Devotional 88: I Am Not of This World

John 8:21-30

Jesus Predicts His Departure

21 Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.”

22 So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?”

23 And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

25 Then they said to Him, “Who are You?”

And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. 26 I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”

27 They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.

28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” 30 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stated that we are not physical beings having a human experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

Placed in physical bodies, in a world where all was provided, because of disobedience we earn our bread, as it were, by the sweat of our brows. We have to deal with other fallen people in our homes, workplaces, even our churches.

We live in a sensory world, prone to its dangers and imbalances, its physical impositions, and the ability of nature to disabuse us at any time of the notion that we can control it.

And then Jesus calls us to a higher standard of living, to take the long view that this practical, dirty, bloody, sinful, yet beautiful earth, is but a temporary home, and that where He goes is a better place. He also tells us that through repentance, faith, and grace, we will be with Him there forever.

“But Lord…”  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” “Let me go back to bury…”

“Can a man be born again…?” “By whose authority…?” “He turned away with great sorrow…” “At that time, many left Him….”

Yet He calls down through the ages: “I tell you the truth…” “Do not be afraid…” “If it were not so, I would have told you.” “You believe in G-d. Believe also in Me.” “Your faith has made you well.” “I have chosen You.” “I have called you out of the world.” “The Son of Man will return in all His glory.” “I have prepared a place for you.” “Confess Me before men.”

What the faithless don’t understand is that with Christ’s words, “It is finished,” the Father did all He was going to do to reconcile us to Him. Jesus was obedient to the work assigned Him at great cost, even though He knew it was temporary. G-d could not look on sin, and as Jesus died on the cross, our sins, all of them, were given to Him. That’s why the sky darkened, and Jesus cried out in His sense of abandonment, for He was blotted out from the Father’s sight.

Today, our sins are forgiven but we are still called to confess, and repent. He will bring it to light regardless, under His righteous judgment. There is no such thing as a ‘secret society’ to a G-d who is all-seeing, and all-knowing. There will be no hiding places, and our shame will be unfurled like a scroll before us, as we face Him alone in the moment that determines our eternity. (Luke 12:5)

 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

But Solomon tells us this, and it is true: (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

We hear them ask the same question today that they asked of Moses, of David, of the Prophets, and even as they mocked Jesus on the cross:  Where is your G-d?

Let us be steadfast in that the next time G-d manifests Himself, it will be the day of His vengeance, for the year of His favor has an end.

The prophet Amos warns us: (Amos 5)

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
For what good is the day of the Lord to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion,
And a bear met him!
Or as though he went into the house,
Leaned his hand on the wall,
And a serpent bit him!
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light?
Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?

And even though it was proclaimed to Israel, we are told by Peter: (1 Peter 4:17-19) 

17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now

“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Our Creator is faithful, and sent us a Savior to reveal His will to us, to forgive and establish us, and receive our praise as He grants us eternal life in His presence. In a sensory world, it sounds unbelievable, but faith was the trigger of Christ’s miracles, and as He speaks to us, unwavering in His message, you see that at the end of the Scripture, as He rebuked the Pharisees for their persistent doubt and hostility, ‘As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.’

Do we believe? Do we, really? Do we, even now?

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

I thank You for calling me out of the world, for revealing the truth of Heavenly things, for bringing me to the Father, for choosing me for the kingdom, for not casting me away in the sinfulness of my youth.

I thank You for the glories of age, and wisdom, and for delivering me out of all my troubles. I thank You for the covenant of grace that grafts me in with Your people Israel, and for putting my name in the Book of Life.

As the centurion asked, and left it up to You how his servant would be delivered, so help me to leave what I ask of You in Your hands, believing I’ve already received, according to the Father’s will.

I backslide, I forget, I doubt, and I rebel, and yet You bless me and come to me.

Help me in all things, and at all times, to remember I’ve been brought with a price, my body is the temple of Your Spirit, and that I owe a debt I can never repay.

It’s hard to think of Heaven in the wind and rain, in the disasters, the tragedies, and the sinful, selfish wallowing of indulgence in this world by those who think themselves powerful and immortal. 

