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

 

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 65: The Right Hand of the Power

Matthew 26:62-64
62 And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Our Lord tells us that G-d is spirit, (John 4:24), and we are told that in the new Heaven there will be no sun, only the Light of G-d. In our human minds, what is brighter and more life sustaining than the sun?

Yet, the power of the sun burns by the power of G-d, our Creator.

As faith was the key to the working of miracles (“According to your faith, let it be done to you.” Jesus told them), so to do sinfulness, unrepentance, and faithlessness grant power to the influence of sin and the grave, which is also spoken of as having power of its own. If it didn’t, there would have been no need for Jesus to break it.

What we know as believers are two things:

  1. We will all rise to spend eternity somewhere, either in the presence of G-d, or separated from Him. Jesus’ tells us there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth at the time of the harvest separation.

2.  Every knee will bow, and tongue confess, that Jesus is Lord, including the knees                 and tongues of those who will die in their sins.

As Charles Stanley once said, for some it will be a submission done in joy, and for others in angry, fearful resentment and sadness.

In this verse, this is the only time Christ names G-d as Power, though he spoke of it earlier to the Sadducees regarding the resurrection and marriage in the afterlife. (Matthew 22:29)

 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 

For me, the most telling thing about that very power takes place when before Jesus came out, at the moment of His death, graves were opened. Stones were rolled away from tombs all over the place. (Matthew 27:50-54)

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

They came out afterward, that Jesus might be called the firstfruits of our redemption.

Imagine the joy of those families who the dead returned too, the sense of wonder, the questions and testimonies, the buzz throughout the community that echoed Mary’s own question: How could this be?

This is why I can’t get caught up in the modern crazy.

Yes, these men have power, and we are under authority, but let us remember the words of Jesus to Pilate: John 19:11
11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

Yes, we are to pray for them, but G-d is sovereign in these things, and brings down one to bring up another. In that instance, as Peter tells us:

17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear G-d. Honor the king. 

We are to honor the king, but we are to fear G-d, as Jesus tells us not to fear men who can only kill the body, but fear the One who can cast both into hell. (Matthew 10:28)

G-d will not compromise; He is not winking at sin, and the authority He’s granted to His Son will not be revoked, and is not a thing to be trifled with; we do so to the peril of our own souls.

There is a reason, Brothers and Sisters, we refer to Him as ‘The Almighty.’  He will be the source of light for the new earth, shining from the new heaven, and the sun won’t even be a memory.

He holds the universe together, He has named all the stars,  He watches the sparrows, and He lovingly redeems the faithful souls of His creation.

That is Power indeed.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

You are the source of my life, health, and strength. No weapon formed shall prosper, but You did not say it would not be formed. Living in the world of Your enemy, who is ours also, as we are Your sons and daughters, we ask that through Your power and will to defeat him for You strengthen us as well.

Your Son has said to us that Heaven suffers violence, and it is taken by force.

Give us spirits of bold violence, Lord, to stand in the face of Your enemies and declare Your Son to the trembling demons, to bring down their strongholds, to disarm them of their weapons, and to plant seeds that will bring them to Your throne.

The full armor is hard to bear for this soldier, Lord. Often, he stumbles and falls under its weight. He does not take care of it as he should, and leaves openings for the fiery darts that pierce him and cause him to stray, to run, to give up, to desert the fight.

And You send Your Son to me to show me His hands and remind me that the victory is won, and all I need to do is call upon Him to save me. He tells me the truth:  You are faithful and just to forgive an this errant knight once again, restore him to his senses,  hand him back his weapons and say, “Go here.”

And he goes, in the grace of His redeemer, but by the Power of Your will.

We engage the day’s troubles anew, knowing that You are watching over us, and in reverent fear, we thank You for the strength to overcome it, through the power of our Lord and Savior, given to us by the power of Your love.

Thank You, Almighty  G-d, for favor, blessing, glory, and honor. May we return it all to you with interest, as the good servant in the parable of the talents pleased his master.

In the Name of Your Son, Jesus, I ask it.

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 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.