Devotional 78: A Family Comes to Faith

Mark 3:20-21

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers[a] are outside seeking You.”

Acts 1:12-14

The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

What we essentially have in these three passages is a crisis of faith that was resolved after Christ was crucified.

We have scattered disciples, a fearful church, and the emotional letdown of Jesus not delivering the Jews from the Romans, because despite everything else He said and did, they still thought that was included. He told them to have hope, but it wasn’t in that; human nature being what it is, they hoped anyway.

With His absence came uncertainty, for until Peter took charge after being restored, no one was really leading, though they were in corporate prayer.  And now, with all  of those who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, were His family, right alongside, also in prayer.

Things had changed. Dynamics had shifted, and the things Mary once pondered in her heart now became clear. The questions the disciples had been afraid to ask Him about, content to be in His presence and not wanting Him to leave

We have our own crises when we’re disconnected from Jesus, when He’s gone from us because we’ve moved. We too feel uncertain, like a kid told to sit there on the bench at the train station while his dad goes to get them something to eat.

This is the reason the book of Acts reinforces the idea of fellowship with other believers, and in seeing our faith on display, people respond when they see someone who strongly believes in something be consistent with it. Even if they hate it, as the Apostle Paul once did, they pay attention to it. This is true even in the Old Testament, where time and again because they saw faith in action, enemies came against Nehemiah’s leadership.

It’s important to note that while the multitude may have followed Jesus for their own reasons, and dispersed when they’d received what they wanted, there were likely some that came to real faith, since the miracle couldn’t be denied.

And so it was with Mary and Jesus’ brothers. All that He spoke came to pass, and they couldn’t deny His divinity any more.

With that, when Peter took his mantle the persecution began, and from the unity of the gathering in the Upper Room, the church was scattered throughout the world.

Stay encouraged by the words of the writer of Hebrews:  (v.23-25)

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We thank You that we get the chance to assemble freely and praise Your Name.

As the persecution mounts through our government from the top, and the faithless from every side, let us remember that we live in the times You prophesied, and that we must endure to the end.

While we may, let us read and study to show ourselves approved, so that we may recognize the false teaching and compromise that creeps into the pulpits and leads astray as they break Your commandment not to add or subtract from the Word of G-d as they twist it to profit, and to their own glory, serving self and mammon instead of You.

We too, because of our faith in You, are told we are out of our minds; but as we live our lives devoted to You, as beacons on hillsides, as salt, living sacrifices, and  fruitful branches, they too will see us, and come to glorify the Father in Your name, no longer able to deny Your divinity as it works through us to heal a broken, hurting world.

Strengthen our hands as we continue Your work. Help us keep focused on the truth of Your word, awaiting the fulfillment of Your promises in our lives. Keep us in a right spirit and sound mind, helping us to speak with boldness the reasons for our faith, so that when the enemy says to stop  so they can give us their terms, we can say to them like Nehemiah,  (6:3)

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

As Your faith family gathers once more to seek, honor, praise, and thank You for reconciling us to the Father, help us to find the narrow path, finish the work, bear worthy fruit, and go out to minister in Your name with boldness, and in gladness.

Let it be to us as You have said, and done to us according to our faith.

Amen.

Devotional 77: The Forbidden Name

Acts 4:13-17

The Name of Jesus Forbidden

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

Have people been hostile to your witness? It will increase.

Is His name forbidden in your workplace? It will increase.

The demons are busy, and immorality is described as progress. You are bigoted and intolerant if you actually practice the tenets of your faith, and crime is low because nothing’s illegal.

But our Lord tells us we can’t serve two masters; we will love one and hate the other, and that G-d and money can’t be served at the same time.

As the unfaithful and unrepentant gather around us with their own stones, we must take stock and ask what we are willing to lose, for our Lord tells us there is a cost to follow, and that we, being servants, will be subject to like treatment.

Matthew 10: 24-26

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

Let us be reminded that Simeon said in the temple:

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The hearts of men have been hardened toward G-d since the fall, since the Flood, since the Exodus, but one day we will give an accounting of our own hearts.

The world would have us believe the Rolling Stones in the song Sympathy for the Devil:

‘And I was ’round when Jesus Christ/ had his moment of doubt and pain

‘Made damn sure that Pilate/ washed his hands and sealed His fate.’

