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.

Devotional 64: The Day is Far Spent

Luke 24:28-35

The Disciples’ Eyes Opened
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

Imagine walking with Jesus, receiving essentially a master class on all that concerned Him regarding the Scriptures, yet not knowing it was Jesus, at least by sight, but having your heart respond during His lessons, and realizing in hindsight you’ve been given the greatest gift there is: to walk with the Lord as He taught.

We see this over and over again, though doubtless some in the crowd just came to be healed, and fed. Who’s to say whether or not they went on to turn their hearts to Him in faith and obedience, or having received the desires of their hearts, went back to their earthly existences.

The tax collectors (a special breed of sinners, because they always separated the two: ‘tax collectors and sinners’), the sinners, the prostitutes, the downtrodden, all repeatedly followed Him to receive the message over and over again that they had value to their Father, that there was a better life waiting, that they were worthy of respect because of their humanity, not their theology or finances.

And Cleopas and his companion, their hopes of a new way of thinking and living dashed with the crucifixion, flee the center of the chaos to mourn quietly and return to their homes, when in fact they were on their way to a divine appointment.

So this learned traveler walks with them, joins their conversation, and rebukes the news of the faithlessness expressed to Him, and He begins to teach.

25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

There is no hurry now, or thought of discomfort, or even worry about the future. There is only the silence of the surrounding countryside, and the compelling voice that has touched hearts, revived spirits, changed lives, and saved souls in this intimate moment.

And Jesus, knowing He’ll soon depart, sees them to their destination, but they invite Him to stay, “for the day is far spent.”

Not knowing Him, they know the night roads are dangerous and unsafe for solitary travelers. They would not see the innocent harmed, so they offer the shelter of their dwelling for the night.

It is when He breaks bread with them that their eyes are opened, and it’s only then that He leaves.

32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

And on the same roads unsafe and dark roads they wouldn’t see Him travel, they went back as soon as He left them to tell the news.

I remember being that excited once. If I’m to be honest, it’s not the case any longer on most days. I do it as discipline and ritual, in a spirit of duty rather than joy. My heart, once burning for the Word, is now merely, barely, a warming flame.

My fruit is unripe, my offering unacceptable, my obedience resentful as I rely on my own strength to do my own thing in my own way.

Is it any wonder Jesus calls me foolish?

I know better: I’m to show myself approved, to always have an answer for my hope, to be assured of my calling, to work within my capacities and giftings to spread the Gospel to every nation, doing my part to hasten the end.

  (Matthew 24:14) And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

One thing is certain: My end is assured, and for the time I have left I need a rekindled heart, a revived spirit, and a changed life.

Be careful in your walk, brothers and sisters, lest the day be far spent and He does not abide with you.

Therefore I pray:

   Lord Jesus, 

    Walk the road with me, teach me, and open my eyes.

    Break bread with me, and open my heart as You open the Scriptures to me once again.

    Reveal Yourself to me in my sadness, my darkness, and my time of need, that I might remember You spoke of all things that concerned You, and told me that as Your disciple I would undergo them too, both suffering and glory.

    My days are far spent, and I draw closer to the shining light of the kingdom, not grieving with Cleopas, but rejoicing with David in the knowledge my Redeemer lives,  my King forgives my debt, my Shepherd protects me, my Master’s yoke is easy, and my Savior breaks the chains of sin and the power of the grave.

   Let me shout from the housetops what is whispered in my ear.

   Let my burning heart be the light on the hill, filled with oil for the bridegroom’s wedding feast. Let me drink the new wine with You in the Kingdom of G-d.

   Let me humble myself to receive my crown, and place it at Your feet.

   Let my praise reflect my gratitude and joy for all You’ve done, as You bring Your good work to completion in me, never leaving or forsaking me, sticking closer than a brother.

   Breathe the Spirit of Truth back into my soul, Lord, for I would seek deeper truth and mysteries of You, preparing the answers for my hope, and to let my light shine before men that they may glorify the Father.

