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Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty’

turns

The book of Ezra opens with a heathen king fulfilling prophesy spoken by God’s prophet 150 years prior.  Cyrus had just been appointed king over Persia.  The Jews were living in exile as captives in Babylon which was under Persian rule.  They had been there for almost 70 years because of their disobedience to God.  Jeremiah had prophesied that their captivity would only last 70 years and Isaiah had prophesied that a man named Cyrus would be responsible for the rebuilding of his temple.

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing.” ~Ezra 1:1

The ultimate reason this king released the Jews and sent them home is found in verse number one: “…that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled…”  God, in order to accomplish his own purposes for his special people, “…stirred up the spirit…” of a king who didn’t even know or worship him as God.  God directed this man’s heart and he did exactly what God ordained.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The hearts of kings are in the hand of the Lord, and, like the rivulets of water, he turneth them which way soever he will.”  Matthew Henry says, “It is said of Cyrus that he knew not God, nor how to serve him; but God knew him, and how to serve himself by him.  God governs the world by his influences on the spirits of men, and, whatever good is done at anytime, it is God that stirs up the spirit to do it, puts thoughts into the mind, gives to he understanding to form a right judgement, and directs the will which way he pleases.  Whatever good offices therefore are, at any time, done for the church of God, he must have the glory of them.”  

King Cyrus wasted no time freeing the Jews.  In his very first year as king, he made this proclamation throughout his entire kingdom:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” ~Ezra 1:2-4

There is something to be said of a man who does right, right away.  When we are put into a position of authority or influence, righting wrongs and doing justice ought always to be first on our list.  One cannot make new plans or start new endeavors in any new context lest he first tie up the loose ends that the last guy left hanging.  Cyrus shows good leadership by attending to these exiles as his first priority when he is appointed king.

King Cyrus not only sends God’s people home, he tells them to rebuild the temple and commands everyone in his kingdom to give those going back to Jerusalem the materials to do it!  He commands everyone in his kingdom to give the Jews their silver, gold, goods, beasts, and offerings!

Imagine this now.  You’re living in a foreign land with no rights.  You are a prisoner of war.  Your people have been there held captive for nearly 70 years.  A new leader comes to power and he not only sends you home, he makes his own citizens give you all their valuables so you can rebuild your place of worship when you get there.  This kind of thing just doesn’t happen.  God is the only one who can orchestrate a deliverance like that.

Do you think some of the people returning went only to get the goods?  Do some today build and plant churches only to build their own kingdoms on the heels of others’ giving?  You bet.

Nevertheless, some leaders rose up from among the Jews to direct the people returning to Jerusalem.  The text says “…everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem…” went.

Who went?

Everyone whose spirit God had stirred up to go. 

The origin of a man’s action or inaction is always found in God’s purpose and direction for him, without which we would never choose right.  Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?”  

King Cyrus also returned valuable items that the previous king (Nebuchadnezzar) had taken from the Jews when he conquered them.  He had them count the goods returned and he sent them home.

God used a godless man to restore his people; to show mercy to his people.  Despite their rebellion and sin against him, God forgave.  They had endured 70 years of consequences for their disobedience, but God was faithful to completely forgive and restore them after he disciplined them.

We serve a God who overflows with mercy and abounds in love toward us.  He is able to turn the hearts of kings and stir the spirits of men to do that which he calls.  We serve a God who is altogether sovereign.  Take comfort.  He is in complete control of every last circumstance.

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Life is so long and so short at the very same time.  We close our eyes exhausted from chasing toddlers wondering if the day will ever end and when we open them we are looking back wondering how they could possibly look so much like adults.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is short.  We have but a few minutes before we are gone.  It seems it is only the good things that pass by so fast.

The seasons of discouragement and doubt seem to last and last.  If we are not careful, bad days can turn into bad years, and bad years can turn into joyless lives.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is long.  We have years upon years to make a difference and influence those around us for the good.  We cannot allow personal setbacks or problems distract us from our purpose and the greater good.  If we do, we will end up looking back on a life poorly spent and largely unaccomplished.

I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my personal thoughts over the past couple months.  I have not felt particularly inspired.  Truth be told, I have felt unloved, discouraged, and even unnecessary.  I have experienced heartache, hardship, and hurt over the past year.  If I am being honest, it has been a hard year. Still, a good year. I have gotten to know my Father so much better. What could be better than that?

