Devotional 57: In Vain They Worship

Defilement Comes from Within

15 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; [a] and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’[b] But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’[c]Thus you have made the commandment[d] of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And[e] honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”[f]

We are implored by Jesus to come, take, learn, and find rest when we exchange our yoke for His (Matthew 11:28-30), yet the Pharisees burdened themselves and the people with trimmings, trappings, and rituals that added to the Father’s commandment, while at the same time absolving themselves of keeping the Law.

Do we render the the commandments of G-d to no effect, not only through our traditions, but also through our desires? If we are honest, we all have the potential.

We too, as believers who love G-d amid our own struggles, have from time to time asked ourselves this question since the time of Eden: Did G-d really say….? in order to gratify our flesh in the immediate moment.

The self is a powerfully tempting spiritual stronghold for evil, and it is through our frailty  of mastering it that we are brought to suffering. For if Heaven is paradise, surely feeling good here on Earth is justified.

What we forget in pursuing earthly pleasure is that it’s fleeting at best, and damaging at worst.

We are to worship G-d in spirit and truth (John 4:24)

We are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Luke 10:27)

We are to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3)

We are to acknowledge that every good thing comes from Him (James 1:17)

And we are to give Him thanks and praise (Psalm 150:6)

The modern world sees this as outdated, imaginary, foolish, and limiting, when in fact it puts a hedge of protection around us and our loved ones since our lives are living stones, ministering to a lost and dying, dry and thirsty, spiritually bankrupt and morally compromised world.

Brothers and Sisters, let us be in the Word, which G-d says is higher than His Name, which is a lofty height indeed, since His Name is above all others. Determine for yourself to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Corinthians 2:2), with the promise of his power to restore us to life through faith in Him, raising us on the last day.

That’s all we need to know, and all we’ll ever need.

The rest is for the fire.

Let our worship not be in vain, for the sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. Let s not be taken in by the empty, erroneous, and transient doctrines of men seeking control, wealth, power, and vanity, thanking G-d they are not like the poor man standing next to them, instead of thanking Him for their blessings.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We are grateful that You speak to our weakness in doing that which we know You’ve commanded us. We thank You for the things we know of You, and revealing the Father’s will to us through grace, reconciling us to Him through faith in Your atoning work.

Those things the Father has hidden are, as King David said, knowledge to wonderful for us to attain (Psalm 139:6) We can no more fathom the Father’s mind than we can know all there is to know about His creation.

From where we stand, we are baffled that He made us at all, since it cost Him to send You to die for us, that we might be sinless before Him. On our best days as servants, we are bumbling and inept before You, and it is You who add to the numbers, and the Spirit who strikes the heart with conviction and reveals the Truth of the Word.

Yet the Father says He will return to us if we return to Him. (Zecharia 1:3)

So let us go to the House of the Lord, if not physically, then in our hearts and thoughts.

Let’s anoint our lips with oil to praise, light the incense of our hearts to give thanks, and make our worship pleasing to Him.

Lord Jesus, edify us, and seal the Word to our heats and minds, that we may not add men’s foolish doctrines to it and render the Father’s Word to no effect. Let its double-edge cleave knowledge and wisdom from foolishness and vanity.

In Your Name, we ask it.

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.

 

Christmas Mom

*For my own mom, born on Christmas Day: Annie D. Holland 1934-1990 Rest in Jesus.*

CHRISTMAS MOM

19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Beyond her song, Mary is silent, watchful, fearful, hearing words spoken about her son, her miracle child, who would change the world. Strange men smelling of sheep and the outdoors surround you and look at your baby with reverence, love and awe.

Day after day as she gathered with the women, did the older ones shun her, and the younger ones mock her? Did the men sadly shake their heads that she was allowed to remain among the people? Save for her visit to Elizabeth, we’re not really told what Mary went through, save the long journey to Bethlehem with a full belly, riding on the lumpy, hard back of a hairy animal for miles across desert country, before the frantic journey to Africa.

She endured with faithful obedience all that God said would happen. A woman of integrity, she did not turn from the path once she said, “Let it happen to me as You have said.” Indeed, her soul magnified the Lord to the point of singing…

Did she not sing “G-d exalts the humble’? She remained steadfast so that whatever they did or said didn’t cause her faith to break. She had seen the angel, and knew what G-d had told her.

And it was enough.

This Christmas, in our homes, may the bond between the blessed Mothers and their precious Children deepen in love, strengthen over time, grow in trust, and rejoice in gratitude for having one another, pondering in their hearts the wonder of it all.

 
Amen

Christmas Witness

CHRISTMAS WITNESS (Luke 2:17-18) Now when they had seen Him, they made widely 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.

A group of unschooled men on fire with a holy message should sound like a familiar bell to our ears. Walking the streets of Bethlehem, they spread the message: Emmanuel.

At the doors of the inns where the people slept, waking the highborn and the low, with fervent, reverent whispers, with excited gestures, with joyous shouts, they spread it throughout the length and breadth of their travels, throughout the night. Whatever silence there had been was now filled with something better: Emmanuel

And all those who heard wondered that these men, not prone to talk of things fantastic, not subject to flights of fancy, walked among them with something so important to them that they could not keep silent, speaking to them of visions and angels and heavenly praise, followed by directions to where a living prophecy fulfilled lay in a manger: Emmanuel

This Christmas, let us not keep silent in the face of those who would say “Stop speaking in this Name!”  Time grows short, and there are those who would yet marvel that our own hearts burn with a holy witness, though we’ve seen Him not.  Emmanuel (G-d with us)

Amen

Christmas Faith

CHRISTMAS FAITH: “So 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. And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” Luke 2:15-16

The shepherds, their attention so dramatically focused, their vision so profoundly heightened, had their hearts stirred to the point where, obedient in their faith, they immediately walked to Bethlehem. In a town full of people their steps were guided unerringly to where the Messiah lay,

They found His mother quietly turning the meaning of this over in her mind, and Joseph, his stepfather, quietly obedient in his secondary role, the meaning of his dream crystallizing in his mind.