It’s difficult to resist when temptations come in pleasing packages that overwhelm the senses, and the snake sneaks into our gardens asking, “Did G-d really say…?”

I don’t want to pray for my enemies, for the blasphemers, mockers, faithless, and bigoted, but then I hear the Apostle say to me: “And such were some of you.” And I remember I was once a skeptic, holding on to a mustard seed of faith, and You watered it by the power of Your Spirit.

And yet I am still as capable of the worst sin, of the worst man, in the worst jail, but for You. And I know too, that if even he reaches out to You, he will be with You in paradise.

It is a humbling thing to be chosen and favored by a King, and a frightening thing to fall into the hands of an angry G-d. 

I will rejoice in the year of the Lord’s favor, that I may be delivered from the day of His vengeance, for You tell me none can snatch me from Your hand. I return today to the fold of the Good Shepherd, who anoints me in his atoning blood with new mercies every morning, and who will raise me up on the last day through faith in Him, redeeming my life from damnation and the grave.

Let it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 85: Repentance and Remission

Luke 24:44-49

The Scriptures Opened

44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise[a] from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

We’ve met the unbeliever who tells us of the contradictions between the Old and New Testaments, but since they don’t have the Holy Spirit, to reveal the truth of the Word, they read it with no understanding and no guide; they are indeed reading a language that’s foreign to them, so they point to the Councils, to Rome, to the frailty of error-prone, sinful men, to colonizing races who created the Bible for purposes of control, and overall  dismiss it as another variation on international myths.

But under the Spirit’s guidance and prompting in writing this blog, I tend to connect verses that line up. It is not a matter of picking and choosing that which agrees with my subject, it is because the Word of the Father is consistent, and reinforces itself.

While we may not understand it all in some matters of G-d’s sovereignty (and yes, we are free to ask about it), if we need any more proof to know that agreement in what’s written across the years is Spirit led, He confirms it with His own words: The Law, Prophets, and Psalms all speak of His work here on earth.

It is now our work, and the churches of America have found themselves adrift because so many are not preaching the repentance and remission of sins, they’re making G-d into some kind of magic genie.

The Prayer of Jabez, written years ago, was being used like an enchanted talisman as the prosperity gospel gained a following; people increased their offerings so their material and financial blessings would increase as well.

G-d knows our hearts, and as He sees in the night the same as the noonday (Psalm 139:12) that is the reason our sins will find us out. There’s no such thing as a secret organization, and there will be no such thing as a hidden sin. We confess and repent (sin no more), and then forgiveness.

It is of those who don’t confess and repent that Jesus speaks of when He says,

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

While we have been chosen and called out of world, and while we are called to minister the Gospel,we are yet capable of sinning.

Remission is a return to an unaffected state, where we are free of the influences of sin.

Jesus tells us to take up our cross, and Paul tells us to crucify the flesh. This is so we remain in a state of spiritual purity in spite of being bound by earthly things. The covenant of grace is for the remission as we repent, but we are cautioned (Matthew 6:22-23)

22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

We cannot claim we follow Christ living worldly existences, but if all fall short, then all will attempt it, and all will fail. It’s just a matter of time and degree. We are blessed indeed to have a cloud of witnesses that encourage us to continue fighting  (Hebrews 12:1) and an Intercessor constantly before the Father on our behalf  (Luke 23:34)

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

If  our faith is as filthy rags before You on our best days, our effort to repent is likely worse. Crucifixion was a harsh, painful, bloody process, and with the exception of the Resurrection, a permanent condition.

It is not so with us, Lord. Our sins are constantly taken down and reused, even enjoyed, though the times in between may grow longer. Blessed are those whose hearts have been truly changed, and who follow the command to sin no more.

I have not guarded my heart, stilled my tongue, or made a covenant with my eyes. I ask for Your help to do these things,  but when I feel the tug of Your staff, or hear the still, small voice of the Spirit checking me, I pull away. I am a rebellious, tempestuous sheep who will not stay inside the fence of Your protection.