And, I have been healing.  I have been sitting at the feet of my Lord and allowing him to be all that I need.  Healing is not a process one can easily explain and share while undergoing it.  But by God’s grace, I can see light.  His provision is evidenced in so many blessings that I can’t help be be thankful.  I have finally come to the place where I can honestly say to the Lord, “Whatever your plan is, that is exactly what I want today.  Suffering?  Give me that.  Miscarriage?  You’re sovereign; I surrender.  Shunning?  OK.  It’s your world, Lord, and I am just your kid. It’s your plan.  It’s your will.  It’s your authority to which I bow and none else.  USE ME.  Whatever that means in my life, do that.  Just use me.  Somehow, someway, get glory from my meager little life.  That is all I want and it is all that truly matters to me anyway.

I open my hands.  I unfold them and I wait.

When I was a young Christian, I used to pray every single day that God would allow me to die a martyr for him.  What I have found over the past twenty years is that it is likely easier to die for Christ than it is to truly live for him.  We die once.  As each day begins, we must live over and over and over again.  So I changed my prayer:

Lord, whether I may or may not die a martyr, please allow me to live a martyr.  Allow me to live dying daily for you that you might use me.  Give me peace with your perfect, sovereign plan.  Let me not miss the opportunities you give.  I do not need to understand, I just want to be used.  Please use me in this long, short life.  Amen. 

Every single day is so important.  Don’t waste it.

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sweet

No sooner do God’s people sing their great song of prayer, victory, and celebration to Him than they are led into the wilderness.  These people are on quite a journey – a grand adventure wherein they must learn how to follow the commands of a righteous, heavenly master as opposed to the unjust earthly master they had just been delivered from.  Let’s just call it an adjustment period.

They arrive in the desert and they are, not surprisingly, thirsty.  They only water they do find is bitter and undrinkable…so…because they just saw all these miracles, watched God destroy their fierce enemies, and sang for joy, they decide to pray for good water and they live happily ever after…

Fail.  Unfortunately that is not what God’s people did.  Even after all they had just seen God do for them, they allow their physical thirst to shift their focus from joy and praise to unbelief and complaining.  Even after all they had seen God do, these followers went right back to complaining.

 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” ~Exodus 15:24

I call them “followers” because that is what they were.  Some people are leaders.  Others are followers.  One is not better than the other.  The problem was not that they were followers, it was who they were following.  When they should have been following God and his prophet, they chose to follow each other and their physical and emotional desires  dwelling upon all they could find unfortunate about their situation.  It proved a real lack of character and maturity on their part.

Fortunately, God’s people had a prophet.  Oh, wait, that was the guy they were complaining about.  Drat.  The very man whom God gave to help, to deliver, to lead, and to prophesy to them, they exasperate and burden by their abusive speech against him.  Here, they have a man who was trusting God as he led them.  Yet, they grumble against him.

Moses prayed.  Moses cried out to God on behalf of his very fearful, unbelieving, abusive followers formerly known as the joyful praisers of the Lord who sang the great victory song right along with him just three days before.

God answers Moses’ prayer miraculously.  The text says: “And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Exodus 15:25)

Wait.  God “showed” the prophet a log?  A log.  What?  How does that work?  Does God just point out random objects to people and enlighten them about what he wants done with them?

I am here to tell you…Yes.  He.  Does.  God speaks to people who pray in earnest to him for the sake of others.  God is in no way limited in the means or the methods he may choose to use for the sake of his people.  God can and does use whatever he will when we are willing to listen and obey.

God can use a log.  He can use a murderer like Moses.  He can use a donkey, a tax collector, a doctor, a colt, a hate-filled Pharisee like Saul (Paul), or even, *gasp*, a GIRL if he wants to.  May he, complaining unbeliever?  May he, grumbling follower?  Just wondering.

Here, God gave his prophet practical insight and wisdom on what to do and how to do it.  The prophet obeyed and God provided.  Therefore, what was bitter and unusable became life-giving to all God’s people.  So God used an obedient, praying murderer turned prophet coupled with an inanimate object in order to work a miracle and set an extremely important precedent for his people.

