Devotional 90: A True and Faithful Witness

Jeremiah 42:5-6 New King James Version
5 So they said to Jeremiah, “Let the Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the Lord your God sends us by you. 6 Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.”

The issue with calling on G-d to witness a pact is that since the heart of man is inclined to sin, evil, treachery, and disobedience, is that we are admonished not to make a vow to Him that we are not willing to keep.

Ecclesiastes 5:5  Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.

The Israelites were walking by sight, and forgot that time and again when they beseeched the Lord and turned from their sin, they were forgiven and restored.

The Father , however, was not above culling the sinful from their midst. They wanted to return to Egypt where they believed the conditions of bondage was better for them than the sovereignty of G-d. On the pretense of being obedient, they turned to Jeremiah to bring them the word of the Lord, but they also vowed to do whatever the Lord said, even if it was displeasing.

The prophet fulfilled his part, but here’s what the people responded:

43 Now it happened, when Jeremiah had stopped speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, all these words, 2 that Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men spoke, saying to Jeremiah, “You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to dwell there.’ 3 But Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may put us to death or carry us away captive to Babylon.”

They not only broke their vow, they did so in their self-importance, and thereby doomed the people who they were supposed to lead.

These days, our hearts are no less proud and defiant, and many have said by way of indulging themselves, “Only G-d can judge me.” And where that should frighten them, the implication is that G-d will not judge them harshly, because they don’t understand the nature of G-d. He is faithful, yes, and true, yes, but he is also just, which means that His punishments are as deserved as His blessings. His sovereignty in the final decision regarding the fate of your eternal soul will therefore not only be irrevocable, but it will be the right one.

This is why the faithless stand no chance, the unbeliever has signed his own death warrant, and the unrepentant backslider who’s renounced the atoning blood of Jesus is a son of hell.

Our own Savior tells us He does the Father’s will in such matters:

John 5:30-32 
30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

In order for the Father and Son to be of one mind and will, the Son came under obedience. Judgment is not a casual matter, but it is harsh and frightening, and the defiant will find their tongues to be silent as they tremble. The Apostle John tells us Jesus said more than once: “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Let us be mindful that if judgement starts with the Chosen of G-d, it will likely be harsher because the Son came to them first. What chance then, for us as imperfect believers? There is no chance for the unbeliever, but they have chosen for themselves.

There’s an ad on Facebook where secularists, atheists, skeptics, and agnostics can come together; it is described as a place for ‘happy godless people’ who think they’re going to get a chance to mouth off, flip off, and mock. Here is what the disciple who Jesus loved had to say on meeting Him:

Revelation 1:17

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me,“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.

‘…happy godless people.’

Jesus would say to us: “I tell you the truth, they have their reward.”

There are times as well when G-d assures of victory; let us not in an excess of emotion add vows to that which he told us, for He will test the truth of our words, and it may cost us dearly: (Judges 11:29-40)

Jephthah’s Vow and Victory
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the Lord delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim,[a] with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
Jephthah’s Daughter
34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.”
36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” 37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”
38 So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Jephthah didn’t need to make the vow, as the Lord had already set things in motion for his victory by the fact that the people came to him to deliver them.

None will escape the judgement of Heaven; don’t treat it lightly.

It is perfect, final, and to be greatly feared.

Therefore I pray:

Lord, let Your Spirit ever convict me, putting a guard on my heart, and over my mouth. Let my soul be steadfast in Your presence, for you have given me the strength and wisdom to run this race, and the mercy and grace to continue fighting until my work is done.

You understand that I can’t comprehend why You love me, or why You deemed me worthy of knowing the Truth, but I am thankful that You did.  You understand my limitations, but You’ve also called me to a higher standard.

You delivered me when I made my vow, and there are days in my life I have not honored it, falling under Your righteous judgment. I vow anew, in the spirit of sorrowful repentance, to fulfill it once more, and dedicate myself to serving You in the time that remains, for You have continued to bless and sustain me.