   I place this life You’ve given me in Your hands once more, to ripen the fruit, to take the plank from my eye, to dry the tears, and ease the loneliness, to cleanse the stains of sin, and to pierce the heart to grieve them, not the Holy Spirit, and  to repent before Your throne.

   I ask by the power of Your Name, believing I’ve received by the mercy of  Your holy hands.

   Amen.

 

Devotional 61: Let Your Peace Return to You

Matthew 10:11-15
11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. 12 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!

There are often questions regarding the degrees of punishments for sin, or whether all sins will be punished equally. In this text, and in several other passages, Jesus tells the disciples and religious leaders that if the works He did were performed in OT towns that were sinful, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes and been saved. Sodom was actually one of these cities.

What makes backsliding so insidious is that the Lord says once we have knowledge of Him and the will of the Father for our redemption, that our sin is greater (John 19:11; our betrayal), that we make null the effects of the Gospel (Mark 7:10-13; tradition replacing honoring G-d) and that our darkness is greater (Matthew 6:22-23; our backsliding)

Under the covenant of grace, repentance restores us. We are forgiven, but we are also not to sin again. The choice is always ours, and while frailty is understood, we who claim knowledge of the Lord are without excuse.

There have been days I’ve taken shortcuts rather than ‘work as unto the Lord’, and that verse is in my head the whole time I’m doing it.

Have I blocked a blessing? Burned a reward? Opened the door to condemnation on myself and my company because of my lack of integrity? Yes to all of that, but I’ve made my excuses and my choice for the short term. The darkness is therefore greater in me, says the Lord. I either change it or make my peace.

On those days, I’m not a good witness for the Lord, but there are people I’ve ministered to by telling these stories. Hopefully, they’ve learned from my example, though their frailties are their own. I’ve prayed for them, and with them, and when I’ve moved on my peace has returned to me.

We are to spread the Gospel, but we are not to be discouraged if it doesn’t take root in our presence, or even in our lifetime. It’s not about perfection, it’s about being steadfast, faithful, and obedient. The battle between flesh and spirit is lifelong, but the redemption of the soul is a done work. I hold on to that promise, in spite of my greater darkness, my betrayal, and my reliance on the way it’s always been rather than stepping out in faith.

If we were capable of perfection, we’d make null the effects of the Atonement done on our behalf.

In our ministry to others, whether by example or direct contact (and if you’re a known Christian in your workplace, they’re watching you), do what you can for those who are worthy (they will also seek you out in times of crisis, even if they’re not believers). If they are drawn to the faith through you, all well and good. If they come against you, don’t lose your peace.

We are told that Paul confounded the Jews when he taught them from the OT that Jesus was the Son of G-d, but their hearts were so resistant that he shook his clothes at them, thereby condemning them to a greater punishment in the eyes of G-d. (Acts 18:6)

We are responsible for our part, but the choice is ultimately on those we tell, and don’t feel bad if we (mentally) ‘shake the dust’ on the resistant. Remember, disciples turned away from Jesus too.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

As You help me work out my salvation in the fear of G-d, let the Spirit fill me in the hour of need and give me what I should say that will plant a seed, edify a wavering faith, remove a doubt, or confirm in prayer.

I ask that You bring across my path those in need of salvation, unloved and unlovely, who can hear You in my voice, and respond to Your call. My spheres of influence and my comfort zones are Yours to determine or move as You see fit. Help me to be brave in those circumstances.

My obedience to Your commission is paramount to bearing fruit not just in my own life, but the lives of others as well. Therefore give me discernment as to who will receive You through me and who won’t; help me to scatter seed, but You are sovereign as to the type of soil to plant.

Bear with me in my shortcomings and failings, my backsliding and rebellion, and help change my greater darkness into brighter light.

And let my peace in You be shed upon the roads I travel in Your Name, to the Father’s glory, and His love for all of us. 

In Your Name, I ask it, believing I’ve already received. 

Amen.