This is why we need to read our Word. Jesus asked that the cup pass, but He never doubted. Pain, undoubtedly. Doubt? Never. And He said to Pilate,

John 19:11

11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

The Pharisees too thought His fate had been sealed, and thinking they put fear in the hearts of the Apostles, (who’d already had their moment of doubt Mark 14:50) didn’t realize they’d have to continue with an even more rapid spreading of the Gospel than before. But they recognized the source of it: the power in the Name of Jesus, so they forbid it to be spoken.

In today’s world, we have our mockers as well. They would have us keep it to ourselves, and take pride in the things they should be ashamed of, but as Paul says, for it is in Him we live, move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

From within, we have prosperity preachers, and believers who will not study and hand their teaching completely over to their pastors, who are now themselves preaching false doctrines and substituting the Apostle Paul for Jesus, forgetting the Apostle himself admonished against this: 1 Corinthians 4-6

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

Let us remember our enemy is subtle with his power, and that his light still seduces into pride and falsehood, for he became the father of lies in Eden, and has not strayed from his mission.

Let’s not stray from our own, and remember, as this man,  to cry out all the more: mercy for ourselves…(Luke 18)

39 Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And forgiveness for others: (Matthew 18)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

If we are not pure and sure in our own hearts, our witness won’t reach even those who have good soil to receive it.

Therefore I pray:

Rekindle my fire to spread Your word, Lord, with a pure heart, a right spirit, and fill me with the boldness and power of Your Holy Spirit, that I may speak the goodness of Your name in fearlessness and power.

The signs are gathering together, the day is far spent, the hour is late, and the love of many is growing cold, and the elect are being deceived.

I would have that You strengthen me to endure to the end, for I would be saved, and have those you’ve sent to me endure with me, and enter into Your rest. As a temple, a living stone, and Your creation, I would be reconciled to the Father through You, and fear not those who can only kill the body, but rather He who can cast my soul into hell.

Help me, in this new year, to draw closer to You, to abide in You, to believe in You, and know that Your promises are true, and Your prophesies concerning me shall come to pass. Help me to keep in mind that there will be a judgment, where I will give account for the time You allotted me, the talents You’ve given me to use to Your glory, and the provision You’ve sustained me with along the way.

Let Your Name increase, and mine be as nothing, for it is through Your will that I draw my next breath, and by Your grace that all my faculties are yet mine to possess. 

I thank You for life as I know it, health as I have it, and strength as You’ve given me. Let me have a heart of joyful thankfulness, and a fearless spirit to confess You before men, as You confess me, even now, to the Father. 

Thank You, Lord Jesus. 

May it be to me as You have said. 

Amen.

Behold, I Make All Things New

Revelation 21

All Things Made New

21 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

The year departs, and with it, we’ve lost that which we always lose: people who are close to us, time, money, opportunities that came our way that we didn’t see as advantageous at the time.

The danger in losing these things is not to deny their loss, or our failures, but that we lose ourselves, for they’re what comprises our daily life here on earth. But doesn’t our Lord tell us not to have treasures here? 

(Matthew 6:19-21)  Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We are to save souls, and even there we sometimes fail by being afraid or uncertain, and again letting opportunities go, or setting bad examples, or just slipping up.

Guarding our hearts, minds, and tongues in these days is hard. People, like Martha, are concerned and passionate about many things which did, in fact, need to be done. But like Martha, we are reminded through our Lord that He is to take precedence in those things, and that Mary’s abandonment of preparation to sit at His feet was better.

(Luke 10:38-42)  41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Our Lord’s rebuke of prioritizing earthly concerns rings through the ages:

Matthew 12: 39-42

39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

It’s fine to be excited for the New Year,  a chance to start fresh, to do new things, or start over and try again. It’s a clean slate, a sloughing off of habits and people that held us back from doing all that we could, and from being the person He wants us to become.

But 12 months is a long time, and most people, myself included, have difficulty after that initial burst of enthusiasm and adrenaline.

The beautiful thing about having the covenant of our Lord is that through repentance, the kind that produces sorrow, we don’t need to wait for a solstice change or a spin of the earth to get that start. We are ever cleaned, refreshed, renewed, forgiven, and the ink of our names in the Book of Life gets a fresh coat, so to speak.

