A Good Ask

Wasn’t really a genie-in-the-bottle-granting-any-three-wishes thing, but you gotta admit, it was kind of close.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

(1Kings 3:5 ESV)

Ask, says Jehovah. Apparently it’s in the imperative voice. So essentially God is commanding Solomon, “Tell me what you want!”

No parameters. No caveats. No restrictions. Lay out it for Me, Solomon.

We know that had Solomon sought to personally profit from this once in a lifetime offer it wouldn’t have surprised the LORD. Had the rookie king asked the King of kings for good health, or money, or fame, or even tried to be tricky and asked for unlimited wishes, God, knowing His creation inside and out, would have understood where the ask had come from.

But none of those things, nor anything else that might benefit or promote self, were at the top of Solomon’s wish list.

“And now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. . . . Give Your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern Your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this Your great people?”

(1Kings 3:7, 9 ESV)

And just like they do when I go through a Starbucks drive-thru, the LORD repeats the “order” to make sure it’s what Solomon asked for:

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word.

(1Kings 3:10-12a ESV)

Understanding. Discernment. Hearing the voice of God. Having insight to the ways of God. The ability to recognize when the right heavenly principles should be applied to complex earthly situations. Good ask, Solomon!

One of my early mentors (didn’t call him that, just a guy a few years older than me who was willing to hang out with me and live Christ before me) used to pray Solomon’s prayer, asking for insight and wisdom in doing what God had called him to do. Forty-plus years later I still think of him as one of the wisest, most discerning guys I know.

But it’s not only my buddy of way back who thought Solomon’s ask was a good ask. As I then got to Ephesians in this morning’s readings, I’m thinking Paul would have thought it was good ask, as well.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe.

(Ephesians 1:16-19a ESV)

Isn’t that what Solomon wanted? The eyes of his heart enlightened? That God, through His Spirit of wisdom and revelation, might give knowledge of things not seen with the eye, nor heard with the ear, nor learned through a textbook?

Paul wanted his children in the faith TO KNOW. To know the hope. To know the riches. To know the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us.

Shouldn’t we, like Solomon, ask also for such understanding and discernment? Might it be a good idea to pray Paul’s prayer on own behalf? To know deep down the reality of our forever future? To be firmly convinced that we labor now for a treasure yet to be realized? And that we do so drawing on a source of power the likes of which the world can’t really fathom–because that power created this world, that power raised Jesus from the dead?

I’m thinking it would be a good thing to push other needs to the bottom of the wish list, I mean prayer list, as we first ask, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord!”

Isn’t that a good ask? I’m thinkin’ . . .

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

Posted in 1Kings, Ephesians | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Obedience and Optics of Blamelessness

Complete. Whole. Without blemish. Without fault.

Blameless.

Not a word you really ever see in someone’s bio. Certainly not one you’re gonna see in mine. Unless . . .

Came across the attribute, blameless, in two of my readings this morning. First, in the Psalter as I started in on the grand love song concerning the Word of God, Psalm 119.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways!

(Psalm 119:1-3 ESV)

To be sure, there is blessing in obedience. Makes sense, doesn’t it? He who made us for Himself would know the dos and don’ts of what will make us happy in ourselves. To walk in the ways He’s revealed; to keep the testimonies He has provided; to wholeheartedly seek to follow His instructions; just makes sense that it’s gonna be the happy way, the blessed way, the blameless way. That’s the obedience of blamelessness.

But how many of us know it also as the illusive way? Though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. We know it ’cause we’ve experienced it. No matter how hard we’ve tried at obedience, no matter how often we’ve been somewhat successful at it, most of us are more likely to put “chief of sinners” on our business card than we are “blameless.”

Cue Ephesians 1.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.

(Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV)

I love feasting on Ephesians. For me, it’s the finest meal in a Michelin Three Star restaurant. Especially the opening inventory of who we are and what we possess “in Christ” (Eph. 1:1-14).

Possessors of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ. Adopted as sons and daughters of God, through Christ. Redemption by His blood. Forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of His grace lavished upon us. And all this, in the Beloved.

Having obtained an inheritance, in Him. Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee until we take possession of it.  Because of faith in Him.

Brought into union with who He is, His perfect nature. More than conquerors over sin and death as we appropriate what He has done, the finished work of the cross. And all to the praise of His glory.

And within this glorious inventory, He chose us to be blameless before Him. Or, as other translations render it, without blame “in His sight” (CSB, NASB, NIV). Before the face of God, on display without veil before His eyes, nothing hidden, He looks upon us and sees us without blemish. Because we are in Christ. That’s the optics of blamelessness.

