Devotional 87: His Disciples Remembered

John 2:13-22

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”[b]

18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”

19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”

21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

It took His resurrection to for them to finally understand; until then, though they walked with Him, they seemed to be in a perpetual fog. Jesus understood they were unlearned in the way of study, but they were simple men with a practical understanding of the world, so having no other point of reference, it could only be through faith for them to continue walking with Him.

Verse after verse, we see their failings, doubt, desire for power, and inability to figure out what Jesus actually meant. Occasionally, there were breaks in the clouds (John 16:25-29)

Jesus Christ Has Overcome the World

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you;27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

29 His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”

But most of the time, He was teaching above their ability to understand. They were afraid to ask Him questions, or thought He was referencing bread, or water, or again, the practical needs of a mortal man. The key was that they believed He was from G-d, because of what they saw Him doing.

Even when the tomb was empty and He appeared to them, He again had to help their unbelief: (Luke 24:36-40)

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.

and again, He opens the Scriptures: Luke 24:44-47

The Scriptures Opened

44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

The apostle Paul tells us:

12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

In the meantime, we have more than the disciples possessed. Indeed, we have their own blessed witness, and the words of the risen Lord himself, to help us abide until He returns.

Until then, let us remember what Jesus said to Thomas (John 20:29)

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Therefore I pray:

We thank You, Lord Jesus, for your atoning work, for choosing us out of the world, for revealing the will of the Father for our lives, and for calling us to bear fruit for the glory of  the kingdom.

Bring to mind that it also brings the persecutions and resistance of Heaven’s enemy, and the closer we walk with You, the stronger they become.

We pray Your protection on us and our loved ones, Lord, and for that which the Father allows to come through to sift us, we ask that You gird us up. 

Let us not be negligent or fearful of our duty to take up the sword of the Word of G-d, that we might not be led astray by false teachers, that no weapon formed against us prospers, that the tongues of those who speak against be brought to shame, and that the very devil himself is forced to flee.

We praise Your holy name today, Lord, in thankfulness and joy that You counted us worthy to reveal the Father’s will to reconcile our sinful hearts. We thank You for encouraging us through our clouds of witnesses, and those loved ones who’ve gone before us.

We believe, though we see through a dark glass. We believe the tomb is empty, and Heaven is full of Your glory. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit that raised You and others from their graves. We believe You are a fair and just judge, and our only way to Heaven. 

We believe You are sent of the Father to save us, and believe we will dwell with You in His presence, now and forevermore.

And so today, Lord Jesus, we respond in awe and reverence as Thomas did when humbled by Your mercy and gentle rebuke:

My Lord, and my G-d.

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.

 

Devotional 85: Repentance and Remission

Luke 24:44-49

The Scriptures Opened

44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise[a] from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

We’ve met the unbeliever who tells us of the contradictions between the Old and New Testaments, but since they don’t have the Holy Spirit, to reveal the truth of the Word, they read it with no understanding and no guide; they are indeed reading a language that’s foreign to them, so they point to the Councils, to Rome, to the frailty of error-prone, sinful men, to colonizing races who created the Bible for purposes of control, and overall  dismiss it as another variation on international myths.

But under the Spirit’s guidance and prompting in writing this blog, I tend to connect verses that line up. It is not a matter of picking and choosing that which agrees with my subject, it is because the Word of the Father is consistent, and reinforces itself.

While we may not understand it all in some matters of G-d’s sovereignty (and yes, we are free to ask about it), if we need any more proof to know that agreement in what’s written across the years is Spirit led, He confirms it with His own words: The Law, Prophets, and Psalms all speak of His work here on earth.

It is now our work, and the churches of America have found themselves adrift because so many are not preaching the repentance and remission of sins, they’re making G-d into some kind of magic genie.

The Prayer of Jabez, written years ago, was being used like an enchanted talisman as the prosperity gospel gained a following; people increased their offerings so their material and financial blessings would increase as well.