Devotional 61: If Anyone Thirsts

John 7:37-39

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It was a late summer Sunday, late in the afternoon, the last day of the Men’s Retreat.

The pastor, finishing the last sermon, gave an altar call to those who were not Spirit filled. I went down, more in a spirit of indulgence than faith. I knew Jesus, and that was enough for me.

It wasn’t enough for Jesus.

“Put up your hands, and just start praising G-d,” the pastor said.

I began to praise, and in seconds I didn’t speak a word of English for the next ten minutes or so.

A connection so deep, so sweet feeling, and the other-worldly language I spoke so fluently let me know that I’d been sealed with the Promise of eternal life.

Many times before, I’d heard and read the story of Pentecost, and now it came alive.

I even tried to stop, and I couldn’t. Neither did the tears of joy.

From that time way led on to way, but one day I found myself at an event with the church that took me to the retreat, and one of the brothers said to me that he’d kept a journal of that time, and I’d said on the bus going up there:

“I don’t want anything to do with that Holy Spirit stuff.”

I was stunned initially that I would’ve said it, but thinking back to my visits of various churches in my childhood, it seemed people used the excuse of ‘getting the Spirit’ to do some pretty bizarre and out of order things.

In His grace, Jesus let me experience the real Spirit who came with a gentle power to live in me and reveal the truth that the Lord’s promises and prophecies are ‘Yes and Amen.’

And I will dwell in the House of the Lord, forever and ever. Amen.

Therefore I pray:

My Savior,

You used the phrase, ‘My hour has not yet come’ several times in Your ministry, until the hour came, and You tell us it will do so again.

All things in time.

You say we sleep, and prophesy that with a great shout, (I believe it to be the ‘Come forth’ you spoke to Lazarus) You will raise all the Father has given to You on the last day.

Thank You for the gift of the Spirit, who helps me to hold fast to that promise as the summer of my life begins to color in, like the mountains on the day You sealed my heart to Yours.

Thank You for the covenant of grace and the atoning work that will redeem my soul from the power of the grave. Thank you for the mercy that went through the fault of my faithless obedience, and saw my spiritual need.

May it be the same for my brothers and sisters, that they might know and be edified by the Comforter who reveals all truth as You continue to shepherd us down the narrow path.

He carries Your voice to us in the distant places where we stray, and leads our hearts back to You. 

We would not grieve Him, but we will again until we are home at last. But in this we are assured: the threefold cord of the G-dhead will tether us, that no one will snatch us from Your holy, nail-scarred hands.

With praise and gratitude, I thank You for all of it.

Amen.

 

Devotional 60: His Command is Everlasting Life

John 12:42-50

Walk in the Light

42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

44 Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe,[a] I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

The Son of G-d came as the representative of the Father’s will, to seek and save the unrighteous, unrepentant, unbelieving, and unforgiving by telling us the Gospel of His death and resurrection, and that eternal life would be bestowed upon those who believed in His words, promises, and prophecies, and did as He commanded.

We are not pure vessels of service, we are not inherently good, and we are prone to leave this all behind when we feel that the whole pursuit of heavenly things is in vain and ultimately foolish.

We read with no understanding, we pray while distracted, we mutter our praises, and our silences are not filled with meditation on that which pleases Him.

Our backs are turned, our hearts hardened, and our ears stopped.

And here comes G-d’s emissary to say, “Assuredly, I say to you…”

We know the voice of our Shepherd, but do we return to the fold?

It’s a difficult thing to leave, and a difficult thing to return.

Jesus was grieved when Philip asked Him: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

Jesus embodied the very will of the Father toward us: fellowship, praise, glory, reward, blessings, peace on every side, prosperity with no trouble, pure hearts, songs of rejoicing and psalms of ascent, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and our Father above all.

We have all been in gatherings where we felt this, knew it, and submitted to it, and there was no greater feeling in the world.  And then the world comes crashing in: traffic on the way home, a snide remark, a dirty look. Sometimes right after the gathering, from the people who were there with you.

