“Those who sit in darkness . . .”

Our painful circumstances feel more acute this time of year, when others seem to be so happy and light-hearted.  Our present and future seem dreadful.  Job, who suffered (he thought) so senselessly, felt his pain more acutely, not knowing the wider picture of the contest going on in heaven over his response to his suffering.  But we can learn from his attitude.  “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  (Job 13:15)  And O Lord, give us the hope of the prophet Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
”             Habakkuk 3:17-19

Job’s and Habakkuk’s hope was not based on circumstances or human reason.  Rather, it was based only upon a deeper understanding of the character of Him who holds our lives in His hand.  God’s character breeds confidence.  Confidence like sheep have in their shepherd.

Then I will make up to you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten . . . .
“You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
Then My people will never be put to shame.
“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the Lord your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame
.             Joel 2:25-27

He may make our losses up to us and make it make sense in this world.  But it may not be until the next world, when we are given clearer sight and a mind that thinks like His.  Meanwhile, let us show our confidence in our Shepherd by praising Him through our tears and limping along the path in which He leads us.

At this time of the year, let us cling to the Light that shines in our darkness.  

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light
;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
”                          Isaiah 9:2

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Cleaning House

Judah’s King Josiah ordered the Temple, long neglected and run-down, to be repaired.  In the process, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law, also badly neglected and ignored.  Scribe Shaphan read from the book aloud to the king.  “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. . . . “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us. ”  (2 Kings 22:11,13)

Josiah was anguished, having become suddenly aware of the personal and corporate sin that had become so routine in Judah.  In response, he instituted repentant, thorough cleansing of the means and implements of blasphemous worship from the land.

Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. . . .

He broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.

Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah.”                         2 Kings 23:4, 14, 15

Kirk Cameron’s character Caleb in the movie Fireproof dealt with his enslavement to online pornography in a radical way, smashing his computer.  (see 2 min. video)  In my own battle, I have chosen to subscribe to the filtering and accountability services of Covenant Eyes (Covenant Eyes.com).  All internet sites I visit get evaluated as to harmfulness, and a report is sent to the accountability partners I choose.  I talk with these men regularly.  I have made at least four mail or phone contacts with publishers of Victoria’s Secret catalogs and of Sports Illustrated to stop these from coming unsolicited to my house.  Some people avoid certain social situations in which they fear they might be tempted to yearn for more things, wealth, influence, or prestige.  Many wisely avoid shopping as recreation.  A pastor I know chose to quit playing on their church softball team, because, in his competitiveness, he found himself inadvertently offending his opponents.

Sometimes our repentance and hate for sin must be followed up with radical cleansing, including destroying the easy pathways back to those destructive habits.  (see blog Burn Your Bridges to Sin)

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.                2 Timothy 2:21

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.                                2 Corinthians 7:1

 

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Spectrum of God’s Gifts

prismI am awestruck at certain times of the day when, to my delight, the sun’s rays burst into a rainbow of colors passing through borders of beveled glass in decorative windows in our house.  It moves me to worship.

Visible light, also known as white light, consists of a variety of component colors. These colors can be observed as light passes through a triangular prism. As it passes, the white light is separated into its component colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.  The higher frequency (lower wavelength) violet light will travel more slowly through crown glass than the lower frequency (higher wavelength) red light.  Therefore, the colors of the visible light spectrum that have shorter wavelengths will deviated more from their original path than the colors with longer wavelengths.  Differing colors contained within the incident beam will be evident as different frequencies of light waves bend varying amounts upon passage through a prism.

God created mankind in His own image.  Humans have their own versions of His creativity, love for beauty, appreciation of good, revulsion over evil and injustice, and comfort from order.  Yet they have their own cultural and personal way of displaying this godly nature.  The subset of those who choose to trust Christ as His provision for their forgiveness and eternal life receive new life within themselves and the indwelling Holy Spirit, who generates internal power to live life supernaturally.  This is transmitted in different ways by each individual, depending on the spiritual gifts they receive from God and on their own God-given personalities.

snowflakesFor just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.                                                     Romans 12:4-8

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.                       1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11

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Our Invisible Harvest

Jesus sent seventy of His disciples out ahead of Him, to where He Himself would subsequently go.  They were to speak good news to those they met there, “that the kingdom of God has come near.”  They were to bring the blessing, “Peace be to this house.  And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.”  (Luke 10:6)  These people of peace appear to be those whose hearts have been prepared in advance to be friendly to the message brought to them.  Elsewhere, God is portrayed as the Tiller who causes the growth by advance preparation of the soil.  (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

scenic view of wheat field

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

It makes our assignment of sowing the seed of the Gospel much less intimidating, to know of this advance work that God Himself has done, assuring the success of the eventual harvest.  

When Paul felt afraid, persecuted and rejected by objectors in Corinth, feeling perhaps that he was the lone believer in a sea of darkness, God comforted him in a vision, “I have many people in this city.”  (Acts 18:10)  When Elijah ran for his life in fear from Israel’s Queen Jezebel, he wanted to die, feeling he was the only remnant follower of Jehovah and that he was sure to soon be brutally killed.  The Lord tells Elijah not only is he not alone, but that there are “7000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.”  (1 Kings 19:18)  This army of the faithful in Israel were invisible to Elijah.  But God knew who they were.

