Seeds of Peace

Hovering over a promise to claim this morning. A promise of righteousness. Who couldn’t use a bit more righteousness — both within them and around them? But it’s one of those farming promises. You know, one of those you reap what you sow type of outcomes.

The promise? A harvest of righteousness. The seed? Peace. The source? Wisdom from above. Lot to chew on this morning.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

(James 3:17-18 ESV)

Talking with a buddy last night about the complexities of the world we live in. The issues which surround us, the lack of objective truth which destabilizes us, and the chaos created through social media which inflames us. Enough, we said, to make you think about moving to acreage on a mountain, setting up a communal compound with those of like mind, turning off your devices, and hibernating in a hermit haven. But, not really the way of being salt and light in the earth. Kind of feels like putting your light under a basket — not really encouraged by the Master (Matt. 5:13-16).

So, what’s the alternative? Engage. And this morning, I’m reminded how to engage. With the wisdom from above. (Oh, how I need wisdom from above!)

We’re not to wage war as the world does. Our weapons are not the same weapons. Our tactics are not the same tactics. Vitriol in our conversation has no place, nor any need, for those who have experienced firsthand the victory of the cross. Who understand the dynamics of sin, having ourselves once been slaves to sin, and the remedy required. Who see the signs of brokenness, ourselves having once been broken, and know the healing possible. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

No, far from entering the chaotic complexities of our time with demeaning dialogue, we do so with the wisdom from above. Pure and grounded in truth. Pacifying rather than provoking. Mild, respectful, as we rub shoulders in the public square with fellow image-bearers. Ready with a reason for the hope within us but also open to reason — willing to listen, willing to yield the floor in order to gain understanding and perspective. Our hearts primed with mercy, kindness, and goodwill toward others, truly desiring they would come to the knowledge of the truth — not just entering into debate in order to crush them. Without partiality but sincere — without bias, either towards persons or towards serving an agenda other than the agenda of the gospel.

That’s the wisdom from above. And, as I think back to lessons learned in the book of Proverbs, that Jesus is the personification of wisdom, it’s the way of the Prince of Peace who lives in us and through us.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” ~ Jesus

(Matthew 5:9 ESV)

And that’s where the promise comes in. A harvest of righteousness. Sown in peace. By those who make peace. And that through the wisdom from above.

A harvest of righteousness, at the very least, within — where we become more like Jesus even as we seek to imitate Jesus in the ways of Jesus. And, perhaps, a harvest of righteousness — only by God’s grace and through the Spirit’s transforming power — in the world around us. Even if it’s only in that small microcosm of the world around us where we touch it as salt, and offer clarity as light.

Might we sow seeds of peace in the hope of realizing the promise of a harvest of righteousness.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Let My Words Be Few (A 2008 Rerun)

Feeling particularly convicted this morning by James 3:1-12. Too close for comfort. Too recent an experience to dodge the bullet. And though “no human being can tame the tongue”, it doesn’t alter the fact that it is sin to “set a fire” or spread “deadly poison.” What to do? Confess, repent, run to the cross. Be forgiven, be washed, and by His abundant grace get back in the game enabled by the tongue-controlling power of the Holy Spirit. But not feeling much like typing out some thoughts.

So, I do what I often do in this situation, I go back and look up past meals for some food for thought to chew on. This time I get a hit on some thinking from 2008 that was sparked by a reading in Proverbs and makes reference to James 3. Man, I wish I had come across this earlier this week.

Sharing with you what’s ministered to me this morning.


This morning, my reading in Proverbs reminds me of some sage advice from a guy who’s “been there done that.” His advice? “Keep your mouth shut.” Well . . . not quite that harsh or blunt . . . but not too far off.

“He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.”

(Proverbs 17:27-28 NKJV)

“The one who knows much says little; an understanding person remains calm. Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.”

(Proverbs 17:27-28 MSG)

Exhortations about restrained use of the tongue are relatively common throughout Proverbs . . . add to that James’ analysis of how hard it is to tame the tongue (James 3:1-12) . . . and anyone with their “ears on” to the Scriptures should realize that this muscle in our mouth can get us into a lot of trouble. We need to be thoughtful on how we use it.

It’s interesting that Solomon says that it’s the person who is knowledgeable and “gets it” who is very selective about his words and is able to stay calm in spirit. You might think that smart people should be the ones dominating conversations because . . . . well, they’re smart! But it seems that our God . . . through the inspiration of the Scriptures and the pen of Solomon . . . sees it differently. And as I noodle on it, a couple of possible reasons come to mind as to why God thinks that true wisdom and smarts manifests itself in few and carefully selected words.

One reason, I think, is that God values humility in us. Too many smart people know they’re smart and want others to know they’re smart too. But ya’ gotta think that humility says, “Maybe I think I know something or two . . . but that’s just by the grace of God.” And so, if my smarts are God given smarts . . . and any insight I think I have is God given insight . . . and my arguments are reflective of godly wisdom . . . then I probably should be cautious in filtering what comes out of my mouth. Not just the content . . . but the spirit conveyed by my words. Paul says our speech should always be with grace (Col. 4:6). Our testimony is as much wrapped up in how we say something as it is in what we say. And maybe that’s why a pre-disposition to few words is smart. It minimizes the chances of saying something we didn’t mean to say . . . or saying it in a manner which we didn’t intend. Humble man . . . restrained tongue. I think they go together.

Second reason why I think God wants us to be people of few, well-selected words, is because it is an indicator of our trust in Him. Proverbs 17 says that a smart man is a man of few words and that a man of understanding is of calm spirit. A churned up spirit seems to be the source of many words. The need to justify myself . . . or establish myself . . . or confront the situation could be a recipe for disaster in terms of how I use my words. But to trust in the Lord . . . to allow Him to justify . . . to wait on Him for the right words . . . that leads to a calm spirit. Jesus was a man of few words . . . you think about it, He wasn’t a big debater. Well chosen words . . . well thought out answers . . . and then He left it to people to digest and respond. Even during His fake trial before the Jewish religious leaders and his interrogation before Pilate, He was careful what questions He chose to engage in and really used very few words in those He responded to.

So some pretty sound advice this morning. A good check for the guy in this chair on his “tongue management.” Few words . . . calm spirit . . . holding my peace . . . an observer more than a commentator. Good stuff to consider.

Father, I marvel this morning at the breadth of Your Word. From the high and lofty insights into Your awesome character and works . . . to the intensely practical, day in and day out, use of words. Give me wisdom, Lord . . . I desire a spirit of humility . . . I want to learn to trust You more, to rest in You more . . . and then, let my words be few . . . and well chosen.


By Your grace. For Your glory.

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Come and See

“Come and see,” said Philip to Nathaniel. Check it out. Kick the tires for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Just because I think this Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, is the Messiah promised by Moses and the prophets, don’t make it so. “Come and see.” So, Nathaniel went and saw.

Hovering over the last section of John 1 this morning. Talk about your encounter of the divine kind. Nathaniel the skeptic (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) meets Jesus the Seer.

Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him and calls out, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in who there is no deceit!” “What?” thinks Nathaniel, “have we met?” And so he says to Jesus, “How do you know me?” And Jesus says — and I’m imagining in only the way Jesus could say it, and with the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit set to high — Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Jesus the Seer saw him. Knew him. Looked deep into his heart and perceived all that could be perceived. The good, the bad, the ugly. And then the Seer says, “Come and see.”

And Nathaniel sees Jesus. Really sees Jesus.

Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

(John 1:49 ESV)

And Jesus says back, in effect, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

(John 1:50-51 ESV)

Nathaniel, through the eyes of faith, saw Jesus as the Son of God. That’s pretty wild! Somehow (more like, by “some Who”) He recognized this non-descript Teacher from a no-name town as the King of Israel. Who would of thought! But Jesus says, you ain’t seen nothing yet . . . I’m also a Ladder. Wait until you see that!

Son of God. What more claim to fame could anyone have? King of Israel. Sounds like top of the food chain to me. But, Jesus’ says, know Me as the Ladder, too. The Staircase that joins heaven and earth. The Mediator between the divine and the defiled. The Christ who bridges the great chasm. The Way for the lost to be found. This is the “greater things than these” that Jesus, who saw Nathaniel, told Nathaniel he would see.

And I’m thinking I would do well this morning to see it too. To pause and perceive afresh. To put aside for a few moments all the cares that await this day and focus anew. To see again “greater things” in the One upon whom angels ascend and descend from a heaven opened up.

What a great access is ours. What a great salvation to ponder again, as if for the first time.

Let us see and then, let us worship the Ladder! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

And you know, we really ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Come and see.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Seasons of Siege

Not gonna lie, this season has a way of amplifying my readings in the major prophets. Not that I equate America with Israel. Not that I believe God is in the final judgment business in this age of grace. But that I believe the God of the prophets is an unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thus, the sin which provoked Him to anger in Jeremiah’s day will, no matter where it is found, provoke Him to anger today. To be sure, there is a place for that anger to be quenched, the cross of His blessed Son, but only for those who run to it. And God, just as He did in the days of the prophets, even today intervenes to reveal Himself, and to point people to the way of rescue through seasons of siege.

. . . they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know Me, declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of My people?”

(Jeremiah 9:5b-7 ESV)

They’re lost. They’re hard-hearted and stiff-necked. They’re running themselves ragged with sin. They refuse to know Me. So what else can I do, says the LORD, but turn up the heat? To refine them in the fire, to test them under pressure, that they might come to their senses.

Even as God was mustering up the Babylonian horde to evict the people from their land because of their persistent, perpetual rebellion and unfaithfulness, He calls them to return. Even as the Babylonians set up siegeworks on Jerusalem’s doorstep, hemming them in, God appeals to His people through His prophet, wanting their season of siege (talk about your shelter in place!) to act as a wake up call and a catalyst for repentance.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. . . . For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place . . .”

(Jeremiah 7:3, 5-7a ESV)

And while their return to God would be manifest in amended ways and deeds, what strikes me this morning is that it would be initiated through understanding and knowledge.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Nothing new under the sun, those who reject God are those who are full of themselves. Trusting in their wisdom, confident in their strength, relying on their wealth, they say to themselves “Self, we got this. We don’t need no God.” True of fallen Israel, true of fallen empires throughout the ages — even during this age of grace.

But, I’m thinking, God turns up the heat on the nations He has loved — and loved unto death on the cross — so that when their wisdom and their strength and their riches are no longer sufficient to maintain control of their lives, they’ll look up . . . look wwaayy up! And they’ll understand and know there is a God.

They’ll understand. They’ll give attention to, ponder, look towards. Clarity will come. The light will go on.

They’ll know. They’ll recognize, discern, confess to be true, and experience. They’ll taste and see.

And what will they understand when the light comes on? What will they know and admit when they taste and see? That the LORD is not just the God of steadfast love, but also of justice and righteousness. And not just in ancient Israel, but “in the earth.”

They will know there is a God. They will understand He is the Sovereign Creator of all things. And they will experience the holy, put-you-on-your-face-in-reverent-awe fear that saves the soul. And then, by His wisdom, and by the power of His might, and as heirs of His eternal riches they will have the desire, strength, and ability to amend their ways.

What can I do, says the God who loves a people who have strayed? What can I do but refine them and test them? That they might know Me and live.

Even seasons of siege are by His grace. That our boasting in Him alone, though for our good, might be for His glory.

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A Crown Beyond the Sun

Had a look at my post from this day in my reading plan a year ago. Not surprised that I put down a few thoughts from the reading in Ecclesiastes 2, lot to chew on there.

I don’t play the lottery but, not gonna lie, sometimes I think I’d love to try and see if I could handle being the winner of one. To be unfettered by financial restraints. To pursue what I want to pursue, go where I want to go, play what I want to play, and, yes, even financially support whatever I want to support. That was Solomon’s deal.

What I might dream about from time to time, King Solomon lived out. With pedal to metal he pursued the way of pleasure as well as the way of principle or, as he put it, “how to lay hold of folly” (2:3b) as well as the way of “wisdom.” And in the end, wisdom won — “there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness” (2:13). But also in the end, this mega-lotto winner “hated life.” Because, in the end, if all that life is “is done under the sun” then, he realized, it didn’t matter whether you pursued folly or wisdom, “for all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (v. 17).

But this morning, in my reading in James, another view of “the end.” An end which is really but the beginning. A finish line which is also a starting line. An exit which provides a glorious entrance.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

(James 1:12 ESV)

Not gonna debate whether or not Christians should be incented as to how to live here and now in light of receiving rewards there and then (though I personally think that’s why they’re mentioned). But I am thinking about the difference it makes when lives are lived which transcend an “under the sun” view. When the ultimate arbiter of what I do in this life isn’t its legacy, or how it’s summarized on a gravestone, or remembered by someone who knows my history, but is, instead, the way in which it prepares me for my next story — life beyond the sun.

There is a promise of what is to come that puts “what is” into context — the promise of a crown of life. By its name alone, it brings hope — a life beyond this life. A reason for the trial. A reward for choosing to remain steadfast in the way of wisdom rather than give up and default to the way of folly.

A life beyond this life has a way of giving meaning to this life. Providing a context that’s always defining a hard today in terms of a great tomorrow. A promise that helps offset the pressure. The hope of a crown that creates a steadfast resolve that says, “It’s gonna be worth it.” The promise of a crown “to those who love Him” — a crown of life. Abundant life. Fullness of life. Eternal life.

Oh, the difference it makes to know that there is a crown when it comes to dealing with life “under the sun.” A crown beyond the sun.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

(2Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)

This too, a part of His immeasurable grace. This too, only for His inexpressible glory.

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Ready

Wrapped up Isaiah this morning. “Did not my heart burn?” I think as I sit back and reflect on this year’s journey through the prophet’s words.

Lots I still don’t fully understand. Not sure I really know how all the dots connect, or will be connected. But this I know, my God is an awesome God. Great in power to deal with sin decisively, yet overflowing in love, calling people to Himself with grace abundantly. A God who is ready.

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by My name. I spread out My hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices.

(Isaiah 65:1-2 ESV)

Divine commentary in Romans 10:20 tells me that I am “those.” Those who did not ask for God. Those who did not seek Him. Those who were strangers of the call and covenant of Abraham (Eph. 2:11-12). Those who, though they knew God through creation, chose instead to rebel against the Creator in order to walk in their own way (Rom. 1:19-21) — “a way that is not good.”

Yet, while I was not asking . . . though I was not seeking . . . despite the fact I had no direct claim on the promises . . . even as I walked down my own road and followed my own devices, He was ready. Ready to be sought, ready to be found.

Why? Not because He needed us. Not as if before creation He was lonely. No, the all sufficient God of eternity has forever known full communion and fellowship within His triune self — having loved the Son before the foundation of the world (Jn. 17:24) and having known the Son’s perfect love and fellowship in return. No, God didn’t need us. But, wonders of wonders, He wanted us.

Ready to be sought. Ready to be found.

And “long ago, at many times and in many ways”, He said “Here I am, here I am” by the prophets. “But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1). The hands spread out to a rebellious people the hands of a stretched out Christ on a cruel Roman cross.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” ~ Jesus

(John 12:32 ESV)

I will draw people who did not ask for Me. I will draw people who did not seek Me. I will call out to them, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Yes, I will spread out My hands for them. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30).

Why? Because God is love. Because He delights in His creation being loved. And though, at one time, we were not ready to be loved — some of us for many years — He was ready. Ready to love. And love us He has. And love us He will. Even to the uttermost.

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

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Clay

If clay could feel, what would it feel?

Like it was going under again for the third time? Overwhelmed from time to time as it’s flooded by water being poured into the mix so that the mix might remain malleable? Would clay feel a sense of drowning from time to time? Relieved perhaps when the water abates, if only for a little while, so it can catch its breath?

Would it get tired of being constantly kneaded, hammered, and pressed into shape? Aching from the constant stretching? Wanting, at times, just to be left alone. Thinking it might actually be content to remain a formless blob? Maybe?

And what about the do overs? Just when it thinks it’s been molded into its final state, it’s taken, mashed up again, and seemingly things start from the beginning again?

And then, the kiln. What about the kiln? When the heat gets turned up to finalize its form, bake in some endurance, and add some color. Not thinking the fire’s much fun for the clay.

And in this all, what about clay’s self esteem. Until it’s a finished product, not much to look at, really. Kind of drab in color. Not much form, at least to start with. And it can’t even take credit for the form it will eventually find.

So who would want to be clay? Who would want to even be compared to clay? What possible motivation would there be to put on your “I Am Clay” t-shirt in the morning?

But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand.

(Isaiah 64:8 ESV)

It’s the Potter who makes us want to be the clay.

Taking on water; constantly being pressed, prodded, and pushed; the do overs and mash ups; even the repeated trips to the kiln and it’s refining fire; all worth it. Not because of the intrinsic value of being clay, but because we’re clay in our loving Father’s hands. The finished product for His perfect purposes.

Might not be fun being clay at times. But oh, the privilege of being formed by the Father and shaped by the Savior. Of being recreated by the Creator and remolded by the Redeemer.

Being conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).

So how does clay feel? Blessed . . . even when feeling a bit battered.

All praise be to our Father for the blessing of being but clay in the Potter’s hands.

Amen?

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Heartburn

They didn’t see that coming. Lots to talk through and try to process as they headed down the road to Emmaus.

They had gone to Jerusalem for an annual feast and were returning home having witnessed an unjust execution. They had waved palm branches before the One they hoped would be their redeeming king, but now they just shook their heads as their last memory of Him was more that of a slaughtered sacrifice.

That was three days ago. And today, just as they were ready to head home, they heard the rumors of His body missing from the tomb and of angels declaring He had risen (Luke 24:13-24). Nope, didn’t see that coming.

Pretty confusing, really. What to make of it? Who knew?

But then, the risen Jesus, cloaking His identity, joins them on the road as a curious stranger. And, upon hearing their Jerusalem story, He helps them connect the dots.

And He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

(Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

The effect of this 1-on-1 encounter of the divine kind? Heartburn.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”

(Luke 24:32 ESV)

He talked to us . . . He opened to us the Scriptures . . . and our hearts burned. True then, true today.

True this morning as I read, hover, and meditate. Glorious heartburn!

How we give away the opportunities for the risen Christ to speak to us by not providing Him opportunity to open to us the Scriptures.

I feel like a broken record sometimes, but I really think it’s this simple: Wanna encounter God? Open your Bible. Wanna hear the voice of God? Read His word.

It’s a living and active word (Heb. 4:12). And the Spirit living in us has taken up residence, in large part, to illuminate that Word and lead us into all truth (Jn. 15:26, 16:13). So determine to seek some heartburn. Gonna take a bit of persistence and practice, but the heartburn will come.

Might not answer all the questions right way. Might not dispel the confusion immediately. But hear Him speak as He opens to us the Scriptures and your heart will burn. You’ll know that you’ve met with the God of creation even while the things of earth still remain so crazy. Might not bring more understanding right way, but oh, you’ll know the blessing of the heartburn. And that blessing will fuel faith and increase confidence in the One who holds tomorrow.

He talked to us . . . He opened to us the Scriptures . . . and our hearts burned.

Part of His amazing grace. That we might enter more fully into His everlasting glory.

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Overwhelmed

I don’t know if I’ve ever been as overwhelmed by the combination of my morning readings as I am this morning.

Waves rolled over me as I read Isaiah 56 thru 58. The prophet trying to connect the hardship of their “season” with the “reason for their season.” A people that needed to hear the clarion call to keep justice and do righteousness in light of the LORD’s soon coming salvation (56:1). But a people who were “children of transgression” and “the offspring of deceit” (57:4), burning with lust and slaughtering their children (57:5), worshiping idols (57:7-8). Doubling down and pursuing their evil ways even more intensely (57:10) as God turned up the heat on the pressure cooker they lived in. God warning them that, though He offers a way of peace, there is no peace for the wicked and, apart from His way they can expect only a “tossing sea” which cannot be quieted (57:20-21).

But they continue to “do church.” To observe the Sabbath when convenient and to offer the sacrifices as long as they’re not too sacrificial. So, in response to the “hard season” they are in, they fast. But they are confused because God doesn’t respond to their fasting (58:3a).