It seems that change is always difficult for people.  It is one thing to follow an earthly master who threatens punishment and sure death in the instance of disobedience.  It is another to be given freedom and liberty to choose right or wrong for the sake of a life-giving, heavenly Master who has just shown you great love, grace, mercy, and favor.  Here, God clears up any misconceptions these chosen ones may have had about their responsibility to him as well as the consequences of their obedience and disobedience, respectively.  God made himself quite clear.  His message was this:

Hey, kids.  I have control over all things.  I have been extremely gracious to you.  I destroyed your enemies because of their sin.  I know it is hard to believe, but I am not going to just overlook your sin.   Listen and obey me and you will be healed and protected.  Ignore and disobey me and you will be destroyed just like your enemies.  You are no better, no different, and in no way above them.  All men are the same to me.  This is life or death.  You choose.

Matthew Henry puts it this way, “Let not the Israelites think, because God had thus highly honored them in the great things he had done for them, and had proclaimed the to all the world his favorites, that therefore he would connive at their sins and let them do as they would.  No, God is no respecter of persons; a rebellious Israelites shall fare no better than a rebellious Egyptian; and so they found, to their cost, before they got to Canaan.”  

Like I said, change is always difficult for people – especially those who have lived in harsh bondage their entire lives; especially those who have lived in positions of preference, position, and pride over their own personal heritage their entire lives. When transitioning from a slave-driving, hard task-master like Pharaoh and sin, as well as from a self-serving attitude of self-importance wherein our task-master is our own sin, to a life-giving, love-bestowing, righteous Father-master like God, we are, like they were, bound to have some misconceptions and make some mistakes.  God knew.  That is why he made himself so clear upon their entry to this wilderness.

The prophet has spoken.  The miracle has proven his prayers as effective as his words were true.  Now, God’s great mercy gives even more grace.

 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. ~Exodus 15:27

God gave a place of rest and refreshment.  He will do the same for us if we would but trust him.

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god's will

Moving into Exodus chapter 7, God retells his plan once again to Moses.  This is the third time God reiterates for a hesitant human like us.  What grace Our Father has for our immature rebellion, fear, and faithlessness at his commands!

Moses’ objections to obey God’s directives finally cease.  He stops contending with God and begins contending with Pharaoh.  I suppose that is the way it generally works for God’s people.  We cannot fight a good fight against this world when we are busy fighting against personal obedience to God’s clear Word.

God reminds Moses that Pharaoh will not listen despite all the signs and miracles he is about to perform.  Then he says something that I find quite curious.  God says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:5)

God causes the ungodly to know he is Lord by “great acts of judgement.” (Exodus 7:4)  Conversely, he causes his people to know he is Lord by great acts of gracious, merciful deliverance.  In his wrath and his mercy – both solely dependent upon his own sovereign choice – God is glorified.

As the story goes, Moses and Aaron obey, Pharaoh asks for a sign, and their staff becomes a serpent.  The sign is quickly dismissed as the Egyptian magicians are able to do the same.  Still, Aaron’s staff swallows up the others.  While that proof of authority should have been enough, instead Pharaoh’s hard heart deemed it enough reason to disbelieve.  Matthew Henry says, “…the very appearance of an opposition to truth, and the least head made against it, serve those for a justification of their infidelity who are prejudiced against the light and love of it.”

I guess the most obvious question here is, “Why would God allow and enable the false magicians to imitate the true sign so similarly?”  Apparently, it serves as part of his sovereign will to harden the hearts of some and deliver the hearts of others.  Again I defer to Henry’s words:  “God suffers the lying spirit to do strange things, that the faith of some may be tried and manifested, that the infidelity of others may be confirmed, and that he who is filthy may be filthy still.”

The bottom line in this strange interaction between a sovereign God who sent a humble man to speak to a proud man on his behalf only to exalt the one and bring down the other, is to prove his authority and prerogative to do just that.  And why would an all-powerful God have need to do anything like that?  He doesn’t need help, approval, or acceptance from mere men.  Therefore, the reason he does so is solely for their sake; for our sake – that we might know who he is and what he does; that we might know his grace and mercy; his greatness and his wrath.  God gives us the whole of the Biblical text that we might know just what kind of God he is.

And what kind of God is that?

He is a God who humbles men and hardens men.  He exalts men and delivers men.  He chooses whom he will for whatsoever he pleases.  This is a God who made men for his own purposes, and for his own purposes alone men live and breathe.  This is a God of greatest power, authority, knowledge, and wisdom over all things, all nations, and all people everywhere.