It is where the rubber of our faith meets the road of reality.

But faith is every bit as real. Jesus is every bit as real. The power of G-d is every bit as real, for He is the Creator of ALL.

Today, on this Father’s Day, let us remember the Names of our G-d,  the plea of His emissary and only Son, who expresses that Father’s will to us in this year of the Lord’s favor.

Let us remember that the Great Commission is ultimately to fulfill what the Messiah tells us is the Father’s command: eternal life.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

No, we don’t understand it all. We can’t. But we have Your example to follow, and even though You sacrificed Yourself for us, there are those who reject Your gift. You say their words will judge them; help us to know our words will judge us also. To proclaim You and not preach the Gospel, to proclaim You and seek our own glory, to follow You as a means to our own ends.

We are admonished to study and show ourselves approved, yet our Bibles grow dusty, and remain unmarked.

I’ve been guilty of this, and yet Your presence is there when I return to my senses.

“Father, give me my inheritance,” becomes, “Father, make me a servant in your house.”

But over and over, you restore me to my proper station as one worthy of sharing the gift of life with, of revealing the Truth of the Father’s Word, which He holds higher than His Name. You bring me back under the holy blood covenant of atoning grace as I repent and seek forgiveness.

And you say ‘Yes.’

This is the Father’s love for us: that He sent You, Lord Jesus, to tell us what He would have us know. It is sad that few will find the way, that their own words will condemn them to a life of needless pain and separation.

Happy Father’s Day, my Lord G-d, and thank You for the precious gift of Your Son, that I might return to You with gifts of my own, blessing Your Name in the assembly of the saints that dwell in Your house, forever.

Amen.

Devotional 56: This Man Receives Sinners

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Relinquishing control is perhaps the most difficult thing we do in our lives, but it is quite another to have it taken from you by new ways of thinking. Seldom, if at all, do those established in wealth and power adapt without force of numbers or violence.

But as difficult as it is to give up control, when someone invades our little fiefdom and takes such authority as we possess, real or imagined, it’s hard not to bristle at that.

Standing aside at the pinnacle of where our experience finally synchronizes with our mastery of the given tools to do our jobs, and the recognition and rewards that came with it, is humbling, especially if the invader does a better job, and deep inside, we know it. The effectiveness of our Lord’s ministry was proven by the short time He had to accomplish it, and how quickly and widely it spread, and how lasting it’s been.

This verse in Luke tells us that the men in power complained about Jesus as the sinners and tax collectors (a special breed of sinners, it seems) drew near to hear Him.

He preached to them, and for them, not at them, and He did so in the midst of their uncleanness, with all the dirt and smells attached. He did it despite their ignorance of doctrinal matters and higher ideas. He did it in the midst of their pain and suffering as a Man who had a message from no less of an authority than their Father in Heaven, and He delivered it with great power and compassion, and it resounded in their hearts, went beyond their mortality and hugged their downtrodden spirits, and they drew near.

Let us, in the midst of our own needs and pain, rejoice and praise and worship our Lord in this, the year of His favor.

Let us too, draw near and repent under the covenant of grace, for there will be no more chances under the covenant of judgment.

Let us, in faith, give control of our lives and those of our loved ones, trusting the words and promises of providence and salvation handed down to us through the ages, the words of a Man we’ve never seen, though His presence is all around and within us. (1st Peter: 1:8) Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. (NIV)

And know that our Redeemer lives, and our Deliverer is coming.

In whatever authority we attain, in whatever ministry we guide others into faith in our Lord, let us be mindful of the disciple’s admonishing that we can’t claim to love the unseen G-d by faith, yet hate our brothers and sisters before our very eyes.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We often pray that You be with us, but it isn’t You who moves away, for You tell us that You are always with us, even to the end of the age of man. 

In our mortality, and our inability to wrap our minds around the mind of G-d, we turn to You, who speak the words of Life and Truth, who tells us, “Assuredly, I say to you…”, who tell us, “If it were not so, I would have told You…”

Help us to keep in mind You are the Prophet of Nazareth, and what You say will come to pass. All of it, even to the separation of sheep and goats, wheat and tares, the outer darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the misplaced trust in our works and our own ‘goodness.’

And the casting of soul and body into the fire.

Let our repentance be true. Help us to keep our vows to G-d, or put a guard over our mouths so that we don’t renege, for You say it is better not to vow, than to vow and not do it.

As we were bought with the price of Your blood, and nothing can snatch us from Your hand, let us draw near that we may ever be ready for Your use, to Your purposes, if we would bear fruit for the Kingdom of G-d, and even if the world mocks us.

Bear with us on the days we don’t count our sorrows as joy, but bring Your promises to mind that we may bear our sorrows.

Bear with us on the days our rudderless tongues meander to slash and cut, and even to curse. In the quiet of the wreckage that follows, ask us, as You did Peter, do we love You, and let us be restored to those we’ve wounded.

Bear with us in our moments of doubt, when we turn away following the shiny carrots the world dangles before us. Open our eyes, and let us return to ourselves as You come to find us once again, and bring us home under the authority of Your voice, rod, and staff, drawing us near to You, over and over, until we are Home to stay.

Amen.

 

Devotional 55: A Blessing and Message for Mary

Luke 2:34-35

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

Imagine that someone held your baby and told you all they were destined for, and that it was as calamitous as turning a nation on its head?

What would you do as a young mother or father? What would you say?

Simeon’s message was directed at Mary, so it was already prophesied that Joseph would not be there when the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side fulfilled it on Calvary.

She received a lot of messages during these times, from the greeting of the angel until now, and she thought about their meanings. We only have a few snippets of them interacting, and even one where she took the siblings and went looking for Jesus because they began to think He was unstable.

We wonder from 2017 years later: ‘But how can you be told all these things regarding your child, deliver Him as a virgin, and come to doubt that they were true?’

She was just a young girl, and not one who moved in the circles of prophecies and divine things and thunderous, ponderous teachings. No wonder the angel told her not to fear!

And having been told she’d conceive the child, she gathered up her courage, knowing G-d would sustain her through the stigma of being pregnant and unwed. “Let it be done to me as you have said.”

And the destiny of this child had not only a national impact, but a global one. Indeed, an eternal one. In the carol ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ there is a line that says: “The Child that you delivered/ will soon deliver you.”

Yet she protected Him, poured out her life into Him, soothed Him, tended His cuts and bruises, pushed Him, set examples for Him, taught Him…

And watched Him die.

I’m sure on that day, she felt more than one sword in her pierce her.

And yet she saw it through, having done all she could.

To the mothers out there who are holding on, and ministering to your children every day, in acts both great and small, from teaching them how to hold a spoon to standing at their college graduation to the birth of your first grandchild, know that you are doing a noble work in obscurity, a grand thing no one notices, a divine calling no one else heard but you.

But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit see you, and your child is destined, and you, handmaiden of the Lord, have been selected to pour into them as Mary did to hers, trials and all, swords and sundry.

Today, Mother, may your children rise and call you blessed.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We thank you for our mothers, for the many sacrifices they’ve, for their teaching, for their willingness to give their all for all their children, for their intimate guidance in knowing their child like no one else.

Even for their discipline, when no one else would rein in misbehavior.

 It is a ministry like no other, so much so that You’ve called them, and not man, to do it.

I’ll not pretend I understand the withholding of children from those who deeply desire them, and the granting of them to the cold and callous, for You, O Lord, are sovereign in these things.

Rather, I pray You would change hearts and open eyes, and protect the gentle souls of Your little ones in harsh circumstances, and console and guide those who desire to be blessed with them. I pray You grant their desire.

To those who’ve lost a child, you are no less a mother today than you were then. You’ve carried the pain of your sword awhile, and G-d sees your tears, even the ones you keep inside.

Mourn, and be comforted that you will see them again in their innocence, and they will be restored to you.

I pray you continue in grace, faithfulness, strength, patience, integrity, kindness, honor, and virtue, and that your legacy be inherited in double portion through those you leave behind, that the harvest may grow.

Thank you, mom, for giving, caring, and loving us through it all.

And releasing us to that which we are divinely destined.

Amen

 

 

 

Devotional 51: The Things Concerning Me Have an End

Luke 22:37

37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’[a] For the things concerning Me have an end.”

Branded a criminal, a demon, a blasphemer, a charlatan, an upstart, a rebel, and a fraud, all prophesied from the beginning, our Lord came to save us and not only take on our sins, but our labels; have we not been guilty of all these things?

Yet we can rejoice in celebration as we are yet in the year of His, with mercy and grace continually pursuing us.

We have the Word, the gift of hindsight, technology, pastors, preachers, and prophets today, yet do you believe we really understand any better than the Apostles did as they walked with Him in His earthly ministry as He spoke of Heavenly things?

Could we place our faith in spiritual matters any more than they did when they felt the heat of the desert sun on their bodies?

Did the concept of eternity click for them as they aged and came to the persecution Jesus prophesied they’d receive for preaching in His Name?

Today, this Good Friday, brothers and sisters, we still have cause to rejoice; though the earthly ministry of Jesus had an end, the eternal reign of Christ with G-d does not, and we discover to our exceeding joy that the things concerning Jesus do have an end, not in time, but eternity.

Take heart, be still, and know that He’s taken away the sins of the world, once for all, for those who believe.

“You believe in G-d. Believe also in Me.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, that You would save the unworthy, the ungrateful, and even the unfaithful speaks to the everlasting love You had for us before the world’s foundation.

We’ve counted the cost, and chosen this day whom we serve.

Alongside You, in Faith, we take up our crosses, put on our armor, set our faces like flint in these times of softened souls and hardened hearts, striving to be wheat in the midst of tares, willing to bear the blows and count ourselves blessed for the sake of the Gospel.

In our times of faltering, help our unbelief, strengthen our hands, send the Spirit to us in boldness, rekindle our hillside lamps and fill them with the oil of joy, and help us to hear the Father’s voice and do His will on earth as it is done in Heaven: immediately and without question.

With thankful hearts we praise You, with hope we long for You, and with love we serve You all the days of our lives, that we might rule and reign with You, and glorify G-d and enjoy Him forever, which is the chief end of humanity.

Amen.

 

Devotional 50: He Put Them All Outside

Mark 5:36-43

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.” 37 And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.39 When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

40 And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated,“Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43 But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

I love the story of redemption through the cross, because it means that Jesus is resurrected, and that means those who believe in Him will be resurrected too, spotless and blameless before the Father.

Personally, I think the Resurrection doesn’t get enough attention. We have the hope of eternal life, and life means we must be raised. The power of the grave is broken, to the point where even the sea will give up its dead.

We read in the Word that Jesus could work no miracles where there was no faith, yet we’re told if our faith is the size of mustard seed, it can provide the spark.

In some ways this story parallels that of Lazarus: Jesus was ministering elsewhere when the death occurs, and He visits once he’s done ministering to the crowd. What’s different is that the closer Jesus gets, the thinner the crowd, until only His inner circle and the child’s parents remain as witnesses, whereas the raising of Lazarus was more public.

The way Mark puts this is almost humorous in verse 40: And they ridiculed Him. But when He put them all outside…” The juxtaposition is jarring, and there was probably nothing humorous about it, but Christ does not surrender His authority any more than the Father shares His glory. They left.

Jesus had no time for the faithless clamoring of useless mourning.

How bold they were to mock Him, knowing who He was, ‘knowing’ the child was dead.

But we’re not unlike them at times, even professing faith. We ‘know’ things that Jesus doesn’t about ourselves, our lives, our plans, our families…we are not as quick to submit to His authority in all aspects of our lives.

We ‘know’ it’s too late to start over, or the marriage is ending, or the delinquent child is never going to get it together….

We must begin to do with our own faithless behaviors what Jesus did to the doubters at the door: Put them all outside, and say to the things of G-d, “I say to you, arise.”

And like the little girl our Lord raised, we must feed those things in us of G-d that provides us with perseverance, and shut out that which distract us, taunt us, mock and abuse us by assailing us with the words and deeds of long ago. Give yourself something to eat.

Put them all outside, brothers and sisters, and as Jesus told Jairus: “Do not be afraid, only believe.”

Therefore I pray

Lord Jesus, help me to put outside all of the thoughts or feelings that are not tied into Your power to redeem me from sin.

Help me not to hear those who say “Don’t trouble the Teacher any longer,” so that I am not caught up in the noise of faithless fatalism.

Increase my peace in times of turmoil, my faith in the midst of trials, and my understanding in times of confusion.

Let me feel the presence of the Spirit as I enjoy the blessing of restoration.

Let me hold fast to the hope of being raised into eternal life in the Kingdom of G-d, to the cloud of witnesses after the Great Shout: ‘Come forth!’

I would not be among the faithless of the outer darkness who reject the Gospel because they ‘know’ there is no G-d. You say that in that time, as here, there will be weeping, for the killing of the soul is true death, and not merely sleep.

I would not be snatched from Your hand, even when I stray, so I ask Your forgiveness when I stood silent among those who ridiculed You.

I ask these things in faith, believing I’ve received, and for all my Brothers and Sisters who believe in You across the nations of the world.

Amen

Devotional 47: The Savior of the World

John 4: 39-42

39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.”40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word.

42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ,[a] the Savior of the world.”

What was this?

The disciples return to find Jesus not only ministering to a woman, but to a Samaritan at that.

They were the mongrel race of Jacob, full of mixed marriages and weird customs; the Father’s chosen were not to deal with them.

Did that not also hold true for His Son, the One who claimed to do His Father’s will?

The Judge of all nations had something in mind, and the mongrel race was of a piece of the Father’s plan this day, starting with it’s most devalued member. She was alone at the well because even among her own she was an outcast. It was her very lack of convention and propriety that allowed her to engage Jesus in conversation after His request for drink of water.

She challenges him along spiritual and racial lines, both of which He ignores, because He’s going to the root of the problem, and eventually gets from her a confession of knowledge that was never confirmed.

v.25 “I know that Messiah (who is called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.”

As Jesus proceeds to prophesy and tell her of her life, she is stirred to back to town and tell the people. It’s a selfless act for one who seems to lead a hedonistic lifestyle. Like Jonah, her sermon is short, but effective. There is something in her manner that compels them; a societal outcast is calling them back with her to the well to see a man she spoke with.

If nothing else, he sounds like a good man, and there’s not much to do, so they go.

And Jesus stays two days, preparing the ground to receive the sacrifice of His righteousness for those with reprobate lifestyles.

‘And many more believed because of His own word.’

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus

You have all wisdom and power, and see the hearts of humanity.

We who say we left all to follow You, love You, believe in all Your promises and miracles, yet we turn away from forgiving and praying for our enemies, much less minister to them.

I admit a hard heart regarding this too, Lord. It feels good to rage and curse, and like Andrew said, to call down fire from Heaven (thank You for not letting us do that). It is our nature to want to see our enemies brought low, and to point our fingers and laugh at their destruction.

But the Father says He takes no pleasure in it.

Still we excuse it with: “His ways are higher than ours, and we’re only human after all.”

Yet the Father says be holy as He is holy.

He not only expects us to do it, He commands it.

I confess I don’t want to. I ask that you help me to see my enemies for what they are: an unfinished, sinful work that needs a  Potter’s hands, a sinner who needs salvation, a man sick in his soul.

Help me not to say, “I thank You that I’m not like this man.”

Remind me I am to be a lamp on a hill, salt and light, and a fruitful vine so that all who hear of You through my words come to You and believe it for themselves.

By the Power of Your Name, I ask it.

Amen.