Refresh my spirit, heal my heart, and quicken my light, that I may guide the lost to You through the work You’ve given me, that they may glorify my Father in Heaven, through faith in You.

Help me to love as You love, to see that which the Father sees in all men, and fill my hands with such seeds as You would have me plant, or give me living water to pour where You would have me water.

To the Father I would bring honor and glory, rejoicing with those whom I’ve brought to faith, that they may be delivered from justice, cut off without remedy.

I ask in faith, believing I’ve received.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 89: Spirits in Prison

Christ’s Suffering and Ours

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited, in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

We are bound by flesh, a prison of the senses, subject to sin in order to gratify them.

As believers, we sometimes convince ourselves that indulging in a little compromising, a little backsliding, will remove the barriers that tempt us, and we’ll be forgiven and continue with our walk.

This is not supported by Christ’s example, and it is affirmed by His most volatile, mercurial disciple. Did not the Lord himself tell us to count the cost of following Him, (Luke 14:28), and to take up our crosses on a daily basis (Luke 9:23 ) and that if we look back we are not worthy of the kingdom of G-d? (Luke 9:62)

How then, will we excuse ourselves for lapsing? Had Christ done so, His work would have been unfinished, and in vain, and we’d die in our sins as reprobate as we’ve lived, as if He’d never come at all.

Still, under the covenant of grace, let us rejoice and give thanks for a Savior who showed us by example, through praying for His enemies (Luke 23:34) that He understands we are weak and prone to error and foolishness. He has provided a way of return for us to the Father, and to the kingdom, through His mercy.

Jesus well understands, and indeed instructed the Apostle Paul to write under the power of the Spirit that our battle is in the realm of that which returns to G-d through faith in Him.

Ephesians 6:12

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

The evil days are many, as are the persecutions that come with it.

But we have been set free, called out, chosen, forgiven, and reconciled, though we are presently disobedient daily as well, we are convicted and allowed to begin again. Our lights can shine as brightly from a dungeon as on a hill.

25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

It was Paul and Silas who sang, but those in their presence were also released.

Like the Psalmist, we know where our help comes from:

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Be free, and enter into His joy.

Therefore I pray:

Lord forgive us, for sometimes we lay these things at the altar and pick them up again, sometimes we forget, sometimes persecution causes us to compromise, and temptation to backslide. 

In those moments, in the night watches of our suffering souls, we thank You for tearing the veil, that we approach the throne, and throw ourselves on the mercy of our Creator, who is longsuffering, but not eternally so.

Bring to mind there will be a day of reckoning, of final and irrevocable judgment, and help us endure to the end, still wearing the whole armor of G-d, still trusting in You, still moving in the Spirit, still claiming the promises, as the servant who does his work not knowing when the Master will return.

Bless us that we may enter into Your joy with good consciences, steadfast hearts, and childlike faith, claiming the work You gave us to do is finished. Guide us so that the talents of our ministries increase and bear good fruit that withstands the testing of Your holy fire.

Let our hearts and lips be constantly in prayer, no matter what we suffer, that our day of deliverance draws nearer. Open the doors of our spiritual prisons, and free us in such a way those around us not only see, but we bring them with us down the Narrow Way carrying reaped sheaves of everlasting joy.

We ask it in Your Name, believing we’ve received.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 88: I Am Not of This World

John 8:21-30

Jesus Predicts His Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prophet Amos warns us: (Amos 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 86: Praise from Stones

Luke 19:32-40

32 So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them. 33 But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, “Why are you loosing the colt?”

34 And they said, “The Lord has need of him.” 35 Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him. 36 And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.

37 Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, 38 saying:

“ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”

40 But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

It’s been written that whenever Jesus performed a miracle publicly, the recipient went and declared what was done, and the people glorified G-d. All He did pointed back to the Father, and He requests that we do likewise. (Matthew 5:16)

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Look at what they say of Him: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.