And while there may be a “but” of reality with the obedience of blamelessness, there is no “but” when it comes to the optics. To be sure, I aspire to walk, however feebly, without fault by loving and seeking to obey the word. But I also rest and rejoice in my unblemished standing, holy before a holy God, because Another has clothed me in His blemish-free holiness, and has credited to my account His perfect righteousness.

And while I may be blessed through whatever measure I attain to an obedience of blamelessness, He is to be blessed forever because of the once forever determined optics of blamelessness.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What amazing, glorious grace “with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”

To Him be all the praise!

Posted in Ephesians, Psalms | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Can I Render?

Chewing on a couple of different passages this morning, one from the psalms and one from Galatians. And the more I chew on these thoughts from Psalm 116 and Galatians 5, the more they blend together. The question asked and answered in the songwriter’s song taking on a fuller implication of meaning through the apostle’s plea.

What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

(Psalm 116: 12-13 ESV)

The song starts, “I love the LORD!” And that, because the LORD had heard the songwriter’s voice, his pleas for mercy. Because God on high had inclined His ear. Because, when the psalmist was brought low, the LORD lifted him up and returned his soul to rest. Delivering the songwriter’s soul from death, his eyes dried of their tears, his feet kept from stumbling, his faith preserved though he was greatly afflicted.

And so, perhaps it’s not too surprising that the psalmist asks, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me?” In fact, you might even expect there should be some sort of desire to respond to the mercy and goodness God had shown. Not necessarily a thought of paying God back, for his grace is beyond matching. But certainly a desire to worship. A longing to, in some manner, acknowledge His grace and mercy and divine intervention. What shall I render?

I will lift up the cup of salvation, he says. Perhaps a reference to lifting up a drink offering akin to Peterson’s paraphrase, “A toast to GOD!” That’s how I’ve read it in the past. A lifting of the cup in tribute of thanksgiving and worship.

But this morning I notice that the words “lift up” can also be translated “take.” That’s how the CSB and NKJV translate it: “I will take the cup of salvation and worship the LORD” (CSB).

That’s kind of a different thought. What shall I render? How about I take? I want to give something in return? So let me appropriate something.

When Jesus prayed about taking a cup it was about doing the Father’s will (Mk. 14:36). Maybe that’s what we render to the LORD for all His benefits to us. We determine, with a holy determination, to lean into, and live out ,the cup of salvation He’s given us.

And that’s what triggered what I read in Galatians 5:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore . . . 

(Galatians 5:1a ESV)

What can I render to God for all His benefits? To take the cup He has provided. To stand firm in the freedom for which Christ has set me free. To appropriate the power. To lean into the promises.

To not only lift up the cup in tribute, but to ingest it as a worship response of obedience. Heeding Paul’s warning about being entrapped by any thought that suggests that I can add to my salvation. To reject any temptation to boast of my own righteousness and pious acts.

To believe that it is only through the Spirit, who began the work in me, that the work in me can be brought to its perfect culmination. To purpose to walk by the Spirit. To engage the Spirit to war against the flesh. To want to know what it is to be practically led by the Spirit of freedom and not rely on the ways of the law. To live by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit, through the resurrection power of the Spirit.

What can I render? I can take the cup of salvation. How can I worship in response? I can stand firm in the freedom for which Christ has set me free.

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Galatians, Psalms | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Child of Promise

He was the kid no one thought would ever be. A miracle child. Defied all the laws of nature. Even giving million-to-one odds that he’d be born would have been generous. But with God nothing is impossible.

And after he was born? Well, to say he was the apple of his parents’ eyes would have been an understatement. Nothing, and I mean, nothing was going to compete with this kid. While dad might have had some room for some shared affections, mama bear cleared house, literally, of everything that would, or ever could, take away from her boy’s special place in the home.

But not only was this one child the favored child of mom and dad, but God Himself was pretty invested in the boy’s life, as well. After proving that dad’s love for God was greater than his love for his kid, and that dad’s faith trumped dad’s fears, God intervened and provided for Himself a “lamb for a burn offering.” What’s more, not only did the wonder kid inherit all dad’s assets, God made him an heir of all of God’s assurances, too.

However, though always in the place of privilege, the kid wouldn’t grow up perfect. He’d make mistakes along the way, waver in faith at times, and even mismanage his own family to some extent. But even if he wasn’t perfect he never ceased to be a child of promise.

