The Dangers of Cold

It had been extremely cold here in St. Louis—in single digits, for consecutive days, when days are short and dark is long. This prolonged freeze has caused pipes to burst, leaving neighborhoods without water. Mechanical systems fail, some plants die. The bitter air keeps people inside, hindering interaction with others. Heavy clouds block the sun. It is easy to slide into winter doldrums.

Aren’t these like the effects of a hard heart? When we are cold toward the Lord, there is no free-flow of His living water to nourish and refresh us. We tend toward dissension and isolation in relationships, and slip into unwillingness to venture out into vulnerability and generous compassion. Our resistance to sin, to despair, complaining, discontent, is low, and we can settle into a weighty cloud of negativity, narrow thinking, limited vision.

When Abram arrived at his new, unknown land in Genesis 12:1-9, every place the LORD his God led him, he built an altar and worshiped. When Nehemiah heard of his people’s trouble, he fasted and prayed to the God of heaven, confessing sin and pleading for mercy and favor (Nehemiah 1:1-14). Both men, chilled by circumstances, stayed warm persisting on their knees and looking upward, their soft hearts burning with passion.

Sunset over Christ Church, Oxford 9-17

Lord, keep me near Your altar’s fire!

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:11-12

“O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be;                                                     Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.                                       Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to eave the God I love!                                              Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.”                                        Robert Robinson (1735-1790)

 

Proper Fear

Some shrink from the thought of fearing God, but it is beautifully and rightly displayed in the Scriptures as an essential response to the King of all that is.

In Genesis 10, Ham, one of Noah’s sons, made light of his father’s shameful nakedness, while the other two, Shem and Japheth, respectfully covered it. In Ezra 9, Ezra was appalled at the gross and blatant sin of the people, and sat ashamed and pleading for mercy with those who “trembled at the words of God because of the faithlessness of the returning exiles.” In Matthew 9:8, some who witnessed Jesus’s healing of a paralytic “were afraid and glorified God.” In Acts 9:31, “The church… walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, multiplied.”

Patmos, arched church dome with Jesus at top

I must fear God over sin; He is holy and righteous, and all wickedness is an affront to Him. Thanks be to God He opens my eyes and heart to recognize and acknowledge this—as He struck Saul in the storm of his rebellion on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-5) I must also fear God for His wonders, His power, and His majesty. Is there any other proper response?

“The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Job 28:28

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:2-5

May I fear without being afraid, boldly approaching You because of Your grace at the cross, and revere You as the only One worthy to receive glory. Lord of Lords, may I ever tremble at Your holiness, Your wide mercies, Your measureless love.

Faith Applied

In Ezra 8, the godly scribe Ezra, preparing to embark on a journey fraught with danger, tells the king that their God’s favor is with them, “[his] hand is for good on all who seek him.”

At a pivotal point in his journey, he leads his fellow exiles to stop and pray (Nehemiah 8:21-23). He knows what he has stated to the king is true, and realizes that fear, or dependence on their sponsors to provide security detail, would be proof of empty words and weak faith. He applies the truth by gathering his people to beseech their mighty God, their Shield and Guide and Protector, then applies faith’s practical wisdom by dividing the treasures among his priests as a precaution through bandit-ridden territory.

Jerusalem
Cross in Jerusalem, Pamela Bunn

How thoroughly do I pray and act on what I know is true? Do I boldly step in the water to see it part? (Joshua 3:9-17) We do what we do because we believe what we believe. Nehemiah’s brave faith influenced all who traveled with him—imagine how their hearts anticipated God’s care, and eyes were enlightened to behold His sufficiency!

Oh God, give me understanding to know You and Your supply, the faith to seek You, a mouth to declare Your truth, and the courage to act on it.

The Blessing of Service

Daily duties left undone, more needs than were being met. Widows in the early church were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Some of the apostles were appointed to “preaching…prayer and the ministry of the word,” (Acts 6:2,4) while others to serve. Their assignment was blessed with prayer.

In verse 8, Stephen, one of the waiters, “full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. [They] could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” His subsequent speech (Acts 7:2-53) was one of the most articulate and bold recorded in the Bible.

Menial tasks never diminish our capacity to be used by God. Jesus Himself, “the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve.” Matthew 20:28

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Taking a towel, [he] tied it around his waist, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.” John 13:1,4,5

“Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, give yourself to humble tasks. Never be conceited.” Romans 12:16

“How beautiful the hands that serve                                                                                               the wine and the bread, and the sons of the earth;                                                                     How beautiful the feet that bring                                                                                                   The sound of good news, and the love of the King;                                                                    How beautiful is the the body of Christ.”  – Twila Paris

Whatever You assign me today, Lord, may I be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) and “work heartily, as for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

Nothing too hard or wonderful

Ezra 6 describes an amazing turn of events–amazing to us, natural to God. After the Jews have been confronted, discouraged, and even halted by opposition, Darius of Persia, as Cyrus had two reigns before him, not only gives permission to complete the rebuilding of the temple, but supplies all they need to do it and the animals for sacrifice. They finish the work and celebrate “at the Feast of Unleavened Bread with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so he helped them in the work of the house of God.” Ezra 6:22

“Is anything too hard [too wonderful] for the LORD?” Genesis 18:14

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“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 21:1

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” Matthew 19:26

“For nothing shall be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Lord, You can do anything, in me, in others. Give me Your eyes of faith in all the impossibilities of attitude, proclivity, and circumstance. May I purpose and persevere in the work You have put before me, trusting You to lead and provide. What seems impossible to man is an opportunity to see Your glorious possibility, power, and wonder. Nothing is too hard or too wonderful for You.

Holy Transformation

What a remarkable change has taken place in Peter! Since Luke 22:54-66, where he denied Jesus three times while following Him at a distance (after cutting of a high priest’s servant’s ear- John 18:10- in an impetuous act of bravery), he is now emboldened to declare in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” The secret? “God has given the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 5:32) Do I appropriate all the Holy Spirit has to offer?

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In Acts 3:13, Peter preached that the men of Israel had “denied [Jesus] in the presence of Pilate.” He, too, had denied Jesus, but the Lord’s look straight at Peter had cut him to the quick, and brought immediate tears of repentance (Luke 22:61-62). Then came Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’s followers and brought remarkable transformation.

“When the [Spirit] comes he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:8

“[The Spirit will clothe you] with power from on high.” Luke 24:49

Lord, move me to yield to your conviction, to repent, to be emptied of self-will and filled with You that I boldly live your truth.

What am I thinking and doing differently from how I used to, or distinctly from the world, because I have the indwelling Holy Spirit? How can I appropriate His enabling and power today?

Seasons, and Accepting Mine

In Matthew 4:12-17, there is a turning of seasons: “When he heard that John had been arrested, [Jesus] withdrew to Galilee, went to live in Capernaum by the Sea…[and] began to preach.” John’s life and ministry were about to come to an end–he was imprisoned for his stance for truth and would be beheaded; Jesus’s public ministry was just beginning. They were the same age, about three months apart. We all have callings and seasons, and God determines our paths, our work, and the number of our days. I think of Jesus’s later words to Peter in John 21:22: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

S Africa, road along gold field

“So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

“Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

Lord, You have the right and authority to orchestrate my days and years and places for Your purposes. Give me clear understanding of your assignment for me in this season of life–and with it wholeheartedness, courage, and contentment. May I rise, go forth, and follow Thee!