While Jesus tells us that all authority in Heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18): the revelation of G-d, the authority to forgive sins, to impart the Holy Spirit,  to provide grace through His atoning work, and to execute the coming judgment, all of it is reconcile to Him who has the ability to cast soul and body into Hell, that is, our Father in Heaven.

Had Jesus not been faithful and obedient, had He given in to temptation, we would have no hope. He was fully man, and subjected to the same desires of the flesh we are. So determined are some to de-deify Him, there are people who say He was married to Mary Magdalene, or that He was only a teacher and good man, or that He was a creation of men’s councils in order to control the masses.

But why would they make up stories about a man they couldn’t control who claimed He received His authority from G-d?  A man who came down to forgive sins, when the Councils themselves were exploiting such things and using them to deal with political enemies?

They also try to stir up queries about the Agnostics and the Lost Books? If none of them have the story of salvation, of what use are they outside of study, or casting doubt?

Today, we hear the cries of Pharisees among the faithless and those who’ve turned away. They want us to stay silent and go away, but Jesus said “He who has ears, let Him hear.”

We sow, and plant, but it is G-d who gives the increase, and as such, our praises to Him, the fruit of our lips, the sweet aroma, sacrifice of praise, aligned with the love in our hearts, is so vital to Him that if we cease, rocks will cry out in our place.

As the Pharisees claimed Abraham as their source, look at what John the Baptist said in rebuke: (Matthew 3:7-10)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

And if we believe the Father is, in fact, Almighty, Jesus’ words confirms John’s statements.

Yet, we are also told this by Peter: (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

It is the characteristic of stones to be unwavering, to not be easily moved. Effort is required to throw even the smallest one. They endure all manner of abuse and elemental assaults. Sometimes they draw blood, but they also provide shelter (rocks). They can cause a person to stumble and fall, or even slip, if they’re small enough (gravel). They can drop us into the sea, if they’re heavy enough (millstones). They can kill, if they fall on us (boulders).

They are sturdy enough that the Israelites used them to cross rivers and mark the places where G-d had brought them through a trial.

We all have them; some are physical, and some spiritual, but I say all that to say this:

Look back on your stones, but open your lips, and let G-d fill your mouth with His praise.

Therefore I pray:

Let us be living stones today, on this holy day of blessing the Lord Jesus Christ, as we once again celebrate the completion of His earthly ministry.

Let there be praise, thanksgiving, and joy.

Let there be humility, love, and increased faith.

Let there be steadfastness of heart, and renewing of our spirits to endure to the end, and to bring those He’s put in our path, whether to plant, water, or increase. Out of these rocks, let Living Water flow.

Let us keep in our hearts the words of the Psalmist who said: (Psalm 86:11-12)

11 Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.

Lord Jesus, we praise Your name, and glorify the Father’s work through You in our lives, faithful to complete that which He’s begun, and to keep all His promises.

Let it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

Israel’s Consolation

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

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

that mourns in lonely exile here,

until the Son of G-d appears.

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

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

He was simply this: just, and devout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

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

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

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

Let it be to us as You have said.

Merry Christmas

 

 

Devotional 76: The Hired Man’s Rest

Job 14:1-6

14 “Man who is born of woman
Is of few days and full of trouble.
He comes forth like a flower and fades away;
He flees like a shadow and does not continue.
And do You open Your eyes on such a one,
And bring me[a] to judgment with Yourself?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one!
Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.
Look away from him that he may rest,
Till like a hired man he finishes his day.

 

I think it’s true that it’s when G-d moves in sovereignty, entrusting us with His silence, that we have our crises of faith. But we are encouraged to remember this:

18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:18)

Job, in the midst of his affliction, asks G-d to look away so that a man can rest. For him, it would be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If He doesn’t look on us, we can rest from the kingdom labor to which we’ve been called as believers.

These days, we’re certainly being tried and tested, as our once-sacred holiday season crumbles into  fits of mass hysteria and greed.