My purity is hopelessly soiled until I get on my knees and submit to Your cleansing hand, washing me in the holy blood of Your sacrifice until I once again am guiltless before the Almighty.

I thank You for new mercies, for endless grace, for long-suffering love, and for coming after me in spite of my sinful nature.

Today, O Lord, I ask that You receive me: I confess my sins to You, and I repent of all that I’ve done to grieve you in the year of G-d’s favor. I am sorry that I’ve broken fellowship. I’m sorry for the days when the Father is as abstract to me as the math of astronomers. It is knowledge too wonderful that I can’t attain, and therefore spurn.

I’m sorry when I’m as faithless as those to whom I’m supposed to minister, and they see no difference, for then I am denying You before men, and practicing lawlessness.

I beseech You, once again, that I not go on sinning so grace may abound, but I know that even today, if I fall, You will receive me again if I return.

Strengthen me, Lord, and restore me so that when I return, I may strengthen my brothers and sisters.

I ask it by the power in Your Name.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 82: A Chosen Vessel

 

Acts 9:11-15

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

The art of selection, depending on what you’re looking for, and why, is largely a matter of outward appearance: quality, sturdiness, appearance (decor, if you prefer),  your perception of whether or not the item you’ve chosen meets the criteria to do the job you require.

The Father doesn’t work with appearances that way, and he surely didn’t work that way in the life of the most ardent, unlikely disciple: Saul of Tarsus, arguably the most legalistic and zealous Pharisee of his day, to the point where he had a fearsome reputation among those who followed Christ as a cruel man who embarrassed believers by leading them off in chains.

If nothing else, the Word is full of the unlikely, the lowly, and the outcast standing before the mighty, the powerful, the rulers, and proclaiming the even more fearsome Word of the Lord.  It was to their own peril, and the peril of those around them, if they focused on the outward appearance of the man instead of the selection of the G-d who sees, and tests, our hearts.

This goes back as far as Joseph, the runt of the litter, but the favored of his father.

This goes back as far as Samuel, who immediately went for the tallest and strongest among those who would be king over Israel, until the Lord checked him, and led him to inquire about David, the shepherd, regarded as the least likely of Jesse’s sons to do anything great, much less rule.

It goes all the way through to Amos, a tree gardener, with no credentials in the clergy at all, a man on the periphery of an already obscure service.

It’s in the humble birth of Jesus, born to poor parents in a humble setting, for an event as simple as gathering for a census count.

It happens again when the thief on the cross, after a life given over to sin, receives salvation in the last hours of his life, through a simple statement of faith.

But not so for Paul; his educational credentials were unimpeachable, and he admonished men to show themselves approved of their callings (2nd Timothy 2:15)

The spectrum continues on in us, called of Christ, confirmed by the Spirit, chosen by the Father to do the mission work of the Kingdom in pointing lost souls to the Way.

We fail along the Way ourselves, but we are chosen vessels all the same. The Lord repairs us with times of refreshing, and only bids that we open our mouths, and through faith let Him speak to the needs of those who are standing before us, before Him, in the hope that they have ears to hear.

We are sowers, church builders, teachers, living sacrifices, living stones, priests, kings, gods (John 10:34) prophets, healers, and artists and craftsman of every stripe.

And so it was with Paul: the same zeal he had to persecute the Church was the very same zeal he used to defend it, to the point where it says he ‘confounded’ the Jews by proving Christ was written of in what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus told them: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)

Out the billions born since then, we too are chosen vessels, made to His purposes, filled with His will, for the Gospel of Christ and the salvation of all nations, and to the Father’s glory.  Such zeal as we have, and such persecutions as we suffer for our faith, let us not waver, even unto death.

He chose us before the foundation of the world, and ordained us to his purpose, giving us the gifts to fulfill them, shaping us that we may withstand the tests and trials to come, and tells us: “Be of good cheer,” and “Do not be afraid.”

He knows, and He will bring the work to completion.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You say no ones come to You unless the Father draws them, and the Spirit will come to reveal the Truth of the Word to those whom the Father chooses. 