Just like us.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically . . . Now you, brothers (and sisters), like Isaac, are children of promise.

(Galatians 4:21-24a, 28 ESV)

Now you are children of promise.

I read it and I let it resonate.

I read it again and I remember my miraculous birth–defied all the laws of nature. No one, in a million years, me included, would have seen it coming. But with God nothing is impossible.

I behold the words on the page and I believe it. In some unfathomable way, I too am the apple of my Father’s eye, the favored kid. Not because of who I am or what I’ve done. In fact, in spite of those things. But eternally gifted with the affection of the Father, just because He determined to love me.

I chew on the sentence and think again about the sacrifice. A spotless Lamb offered in my stead. Provided by God Himself. God Himself. Heaven’s very best for a sinner like me. The only offering able to redeem, reconcile, restore, and renew.

That I too, like Isaac, might be a child of promise.

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

Posted in Galatians | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Known By God

Well into Galatians. Reading the first part of chapter 4 this morning. And Paul continues to go for broke in calling these Galatians back to Christ alone by grace alone. You know how big a deal this is by how over the top Paul has been.

Paul says he can’t wrap his head around their desertion of the gospel (1:6). He curses anyone, even angels, who would dare to add to the gospel formula: Christ + Nothing = Salvation Past, Salvation Present, and Salvation Future. He’s defended his ministry (1:11-2:10), rebuked Peter & Co. for behavior un-becoming the gospel (2:11-14), and personally testified of his own determination to do nothing, nor to boast in anything, that would “nullify the grace of God” (2:21). He’s called the Galatians fools and said it’s like they’ve been bewitched (3:1). Your not thinking straight, he says. Give your head a shake, he says, what’s happened to you is by the Spirit of God–do you think perfecting it will now happen through your own effort (3:2-3)? And he hasn’t yet got to the part about wishing the purveyors of this faith-plus-works gospel would slip up with their circumcision knives and “cut themselves off” (5:12 NKJV).

Like I said, a little over the top. Must be a big deal.

Paul’s been very particular with his words in order to make his point. And I notice that again this morning:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

(Galatians 4:8-9 ESV)

“When did you believe?” we often ask. How did you come to know Christ? Fair enough questions. Each of us has a story. And also fair enough that when we tell our story we’re at the center of it. But lest we think we know God because of what we eventually did, Paul reminds us that it’s only because of what God determined first to do–to know us. Or, as John puts it, “We love because He first loved us” (1Jn. 4:19). Or, as Jesus makes even more explicit:

You did not choose Me, but I chose you . . . ”    (John 15:16a ESV)

If we think that our acquaintance with God is owing to ourselves then perhaps we might also be deceived to thinking that, just as we decided to come to Christ, we can decide also how to grow in Christ. That if it’s because of our smarts that we recognized the truth, then we’ll rely on our brains to navigate how to grow in that truth. That if we think we initiated the relationship, then we might also be prone to think we have the right to direct the relationship.

Ahhh . . . no! says Paul.

If God knew us–not just in the general God knows everything about everybody sense, but in the He knew me in particular sense (like in Psalm 139)–and if God called us into this grace equation, then, asks a confused Paul, how can you turn back to being enslaved by things of the dictates of your flesh and the ways of this world? Turning back is giving God your back. Give your head a shake!

Seeing ourselves as captains of our own salvation ship is a sure way to become unanchored. A gimme for the devil to lead us astray. A no-brainer recipe for disaster, nullifying grace and eventually leading to falling from grace (5:4).

And what a crummy place to live, outside of grace. Looking for God’s favor through our disciplined behavior rather than His finished work on the cross. Relying on our wisdom for the worthy walk rather than surrendering to the mind of Christ as we abide in Christ. Depending on our work for approval in His way instead of His word renewing our minds and transforming us into His likeness.

To be sure, we have come to know God. But equally to be sure, it’s because He first determined to know us.

How amazing is that? Pretty amazing!

O’ to continue to walk in such amazing grace. That He might receive the everlasting glory!

Amen?

Posted in Galatians | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Our High Above God

“The LORD is high above all nations,” sings the songwriter. His glory is above the heavens. He is seated on high.

If there’s anything we are to get about our God it’s that He’s a “high above” God. A lofty God. In terms of spiritual geography, His address is located above the sky, past the stars, and beyond the heavens. Think about that. Look past the galaxies, that’s where our God resides. He is exalted. He is enthroned on high. Look up. Look way up. Keep looking up. Got a crick in your neck yet?