Here at last was the Messiah, the Promise of Redemption, the Son of G-d.

In a crowded city, there were no crowds around Him.
In his royalty, there were yet no kings to honor Him.
In His deity there was no power, for He had subjugated it to His humanity.

Yet He came for everyone, yet He came as King of Kings, and yet He will reign forever.

As Christmas fast approaches, amid the noise and madness remember that the most important, profound, life changing and lasting things can take place in the humblest of circumstances.

Amen.

Christmas for All

CHRISTMAS FOR ALL Luke 2:10

“Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which will be to *ALL people.” *(Caps added).

Again, from the beginning, God intended His Word to reach ALL the nations, first to the Jews, then the Gentiles. It was never to be contained, but to enfold. The shepherds, social outcasts, were the FIRST to hear the news of the savior’s birth.

How is it then, that we debate over His skin color, what He said, who He meant it for, WHY He said it? The issues are trivial and from the pit of Hell that keep the FAMILY of GOD divided.

Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”

If He was Black, ALL NATIONS would include Europe, Sweden, Finland, etc. If He was White, ALL NATIONS would include Africa, India, South America, Asia. This is why the Model Prayer begins with: “OUR Father, who art in Heaven…” It is, “Thy will be done on EARTH,” not, “Thy will be done only in Israel.”

ACTS 17: 26-28
26 And He has made from ONE blood[a] EVERY nation of men to dwell on ALL the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ (caps added).

Include someone in your Christmas celebration that was never included before, and show them the love of Christ.

Christmas Lights

Luke 2:9

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.”

A light from Heaven suddenly overtakes you.

In your world, this has never happened. It’s night time, and you’re outside, and suddenly….

We have the gift of hindsight, but the shepherds were afraid. Greatly afraid.

Did they cry out, shield their eyes, maybe even start to run? Yet, the light was not hurting them, or blinding them, or burning them. It was just sudden.

He is the God of “suddenly.”

Remember the conversion of Saul? In Acts 9:3 we read:

“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.” 

We are admonished to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” (John 1:7)

May the light of God surround you with peace, and change your life, your heart, with the news of the blessed birth of our Savior. It really doesn’t matter what day, it matters that it happened.

“The people walking in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”  (Isaiah 9:2)

Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters.

Devotional 41: They Made Widely Known…

Luke 2:8-18  Glory in the Highest

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold,[a] an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[b]

15 So 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[c] 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.

The Father uses shepherds for all manner of things, from kings to evangelists.

They were often men of low birth, smelly, filthy, and ragged from the toils of their ignoble but necessary service. Yet in the fullness of time, when the Messiah finally arrived, it was to these and not the religious leaders that the angels appeared.

If anything this proved a foreshadowing of the unconventional ministry of our Lord: a King born in poverty, a Savior born amid peril, a Divinity clothed humanity, a Creator helpless in the arms of His earthly mother.

Why shepherds?

They were simple, as in uncomplicated: They weren’t puffed up with learning and ritual, they weren’t sidetracked by philosophy or obsessed with power and control, they had no trappings of office, and no real wealth to speak of that made them arrogant.

They were dutiful, as in responsible: They were in the fields at night, when more predators are about. Their lives were ever in danger, and their vigilance had to be constant at all times. They likely slept during the daylight hours  in order to be alert and earn their keep.

They were unified, as in co-operative: Whatever differences they may have had took a back seat to the fact that in order to survive the perils of the night’s watch, they had to work together to make it through.

They were fearful, as in reverent: When the angels appeared, they didn’t panic and run though they were afraid. After the assurance of the angel, after the blessing of the hosts, they rejoiced at the news.

They were bold, as in excited: Knowing how they were perceived by society at large, nevertheless they left for Bethlehem to see the Babe for themselves, and believing, they made what the angel told them widely known. They probably spent a great portion of the night traveling to wherever they would to spread the Good News, a foreshadowing of the Apostles going into the world, to make His resurrection widely known.

Therefore I pray:

Father, I’m not a shepherd. I’m not built for mountain perils or desert dangers, but You already know that, nor did You call me to it.

But I find that oftentimes, I’m not as the shepherds were: simple, dutiful, united with other believers, not reverent, and definitely not bold. 

Yet I would not be fruitless tree, cursed by the Messiah to never bear again. 

So Father, I ask for the shepherds’ heart, that I may make widely known the Good News of my Lord, who willed to reveal You to me, and sent me the Spirit to empower me and seal the Word of my salvation on my heart.

Equip me, Father, to find travel the long, hard distance to the narrow road; I would greet my brothers and sisters who walk with me there. I would see my family rejoicing in the Kingdom. I would save a lost soul who needs You, even if it’s just to plant a seed.

The lions and bears of life come for me. The desert sun of doubt and cold moon of rebellion makes my heart hard soil. My darkness is greater for the things I see, though I profess to know You. 

I would plead You send a star to guide me on the path back to my King, that I might worship Him in spirit and truth, and honor my vows to Him.

I would once again be a wise man bearing gifts for Him, ever seeking, rejoicing, glorifying and praising, and making widely known that which was told to me: He is Emmanuel.

“G-d is with us.”

I ask it in the power of His Name, believing I’ve received.

Amen.