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

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.

 

Devotional 75: Friend, Go Up Higher

Luke 14:7-11 

Take the Lowly Place

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

For a number of years, I played bass for worship bands. One of the most constant admonishments I heard was, ‘Turn it up.’ The reason I started out low was because the bass, although supportive in nature, can be extremely annoying at loud volumes. It is sparingly played, but can pretty much drown out everything else and cut through if it’s loud enough.

I could then find a comfortable volume that wasn’t overwhelming for the room. We respected the house we were playing in, if we were guests in another church. I was once told, “You’re the first bass player we’ve had to tell to turn up!”

But then too, I started playing bass in my 30’s, so the urge to ‘rock out’ was behind me. I was more mature, and more or less learning the instrument on the fly. And also, the reasons I started playing was to give a gift I’d neglected back to the Lord for saving me under the covenant of grace. We occupy a unique place as players. A bassist, for me, is the bridge between the rhythm and melody: we have to lock in step with our drummers, and keep up with the melodic instruments and singers, basically outlining what’s being played. It’s more challenging than it sounds, but it’s rewarding when done well. It’s a matter of yielding to the Spirit as well, because when His presence hits, there are deep places you go that weren’t planned.

I was honored that my worship leaders considered me good enough to use me, and doubly honored to play before my Father. It was humbling to be used as a vessel to lead people into worship. I didn’t take it lightly, or for granted.

So it is with G-d, and through our Lord He continued to send a message to those who were proud of heart and prideful of place.

“Humble yourself.”

We are, it seems, living in times of prideful overabundance. Everyone is marching for themselves, and protesting the pride of others. Don’t get me wrong, there are times to speak out against things we know are wrong that some justify (and sometimes through the Bible), but among all the marching, the air reeks of pride, self-righteousness, anger, arrogance, and hate.

It’s a powerful thing to be a champion, and a heady feeling to ‘strike a blow’ for something you care deeply about. But that’s where the thistles grow, and if we’re not careful, we forget to listen the way our Lord listened, and He listened to everyone who entreated Him.

He had compassion on us, even when He was tired, or needed to be alone.

The disciples He called couldn’t understand Him, or were afraid to ask Him things, or related heavenly matters to earthly things,”It’s because we don’t have any bread,” and “Who among us will be the greatest,” and “Should we call down fire from Heaven?”

We are admonished in Proverbs not to praise ourselves. (Proverbs 27:2)

Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.

We are told by Jesus not to put on a show. (Matthew 6:2)

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Indeed, we’re commanded to love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:34-40)

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

And beyond that, to pray for our enemies and those who take advantage of us. (Luke 6:28)

28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

How then, are we here, when even standing for right causes we get a sense of pride in ourselves at being selfless.

We have all kinds of pride parades now, and the slow descent into lawlessness under the guise of ‘rights’ is a clever, deadly trick of the enemy.

We celebrate the evil dead under the guise of ‘fun’ at Halloween.

We celebrate solstices under the guise of ‘freedom from religion.’

We celebrate gluttony on Thanksgiving, then, after we allegedly give thanks for what we have, go right into greedy consumerism at Christmas.

As believers, we are voices in a new wilderness. We should cry out all the more, from the lowly places. Let us also not be afraid, for G-d will exalt us, and lead us to those who have ears to hear.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

By the very act of coming to us, to tell us we are worthy of saving grace, you’ve humbled yourself more than anyone. A servant-king is an oxymoron to us. We have mistaken having dominion for ruling without stewardship of our world, ourselves, and each other.

The one to whom Adam handed dominion now blinds us with his own sins of pride, self-exaltation, and open rebellion against You.

Let us, in these haughty times, remember that the Father resists the proud, and brings them low.

We would be lifted up by You, Lord, longing to enter into Your rest, willing to take the lowly place to do the Father’s will. It’s a hard thing to do in an age of opulence, for we give no thought to the source of our comforts these days. 

Even the day that we celebrate Your arrival has become a mockery, but you were never about pageantry Lord, born in a manger, riding colts through the gates to topple an empire on its spiritual ear.

Help us to remember it is the Father who raises up and sets down. 

It is only through Your testimony of us before the throne that He does so, so we will continue to speak the goodness of Your name from the alleys and rooftops of our lives. We would call attention to ourselves shining Your light from a hilltop, turning neither left nor right.

Our reward is with You, our home is with You, and all that we have was made possible through You, who saw Satan fall like lightning for seeking equality with G-d. 

Let us remember Your words, that apart from You we can do nothing, but all things are possible with G-d. 

We humbly thank You for choosing to reveal Him to us, for reconciling us to Him, for our names in the Book of Life. While no one can take us from Your hand, let not our pride make us wriggle out of it, and walk our own path back to the darkness, in our own strength. Let us be ever reminded: there will be no refuge for the proud in the day of His vengeance.

I ask in Your Name, believing I’ve received.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 73: The Wisdom of G-d

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”[a]

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The modern world insults the intellect of the believer, but here in Paul’s letter we read they did the same in the ancient one.

Jesus took a learned man in dramatic fashion to preach a foolish message that did not bring him fame and riches, but put him before the kingdom courts of that world to preach the Gospel and get imprisoned, beaten, and eventually killed. Yet His impact on the Gospel has been enduring, and influential beyond question.

I love that with the same zeal Paul went after the church, the Lord used that to His purposes, and with the same zeal Paul preached, and once convinced, never wavered, even calling out Peter when he tried to return to popularity among the Jews! (Galatians 2:11-13)

The problem with all of them, the Pharisees and other religious street gangs of the day, is that they kept looking for the man-made in Heavenly things. Jesus whole birth was simple, with no adornment, indeed, in a place where you’d expect an outcast to be born, not a king.

And Paul reminds us that G-d is not a man. Jesus tells us He is spirit.

Jesus was homeless, He rode on donkeys, not horses, He taught in the deserts and mountains as well as the synagogues, and He died a criminal’s death.

That’s why He tells us the road is narrow, for who would believe this to be the story of a king, much less an eternal ruler?

Paul didn’t, at least not at first, but who would still be an unbeliever after an experience like that on the Damascus road? He suffered, and the impact of his writing still anchors us in the Gospels today. Do we think to be spared if we’re to bear fruit?

All of the Apostles, save John, were martyred. Do we think we couldn’t be?

I’m reminded of the scene in one of those Indiana Jones films when the soldier picks the cup he thinks is the Holy Grail, and it’s gold and studded with precious gems, and it’s the wrong one. It was the simple cup made of clay.

Where are we looking for G-d? Who is it we think makes us worthy of salvation?

Matthew 23: 16-22

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it. 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it. 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells[b] in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. (letters in bold for emphasis).

See, the wood and stones of a building in and of themselves, we don’t consider valuable, and the wood or stone of an altar in and of itself, is not considered valuable. But when it is used to the purposes of G-d, and is sanctified by those He’s called through Christ, then, indeed, are we not standing on holy ground? The sanctuary is therefore a sacred place, and is profaned when churches devolve into performance, and defiled when ungodly messages are preached.

It is Christ who makes us worthy, and His message is simple: You believe in G-d, believe also in Me.

Let our words be few: Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Therefore I pray:

Today, O Lord, I lay my gifts on the altar of Your grace and mercy, seeking forgiveness if I’ve misused and neglected them. Sanctify them, and use them for Your glory. Take what I have and increase it, according to Your will.

Forgive me for letting the clamoring of the world distract me from Your purpose for my life.

Keep me from falling into enemy hands, and enemy work. I would not enter that kingdom, which You have marked for destruction and everlasting separation, where my very soul will wink out of existence, and my life forgotten, even by You, though You take no pleasure in my death.

There are days I bend under the burden, smile grimly at the storm clouds, thinking of them as my portion according to Your will,  and  panic at the emergencies that occur, then question Your love for me.

And yet, I’ve heard You speak to me through those clouds, and in the quiet moments, and I feel Your presence, sense Your touch, and remember that You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies, and restore my soul.

Even Pilate, not knowing what He wrote, proclaimed You as King.

Help me to keep my vows to G-d, whether I take an oath or not, and let me remember that Your family is those who do His will. (Mark 3:31-35)

Let me abide in You, that I may accomplish the work You’ve given me to do, remembering to give thanks in all things, and be content in all circumstances, lifting my eyes to where my help comes from. Let me remember to bless Your Name in the quiet moments, where nothing opulent and grand is happening, and let my praise be pleasing to You, that I may enter into Your joy, and life everlasting, reconciled to my Father, praising Him forevermore.

I ask in Your name, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.

 

 

 

Devotional 71: Your Redemption Draws Near

Luke 21:25-28

The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

One of the titles rarely discussed about our Lord is the title ‘Prophet.’ He was known primarily as a teacher, and outside of prophesying His own death and resurrection, we’re only told about the temple he said would be destroyed (and it was), and the end times, though He goes out of His way to tell us that only the Father knows when that will be.

It is the nature of prophecy, unless the Father reveal it, not to get into dates and timelines; the prophet tells us what will happen, and the mark of whether or not they’ve heard from G-d is this: the event comes to pass, or it does not.

Jesus’ prophecies, handed down to us,  tell us what will happen, and while I know there’s a lot more that goes with it, it would be a mistake to say we’re not beginning to see these signs. A lot of the weather events have been called unprecedented.

The aftermath is tragic, awful, hard to look at, and heart-wrenching, and yet even with that, people are making dumb and hateful remarks at the leaders as well as the victims, and tensions and emotions are running high all over the place.

In the midst of this, our Lord would have us look in another direction; it’s the one He’s been emphasizing since His ministry began. We are not to gather earthly treasures, or put our trust in men, nor do good deeds or give to receive our reward in their praises.

If we’ve placed our trust in Him, let us understand the times: He will not be proven a false prophet, for if all was made by His hand, all will be taken by Him, and by Him, judged.

He’s told us few will find the road to life.

He’s told us the world will hate us if we are of Him, and we can expect hatred and persecution from those closest to us.

He’s told us to go into all the world to preach the Good News, and when that is completed, the end will come, but the hour will be unexpected; we must be like the wise virgins on the hill who came prepared to go into the wedding because they had enough oil for their lamps.

He tells us to confess Him before men, that we might be confessed to the Father, and the consequences of not doing so. That means, for some, they must be ready to die in that moment. But He tells us not to fear those who can only kill the body.

This is the prophet in whom we’ve placed our faith and trust, our Lord and King, who lives at the right hand of G-d, and has told us He will raise us up on the last day.

These are the words He’s spoken to us through the ages, and we say, ‘I believe.’

Will you, when the rubber of your faith meets the road of reality? When the blade is at your throat, and the fires rage around you? When your loved one looks at you with absolute hatred in their eyes, and curses you?

I read where a preacher said: “If you believe in G-d, why do you ask if missions your children undertake will be ‘safe? ‘”

Certainly none of the disciples’ missions ended well, yet we’re told they’ll judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the kingdom.

If our Lord called and chose us to be out of the world, and testified that its works are evil, and a new earth will be created because Satan has corrupted this one, and G-d will not look on sin, and all these other things, are we looking at all these signs and asking ‘Where’s G-d?’

If you haven’t heard the unrepentant and unbelieving say it yet, you will, and soon. But remember, the signs were already spoken of in this ‘outdated, irrelevant’ book, which is the Father’s sword that will save souls even as it divides nations and households.

He punished the world once, and spared no one but Noah, because Noah’s heart was faithful to Him. Remember everyone laughed, until it rained from above, and the ground opened up beneath them.  The rainbow was His promise not to destroy it again, but only by water.

A new earth will not co-exist with an old, and good cannot co-exist with evil, and the saved and faithful will not be cast out with the unbeliever and the unrepentant.

Our Lord has said it to us, and we must believe His prophecies, like His promises, are yes, and amen.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We would be like the sons of Issachar, who understood their times and knew what to do.

Let our faith be strong, our peace even stronger, though our hearts are heavy, because we know what we’re seeing around us is what You’ve prophesied.

You’ve said we come to You only through the will of the Father, that we might be reconciled back to Him through You, and that eternal life will be our reward for doing His will. Therefore, Lord, in the aftermath of the disasters, let us do what we can, where we can.

We pray Your spirit move among those who’ve had to go toward the sites, and pray Your protection over them. Anoint the ministers who move among the afflicted, and give them the words to say, that souls may be redeemed.

We pray for this nation, rife with hate, corruption, and greed, serving mammon instead of You, though it honors You only with its lips, and not its heart.

Give us a bold spirit when they ask us where You are, for they haven’t read Your Word, and reading, liken it to the superstitious imagination of men that made up pagan theologies, foolish with philosophy and meaningless rituals. Their mouths say prayers You don’t hear, sing songs You don’t listen to, and though you reject their offerings, they remain blind.

We ask that in the days to come, we would know Your voice among the rise of many false Christs to come. We would endure to the end, not being fooled by signs and wonders that fool even the elect.

Let us abide in You, Lord Jesus, knowing that apart from You, we can do nothing, and without faith in You, we will become nothing, our souls separated for damnation, and destruction when Hell is destroyed. Help us keep our eyes on the hem of Your garment, and follow the narrow way, in faith believing.

Let such light as we have be a guide for those who’ve placed their faith in Your word through us, as we do the Father’s will at Your command, and through Your love, leading them from earthly calamity and tears to heavenly peace and glory.

I ask in faith, believing I’ve received. 

Amen

Devotional 70: Great Multitudes Followed Him

Jesus Heals a Great Multitude

23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

At some point, brothers and sisters, we made a decision to follow.

Something in His message drew us, reached us, and changed us, and while it may not have changed everything all the time, we are nonetheless aware of it when we choose to do that which we shouldn’t out of human frailty, and that is what confession and repentance are for, (and that is between you and the Lord).

Some in the multitude followed in the immediacy of the moment:  to get healed,  because others were going,  they had nothing better to do…

Others followed because they needed the reassurance of the Father’s love, and that they were valued by Him, because they simply could not live up to the criteria and conditions their religious leaders placed on them.

Still others followed to have their spirits healed through the power of grace.

The beauty of our Lord is in this statement: (John 6:37)

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

Throughout His ministry, as wide and fiery and controversial as it was, the decision was made by those who followed, for whatever reason, to go to Him. It was the first act of faith on our part, and we all came at various stages in our lives, for whatever those reasons were.

But in the quiet of your heart, wherever you made your decision, you had to leave that place, and go.

Yes, we’ve strayed, backslid, compromised, held our peace, left without helping, took shortcuts, made mistakes, and messed up all over the place. And as angry and doubtful as we may become, as rebellious and shameful as we may act, that seed is rooted, and in the quiet of your heart, eventually, you look around again, and see Him standing right there, waiting for you to, as the prodigal did, come to your senses.

We’ve seen the power of G-d at work in our lives, and know the truth of Him. His existence is not a question for us, even though sometimes His plan is. The truth of His word has called to our spirits, and we’ve responded. I’ve told you the story of my own experience, which I still recall with awe, after all these years.

We’ve seen His goodness in our blessings, we have His Son to dispense grace to us in the year of His favor, but is that because we want to please Him, or do we just not want His wrath on us.

Hebrews 10:31  tells us it is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living G-d.

We’ve read of His judgment as well, and how thoroughly He cuts off the wicked; He will also stir them to agitate His blessed when they stray. How many times was Israel called to repent, and given into the hands of invaders?

How many times are we?

Yet rejoice, brothers and sisters. We’ve seen the headlines. The signs are gathering, and Jesus never made an inaccurate prophecy, nor one that never came to pass.

Let us follow Him, growing in the knowledge and love of Him, abiding in Him to achieve the Father’s purpose for us, for we are in Him, and He is in the Father. If we follow Him, let it be down the narrow road.

And in the quiet of your heart, and the watches of the night, He will heal you, for though you are part of a great multitude, He knows your name.

It’s written in the Book of Life, and He is the Author and Finisher.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

In these tumultuous times, let our eyes continue to be on You, to focus on Your will, being reminded that our time of persecution is coming, and indeed, now is.

The sifting to follow will be great, and dark, so we will need Your light more than ever, that we may continue to follow You, and not turn back.

Strengthen us with Kingdom power, O Lord, and let the Holy Spirit fill us with bold reverence, and tell us how to respond to those who will come to us and ask, ‘Why are you at peace? How can you be at peace?” 

Send us back to the river stones, the path markers, the books of remembrance, when our own strength fails us and we forget. 

No matter where we live, no matter the distance we travel, no matter our trials and tribulations, no matter our grief, no matter our occupation, something You’ve said to us reached us, and the Father has seen fit to grant us to be in Your presence; you’ve said no one can come to you unless it be granted by Him. (John 6:44)

We would be reconciled to Him through Your blood. Help us to remember that grace and honor has been granted us, and it is a fearsome thing, not to be held common, that the wrath of the Father be on us once again.

In the quiet of our hearts, we made the decision to come. Help us to resolve there also, and make the decision to follow, for You’ve told us that the path narrows, the hour is coming, the day is far spent, and night is here.

I ask it in Your name, believing I’ve received.

Amen

Devotional 69: No Sign Will Be Given

Matthew 12:38-42
The Scribes and Pharisees Ask for a Sign
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
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.

Two major themes regarding faithlessness and doubt run through the Word:  “Where is your G-d?” and “Give us a sign.”

The truth is that the spirit of man is attuned to the Spirit of Heaven, Throughout the ages, men have looked at the sky and made stories of gods, and they’ve looked at creation and made stories of gods (I’m including goddesses in the generic term). Now we fight over which continents gods were ‘first’, and which ones were more ‘powerful’ and what color they were, and how they ALL have a god whose story parallels that of Jesus.

Like the Israelites who requested Moses go up the mountain rather than have G-d come to them, the will of man has subdued the spirit of man, in fear of confronting the glory of G-d, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

“Higher power,” “Universal Energies” ‘Something out there.’ ‘Somewhere out there,’ and my personal favorite, “The Big Man in the Sky.” In John 4:24, Jesus clearly tells us:

G-d is Spirit, and those who worship Him must do it in spirit and truth.

and King David tells us in Psalms 19: 1
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.

We are the only planet with an atmosphere that sustains a variety of natural forms, the only planet that has human life, we are far enough from the sun that we don’t burn or get pulled in by its gravity, and far enough away from the moon so that the tides are proper.

We go from that to a G-d who numbers the hair on our heads, and knows when His sparrows die.

Paul tells us that men are without excuse for their idols when they come into the knowledge of G-d.

God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

My point is this: the signs are all around us, just as it was with those who asked Jesus for a sign. The unbelievers, mockers, and scoffers will always put the burden of proof on the believer, and use the Ayn Rand quote: “You can’t prove a non-existence.”

We need to be able to defend our faith, yes, but we don’t have to defend G-d. We don’t have to prove His existence, because the evidence of such is all around every one of us. They neither truly seek G-d or want to believe because they’d be confronted with something greater than themselves, and even if you were to perform a miracle, they’d attribute it to part of science yet undiscovered. Jesus raised dead people, and healed a man’s blindness who they knew, and they still asked Him by whose authority was He doing these things, and for a sign that He was from G-d.

For the most part, men have chosen their lot according to what they desire most. The earth is transitory, as is power and wealth, and because they chalk the Bible up to being error-prone, outdated, old-fashioned, and imaginary, they never read that their plans come to nothing. They die in their sin and unbelief, for Jesus tells us that by our words we’ll be justified, and by them, condemned. (Matthew 12:37)

Therefore I pray: 

Let us not stumble before the onslaught of Your enemy’s soldiers, Lord.

Let us hold fast to eternal truth, and not transitory arguments. Let us not meander down dark roads of useless philosophy, and forms of godliness with no kernel of truth, the foolishness of man’s wisdom. You’ve said even the elect will be fooled by signs and wonders performed by false Christs, but You also tell us Your sheep know Your voice, and that if we endure to the end, we’ll be saved.

Help us to remember that You help the downtrodden, speak truth to power, and maintain Your connection to the Father, glorifying Him in all things, and every work You do. As we follow, help us to copy Your example.

Let us remain grounded in the Word of the Father, whose anointed spoke and wrote of You, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of all nations, our eternal King, and our final Judge.

We would not scatter abroad, Lord. When we backslide, let us touch the hem of Your garment, and rise again, spotless, blameless, and reconciled. We would be worthy, faithful disciples.

Today, let me consider all You’ve made in the simple things you’ve surrounded my life with, and the grand things you’ve done in the earth. I pray for those in distress by the power of nature, even so, still guided by Your hand. Deliver them, bless them, and restore them according to Your will. Let there be among them those who would point to You, that new souls chosen before the foundation of the world be redeemed to the Father. Speak peace to the natural storms, and peace to the spiritual storms that will follow.

By the power of Your holy name, I ask it.

Amen

Devotional 68: Let This Cup Pass

Matthew 26:36-41
The Prayer in the Garden
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We know that as believers, we are going to suffer trials. Our Lord told us this in no uncertain terms. (John 16:33)

33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In knowing all that He knew, from the time He declared His ministry, the horror of the moment was coming near, and while He didn’t panic and abandon His mission, He yet asked the cup be taken from Him, if there was another way.

Often, if we’re honest, we don’t see the reason why He’d allow Himself to suffer the pain, anymore than those standing didn’t understand that if He was who He claimed to be, He could just come down and spare Himself the trouble, This included one of the thieves hanging next to Him, who mocked Him even as the other came to faith in that moment.

His death was quick because He’d pretty much been bleeding out from the time of His ‘trial’ until He actually died. They wouldn’t stop beating and torturing Him for hours, and the Romans, as we know, had some creative ways to induce suffering and pain.

“But He’s Jesus, and that was His mission. Why should we suffer if He did the work? If he took our sins, why not our pain?”

It’s because when you declare yourself to be part of something that testifies to the world that its works are evil, you are marked, and have become a target of everything from close scrutiny to persecution. You don’t even necessarily have to be a Christian for that to be so, but it’s amplified once you say you are.

This is why I say we’re more like Peter than Christ: if you can ask that question, you claim a stronger connection than you actually have. Peter boasted he would stay even if the others left. When Jesus told him what would happen when the moment came, that’s exactly what Peter did. It was such a heinous thing that the angel made a distinction when he told Mary to tell the disciples. (Mark 16:6-7)

6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Indeed, does not our Lord command us to take up our crosses? In His response to the young ruler we read: (Mark 10:20-22)

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”      (italics mine)

So yes, He felt the pain when He could have numbed Himself, He endured the beating because to strike back would have unleashed legions of angels, who I’m sure were brandishing swords of fire, itching for a fight. In the midst of His suffering, He begged forgiveness for those who made Him suffer.

Our bruised and battered Savior, ‘the Man who would be King’ allowed all to happen that was supposed to, so that, as He told John the Baptist, all righteousness would be fulfilled. (Matthew 3:13-15)

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.

Any deviation would have nullified the work, so it was important that Jesus not only drink the cup of condemnation, but that He drain it.

Can we, should we, as believers who claim to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Light, do any less, suffer any less? For if we do, how much less will be our glory with Him? How tightly are we really connected? How closely do we really follow? Or do we, like Peter, get lost in the crowd until the morning, rebuking those who say, “You were with Him.”

Do we, like the young ruler, turn away in sorrow, go back to our great possessions, and lose our souls?

Do we, like John the Baptist, say no, I need to come to You, when Jesus needs us in the moment to do that which He asks of us?

Do we fall asleep in the Garden, when our Lord would have us pray?

Or do we, when we realize we must drink the cup of suffering that will not pass from us, say “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”?

Therefore I pray:

Lord, You tell us that You are the vine, and we are the branches, and that apart from You, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

We boast, as Peter, that we will never abandon You. We boast, like the Sons of Thunder, that we are able to drink from Your cup.

And yet, You asked if there was another way. So too, do we, but unlike You, we are not as sure of our willingness to follow through. We’ve had it easy and comfortable, for the most part, and our churches have become whitened sepulchers.

I ask of You to bring to mind that we are to be out in the world, but not of it. That we are called to minister the Gospel, “and if necessary, use words.”(St. Francis).

Let us be reminded that You called us out, and it was our choice to return back through the press of the crowd, calling Your name out to have mercy on us, and reconcile us to G-d.

Help us to honor You by not waiting to be asked to open the gates of that which we are able to provide in abundance, and to honor you by giving our two mites in the times when abundance is absent, and there is no cattle in the stalls, no fruit on the vine, or whatever our modern day equivalent of that may be.

Remind us that we are not only to take up our crosses, but crucify our flesh in the times of temptation.

Let our peace return to us from those who will not hear, and let us pray for their hardened hearts, that You might turn that soil, and grow whatever seed we may have planted in Your name.

And let us, above all, remember, that Your suffering was beyond earthly agony, because the Father turned His face from You with a dark sky, for He cannot look on sin, and You, Lord Jesus, took on the sins of the entire world, for all eternity. You endured the horror of the cross that we deserved, so that we, through grace, would only know the Father’s mercy, and not His wrath.  For who among us could stand before that and live, but You.

Help us to stand, and watch, and pray, so when the cup is passed to us, to drink our portion along with You, and do the Father’s will.

I ask it in Your name, in faith, believing I’ve received.

Amen

 

Devotional 66: ‘I Am Not Like Other Men’

Luke 18:11-15
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Remember the tee shirt that had: ‘Jesus is my homeboy’ on it? I thought for sure lightning would strike. What familiar arrogance in that statement, worn by the most un-Christian people you’re likely to never meet in Hollywood. Their desire is to reduce the Son of God to the Age of Aquarius.

As Paul says in Romans 6:15: What then? Shall we sin because we not under law, but under grace? May it never be.

I add, may it never be so with us! Christ tells us He has called and chosen us out of the world. In that regard, we are not like others, but we are not to keep such status to ourselves. He also commands us to tell others.

If we’re honest, though, there are times we’ve felt a little more held together than those around us, keeping our composure in the midst of the madness, watching others get caught up.

I don’t know if any of us have prayed such as this Pharisee in our Lord’s parable, but we’ve certainly felt the seed of it grow at certain times. That, in and of itself, is not an evil thing, as long as we remember Paul’s admonition:

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of G-d, 9 not of works, lest any man should boast.’ 

In the watches of the night, we are confronted with our own stock and store of how we’ve handled the day’s events and those G-d has brought across our path, how we’ve performed before our cloud of witnesses, and whether or not we were role models for how to behave and perform under pressure.

And again, if we’re honest, most times we come up short.

But let’s always remember that in fact, with enough time and circumstance, we are equally capable of performing the most reprehensible act as anyone in solitary confinement under the worst jail in the world.

We have it easy here. Need water? Buy a bottle, or turn on the tap.

What if we had to walk miles, with hundreds of others, to a drying pool of it in the middle of a hot, putrid rainforest, on muddy roads runny with sewage?  I’ll not belabor the point: your imagination and self-knowledge will fill in what you’re capable of.

Stay humble before G-d, and penitent. And thankful, realizing that we are all, in fact, just like everyone else. Were it not for the graces and gifts, the blessings and favor, and the delivery from trials by the hand of our Father, and the mercy of His Son, anchoring ourselves in the Spirit and Truth of His Word, it could always be us in solitary confinement, under the jail.

Imagine the darkness, the silence, the exposure to vermin and weather, the stench of your unwashed body, and the reek of sin on your unclean soul.

Will you not ask for mercy? He is faithful and just to forgive.

Since He sees in the darkness as we see in the light, which He created, He knows exactly where you are, and what you’d do.

Would you not be justified before Him?

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

Your Son tore the veil, that we may approach the heavenly throne without fear of death. Your Word says to approach boldly, but some have taken it to mean with an arrogance and familiarity they would not show a powerful earthly man, but have no problem displaying it before a divine King.

Even in our anger, our limited scope of Your plan for us and the lives of our loved ones, Your hand giving and taking according to Your will, let us pour out all that’s in our hearts in humility.

We would not be arrogant, for the very next breath we take is by Your pleasure.

Let us remember that Jesus died for the Pharisee as well as the tax collector, and has left the choice to follow and believe to every person who has heard His words.

Let us remember that you, O G-d, take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and it is Your desire that all would come to repentance.

You sent Your Son to prepare the narrow path, and we are grateful, but we can also hoard the grain of Your truth in our hearts, that we might feel justified before You.

Help us to know, Father, that in those moments it is we who are not like the tax collector, justified before Heaven, and forgiven in Your sight.

I ask it in Jesus’ name, believing I’ve received.

Amen.