But we are yet called to remain as salt and light, yet to be light on the hill, and yet maintain our peace beyond understanding in circumstances that drive others to act emotionally and make bad decisions.

We are reminded in the Gospel of Luke by our Savior: ” “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

And again: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

We now live in prophesied times, where it was said that what was done in the darkness will come into the light, and men who thought they held power forever are being toppled.

Increasingly, we’ve heard major natural disasters being described as ‘unprecedented.’

Our Lord tells us that these are the beginnings of sorrow as we leave the year of the Lord’s favor, and enter into the day of his vengeance.

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24: 4-10)

We know in hindsight that although Job thought it was G-d who afflicted him, it was Satan, and what he saw as the one thing that kept Job connected to G-d was in fact not, although it was a barrier.

In the end, it’s Job who claims:

Job 42:4-6

Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”

There is nothing left for the enemy to use as a wedge against Job, and so it must be with all of us.

In the aftermath of our own afflictions, can we counted on to keep our integrity in the face of such affliction?

Remember that although He gives us the desires of our hearts, He also gives us over to our sins, should we persist in our willful rebellion.

(Romans 1:24-28)

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.

 

Neither did G-d spare His chosen, whom He handed over to their enemies on multiple occasions as they forgot Him and sold themselves, being brought back to repentance in the lands of their captivity.

Let there be no barriers, no potential weaponry of idolatry to give the enemy. In the days ahead, seek always to be mindful, prayerful, and peaceful.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

I would have no barriers between us, though there are times my thoughts and my heart toward you are full of frustrated emotions, and I act out in the short term instead of the eternal perspective.

Daily You examine me, and hold up for me the standard of Your Word, which is higher than Your name, and the words of Your Son, who shed His holy blood to turn Your wrath from me, and reconcile me to You as sinless, that I may enter into His joy in worshiping You eternally, in the light of Your presence shining on the new earth.

Help me to remember that although Your judgment isn’t swift in coming, it is no less terrible for the delay, for you tell us that vengeance is Yours, and You will repay.

We stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters with no voice, and are hated. Embolden our quailing spirits in the face of a secular population that no longer celebrates the season, but litters it with the luxurious garbage of the world, even purging the name of Your Son’s title from its celebration. Let us return to spirit and truth, and purge it also of its pageantry and pagan symbols.

We remember that He told us these days would come, and the love of many would grow cold.

It is a cold season in which we live now, so we ask, Father, for You to rekindle the flame of our first love within us, and like the star of Bethlehem, be an oddity among the things of the world, a one of a kind, unique, and shining wonder, brighter than any hillside lantern, shouting from the rooftops what You’ve whispered to us.

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” For faith comes by hearing the Word of the Lord, and one day, we will see You too, as Job did, with no filter between us, as it was meant to be before Adam, asking not, like the prodigal, that You make us as hired men for sinning against You, but as true sons of the kingdom, grafted in by Your mercy and grace.

And we ask that, like Job, our latter days be blessed with more fruit than the former, as new creations to Your glory.

In His name I ask, believing I’ve received. 

Amen.

 

Devotional 72: Not With a Loyal Heart

2 Chronicles 25:1-2

Amaziah Reigns in Judah

25 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a loyal heart.

The Chronicles, if nothing else, testify to man’s inner heart when he comes to power and prospers, when he leads others, and when or if he follows the Lord, as the Kings of Israel were supposed to do, but with Amaziah, there’s a different shading.

In His compassion, the Father granted the Israelites their desire not to deal directly with Him, as they sent Moses up the mountain, when G-d would have addressed them all. It grieved Him, but He did it, even though He also said everything the bad kings would cause them to do, and suffer.

The kings seemed cases of extremes, swinging Israel and Judah on the pendulums of their egos first one way, then the other, but with Amaziah, we see a difference: he did right, but not with a loyal heart.

How is that possible, to serve G-d doing good, but not with loyalty?