G-d knows our hearts, and as He sees in the night the same as the noonday (Psalm 139:12) that is the reason our sins will find us out. There’s no such thing as a secret organization, and there will be no such thing as a hidden sin. We confess and repent (sin no more), and then forgiveness.

It is of those who don’t confess and repent that Jesus speaks of when He says,

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

While we have been chosen and called out of world, and while we are called to minister the Gospel,we are yet capable of sinning.

Remission is a return to an unaffected state, where we are free of the influences of sin.

Jesus tells us to take up our cross, and Paul tells us to crucify the flesh. This is so we remain in a state of spiritual purity in spite of being bound by earthly things. The covenant of grace is for the remission as we repent, but we are cautioned (Matthew 6:22-23)

22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

We cannot claim we follow Christ living worldly existences, but if all fall short, then all will attempt it, and all will fail. It’s just a matter of time and degree. We are blessed indeed to have a cloud of witnesses that encourage us to continue fighting  (Hebrews 12:1) and an Intercessor constantly before the Father on our behalf  (Luke 23:34)

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

If  our faith is as filthy rags before You on our best days, our effort to repent is likely worse. Crucifixion was a harsh, painful, bloody process, and with the exception of the Resurrection, a permanent condition.

It is not so with us, Lord. Our sins are constantly taken down and reused, even enjoyed, though the times in between may grow longer. Blessed are those whose hearts have been truly changed, and who follow the command to sin no more.

I have not guarded my heart, stilled my tongue, or made a covenant with my eyes. I ask for Your help to do these things,  but when I feel the tug of Your staff, or hear the still, small voice of the Spirit checking me, I pull away. I am a rebellious, tempestuous sheep who will not stay inside the fence of Your protection.

My purity is hopelessly soiled until I get on my knees and submit to Your cleansing hand, washing me in the holy blood of Your sacrifice until I once again am guiltless before the Almighty.

I thank You for new mercies, for endless grace, for long-suffering love, and for coming after me in spite of my sinful nature.

Today, O Lord, I ask that You receive me: I confess my sins to You, and I repent of all that I’ve done to grieve you in the year of G-d’s favor. I am sorry that I’ve broken fellowship. I’m sorry for the days when the Father is as abstract to me as the math of astronomers. It is knowledge too wonderful that I can’t attain, and therefore spurn.

I’m sorry when I’m as faithless as those to whom I’m supposed to minister, and they see no difference, for then I am denying You before men, and practicing lawlessness.

I beseech You, once again, that I not go on sinning so grace may abound, but I know that even today, if I fall, You will receive me again if I return.

Strengthen me, Lord, and restore me so that when I return, I may strengthen my brothers and sisters.

I ask it by the power in Your Name.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 84: A Manner of Spirit

Luke 9:51-56

A Samaritan Village Rejects the Savior

51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. And they went to another village.

It happens most days, doesn’t it?

The slights, insults, dirty looks, unkindness, rudeness and disrespect as society deflates in the absence of G-d increases in frequency and intensity every time we look at the media, or even step outside.

Dave Barry the humor columnist once wrote an article on how playing the Mario Bros. video game was a lot like life: you’re walking down the street on a sunny day minding your business, and hostile forces gather to randomly attack you.

But we know those forces aren’t random.

We are told to minister the Gospel, we are not told to pound it into the heads of those who reject it. They’ve heard, and those whose hearts are ready to receive will do so; it is up to Jesus to reveal the Father to them (Luke 10:22) 

It is then the job of the Holy Spirit to revel the Truth behind the Word.

As this Samaritan village rejected Him, we have the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and Jesus stayed with that village for two days. (John 4:39-42)

The question that was asked, however, was not about salvation, but annihilation. James and John didn’t just want the city burned, but consumed. The spirit in which it was asked was not in anger, or even in defense of Jesus, but a spirit of pride; there is no question they would have bragged of this deed for the rest of their lives.

