Incline Our Hearts!

The house is completed (1Ki. 7:51). The ark is brought into the Holy of Holies, placed under the wings of two massive gold cherubim, and the glory of God fills the place. So, what’s left to be done? Pray!

And that’s what Solomon does in 1Kings 8, pray. And what a prayer!

A prayer about prayer. A prophetic prayer about the future need for prayer. A pleading prayer that when the people blow it–and to be sure they’ll blow it . . . Solomon imagines a number of scenarios–and they ask for forgiveness, that God will see and hear in heaven their repentance and confession on earth. A persistent prayer asking God, again and again and again, to not only hear but to forgive.

And as I chew on this pattern of prayer I’m reminded that the only basis for such forgiveness is grace. That the only just way a just God can forgive iniquity is if the wages of sin has been paid in full. That the only way a holy God can dwell in the midst of those defiled by transgression is through the cleansing by blood of a spotless, atoning sacrifice. That the only way of reconciliation with God for those who have gone their own way in rebellion and infidelity, is through the intervention of God in making a way back through a peace offering.

So again and again, Solomon asks, When we sin, and when we pray, then Lord, show grace. Abundant, repetitious grace. Forgive.

But what really captures my thoughts this morning is another ask of grace made by the king as he concludes his petition.

“Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. Not one word has failed of all His good promise, which he spoke by Moses His servant. The LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers. May He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His rules, which He commanded our fathers.

(1Kings 8:56-58 ESV)

“Incline our hearts.” How’s that for an ask?

Encompassed in the word incline are the ideas of stretching out, spreading out, making malleable, and bending, or turning, the heart. Do a work in my soul, Lord. So massage the depths of my inner person, that my heart is changed. That it’s open to You. Ready to be molded by You. Wanting to do what my flesh doesn’t want to do, longing to walk after You.

Isn’t that also the unfathomable grace of the gospel? Beyond forgiveness, beyond restoration and reconciliation of relationship, a deep, heart work that increasingly compels us to want to walk in His ways. An imparting of a thirst for obedience. The gifting of longing for a supernatural enabling to live in a supernatural way. Of desiring a transformation from the inside out. Of hoping in the sure hope that a work will be accomplished through us that only an all-powerful, steadfast-loving God could work in us.

Incline our hearts, Lord.

Show patient, repeated, abundant grace.

Finish the work you’ve begun according to Your promise (Php. 1:6).

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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A Big Deal!

I don’t think the editors of my reading plan could have a designed it this way, but maybe. But, then again, maybe not. There’s just been too many times when the different readings line up that I can’t imagine how you would coordinate them all. Unless, of course, the coordinator was a divine Coordinator.

Anyway, I know this morning’s confluence of readings in 1Kings and Ephesians has caught my attention before. But I don’t think I’m any less amazed by the “coincidence” and the implications.

First, reading in 1Kings 6 and the description of the temple Solomon builds for the LORD. As I usually do when I read this passage, I pull up an artist’s rendering of the temple to look at while I read. Helps me take the technical details recorded in God’s word and see a picture of the magnificence of the finished product in God’s house.

And as I’m reading, I’m struck again that God cares about where His glory dwells. We saw that back in Exodus, through the elaborate instructions given for the tabernacle in the wilderness. And we see it here, through the painstaking, God-breathed, eternally preserved description of what Solomon built. God’s house is a big deal!

And that sets me up for this morning’s Ephesians reading and for these verses in particular:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)

Come on people! That’s gotta get ya’ excited!

The church, she isn’t perfect, but she is being built into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. And in Scripture, dwelling places of God are a big deal!

You can take your mighty cedars of Lebanon, your planks of cypress, your slabs of chiseled stone, your rooms of gold, and your towering gold-covered cherubim–take it, in all it’s magnificence, and hold up to the church, and it pales in comparison.

Blocks of granite and marble replaced with living stones, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Cedars of Lebanon supplanted by an old rugged cross. Gold-plating perishing over time, unlike the blood of Christ that covers forever those being made into a holy temple in the Lord. The curtain blocking the holy of holies in Solomon’s day torn from top to bottom today so that all who are brought into His new and improved, blood-bought priesthood–the household of God–might enter boldly before His throne of grace.

Sure, we’re still a work in progress. But what a work! And the finished product will be beyond what we could ever imagine!

Not because of who we are, but because of what He’s done. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of who He is.

We are the church. A holy temple in the Lord. A dwelling place for God by the Spirit. And that, my friends, is a big deal!

Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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Open Our Eyes!

Okay, yesterday I thought it was a good ask. This morning I know it’s a good ask. Yesterday I had two witnesses testifying it was a profitable prayer, Solomon in 1Kings and Paul in Ephesians. This morning, the songwriter chimes in as the third witness. No doubt about it. This is solid ground. “Open my eyes” is a good ask to ask.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.

(Psalm 119:17ESV)

Deal bountifully. Be generous with me (MSG). Dish out blessing, a lot of blessing (PJC).

Stop there and imagine all that the songwriter could have had in mind. What kind of bounty could he be asking the Lord to deal out? Wealth? Health? Favor in business? Happiness–however that might be defined? Yup, coulda’ been any of those things. But it wasn’t.

The songwriter wants to live life, and life to the full. Whatever his threescore and ten (Ps. 90:10 KJV) might be, he wanted to max it out. And that, he knows, is possible only when the creation is in step with the Creator. When image-bearers walk in the way of the One whose image they bear. When daily duty is enveloped in divine direction. Be generous with me, says the psalmist, so that I might do life. And real life is living according to Your word.

And so, the ask. Teachers? Preachers? Mentors? Bible studies? Books? Blogs? Podcasts? Video streaming? What’s the bounty the songwriter’s wanting to be dealt?

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.

(Psalm 119:18 ESV)

Open my eyes! That’s the ask.

Uncover them. Remove any blinders of bias. Take down walls of know-it-all-ism. Dispel the remnant darkness of a corrupt heart. Because, when I read Your word, I want to behold wondrous things in Your word. And I can’t do that, unless You open my eyes, Lord. Unless You illuminate Your word.

And far from his petition being sourced in some sort of academic orientation, it is actually an intensely practical, in touch with reality ask.

I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not Your commandments from me!

(Psalm 119:19 ESV)

I know I am a sojourner. A temporary inhabitant. A foreigner with no inherited rights. Just a pilgrim looking for a land. This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. (Catchy . . . someone should write a song about that.)

And because I’m a stranger in these parts (MSG), I need a GPS. I need direction. I need wisdom. I need to know the pitfalls. I need to know the way. And I really need to know the way to get back on the way when I trip up or get distracted from the way. And that, Lord, is found in Your word.

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.

There was a season when every morning I prayed that prayer as I opened my Bible. Still do sometimes. Perhaps I should more.

Can’t think of a better way to engage God’s word than to ask God to open our eyes. To believe that there are wondrous things, extraordinary things, marvelous things to be discovered every time we enter into encounters of the divine kind with words breathed-out by God Himself. And believing that, to ask God, through His Spirit, for help in receiving that.

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

(Psalm 119:24 ESV)

Open our eyes, by Your grace. Direct our sojourning, for Your glory.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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