What, then, was in Amaziah’s heart: fear? Probably, for he saw what happened to the maverick kings, and he would not invite the Father’s wrath through his personal indulgence in all the potential debauchery a king could engage in.

Perhaps it was a sense of duty, obligations and rituals to be carried out, and he observed them along with the people, but did so with no joy or reverence.

As king, it could be said he carried out the letter of the Law, but had no spirit for it.

We call it ‘going through the motions,’ like people who hedge their bets by going to church on Christmas and Easter, like they’re keeping a foot in the door. They don’t want i to close, but they don’t want to come all the way inside to experience the Lord.

Perhaps he went through the motions during the day, and publicly, and indulged himself ‘a little bit’ privately.

We’ve had those days, those emotions, perhaps even today. We go through the day the Lord has made with no thought of Him other than ‘getting that out of the way,’ and coming back to the daily milling wheels He has us push around in seemingly pointless circles, to an audience of mockers and scoffers.

Is that all there is? they ask.

Where is your G-d?  they ask.

or, as they said to a pastor I know: ‘Oh, you’re one of those.

As I write this, it’s raining here, and I thought about how my day’s plans are now ruined, yet I have no idea if the sun is coming out later today.

Yet, I’m out of the rain, and I can write this on a pretty neat machine that allows me to do it quickly and share it with you, while having my coffee. By those standards, if my plans have to wait on the weather, should I not be assured that what I need to do will get done, just not on my schedule? By those standards, am I not blessed and provided for by His hand? Has He not told me not to worry on these things, because in His eyes I’m worth more than the birds that He also provides for?

And I remember I’m told to let my light shine before men, and that in this hostile climate of the nation I’m not allowed to hate my brothers, that I’m set apart and called to a higher standard, and I’m to serve and praise in spirit and truth, and keep the statutes and commandments passed on to us through the Son, confess Him before doubting, sinful, earthly minded people, and abide in Him, because I’m incapable of doing all of that without Him.

I say this to tell you that the first I focused on this morning was me, even as I got up and prepared to write this. So you see these are as much for me redirecting that focus as they are for anybody else.

Believers, we are told to guard our hearts for a reason; it is as possible to do good in the flesh as it is to do evil, yet our Savior tells us that if we do that, we have our reward, and to not let our left hand know what our right is doing.

In times of trial, grief, and loss, when our hearts are heavy, and reasons for them aren’t present, we can turn tearful eyes and angry hearts to Heaven, and like the rich young ruler, walk away with great sadness, having made our choice.

May the Lord’s voice be gentle in your ear: ‘Will you also go away?’ Like the unsteady, passionate Peter, let us answer: ‘To whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

It is the reason G-d says Israel  ‘honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8)

There is a reason why it’s first in the list when Jesus says, ‘Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ (Luke 10:27)

And to not let them be troubled by our fear: ‘Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (John 14:27)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We lift our hearts to You today, to do that which You need to it, for change, for cleansing, for softening so that Your words are fall into fertile spiritual soil that delights to do Your will.

Let our hearts be quiet within us when calamity comes, when the outside world is scornful and full of men scrambling for power they can’t keep, in a world they can’t stay in.

Let our hearts be steadfast within us when moments of doubt come, when the foolish wisdom of men and their philosophies seems to contain a form of godliness, but lacks the truth.

Let our hearts rejoice within us today at the reading of Your Holy Word, in the praises of our singing, and in the works of our hands as we minister and serve in Your Name, and to Your Glory. 

We thank You for this day, whatever the weather may be, whatever our plans are, and we will rejoice in it with grateful hearts of fear, reverence, and love as we gather to praise You, or meet with You in the quiet places of our souls as we speak to You alone. 

Replace the hearts of stone with those of flesh, tender, receptive, and discerning, as we turn them back to you, reconciled in the work of Your Son, to Your glory, and redemption of our souls.

I ask it, 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 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