Even more erroneously, they would have believed themselves to be in Elijah’s company as prophets.

We are now in an age of persecution from without, but we are also watching the love of many grow cold. Prophets give no dates, they just reveal events, and as the woman at the well perceived Jesus to be a prophet first, let us remember that He came to us in like manner to tell us to repent, for the days of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven is only through faith in Him.

I saw an article about people who  brought their guns to church to be blessed: they so desperately want to hold on to their man-made traditions, they will co-opt G-d’s name to sign off on things that have nothing to do with His will for us.

And if you drive a car at all, there are days you’ve wanted to call down fire. Just remember, there are those who would call down fire on you. What manner of spirit is that? Yours is holy, and theirs isn’t? We are not told what Jesus said to them in rebuke, but Jesus never dealt with the surface of emotions, it was always the heart.

It’s okay (Well, it isn’t, but it’s done).  We’ve all felt it, and Jesus Himself told the Pharisees as they mocked Him on the cross that He could call down legions of angels to deliver Him and slaughter the enemies of G-d right then and there. But he’d already had His test by Satan, and He passed, delivered at the moment of His greatest vulnerability outside the Garden of Gethsemane, when the angels came to minister and restore Him.

As for the rest, they now await His command, and there will be no sparing. As He is the only one worthy to open the Book, to read the scroll, to judge the nations, to forgive sins on earth, and to lead the angels of harvest, so too, let us leave the calling down of G-d’s divine justice to Him.  He has done all things well, according to the Father’s will.

Well did King David ask: “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) regarding the only thing he did wrong in G-d’s sight. (1 Kings 15:5)

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

I thank You for covenant of grace, for ministering to me in the year of the Lord G-d’s favor. I thank You for revealing the Truth of Your work, the Truth of G-d’s Word, and sealing me with the power of the Holy Spirit.

I thank You also, that even under that covenant, we are not given free reign to do as we please, for we would do that which does not please You. Our bodies are not our own, and our wills are subject to Yours if we would see this through to the end. Indeed, our very souls are subject to Your unerring judgment, according to that which we’ve done and said to Your glory.

We forget, for our flesh is easily led astray by a powerful enemy.  Sometimes we forget that he’s defeated. Sometimes we forget he has no power save that which we give him. And sometimes he’s asked You to sift us, and You’ve allowed it, only to bring us back to You, as Job in his righteousness was still able to grow in his understanding of the Father.

As we subject our spirits to the desires of our flesh, we sometimes use Your name to justify our rebellion, and impose our own beliefs over the Word’s truth. 

Lord, You’ve called us friends, and in the Word it says wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses;  You always tell Your disciples, “Assuredly, I tell you the truth…”

Continue to check our spirits, Lord; renew them for Your service, and to Your glory, that those who see us may glorify our Father in heaven.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 83: Appointed to Eternal Life

Acts 13:44-48

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:

‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’[a]

48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Paul’s missionary journeys ran the the gamut from natural, spiritual, and physical threats no matter where he went, and he indeed suffered for the Lord’s Name. He found in his own ministries patterns that were similar to those of Christ’s when confronting the religious leaders: the size of the crowds equaled the effectiveness of their ministry, and the number of converts added to their coffers, which for them reflected the favor of G-d, though they weren’t concerned with Heavenly things.

Like Christ, Paul taught with authority, but guided by Christ, Paul spoke to their spiritual needs and drove them into rages by his ability to prove, consistently, that Christ was the Promised One from the original scriptures they so loved to use to control the masses under the Law. (Acts 9:22)

22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

As Peter serves us as an example of our spiritual volatility, Paul serves as an example of what it can be in its constancy. He even challenged Peter when Peter began to compromise with those who weren’t willing to let grace be sufficient. (Galatians 2:18 – 21)

11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?