You tell us no one can snatch us from Your hand, but You never said we could not wriggle out.  I fear sometimes that I may fall of my dark volition, my unrepentant desire to walk in two worlds, when You tell me I too, at the peril of my eternal soul, must choose You over all. (Luke 9:24-25)

Yet Your disciple, Paul, tells us that Your message is foolishness to those who are perishing. (1 Corinthians, 1:18)  You tell us that persecution and the delivering up to faithless authorities is our earthly reward, but that to lose our lives is to gain the kingdom. 

Paul tell us also, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

We ask, in these times, that You gird us, and help our unbelief. Give us new hearts, and a spirit of boldness. Give us a mustard seed of faith to speak to our mountains, and let us abide in You, that our fruit may be good as well as abundant. 

Let us rejoice in the trials that beset us, and keep our eyes focused on You, with the Word of G-d as a lamp, held higher than His Name to light our paths that lead to the Narrow Road, through the torn veil, to Your throne at G-d’s right hand, and to the Kingdom of Heaven in His presence forever.

Let the dark glass of the world be cleansed, that we may finally see, and understand, as You wipe the tears from our eyes, and bid us enter into Your rest, having fulfilled our purposes as Your vessels.

We would hear, “Well done.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Devotional 81: Do Not Forbid Him

 

Mark 9:38-41

Jesus Forbids Sectarianism

38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

And yet, do we not have sectarianism among us?

We are unified in Christ, and through our faith in the cross and resurrection, so whether we see the differences in what we believe to be true about that as vast or negligible, it is because of our hard hearts and tender spirits, for as the writer of Hebrews tells us, He did it once, for all.

We are indeed fortunate to have a Savior who understands that we are but human, and incapable, without Him, of setting aside these things. We fight with over the irrelevant with other believers, pitting leaders’ ambitions against each other.

There are even choir competitions: singing the praises of G-d has for prize money. There is a time for splendor, and playing skillfully, and singing well, but what should be a celebration to the glory of G-d has become a contest for who has the better robes, choir director, and worship band.

The late Pastor Adrian Rogers once said that if Satan can’t get us to do evil in the flesh, he can make us do good in it: our works, therefore, are for self-aggrandizement, even if  only we know about it.

It is not doing for the least out of love for our brother, but doing for the least so that our ‘bases are covered.’ I feel that way about the special reminders to give to the poor and feed the homeless during the holidays, as if they were a box of neglected decorations that we get to put back after New Year’s Day. They are like the people who attend church on Christmas and Easter, ‘just in case.’

As Chris Rock said: “I’m sure (the homeless) are just as hungry on President’s Day.”

In America, our churches are mostly segregated, and there’s strife even about man-made doctrine and church policies, music styles, preaching styles, and all the other things that become relevant when the focus is taken off Christ.

We all would do well, especially among the leadership, to bring to mind the words of the Apostle Paul: (1 Corinthians 2: 1-5)

Christ Crucified

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

And if we have studied at all, we know there was no more worldly place than Corinth.

This is not to say that pastors, leaders, and believers should not become involved in each other’s lives, form friendships, and such; even Jesus had an inner circle.  But as we minister we are to continually remind ourselves and each other of this: the focus is Christ, the mission is the Gospel, and all that we do is to be done in love, and to the glory of G-d.

Matthew 15:29-31

Jesus Heals Great Multitudes

29 Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. 31 So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus did the healing, but the glory went to G-d.

Yet our Lord tells us that no one who works a miracle in His name can speak ill of Him, and it need not even be a miracle, but a cup of water.

All that we do in love need not be grand, or spectacular, or on display.

Let your act of kindness, no matter how small, be to His glory, and if your neighbor does a different one, our Lord commands that you not rebuke them because they don’t believe the same as you.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

We give thanks today that the Father is long-suffering, and merciful.

We thank You for being our Shepherd, for the flock is amazingly vast, and incredibly impulsive.

Like the disciples, we don’t always understand, and we don’t always believe; there were those who doubted they saw You after the resurrection.

But our hearts are for the kingdom, and You tell us You are here to help us, and have sent the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the truth in all You told your disciples, and G-d has preserved His word for those He called to You through that power.

We pray today for the lost in the churches who’ve placed the doctrine of men over the Word of the Lord, and in their error and pride, give status and prestige to pastors and leaders and entertainers; we ask that the Spirit convict us if we are of such, for the Father doesn’t share His glory, and is the only one worthy of our praise. As You tell us of those who do their deeds for the praises of men, they have their reward.

Let us abide in You, that we may be reminded to go about doing good, and preaching the Gospel, and ministering to the least with as little as a cup of water. Let us study to show ourselves approved, and know when we are being led astray.

Let our faith be child-like, our zeal like Paul’s, and our focus on the kingdom and the Father like Yours, unwavering in the face of all the worldly opposition, and even the temptations of Satan.

Help us to keep in mind, above all, that You’ve said this about sectarianism:  

“Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

May it be to us as You have said. 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devotional 80: They All Said Likewise

Mark 14:27-31

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.’

28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.

30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And they all said likewise.

It is in the struggle of the day to day that as we strive to be more like Christ, we reveal ourselves to be more like Peter when Jesus was captured. We are sincere in our hearts and minds, but what doesn’t bear us out are the actions.

The Parable of the Sower is quoted so often because it is so true, and speaks to not only the heart, but our spirit nature as well. Because it dwells within a mortal frame, and the mortal frame seeks its own comfort, we find that we, like the Apostle Paul, do that which we don’t want to do.

There are books aplenty on how to focus during prayer, how to pray more powerfully, more earnestly. There are books on fasting, and connecting with our spirit. There are books and cds and podcasts all dealing with the issue of being more devout because as we go about our earthly existence, we are not, in most cases, working out our salvation and heeding the Holy Spirit’s call to our own spirit.

It’s about achieving levels of consistency that keep us in Jesus’ presence, and yet, we have this story: a simple fisherman, selected by Christ Himself, as passionate and mercurial a man as could be found, a man whose fate was so fearful to Satan that he asked Jesus to sift Him, made a vow he believed to be true, and wasn’t worth the air it took to breathe it.

Luke 22:  31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter then proceeds to fall asleep in Gethsemane’s courtyard, and in waking, cuts off a soldier’s ear. And we all know as the night proceeds, Jesus’ prophecy comes true, causing Peter to weep.

And as Jesus is arrested, we are told these devout disciples, whose passionate claims of loyalty were still in their hearts, broke apart like hammered stones.

Mark 14:50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Jesus knew, for we are told He knows what’s in the hearts of men; He tells us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But He also knows that if we stray, if we have a mustard seed of faith, that we will return. And when we do, we must strengthen our brethren.

Are we hiding in the crowd today? Are the soldiers watching, waiting for those who’d point the way to you and say, “There they are.”?  Are we vehemently denying to the prince of this world’s servants, with a curse, that we don’t know the Man?

Are our hearts bitterly weeping when we come back to ourselves when we’re alone?

No, believer, not for us the Field of Blood, but Calvary, always. Jesus has prayed for us, and tells us that all who the Father gives Him will not be taken away. He tells us He does not in any way cast out those who seek Him. The Father tells us that if we return to Him, He will return to us, in His longsuffering and desire to forgive and restore us.

There is yet time, and there is yet grace.

Jesus will get us alone and ask: “Do you love me more than these?”

He asked Peter three times, to remove each denial, until Peter was cut to the heart and grieved that the Lord would question him, though I believe in his spirit he knew what was taking place.

It is a wonderful thing to see that after the Ascension, we read these words:

Acts 2:14

Peter’s Sermon

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

Be encouraged then, brothers and sisters, in the covenant of His mercy and grace; He’s prayed for us, and waits for our return. He restores us in body and soul, and we are once again in the fold of our Good Shepherd.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

You tell us that if we deny You before men, You deny us to the Father.

Yet we know that You sighed in Your spirit, You marveled at the centurion’s faith, You wept for Lazarus, You drove out the money lenders, and rebuked the very ones You called for their hardness of heart when they were told You had risen.

You asked for another way to avoid the pain of the Cross, seeing the agony ahead, and as the Apostle Paul tells us, despising the shame. 

What we do not read is that You were afraid, and did not deny the Father, though Satan himself tempted You in a moment where the angels had to minister to You.

Let us remember that when our faith appears dead, and our hearts fearful, and our spirits silent, You speak to us as to the man whose daughter died, and they told him not to trouble You.:

Mark 5:36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Today, we gather together to sing Your praises, to thank You for your sacrifice in reconciling us, in calling us, revealing the will of the Father for us through the power of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin.

Today, we return to You, and ask that you strengthen us for the days ahead.

Gird us up as we stand with other believers, and amid the enemy’s servants, to say in word and deed: “Heed my words.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 79: Not His Doctrine

John 7:14-18

14 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”

16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.

In all things, and throughout the four Gospels, Jesus never wavers in His proclamations of where He came from, and to whom he belongs.

In our desire to understand the Heavenly in earthly terms, let’s recall the words He said to Nicodemus:

John 3:10-13

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Admittedly, it was hard to understand then, and nothing has changed. But we can rest in this, that Jesus over and over again tells us He speaks the will of the Father for us, and indeed, came down to not only tell us, but to do the work that seals the covenant.

Nicodemus had the credentials, the inherent intelligence, and the pious zeal to become a Pharisee. They were at the top of the religious food chain, giving themselves over to studying that which bolstered their faith.

Then Jesus came to tell them that Moses had written of Him (John 5:46), and David also, (Matthew 22:41-45) and that children of Israel could be raised from stones (Matthew 3:9).

Somewhere along the line, as people began to defer to them as the leaders and teachers of Israel, they began to love the trappings of power and the accumulation of exponential wealth, which they gladly shared in showy displays, while their greed allowed them to pillage the poor at will.

Jesus told them it was the temple that sanctified the gold, and the altar that sanctified the gift (Matthew 22:16-20)

He told them that sinners, through faith, were getting into the kingdom ahead of them (Matthew 21:31)

We also fall for the trappings, some more than others: Megachurches with climate control, coffee bars, ‘dynamic’ preachers, worship bands, worship styles, ‘sensitive’ sermons, being in the pastor’s inner circle, the influence of the ‘heavy wallets’ in setting policy, and the decreasing mention of sin and repentance, and religious leaders are led by their politics instead of their relationship to G-d.

Yet Jesus tells Philip, who walked with Him and witnessed the miracles and the crowds,

John 14:9

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Everything our Lord said and did pointed everyone He ministered to back to G-d. (Luke 18:43) and we too, are called to do the same.(Matthew 5:16)  Can we say the same to that which we have been called, in our imperfection? Will we make the attempt? If not now, when?

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

Thank You for reminding us to see in the Father in You, as we strive to see the Christ in each other.

You are the Good Shepherd of all nations, not just the ones that look like us. We get so caught up in the smallness of a big world, that we don’t take time to understand what You truly represent, and what You’ve truly done for us. 

Help us to not follow You because we ate of the loaves, and were filled, but to seek You as the Bread of Life. In the Middle Ages, it was the lords who were responsible to see to it that everyone had bread, though some were as corrupt and lured away from their duties as they Pharisees. But You are the Lord of lords; You see to it that all are filled, and as the King of kings, You see to it that all who come to You know that it is of the Father’s will, and it is His good pleasure to lead us to the Truth through the power of His spirit, and a faith in Your atoning work on Calvary.

As a new spring approaches, and new life begins to bloom and grow anew, refresh our spirits also, Lord, as we rededicate ourselves to take care of not only our spirits, but our bodies which belong to You as well. 

Let us seek more fellowship with You, and learn that the Father’s doctrine You tell us will not only come to pass, but is true, yes, and amen as His will for us all.

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

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.

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

 

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.

 

 

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