And what gets me this morning is that such a high above God looks down.

The LORD is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

(Psalm 113:4-6 ESV)

As the songwriter marvels at the thought of his high above God, what strikes him as making this God unlike any other god is that He “looks far down on the heavens and earth.” The CSB and NIV says He “stoops down to look.” Not gonna lie, I really like the NKJV translation–the LORD is God who “humbles Himself” in order to see the things that are in the heavens and in the earth. Our God makes Himself low in order to look on His creation.

But this self abasement, if we can use that term, is not just for the purposes of looking far down out of a divine curiosity. It’s not some passive peering over a heavenly balcony for entertainment. But it’s so He might intervene in the affairs of men. So that He might raise the poor; lift the needy; give the barren women a home, sings the psalmist (113:7-9).

Our God looks down in order to lift up. Our God stoops low to set a needy people on high. Our God humbles Himself in order to raise up others.

And you can’t chew on this very long before you’re reminded that not only do we worship a high above God who looks down, but we worship a high above God who came down.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

(Philippians 2:5-7)

God came down.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory (Jn. 1:14).

Far from keeping His infinite distance from a fallen world, He entered our world. He “passed through the heavens” so that He could know firsthand our weaknesses, tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:14-15). Being made “like His brothers” (Oh, that He would own us as family!) in all things so that He might raise the poor; lift the needy; make fruitful the barren.  And this, by becoming “a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God,” making “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).

For because He himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

(Hebrews 2:18 ESV)

Our high above God looks down. Our high above God came down.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!

(Psalm 113:3 ESV)

What amazing grace. All glory be to our high above God.

Posted in Psalms | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Collateral Blessing

I start in on the familiar story in 2Samuel and what catches my attention is the collateral damage–the injury suffered by others than the intended target.

First, Bathsheba is the king’s intended mark. But she was the violated daughter of an innocent man named Eliam (11:3). And she was the adulterous wife of a faithful soldier, Uriah. Both those guys were collateral damage.

Then, Uriah was the target. But when the cover up David masterminded was unsuccessful, when the finessed furlough failed to provide a credible birth announcement, he resorted to a less sophisticated, more brutal plan B–send Uriah back to war and put him on a suicide mission (11:14-15). And it worked. A little too well. The report came back to David, “Some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (11:24). Don’t know how many died with Uriah. Don’t know their names. Just more collateral damage.

And then what of the innocent baby? What did he do other than be born? But God had determined the fruit of their affair would be afflicted for life and that life would be but seven days (12:14-15). You might make the case the little guy got the better end of the deal by being fast-tracked into God’s presence after only a week of toiling on the earth, but for all earthly reality, he died before he had a chance to live. An innocent bystander bearing the wages of his parents’ sin. More collateral damage. Heavy sigh.

But then, like a light being switched on when your eyes have just grown accustomed to darkness, the following verses nail me . . . and the awe-o-meter starts to spike . . . and wonder evokes worship as I chew on the collateral blessing.

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.

(2Samuel 12:24-25 ESV)

Think about it. David had a number of wives who might have been more worthy of bearing a son like Solomon. What about Abigail (1Sam. 25)? A wise, resourceful, noble woman. Just the kind of mom you might want to bear a son like Solomon. The kind of women you’d pick to be in the forever promised royal line of David. But that, praise God, is not how our God rolls.

I’m struck by the grace of God in fulfilling the promises of God. The grace that determined that a David and Bathsheba would have a Solomon.

“That woman” is now referred to as David’s wife. Before this she was referred to as the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

And David is still king, even though he had “despised the word of the LORD” and done what was “evil in God’s sight” (12:9). Even though, by his own admission, he had “sinned against the LORD” (11:13) and, by God’s own prophetic declaration, he had “utterly scorned the LORD” (11:14).

But God raises beauty out of these ashes (Isa. 61:3). Weeping endured for a night, but joy came in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And the basis for such grace? The justification for such collateral blessing?

And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

(2Samuel 12:13b ESV)

The LORD had put away David’s sin. Though there would be consequence and collateral damage, neither David, nor Bathsheba, would bear the debt of sin they could never pay. How come?

But as it is, [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

(Hebrews 9:26b ESV)

And sin put away opens the floodgates for the collateral blessing of grace overflowing. Makes way for things “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined”, prepared by God for those who love Him (1Cor. 2:9).

How great is our God? Pretty great!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Because of grace. For His glory.

Posted in 2Samuel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments