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Music of His Promises
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On dark days when the only song we feel like singing is a dirge, we can pray, "Let the music of thy promises be on my tongue" (Ps. 119:172). This is no tear-jerking ballad of how I'm feeling. The promises of God will lift me right out of sad sentimentality and put music in my mouth if I will think steadily on them. Here's one to sing: "Unfailing love enfolds him who trusts in the Lord" (Ps. 32:10).
Do you feel nothing of the kind? When did the validity of the Eternal Word rest on the mood of one of His poor children?
Let the promise be the song you sing. He will hear it and make it true for you.
At Every Stage of the Journey
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What matters in life is that we should stick with the Lord. Where He goes, we follow. When He says halt, we halt. This is how it was with Israel—as He led them all those years in the wilderness of their journey to the Promised Land, they moved when the pillar of cloud and fire moved, and they camped when it stood still. The most amazing thing about that story is the most amazing thing about ours—the Lord of Hosts is with us! The pillar of cloud, visible by day, had fire in it at night, so "the Israelites could see it at every stage of their journey" (Exod. 40:38).
Some stops of our wilderness saga seem very difficult and very lonely. We look in vain for any indication around us that the presence of the Lord is still there.Where has He gone? Did we miss the way? Has He forgotten to be gracious? There is no "pillar" for us. But oh yes, there is—it is His unbreakable Word. Hold on to that. Count on it. Believe it. That is our pillar of the proof of His presence: "Be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time" (Matt. 28:20)
That promise, like the wonderful cloud with fire in it, is for every stage of our journey. That means today.
<<P ALIGN="CENTER"> The Eye of the Needle
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A husband and wife came seeking counsel for their marriage. As they told their story, fear and pride were revealed as the root causes of strife. The healing of that fear and the renunciation of that pride seemed utter impossibilities—just as impossible as for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven, weighed down as he is with much baggage. This man and woman are weighed down too, yet wanting very much to rescue their home, to do God's will, to enter the Kingdom. It is, quite simply, impossible—"with men." But it is possible with God. He who calls us higher, beckons us in the direction of holiness and joy, is able to restore us, able to save, able to do more than we can ask or think, able to make even a camel go through the eye of a needle.
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The temptation comes at us daily in some form or other to stand on our so-called rights, to desire to be appreciated for what we think we are, and to be given our "proper" place. This was what the mother of James and John was looking for—not for herself, but (for a mother this comes to almost the same thing) for her sons. She asked Jesus to assign them seats in heaven (see Matt. 20). Jesus answered that the privilege was not His to grant. He used the incident to teach the lesson we need every day: don't bother about making the weight of your "authority" felt. Forget about "who you are." Don't give a moment's thought to rights if you are in earnest about following Me, for I am the one, remember, who came to serve and to give up—not only My position with the Father, not only all My "rights" and My very glory, but My life. Do you feel you deserve to be first? Be a servant. Give up everything. Together, then, we will enter into joy!
Give and Give and Give
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Having been asked to speak to a group of ministers' wives, I asked the young wife of a minister what she would want to say to them. Many young people nowadays, I said, have grown up without any idea of hardship or sacrifice, and when it is required of them in the Lord's service, they rebel.
"Tell them to give and give and give, not expecting anything in return," the young woman said.
"But what if they say `I'm having a really hard time with this. I'm struggling, I'm not really sure I can do that?'"
"Tell them `I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.'"
It was a clear word, spoken with the conviction of obedience. This young woman knows the struggle. She has experienced rejection and ingratitude. But she knows the truth of God's promise of strength.
The Way Appointed
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It was at the supper with Jesus' disciples, on the night before He was crucified, that He told them He was going "the way appointed." That meant betrayal, by one of the very men sharing the same meal with Him, and crucifixion, at the hands of others who had arranged to pay this man. Yet in and through those terrible things that were to happen to Him, Jesus never for a moment thought of Himself as solely in their hands, at their mercy. He was held in the will of the Father. There was sovereign purpose in it all; the way He must travel was no accident of fate. It was appointed, assigned, a date with destiny. He accepted it as such.
What agonies we would spare ourselves if we would remember that ours, too, is a way appointed. We need not ever imagine that our circumstances are in any other hands than those that held the beloved Son obedient unto death.
What Is Trust?
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To the unbeliever, the notion of "trust" in God is a challenge to Him to grant what one wants. When Jesus hung nailed to the cross, passersby hurled abuse at Him: "Come down. Save yourself!" The chief priests, lawyers and elders (learned, logical leaders) mocked Him: "King of Israel, indeed! Let Him come down now from the cross and then we will believe Him. Did He trust in God? Let God rescue Him." (Matt. 27:42-43).
Real trust yields utterly to the one trusted. All desire is turned over to that one, believing his ability to manage, control, and finally to accomplish what is best. When we pray, we should beware lest we line ourselves up with the mockers of Jesus—"If You do such and such, then I will trust You!" We need to learn rather to let God rescue us in His own way. It may not be escape from suffering, but death—followed by so much more glorious a rescue—resurrection!
Lord, teach me this trust.
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Spectators at the cross of Calvary imagined a dramatic escape or rescue as the proof of Jesus' kingship. God had an infinitely greater demonstration in mind. The Son would not manage to escape from the hands of His captors or from the nails and wood that held Him, nor would someone else come to His rescue. He would go through the last extremity of what it means to be human, and by that very means, by death itself, He would destroy the power of death. He would become, by His obedient dying, the "Death of Death" and "Hell's Destruction."
When we, in our "lesser miseries," plead for escape or rescue, what unimaginable "solutions" God has stored up for us! But often, in response to our pleadings, the word is Trust Me.
Looking at Graves
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Matthew tells us in the last chapter of his Gospel that the two Marys came early in the morning, "to look at the grave." We can picture the sorrowful scene—two women in the gray dawn standing helplessly, contemplating the tomb. There was nothing left to hope for, nothing to see but a rock. We can see their drawn faces, bowed heads, the sag of their shoulders. Can we possibly picture those faces when there came a sudden earthquake, the descent of an angel, and the stone was rolled away from the grave? The angel was so dazzling, the guards (tough men, surly, and not in the least sorrowing like the women) collapsed in terror. The angel addressed the women: "You ... have nothing to fear.... He has been raised ..." (Matt. 28:5, 7). A few minutes later Jesus suddenly stood in their path.
We sometimes find ourselves looking at a "grave"—the end of all our hopes. We are helpless, defeated. Our faces are long, our shoulders droop. What a difference it would make then if, by faith, we would lift up our eyes to see the bright angel and the risen Savior. We really have nothing to fear—He has risen, exactly as He said. What a defeat His crucifixion seemed. What a triumph His resurrection was—and is, forever.
Don't look at the grave. Look up. Jesus stands risen beside you, alive forever! Then think of His comforting word: "And be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time" (Matt. 28:20).
Too Rich to Follow Him
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In the forests of Ecuador I soon learned that there were journeys I could not make if I wanted to carry baggage. Traveling narrow, muddy, and often steep trails on foot was impossible if I was heavily loaded.
So it is with the spiritual journey. We cannot make it if we insist on taking along everything we think indispensable. A rich young man was attracted to Jesus and contemplated joining His company, but Jesus spoke plainly of the necessary condition: Sell all you have first.
If he had not had much, perhaps he would have laid it down readily. But he was too rich to follow Jesus. He turned away, sorrowful.
We may be willing to part with almost everything God is asking us to relinquish, but perhaps we are clutching one thing tightly—"all but this, Lord." "Lay it down," Jesus says. "Let it go." If we refuse, too rich to follow Him, we have chosen a greater poverty in the end.
Too Strong to Be Crucified
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Jesus Christ, we are told, was "crucified in weakness." When We approach the table of the Lord in Holy Communion, or when in any way at all we identify ourselves as Christians, we are letting Christ take us, with our purposes, and offer us, as He did His own body, up to His Father.
The greater our consciousness of weakness, sinfulness, and abject need, the more perfectly we can let Christ take us for that offering.
The man or woman who claims some autonomy, some right to himself, some independence, some existence of his own, is too strong. Too strong to need a Savior, too strong to flee to His cross for refuge, too strong to be crucified with Christ. How then shall he live in Christ, how shall Christ live in him?
When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Too Proud for the Low Gate
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If it is our habit to demand of God answers, solutions, explanations, we may find ourselves traveling a broad intellectual highway that leads to destruction. If it is really life we want, we must accept the narrow way and the very low gate. The questions, the problems not solved, the mystery not explained will be for the one who would press on to know the Lord. He is called by a still, small voice to humility and poverty of spirit—only by that road will he be allowed to see God. He must believe Him even when carrying in his heart the unanswered question. The problem he desperately wants solved is God's means of getting his attention—not necessarily that He may reveal its solutions but most certainly that He may reveal Himself to him. But let him not forget—it is the pure in heart who see God (see Matt. 5:8).
Too Busy to Be Quiet
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If we are bent on a mad tear through life, God will allow us that liberty, but He will not tear madly about with us. He will wait for us until we quiet down and wait on Him. Sometimes we are not interested in quietness until things have suddenly fallen apart or come to a screeching halt, and then, in the ensuing silence we know that we cannot cure our evils and neither is God going to cure them. What He has been waiting for is our attention, our eyes turned to Him who is the very Life of All the Ages, the Light that our darkness can never overcome, Christ Himself, with us, in us, suffering, loving, and transforming us into the same image.
No Wagons Provided
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For the transportation of the tabernacle in Old Testament times wagons and oxen were provided, to the Gershonites and the Merarites. But Moses gave none to the Kohathites, "because the service laid upon them was that of the holy things: these they had to carry themselves on their shoulders" (Num. 7:9).
It is well to remember that economy and efficiency are not necessarily important to God. We can hardly think in any other terms. "Get the job done with as tittle effort as possible. Don't strain yourself!" Some jobs, it seems, require individual sacrifice. It is not because they are of less value to God that He does not provide "wagons" (any modern methods or means to facilitate things) but because the job is specially important. He wants people. He wants consecration. He wants shoulders willing to bend.
Power and Love
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The most powerful people are not often the most loving, and the most loving people often seem quite powerless in human terms. When the great question is raised: Why does God permit suffering? It is answered by some that He is powerless to prevent it, even though He may love us, and by others that He cannot possibly be loving, for surely He does have the power to prevent evil.
When Lazarus died the crowd of mourners was divided when Jesus wept. Some took it as evidence of how greatly He had loved the man. Others thought it a hypocritical gesture, since one who could heal a blind man certainly could have prevented this man's death.
Jesus did indeed love Lazarus, and Mary and Martha. He could have prevented his death. But certain things, in a broken world, must be allowed to happen. None of them, however, in the hands of a loving and powerful God and Savior, are beyond redeeming. Resurrection is a far greater evidence of the power and the love of God than the mere aborting of catastrophies. God, help us to remember this triumphant hope when we, too, stand weeping hopelessly.
More Toward the Light
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Last night I talked with a woman in trouble. Her troubles are complex, but there is one simple thing she could do. She simply doesn't want to do it.
This morning I flew out of Boston's Logan International Airport. As often, the airport was shrouded in fog which rolls in from the sea. The plane rose quickly from the dim, wet runway, passed through thick clouds to thin, and suddenly was in sunshine, with brilliant blue sky above, and all the clouds and fog far below. The plane had moved toward the light.
Christ is the Light of the World. His truth shines like the sun. But we must adore Him. We must learn to move in the direction of the light, no matter how dim and obscure the situation in which we find ourselves. If I adore Him who is all light, in whom "there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), then darkness (even the least shading of the truth) will be intolerable to me.
Lord, how often I prefer the fog! I am preoccupied with my troubles when I could be occupied with adoration—moving up into His sunshine.
Our Daily Bread
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We are used to praying "Give us today our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11) but we are not used to recognizing the answer and giving thanks for it. Most of us say grace at the table, perhaps, but daily bread includes all that we really need in this world. Do we believe God can and does provide that? Or are we like the Israelites who, when a "mixed company of strangers" came along, developed a whole new set of expectations? They were "greedy for better things" (Num. 11:4).
Sometimes God wants to give us better things. Those who really have trusted Him receive His gifts with thanksgiving. The spirit of greed is not in them. Rather they ask for and accept "daily" bread—in abundance, if God sees that to be good for them, or in sufficiency alone, according to His loving-kindness.
Help me, Lord, to take today's portion of food, possessions, joys, pain, and Your presence, believing that it is enough for me.
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When the children of Israel received the report of the tall men of Eshcol they were terrified, they refused to go up, and immediately concluded that God hated them. How could He love them if He had taken them out of Egypt only to deliver them over to giants to be wiped out? (See Deut. 1:27.)
It looked like a logical deduction, based on what little human evidence they had. But of course they were totally ignoring far more important and trustworthy evidence: the promises of God. He had promised a rich land, a Father's care, and everything they would need en route.
We look backwards at the "good old days," and bemoan our losses; we look around us to the many threats to our security, and tremble with fear. Our conclusions are false. God has not forgotten us, He does not hate us. He is taking us to a rich land if we will only trust and obey instead of making things complicated for ourselves.
Bearing Others' Burdens
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Moses was appointed to carry the load of spiritual responsibility for God's chosen people. It was a heavy burden, and one for which he needed the help of God and of other men, but he sinned as the Israelites did and was denied the privilege of going into the Promised Land. One who is given the task of leadership must be prepared to be identified with those he leads, even to suffer punishment with them. Moses pled with God for permission to cross over and see the rich land promised to them, "but because of you," he said to Israel, "the Lord brushed me aside and would not listen." He answered, "Say no more about this ... give Joshua his commission, encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across" (Deut. 3:27-28). Moses was a truly meek man—not by any means weak, but strong in God's strength. He was not offended. He accepted the verdict, and obeyed. It took a real man to commission, encourage, and strengthen another to do the job he had so longed to bring to completion.
The Rejection of Sacrifice
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Obedience to God very often appears to us, at first glance, to mean sacrifice. We shrink from it. Sacrifice always involves death, and we reject death. But the divine paradox, the one we find running throughout all of Scripture, is that this sacrifice—the offering of ourselves in obedience to God—always means life. It is life, nothing less than life, that God offers us, so when we disobey, what we are actually doing is choosing death.
"The Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes and to fear the Lord our God; it will be for our own good at all times, and he will continue to preserve our lives" (Deut. 6:24).
We balk at something our conscience tells us we must do—"I don't see how that could be for my `good,'"—but God does not discuss with us the how or the why. He simply makes clear what it is we must do. Then we must take His word for it that it will mean life to us. Every day He sets two things before us—life and death. Every day we choose sacrifice, which leads to life, or selfishness, the rejection of sacrifice, which leads to death. We can count on it, for we have the Word of the Lord that it is so.