In this particular instance in the Book of Acts, we are told that as Paul ministered in Antioch, those who were appointed to eternal life believed. As was with the multitudes that followed Christ, not all were converted to faith, but those on the fringes of the crowd who dared to hope that G-d might yet find something in them worth redeeming would come closer as words of  G-d’s love, redemption and grace drew them in.

The King, in his sovereignty, gets to decide who is part of his kingdom, and when his messengers go out, they don’t pass its borders. Yet we have a High King, who loved us before the foundation of the world. We have an Overlord, who takes care of us, for the lord of the land was to see to it that all under his rule had bread.

And He is the Bread of Life.

As we celebrate the coming season of our Risen Lord, let us give thanks that we have been marked as a divine appointment to be part of the Kingdom of G-d. We are the chosen of Christ, grafted in with the Chosen of Israel, our calling and election assured and sealed by the Holy Spirit through our faith in His redemptive work at Calvary.

The appointment is over. Where we go and what we do next is no less subject to His will.

It may not be as dramatic as building churches around the world, but it has no less impact if it is the center of His will, and part of His eternal plan for our eternal lives.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

I approach the throne today not in a spirit of boldness, but reverent fear that You deem one such as me, in my wretched, unclean state, to be sanctified and cleansed, rendering me guiltless before Him who is able to cast my soul and body into hell.

Paul told those who countered him with contradictions and blasphemies, who denied the Truth in their lust for earthly comfort and the praises of men, that they marked themselves as unworthy to receive the gift.

Let it not be so with me, Lord, for You tell us all who come to You will not be turned away. When I speak of You, let those who stand on the fringes of the crowd come close, that they too may be appointed for the work You will begin and complete in their lives.

Let me not take on undue burdens, that I may compromise the Father’s Word, and deny You before men. You’ve appointed me as an ambassador for You, and anointed me with talents and gifts to be used for Your glory, according to the those things You have spoken over my life.

I pray for integrity in all things, and strength in the face of the trials and persecutions You tell us are the price of obedience and ministry. Send appointments across my path, that I may sow and pray, rejoicing with them that You have called them to life everlasting in Your kingdom.

May it be done to me as You have said. 

Amen.

 

Devotional 82: A Chosen Vessel

 

Acts 9:11-15

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

The art of selection, depending on what you’re looking for, and why, is largely a matter of outward appearance: quality, sturdiness, appearance (decor, if you prefer),  your perception of whether or not the item you’ve chosen meets the criteria to do the job you require.

The Father doesn’t work with appearances that way, and he surely didn’t work that way in the life of the most ardent, unlikely disciple: Saul of Tarsus, arguably the most legalistic and zealous Pharisee of his day, to the point where he had a fearsome reputation among those who followed Christ as a cruel man who embarrassed believers by leading them off in chains.

If nothing else, the Word is full of the unlikely, the lowly, and the outcast standing before the mighty, the powerful, the rulers, and proclaiming the even more fearsome Word of the Lord.  It was to their own peril, and the peril of those around them, if they focused on the outward appearance of the man instead of the selection of the G-d who sees, and tests, our hearts.

This goes back as far as Joseph, the runt of the litter, but the favored of his father.

This goes back as far as Samuel, who immediately went for the tallest and strongest among those who would be king over Israel, until the Lord checked him, and led him to inquire about David, the shepherd, regarded as the least likely of Jesse’s sons to do anything great, much less rule.

It goes all the way through to Amos, a tree gardener, with no credentials in the clergy at all, a man on the periphery of an already obscure service.

It’s in the humble birth of Jesus, born to poor parents in a humble setting, for an event as simple as gathering for a census count.

It happens again when the thief on the cross, after a life given over to sin, receives salvation in the last hours of his life, through a simple statement of faith.

But not so for Paul; his educational credentials were unimpeachable, and he admonished men to show themselves approved of their callings (2nd Timothy 2:15)

The spectrum continues on in us, called of Christ, confirmed by the Spirit, chosen by the Father to do the mission work of the Kingdom in pointing lost souls to the Way.