Such may seem a great mystery.  So be it.  It is a mystery woven throughout all of scripture for us to investigate and inquire of him about -and that is what he wants from us.  We serve a God that is altogether sovereign.

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easy

I have never been a helicopter mom.  I am more of a fly the helicopter yourself and I’ll be here watching just in case you crash it mom.  Whatever the polar opposite of overprotective is, that is what I am.  Free range mom, maybe?  I’m not sure what the proper term is these days.

Anyway, most moms worry too much.  If I could be accused of anything, it would likely be not worrying enough.  I give my kids a lot of responsibility – probably too much – and I hope for the best.  I believe there are but three building blocks in childhood education: reading, respect, and responsibility.  Of course there is the overarching foundation of spiritual truths which hold it all together.  Teach these things and you have a fighting chance of producing a respectful, responsible adult.  At least that’s my philosophy and my goal.

The truth is, our children generally become what we are – at least partly.

In one week I will begin the ninth month of my fourth pregnancy – an unlikely pregnancy, that is.  One that I’ve prayed and waited for.  One that was never supposed to be.

Nevertheless, here I stand right smack dab in the middle of God’s grace.  Still, I am apt to fear – free ranger and all.  Like I said, I am not one much for worry and I tend not to dwell on things out of my hands.  When it comes to a child – especially one never thought possible and nothing short of a miracle – the what if’s and the waiting sometimes seem to creep in, find a comfortable seat in the psyche, and overwhelm.

I have had three healthy pregnancies, three uncomplicated labors, and three beautifully healthy babies.  I guess I expected the same this time around.  But from thyroid issues to a (false?) positive birth defect screening to carpel tunnel to gestational diabetes – oh and let’s not forget that 70 pound weight gain – this one hasn’t been so non-eventful.  I find myself repeating the words of the physician’s assistant in my mind.

“The blood work you have five weeks ago showed your sugar was abnormally high.  Someone should have told you before this.  It’s hard to tell how long you’ve had gestational diabetes.  There is a chance the baby could be stillborn.  She may have undeveloped lungs and breathing problems.  She could be too large for natural delivery…”

While I still believe these things are unlikely, I find myself bracing for the worst.  I ask my husband my what if questions.  He quickly responds, “Whatever the Lord’s will is is good.  It will be ok.”

“Easy for him to say,” I think to myself, “He hasn’t carried this baby.  He hasn’t longed for her for years like me.  He probably doesn’t really understand.”  And in all my sinful worry, I fail to hear the truth.  I know he is right, but I am afraid of what his rightness might turn out looking like.  I am afraid to hope.  I don’t want to be surprised by the worst.  I want to be prepared.  I don’t want to be disappointed.  What I really want is control – control over circumstances in which I have no control.  I want to be sovereign.  I want to be god over my own life.  I know that cannot happen.  Even in all my non-policing mom-ish-ness, I am restless; agitated; fearful; faithless.

I need to pray.  Instead I pace.  I get up to write.  I lay down to rest.  I exercise.  I avoid.  Where is peace?  Generally I walk alone, but today I wake the mechanic and ask him to walk with me.  He gets up early and walks with me in the pouring rain.  His small talk calms me.  His willingness to sacrifice for me resets my thoughts.  His selfless love reflects my Savior’s and I rest.  He prays with me and I see Christ.  I lean on his faith and confidence in God’s will.  It is love that causes me to cease from sinful worry and unhelpful anxiety.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

Take note exasperated husbands and helicopter moms, herein lies peace.  Therefore, walk together.

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beyou

Moses fled from Egypt out of fear.  He had killed an Egyptian man on behalf of the Hebrews.  When he realized someone had seen the crime, he ran away into the desert to a place called Midian.

In Midian, the Bible says Moses sat down by a well.  Some women came to draw water and were attacked by shepherds.  For the third time, we see Moses act on behalf of the weak to serve justice.  His actions prove a pattern of character.  Moses was a defender of the weak – like unto God.

Despite his sin, the Lord blessed Moses for his courage and gave him a home and family in Midian.  He became  a shepherd.  God provided for Moses and prepared him for his future work of delivering Israel.

