and quiet. Wading far out, the vastness of sea and sky broadening around me, I looked down on small rivulets of sand under the calmly lapping clear, and saw treasures: sand dollars, brightly painted coquinas opened empty into butterflies, a large star fish. The peace and quiet afforded contemplation of the divine, the transcendent– He, Lord of His vast creation and every living creature and of all nations, is God.

A friend told me we tend to choose the mountains or the shore for vacation because we have an innate need to be dwarfed. Certainly God knows we must be hushed into small in order to grasp His greatness, to understand our stature before Him and His over and all around us. As I come away beyond the cacophony of banter and information and the sucking current of the day’s responsibilities and demands, I behold in wonder the place of each little creature, and my place, in God’s immense domain.

King of kings and Lord of all, thank You for revealing Yourself. You alone are God. Keep me keeping time to be still, to come away unplugged to glory in Your works, and to acknowledge You as God. As You are exalted among the nations and in the earth, be exalted in me. (Psalm 86:10; 1 Samuel 12:16; Psalm 46:8,10)

“Crown him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways                                              From pole to pole that wars may cease, absorbed in prayer and praise:                                     His reign shall know no end; and round his pierced feet                                                          Fair flowers of Paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.”                                             ~Matthew Bridges (1851)

What Wondrous Love!

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, ‘Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.’” “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” “It is good to give thanks to the Lordto sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning.” Psalm 89:1-2; 90:14; 92:1-2

I am overwhelmed at the wondrous love of Jesus this morning! As I sat with His word at the window, He put on a display in the east like no other, radiating swaths and rays of rich red and orange, shouts of His glory and love and beauty. My soul sings– what wondrous love is this, O my soul? In less than ten minutes, the show is over, the sky a monochromatic pale blue-grey, lightly blanketed in cloud. Who would greet me like this except One Whose affection for me is boundless? Who would spread His arms and welcome me to the new day with this depth of love, this magnificent personal gift that sets my heart aflame? There is no one like my God, no Savior like Jesus. (1 Samuel 2:2)

“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) Thank You, God, for shining in Your sky and in my heart. Your light penetrates the thickest darkness of fear, doubt, heaviness, the downward spirals of defeat. Your glory reminds us that You reign, and You will one day make all things right. Your splendor is but a reflection of the beauty You are making with each life that is Yours, in Your way and time.

O You Who love with an everlasting love and continue Your faithfulness to Your people, may I watch for You always. May I ever delight in Your beautiful and personal gifts. May I anticipate and absorb Your immeasurable love through the hours, and spread it as lavishly to others as You do to me. (Jeremiah 31:13)

How David Saw

And the Philistine said, ‘I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid… And the men of Israel said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel.’ And David said to the men who stood by him, ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'” 1 Samuel 17:10-11,25-26

When the Philistines gathered their armies for battle, their 9’9″ champion, Goliath, clad in 125 pounds of bronze armor, came forth to taunt Israel. His appearance alone would have been enough to shake them, but his booming challenge defying Israel’s troops left them quaking in fear.

Enter David, youngest of 8 brothers, bearing a care package from home, sent by his father to check on his brothers who served in Saul’s army. He saw Goliath differently– as one defying the armies of the living God. He offered to go fight him, and King Saul gave reluctant permission after David explained his perspective: “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” What a difference seeing things through God’s lens makes! What Israel saw with trepidation as a formidable giant that was impossible to conquer, David saw with confidence as a mere leaf that would shake in God’s mighty wind.

David lived on a vertical plane with his God, and it affected his every earthly endeavor. He took his sling and stones and boldly faced Goliath. You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.” He ran quickly toward him, slung a stone into his forehead, and prevailed. Frantic at their champion’s death, the Philistine armies scattered, their camp was plundered, and Goliath’s head was brought to Jerusalem. 

Lord, help me see all of life with spiritual eyes. The world’s onslaught of lies are attacks on Your truth, the hurts I bear are borne by You, the challenges I face are designed by You, the longings of my soul are satisfied in You, my struggle with sin has been defeated by You, the insight I need is given by You. The battle, and the blessings, are Yours.

 

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.

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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)