Peter & CorneliusGod did the ground preparation for the planting of the gospel seed in Caesarea, causing Cornelius and his friends and family to be eager seekers of God and receptive to the good news of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ’s substitutionary atonement.  The words of the gospel were hardly out of Peter’s mouth when those listening were dramatically filled with the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 10)  What an impressive demonstration of God’s advance preparatory work!

Our job as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God is to obediently enter the orchard, looking for the fruit that God has already prepared, cultivated, and nourished.  We can be confident that His people are already there, waiting to be picked.

Lord, lead me to the low-hanging fruit which You have been preparing for the harvest.   Let me do my part in clarifying their understanding of the gospel of grace and answering any questions they might have, that they might walk through that door of faith, putting their trust in You for eternal life and forgiveness of sin.  Let me do my part, knowing that You have done Your part perfectly.

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Contentment

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;  
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.                                                     Psalm 16:5-6

A person can attain wealth in two ways.  By working hard, excelling at that work, being rewarded financially for it, and saving it.  Or by being content with what one has.  Both achieve the same end —- experiencing happiness for what one has.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.                                  1 Timothy 6:6-11

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.                                                                 Philippians 4:11-13

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have;  for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. . .”                              Hebrews 13:5

Gratitude is a character quality of maturity that is precious in the sight of God.  Contentment is gratitude for what we have, a vote of trust in our Creator to have provided us with all that He knows we need — all that is best for our situation and for His Kingdom.

O Lord, give me a heart that is contented with what You have deemed necessary for me.  Let me rest in You as a little child rests against its mother.

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.                                        Psalm 131:2

 

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Building up one another

O God, give me Your tender heart for the multitudes around me.  You looked at them “and had compassion on them, for they were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.”  (Matthew 9:36)  You prayed over Jerusalem with a sobbing heart, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”  (Luke 13:34)

Having failed many times in my desire to be a healing, encouraging presence to hurting people around me, I now feel that I must cling closer to my Shepherd in order to develop ears and a tongue and a heart like His.  I must be a learner, disciple.

The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.                                         Isaiah 50:4

Lord, let me empathize with Your hurting sheep around me.  Let me care enough about them to hear them out,  listening to their hearts.  Help me not to be always thinking about what I should say next, but to focus on the plaintive cry of their heart.  Let me take time to understand, then give me the words to speak Truth into them, Your healing Truth full of Grace, Forgiveness, and Encouragement.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.                                          Proverbs 25:11

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.                                                                                                           Ephesians 4:29

Edification is from the same root as edifice, a building.  We are to build one another up, to help one another become better people, who are following closer to the Shepherd.

Lord, I feel that, in order to be ready to sustain the weary ones You bring my way, I need to maintain a well-supplied bag of provisions, nourishing balm, medicine-like truths that will be healing to their souls.  The only way I know to be ready for the encounters You will bring me is to memorize Your word extensively.

Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge;
For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
That they may be ready on your lips.                                                Proverbs 22:17-18

Keep your powder dry!

 

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Burn your bridges to sin.

[Jotham] did what was right in the sight of the Lord; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.                                2 Kings 15:34-35

A repeated phrase in 2 Kings, regarding the kings of Israel and Judah, is “but they did not remove the high places where they worshipped.”  This was the case even during periodic revivals led by relatively godly kings in Judah.  They were not tough with themselves. They evidently minimized the danger these relics of idolatry were to them. Or they feared the public outcry expected, were the people’s values and worship practices to be challenged.

burn shipsThis continued presence of the occasion to sin against God led to repeated failures. They would have done better had they been more radical about “burning the ships” that could take them back to their comfortable addiction to Baal and Asherah worship.

Let’s be radical in our hate of sin and bondage.

Do you and your children operate your computers, tablets, and smartphones without protective filtering software, opening the door to natural curiosity and the inclination to lust over pornography?  Do you lead a double life, keeping your weaknesses and temptations from your spouse and friends, who could help you stand firm if they only knew your need?  Do you keep a ready supply of rich, caloric foods in the house, even when you are trying to lose weight?  If you are struggling to overcome your habit of overspending, how many credit cards do you carry?

I know of a prominent Christian pastor, speaker, and author who, when away from home on a speaking engagement always calls home nightly to his wife from his hotel room.  He told her to expect it.  Once when I had to travel alone, I removed the cable from my hotel TV and had the room clerk keep it until I checked out.

Keep your way far from her
And do not go near the door of her house,
Or you will give your vigor to others
And your years to the cruel one
”                    Proverbs 5:8-9

My pastor takes a bag full of the sweets he receives over the Christmas holidays from grateful admirers and throws them out into the trash the first week of January.  A friend of my son who was trying hard to get out of debt cut up all of his credit cards to avoid the temptation of overspending.

John the Baptist said to the multitudes going out to be baptized by him, “Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance . . .”  (Luke 3:8)  Let us “put our money where our mouth is,” in our seriousness to turn from sin to the life God has designed for us.

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