Moses was not on a mission to save all God’s people when he struck down the Egyptian.  He was looking to save one.  He wasn’t looking to be the judge of all Israel when he sought to reconcile two Hebrew men.  He was trying to make peace between two Israelites.   Moses did not expect to gain a family by standing up for a few women in distress.  In all of these instances, Moses was just being who he was.  He was doing what God-fearing men do – protecting, defending, and seeking justice for the weak and oppressed.  He sounds a lot like his mom.  God used his courage and hunger for justice and, over the next forty years, grew him into a great deliverer.

What we don’t see is Moses running around vying for a position.  He had one that he, apparently, did not overly value, in Egypt.  We don’t see him seeking favor with men or worrying what would happen if he stood up against evil.  He acted impulsively according to his instincts.  We never see him asking God to make him a leader for Israel.  In fact, when called to leadership he attempts to decline by making excuses.  All Moses’ life is weaved together by nothing less than the providence of God.  From his birth to his need to defend to his desert escape to his new-found foreign family, all the way to his calling, his courage, and his great task of delivering Israel out of Egypt, God sovereignly gave Moses all things according to his own will.

Here is a lesson for us – for we who chase the doing rather than living in the being of our humanity.  We needn’t busy ourselves seeking positions or popularity among God’s people – or any people for that matter.  The way to pleasing God is not found in frantically finding a way to become a front-runner for him.  Instead, we ought concentrate on simply being who we are in him.  We ought to focus on being like him – hungry for justice, quick to defend the weak and oppressed, recklessly abandoning all that is opposed, and trusting fully in his providence.

That is who Moses was.  It wasn’t that Moses just so happened to be in the right place at the right time.  It was that Moses was just the right man for the life God had called him to live out.  The very same thing is true for each of us.  Act Be accordingly.

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Image

Roll with the punches.  As an obsessive runner/ home school facilitator/ family business bookkeeper/ mom of three/ caregiver of one, you’d think I would understand this concept by now.  I’m forever forced to improvise, make due, makeshift, and man up.  But, no.  Boxing has proven otherwise.

I love structure.  I love security.  I want to know the next ten moves, the revised itinerary, the game plans from A-Z, and the three alternate fire escape routes.  I often speculate on whether God placed me in my positions as a lab-rat gone bad experiment or just felt unusually comical the day he planned out my steps.

I cannot go one day without having numerous infringements upon my time, my schedule, my plans, and my chosen path.  But are any of those things even mine to begin with?  Not really.  They (and I) belong to a sovereign God who have given them to me only to manage, not to own.  I am not the deed holder on any of the above.

Many who talk to me about home schooling say they do not “have the patience” to do such things.  My reply is always the same, “Neither do I!”  And neither do I have the patience for bookkeeping or parenting or cooking or cleaning or doing anything contrary to that which my insatiable flesh desires.  I want to live outside and write books and ride my motorcycle, my dirt bike, and swim and shadowbox and run and explore – preferably alone  every single day for goodness sake!  Help me!

Hello, my name is Lori and I am a selfaholic.

When I first starting living into these various I-did-not-sign-up-for-these callings, I was poindexter at the dance; Saint Susie at the saloon; a lineman trying to limbo.  I felt like a rigid, stiff, stick figure without any joints.  I simply could not move.  I was much more married to structure than I am now – more than a decade later.  I guess I am at least starting to roll.

Still, somewhere along the line I always seem to get into trouble in the ring.  The fight is fierce for that which I do not feel like fanning into.  When the punches start to fly at me with full-on fury and faster than a five foot female fighter’s hell-fire, I guard up, but I do not get out.  I duck, but I do not drive on.  Coach says I’m only half-committed to my damage control defense and my fight back formulas.  I get the first move and then I set my opponent up to blast me with my incorrect second, third, and fourth moves.  He says that when I am under attack, I have to fully commit – either to roll out or fire back.  Do both and I’m toast.  A knockout is certain to befall me if I fail to find my focus.  If I’m half committed – either offensively or defensively, I’m in trouble.

So, I either have to beat ’em to the punch or fix my feet to be quite fancy.  If my hit drives me back, it’s the wrong move altogether.  I have to learn to stop the rigidity and roll with the punches.

To learn that physically will doubtless help me improve it practically.  Whatever happens, I must learn to commit fully.  Half commitments, half-hearted hits, and hurried deviations will land me life-down on the canvas and my calling.

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. ~Isaiah 30:21

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