God lets them know why. They fast, they turn to God and pray, because they want things to go back to normal. So they can return to seeking their own pleasure, oppressing their workers, and quarreling and fighting among themselves. “Fasting like yours this day,” says the LORD, “will not make your voice to be heard on high” (58:3b-4).

Instead, the fast God chooses is one in which repentance of wickedness is evidenced by the pursuit of righteousness. Where the bonds of wickedness are loosed and the yoke of sinfulness is undone. Where the oppressed are set free. Where bread is shared with the hungry among them. Where the homeless are brought into their homes. When they care for others above themselves, then will “light break forth like the dawn”, and their “healing shall spring up speedily.” Then, with righteousness going before them and with the glory of the LORD covering them from behind, will they call and the LORD will answer (58:6-9a).

“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

(Isaiah 58:9b-11 ESV)

I want to be careful not to read more into pandemics, protests, putrid politics, hurricanes, and “scorched places” then is really there. At the same time, as I’m reading in Isaiah this morning I can’t help but think that reflecting, repenting, and returning would seem to appropriate behaviors to consider at this hour.

And then my reading in Luke . . . totally out of context, I know . . . totally overshadowing what’s often been one of my favorite Jesus stories. But this is what pops:

And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

(Luke 24:25 ESV)

And while I know Jesus is referring specifically to what the prophets have written about Him, if we’re ignoring the “bad news” of the prophets, we’re really not going to be all that interested in paying close attention to the good news.

Then, throw in 14 verses of Proverbs where people groan under a wicked ruler (29:14); where such a ruler corrupts even his officials around him (29:12); and, where fools are marked by giving full vent to their spirit (29:11), and, like I said, for this guy in this seat this morning it’s somewhat overwhelming. Rarely have I found myself praying so consistently while I’m reading.

But then . . . oh, how I love that word “but” . . . but then these words in my reading in Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. . . . Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

(Hebrews 12:1-3, 12-13 ESV)

Look to Jesus. Consider Him. Bow at the foot of the cross. Gaze at the throne in heaven.

Run the race. It’s not a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. But how it feels like a spartan race — miles and miles of imposing obstacles, one after another.

And know that through it all God is training us as a Father lovingly trains His children. At times painful, wearying, and yes, even overwhelming. But in the end, yielding “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11).

So, for now, “Keep on keepin’ on,” he says to himself.

“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God,” quotes the inner voice (Micah 6:8).

Lift up the hands that want to droop by your side. Stand fast in the gospel, even if your knees are shaking. And know, that according to His promise and by His power, far from going out of joint, they will be healed as He makes straight paths for your feet.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Commended Through Their Faith

They were people of promise. A promise that they would be an innumerable people, that they would possess a land flowing with milk and honey, and that they would know, and make known to all nations, blessings unimaginable (Gen. 12:1-3). But when all was said and done, generations upon generations of those who had received the promise never really realized the promise. At best, some experienced but a foretaste, others had eyes to dimly see but a foreshadow.

Sure, a few experienced “victory” and a sense of advancement toward the promise. But for many, they were tortured for the promise, “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.” Other were stoned, sawn in two, and killed with the sword for pursuing the promise. And for those not released by death, “they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated . . . wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” — all for the promise. And the testimony of the One who’s testimony is the only testimony that counts at the end of the day, was that these people of the promise were people “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:32-38).

Makes the current conditions and hardships of what this person of promise is enduring today pale in comparison. And yet, this is the time and place and circumstance that this person of promise has been given by God to pursue the promise. And so, just like the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:3) which have gone before, this person of promise longs to also be commended through their faith.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

(Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV)

Their testimony wasn’t founded on having lived a “victorious life,” but on being faithful even to death. Their approval lay not in the amount of material goods left at their departure because of their hard work, but in the treasure which they had laid up in heaven through their obedience. Their eternal reputation not based on their temporal relevance, but on their steadfast submission. Not a success by the world’s standard, but also not worthy of the world in the Creator’s estimation.

They walked by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). And for that, they were commended through their faith.

That’s all I can aspire to, to walk this day by faith — in these circumstances, with limited understanding, apart from tomorrow’s certainty. Standing firm on His promises, holding fast by His power. With the desire that on that day I too will be commended through faith.

By His grace. For His glory.

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