And through Him, if all things are possible with G-d, as He tells us, we need not turn to the calendar for steadfastness, for His works aren’t incomplete. That which we leave behind, we won’t turn back for. If you’ve been delivered, you’ll stay delivered.

Let us be mindful though, that for now, we are constrained by time and mortality, and our earthly works have an ending date. Don’t be found wanting. Doubt delays blessing, and fear is crippling.

If we are resolved to do anything for the year, if you seek the Lord and make your vow, keep it. We are told it is better not to vow to G-d, than to vow and break it.

(Ecclesiastes 5)

Fear God, Keep Your Vows

Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.

Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool’s voice is known by his many words.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed—
Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.

Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.

Our hearts are to be where our treasure is: with the atoning work of salvation of our souls through  Jesus.

Our priority is to sit still and listen, and know that He brings to us the words of our Father’s heart towards us.

Our vows to Him are to be as steadfast and faithful as His covenant of grace is to us.

Let us rejoice, in this New Year, that we are new creations, and that He will make all things new.

(2 Peter 3:13)  13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Let it be to us as He has said.

Happy New Year

 

A Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

As we began, so we end this Christmas Eve day, with the words of Simeon.

When he was done prophesying, he turned his attention to Mary and spoke those words. There was a great foreshadowing here, and later, throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry, did He not reveal the thoughts and hearts of men?

Did he not admonish those He called to follow?

John 15:17-19 

The World’s Hatred

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Did He not give us the reason?

John 7:7

 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. 

Did He not tell is we would share in His suffering, as well as His glory?

John 15:20

 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

And yet, though it says she pondered these things in her heart, she forgot. On the day they went looking for Him, he was an embarrassment, and they thought He was out of His mind.  This was especially striking, because every day, Mary was in His presence. Every day, was she not reminded of the miracle of His birth? Reminded of the angel’s visit? Reminded of her song? Reminded of the visit to her cousin?

She watched Him grow in favor and wisdom with G-d and man, so why would she think He was out of His mind all those years later, even after the enigmatic words He spoke in the temple as a child?

Mark 3:20-22

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

It is because we also forget, Brothers and Sisters, that the divine love of the Father afforded us the means to reconcile with Him through Jesus, and only through Jesus can we do so, and we do not understand divine love even as we fear divine judgment.

John 14:6   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Only abiding in Him do we have the ability.

John 15:5  “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

His teachings were hard for some to understand and follow. They turned away.

For others, their worldly wealth got in the way of their mission. They chose their wealth.

What is it for us, today? The commercialism, the career, the emphasis on things and saving money, going about our everyday lives, and making of His sacrifice, as the writer of Hebrews says, ‘a common thing.’

Hebrews 10:29

29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

We are repeatedly told we cannot fathom mind of G-d. Why redeem us in this way, when He has the power to cleanse all and start over, as He did with the flood? He didn’t create a new man, he preserved a remnant of a righteous one, and He did it all through the Word, searching for them, and putting His hedge of protection around them even as He delivered them in their fallen states into enemy hands.

We fail to understand our worthiness of grace, and therefore are keenly aware of when we’ve received it for our own sins. That is the piercing of our souls: and with it comes sorrowful repentance, purification, and the chance to return, and like the prodigal go from: “Father, give me–” to “Father, make me…”

We ever reduce the things of Heaven to the things of man. “The Big Man in the Sky.” Really? “The Energy of the Universe.” It just exists with no source?

No, let’s not be sidetracked by the foolishness of celebrating solstices. Let’s not have our own questions cause us to doubt. If we say we believe in the promise of salvation, in our humanity and day to day struggles, there are times we will forget, but it isn’t Jesus out His mind. It’s us out of fellowship, no longer abiding, because the pasture in the valley looks greener, though it’s shrouded in shadows and death and fire.

But when we do, let us be still, and remember that He yet still rejoices over our coming to Him, as He came to us.

Let us remember to take up our crosses, and count the cost.

Let us remember that we share in His suffering, to be mocked and persecuted.

Let us remember we will be tempted, and that there are times we will fail.

But most importantly, this Christmas, let us remember that He loved us first, and came down to be with us, to speak the heart of the Father to us, and His will for us, and left us a reminder in His Word that we can access whenever we want, no veil, no sacrifice, no law.

Let us ponder these things in our hearts, and remember.

Let them pierce our own souls when we forget.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas

He Comes to Us

Luke 1:39-45

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Through the echoes of time, Jesus has said He is with us, always, and that to apart from Him is to founder, fail, and fall away as a believer.

He was sent of the Father, to reconcile man to his Creator, back to purity.

By the laws of the see, if one is to salvage, as in rescue, a ship, one must ask permission to board even though the ship to be salvaged is in peril. During these times, are we giving permission for Jesus to come to us, to rescue us.

By His very presence He brings the power of the Holy Spirit with Him. John recognized this even in the womb, as he rejoiced as much in the confined space of his mother’s belly, and Elizabeth, who was barren, was now filled with the child that took away her reproach, and the Spirit who had her confirm that which the angel told her, which would be sealed to her heart later by the words of Simeon in the temple.

We’ve come to understand that the presence of Christ will come to us, but will not invade us. He comes to us and walks among us, and those who would partake of Him must move toward Him in faith. Blind Bartimeus, the men who lowered their friend through the roof of someone’s house, the bleeding woman, the Gentile who would have her daughter healed, the 10 lepers, and many others all took a step in faith. They shouted for Him, they pushed through crowds, they acknowledged Him as the Messiah and the Son of David, and when He’d forgiven their sins and healed them, instructed them, and blessed them, they testified to the Father’s glory of the work He did in them.

It is years later that John the Baptist will echo his mother’s words to Mary, but under different circumstances:

Matthew 3:13-17

John Baptizes Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He[a] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Are you in the Lord’s presence this Christmas season? Then rejoice, for He has come to You to lead you back to the Father, under the covenant of mercy and grace, and asks you to follow Him, and tell others, and do good to people, and intercede for them, and help them, and pray over them, and bless them whether they deserve it or not.

But remember that You must ask, seek, and knock. You must watch and pray.

You must guard your heart, your eyes, and your tongue.

You must seek. You must answer. You must love. You must testify.

You must acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior.

But most importantly, You must believe in Him, and in His promises, and that He tells us the truth about all things concerning Him doing the Father’s will, and how we are to seek, live, and enter into the kingdom of G-d, where it is as He said, He is always with us.

Brothers and sisters, this Christmas season, He comes to you, and calls for you.

Answer Him while He may yet be found, in this, the year of G-d’s favor, for He desires to be with you.

Revelation 3:20

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas

 

Of Stars and Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise Men from the East

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a]

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Admittedly, and to the peril of our understanding, we’ve narrowed this tale down to three kings because of the three gifts. The truth of the matter is, while it was probably more, the text doesn’t specify, and certainly all of them didn’t fit inside the house.

We also know that it wasn’t the same night the shepherds went evangelizing, otherwise there would be no reason for what follows. Journeys weren’t swift undertakings, but regardless of the logistics, it was certain that the wise men were following a supernatural sign. Granted, it was more subdued than the one given the shepherds, but no less spectacular, for it was visible in the daylight hours as well, and moved more dynamically than any other.

There are some who hold the star was an invention of Satan, since it led these men to Herod to announce the birth, and the resulting slaughter of innocent children, but Matthew ties it back to the prophet Jeremiah.

Truth be told, I don’t know why G-d would cull innocent souls in response to the birth of His Son, who gave His life for the rest of us, but this is where the sovereignty of the Father makes us question, and that’s okay. We can’t know.

We do know that the wise men didn’t return to tell Herod anything. In a dream they were told by the angel not to return, and to a man, they obeyed. None sought to curry favor or riches with the king.

When they got to the house (though all Nativity scenes place them at the manger), they worshiped Him (not Mary), and gave them gifts out of their treasures. While we’re not told if these men were specifically Jewish, they certainly would have heard of the prophet and Magi Daniel, who dwelt in their land, faithful to G-d even in His captivity, and delivered by the hand of G-d Himself.

This Christmas season, romanticized or not, we rejoice with our Persian brothers and sisters of the faith in welcoming  our Lord to the earthly stage. He certainly set it on a different path, and by calling us to Him, set us on one as well.

Let us honor Him with our own gifts, but mostly the gift of time, as we reflect on His mercy and grace, and the peace He imparts to us that passes earthly understanding.

Let us return that which we treasure to Heaven, where thieves can’t break in, and honor Him with the first fruits of our labor and our praise.

He is our divine dream, our Heavenly King, and the Redeemer of our lowly souls, G-d’s gift to us in our poor and wretched stats. Let us worship with exceedingly great joy, as the wise men did, for being extracted out of the world through the truth of His ministry, and remember that He is, indeed, G-d with us.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas.

The Faithful Protector

Matthew 1:18-24

Christ Born of Mary

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

Not much is said of him at all, and if not for Matthew’s gospel, his part in the affairs of his earthly protection of G-d’s heavenly Son wouldn’t be known.

Although he isn’t prevalent throughout the stories, his role in them wasn’t insignificant.

We have no recorded words of his thoughts or emotions as to what was happening, nor of his interaction with Jesus after the fact outside of the temple episode, and even then, it was Mary who spoke to Him.

What we do know of Joseph is this: he kept his business and counsel to himself, even when he believed himself jilted before the angel’s appearance:

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

He was also a man who thought of other people. He would not, as the traditions of the times called for, put Mary through any further embarrassment, even in her perceived unfaithfulness.

He is described as a ‘just’ man, and therefore a man of faith (Habakkuk 2:4 Simeon was also described as a just man* See ‘Israel’s Consolation’) To the cost of his own reputation, he obeyed the word of the Lord’s angel:

    24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,

But again, we’re not told that he said or did anything in reaction. Quiet men are sometimes mistaken for docile, but this is not the case, and certainly wasn’t with Joseph. In addition to believing He wasn’t betrayed, he was then charged with taking G-d’s Son to Egypt, after the visit from the Magi. The gold they provided likely financed the trip.

The fact that he was a carpenter meant he had the physical strength to endure the journey, the census trip being preparation for what was to come.

Another dream, and he obeys:

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

There’s a whole lot that’s not here. Likely he found work, got along well, perhaps increased the size of his family, and provided for them all. He must’ve had friends, and took part in the activities of the times. We are simply not privy, at this time, to all that he said and did and felt, but what we have is that he was able to protect and provide for them, and did it faithfully.

He was not one to linger between hearing the word of the Lord and acting on it. When the time came to leave, he severed those ties and went back to where he was supposed to be.

We can learn a lot about fulfilling G-d’s purposes for our lives in this. Be faithful, and prompt, and obedient.

Sever the ties to all that would hinder you from fulfilling G-d’s purpose in your life.

As He protects and provides for us, let us protect our hearts, and provide our flagging spirits with His presence, knowing that He keeps His promises, and will bring them to fulfillment, as Matthew writes, ‘at the appointed time.’

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas

How Can This Be?

Luke 1: 18-20

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

 

 

The angel Gabriel made two visitations, and got the same response, but issued two very different outcomes.

It actually seems a bit unfair on the face of it: Zacharias is muted, and Mary gets an explanation.

Zacharias, as priest, had been serving for a long time, had no doubt read the Torah through countless times, studied at the feet of rabbis, and was deemed worthy to serve in the temple, and up to this point, had probably never experienced a visitation quite like this.

But he’d read of them, and studied them, and knew of the power of G-d performing miracles where His people were concerned.

He’d read of G-d opening the wombs of the barren, and so, we discover, prayed that his own wife’s reproach be removed.

Yet when the moment came, instead of offering his praise and thanks, he, like Abraham and so many others, doubted. Abraham and Sarah’s time had also passed beyond the realm of physical love.

But if G-d did it to His purposes for Abraham, would He do less for Zachariah and Elizabeth, using them as vessels, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, to fulfill all righteousness? (Matthew 3:13-17)

Gabriel had to remind Zachariah too, despite all he’d learned, studied, and experienced in the natural world, that all things are possible with G-d.

Luke 1: 30-34
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Mary, a young, betrothed, village girl, not widely known beyond her village, expresses wonder at the angel’s news.

Raised in the tradition of a patriarchal society, she is a dutiful daughter, faithful to the Law, and to G-d. But there’s something else there too: a courageous heart.

Gabriel’s announcement takes her from the obscurity of her village to the eternal stage in a matter of moments, and the Lord chooses her because she has the mettle to not back down from the hidden-behind-the-hand whispers of gossip from the village women, the embarrassment to her betrothed and her family.

Nor will she run away from the coming challenges of the arduous journey to be present for the census, then the perilous flight to Egypt.

She ponders the meaning of her role in G-d’s plan, and though she later forgets (Mark 3:21), she is still no less faithful in the moment of her Son’s execution than she was at His birth. She was there for Him in the beginning, and the end, of His earthly ministry, and grieved with a mother’s love.

As she was a virgin, unknown to a man, and untried in the ways of the world, Gabriel did indeed have to explain what G-d was about to do.

And her answer confirms the Father’s choice as the correct one:

(38) Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.     

No matter our age or station, there are times the Lord demands things of us where we don’t see how they’re going to happen, or even why.

There are times we pray, and are surprised when they’re answered.

There are times we’re blessed, when we haven’t asked for anything.

This holiday season, let’s remember with gratitude all the Father has done for us through the Son and the Spirit. We need not get caught up in solstices, pagan rituals, or the accuracy of the calendar, or even whether or not He’s commanded us to celebrate.

(He didn’t command us not to 😉 )

All of that is pretty rubble and utter nonsense in the light of the coming glory that awaits His faithful.

Winter is cold, beautiful, and a season of death, but it is also a herald to a season of renewed life. If the natural world reflects the kingdom, and if the words of Christ are indeed true, we too shall experience a season of renewed life.

We shall be spotless and blameless before the Almighty, the blood of His Son covering the blight of our flesh, and shining forth the purity of Jesus’ righteous spirit.

Our illnesses will be made well, our bodies transformed as His when He ascended.

The Spirit of Christmas will indeed be manifest, without all the trappings and frenzy of things that are not of G-d. Our family gathering will be never-ending. The feasting will be holy, and the fellowship happy.

And while we yet dwell, awaiting His return, let us continue to spread the Gospel to those we have in this moment, and be at peace with ourselves and each other in the doing.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

Then the Shepherds Returned…

*All posts in December will relate to the Christmas Scriptures*

Luke 2:15-20

1So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely[a] known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

There was a time when shepherds heard the voice of G-d through His Word and the promptings, teachings, and revelations through the power of His Spirit.

These men were the first fruits of the Messiah’s evangelistic mission, obedient, faithful and true to the announcing of the manifestation of the Gospel. Cut to modern times, and our allegorical shepherds are fulfilling Christ’s prophecy from Matthew 24:12.

 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

We have pastors among us today who aren’t shepherds, who lead their flocks down worldly roads, not paths to salvation.

Sin is not mentioned, so repentance isn’t necessary. G-d through Christ will not judge, for He is all-forgiving, and loves everyone. There is no hell, there will be no judgment.

From some pulpits, the words of the Apostle Paul are preached in lieu of Christ. The irony is he would be the first to rebuke anyone doing so.

Prosperity preaching only profits those who espouse it.

Alternative gospels make no demands for change or repentance.

Atheists spend enormous sums of time and energy declaring that which they don’t believe in doesn’t exist.  Having spoken with a number of them, I came to realize some were at one point believers who’d been betrayed or otherwise attacked in ways that shook their faith and led them into doubt, if not outright rejection.

Yet these shepherds of Christ, the first of the heralds, messengers, evangelists, and missionaries, Verse 20 says, returned glorifying and praising G-d for all they had seen and heard, as it was told to them.

Shepherds were of low birth, outcasts to society, of no status, so Father sent the most humbly positioned with the first earthly tidings in the most spectacular fashion. It ignited in them a desire to go and bear witness, then to praise and glorify G-d.

So what is the purpose of a pastor: to bear witness to that which they’ve seen and heard from the Lord, and to praise and glorify His Name to the flock. The Father tells is His Word is higher than His Name, and will not pass away. James tells us His works were known to Him from before the foundation of the world.

Humility is beat achieved through voluntary means, for G-d lays low the proud. Take heed, shepherds, kings, and priests, lest He send His prophets to say:

       ‘Because you have done this…’

It is to us, as believers, to also be shepherds to the lost among us.

We fail at this daily at some point, with as little as a random bad thought toward someone or a whispered profanity at a relatively minor annoyance. Driving a car in and of itself these days opens several possibilities to be a different kind of shepherd, for they were also rough men with rough tongues and manners of speech.

But their hearts were fertile enough to be tender toward the news of the Messiah’s birth, and because of this they were welcomed into places they could not otherwise visit.

So too are we, not even of the Chosen, but grafted onto the Branch of the Tree of Life through His covenant of mercy and grace toward us. He opens the gates of Heaven, as He looks at our forlorn figures, our careworn faces, full of expectant hope, and says to us:

‘I tell you the Truth: the one who believes has eternal life.’ (John 6:47)

And again:

John 10:14-16

14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Make sure we hear the voice of our Lord as we go out into the world we’ve been separated from spiritually. Let us be certain of our connection to Him as we go out and come in, and let there be times of refreshing.

We follow You, Lord Jesus, our Shepherd, down the narrow path. We are surrounded by the outer darkness on this side of the narrow gate, and look inside at a glorious vista to see Your two incarnations, the lion and lamb, laying side by side, as our Good Shepherd becomes our Eternal King.

Behold Your servants, Lord, and may it be to us as You have said. Amen.

Merry Christmas.

 

Israel’s Consolation

**For the month of December, all posts will be related to the Christmas holiday.**

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, 

that mourns in lonely exile here,

until the Son of G-d appears.

Luke 2:25-26
Simeon Sees God’s Salvation
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was no prophet, or seer. He worked no miracles, saw no angels. He was not in the fields when the angel appeared to the shepherds.

He was simply this: just, and devout.

We meet him here, at the end of his life, holding Jesus in his arms and blessing G-d.

G-d honored the devout heart of his servant, and likely beyond his expectations, for in the Spirit he was told he would see the Messiah, not hold Him. G-d keeps His promises to His people.

Israel was in need of consolation, but clearly the Lord shared with His servant that the net of grace would be expanded to those though beyond hope of redemption, despised as pagans, and shunned and barred from society as sinners.

Simeon was also in need of consolation, having seen the persecution of his people under Roman rule. The Holy Spirit revealed to he would not die until he saw G-d’s promise fulfilled not just to him, but to all the people, including the reprehensible Gentiles.

As Simeon was facing his own end, the Father gave him a vision of the divine plan for salvation, and he knew that the body he held would later save the lost and shake the empire with His ministry, a body one day broken and bloody, a body that took our place.

Is your heart in need of consolation? Mine is. My elders are all gone, with the exception of one aunt, and family gatherings with future generations has proven unreliable in planning and levels of commitment, so they’re largely a thing of the past. I’ve had to make my peace with that, and I thank G-d for the memories I do possess.

Life these days is fragmented, compartmentalized, fast-paced, uncertain, and scary.

Our representatives, as well as those who hold them to account, seem devoid of integrity and morality.

As believers, we are buffeted on every side by dismissive mockery and the unsubtle gutting of what used to be a sacred time.

The giving of gifts with thought and love behind them has become a feeding frenzy in an effort to save what amounts to pennies, and civility and common sense fade with the fall leaves.

We trot out the poor and homeless like a forgotten box of decorations and put them back on January 2nd.

The stores have trained us to value things so much,  we are willing to scratch and claw our fellow humans to get to them because they keep convincing us we never have enough, and tell us that we don’t have the power to disconnect.

Neither is true, and the power of the decision lays with you; we can be frugal, and good stewards of our finances, but we need not be mindless and heedless of our humanity about it.

This Christmas, be at peace with yourselves, and with one another.

Therefore I pray:

Let us be consoled that we’re on the narrow path, consoled in His word, consoled in His mercy and grace, consoled that the light to the Gentiles is bright and high and clear. Let us be consoled, by faith the Lord of All lifts us up to be with Him.

Let us be consoled we are no longer under the Father’s wrath, consoled that the carpenter who lay in the wood of the manger was willing to lift the wood of His cross, for our sake, and in our place.

Let’s be consoled in our devout and fallen hearts that He honors His promises to His servants, and elevates them to sons and daughters.

Let it be to us as You have said.

Merry Christmas