We fail along the Way ourselves, but we are chosen vessels all the same. The Lord repairs us with times of refreshing, and only bids that we open our mouths, and through faith let Him speak to the needs of those who are standing before us, before Him, in the hope that they have ears to hear.

We are sowers, church builders, teachers, living sacrifices, living stones, priests, kings, gods (John 10:34) prophets, healers, and artists and craftsman of every stripe.

And so it was with Paul: the same zeal he had to persecute the Church was the very same zeal he used to defend it, to the point where it says he ‘confounded’ the Jews by proving Christ was written of in what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus told them: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)

Out the billions born since then, we too are chosen vessels, made to His purposes, filled with His will, for the Gospel of Christ and the salvation of all nations, and to the Father’s glory.  Such zeal as we have, and such persecutions as we suffer for our faith, let us not waver, even unto death.

He chose us before the foundation of the world, and ordained us to his purpose, giving us the gifts to fulfill them, shaping us that we may withstand the tests and trials to come, and tells us: “Be of good cheer,” and “Do not be afraid.”

He knows, and He will bring the work to completion.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You say no ones come to You unless the Father draws them, and the Spirit will come to reveal the Truth of the Word to those whom the Father chooses. 

You tell us no one can snatch us from Your hand, but You never said we could not wriggle out.  I fear sometimes that I may fall of my dark volition, my unrepentant desire to walk in two worlds, when You tell me I too, at the peril of my eternal soul, must choose You over all. (Luke 9:24-25)

Yet Your disciple, Paul, tells us that Your message is foolishness to those who are perishing. (1 Corinthians, 1:18)  You tell us that persecution and the delivering up to faithless authorities is our earthly reward, but that to lose our lives is to gain the kingdom. 

Paul tell us also, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

We ask, in these times, that You gird us, and help our unbelief. Give us new hearts, and a spirit of boldness. Give us a mustard seed of faith to speak to our mountains, and let us abide in You, that our fruit may be good as well as abundant. 

Let us rejoice in the trials that beset us, and keep our eyes focused on You, with the Word of G-d as a lamp, held higher than His Name to light our paths that lead to the Narrow Road, through the torn veil, to Your throne at G-d’s right hand, and to the Kingdom of Heaven in His presence forever.

Let the dark glass of the world be cleansed, that we may finally see, and understand, as You wipe the tears from our eyes, and bid us enter into Your rest, having fulfilled our purposes as Your vessels.

We would hear, “Well done.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Devotional 81: Do Not Forbid Him

 

Mark 9:38-41

Jesus Forbids Sectarianism

38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

And yet, do we not have sectarianism among us?

We are unified in Christ, and through our faith in the cross and resurrection, so whether we see the differences in what we believe to be true about that as vast or negligible, it is because of our hard hearts and tender spirits, for as the writer of Hebrews tells us, He did it once, for all.

We are indeed fortunate to have a Savior who understands that we are but human, and incapable, without Him, of setting aside these things. We fight with over the irrelevant with other believers, pitting leaders’ ambitions against each other.

There are even choir competitions: singing the praises of G-d has for prize money. There is a time for splendor, and playing skillfully, and singing well, but what should be a celebration to the glory of G-d has become a contest for who has the better robes, choir director, and worship band.

The late Pastor Adrian Rogers once said that if Satan can’t get us to do evil in the flesh, he can make us do good in it: our works, therefore, are for self-aggrandizement, even if  only we know about it.

It is not doing for the least out of love for our brother, but doing for the least so that our ‘bases are covered.’ I feel that way about the special reminders to give to the poor and feed the homeless during the holidays, as if they were a box of neglected decorations that we get to put back after New Year’s Day. They are like the people who attend church on Christmas and Easter, ‘just in case.’

As Chris Rock said: “I’m sure (the homeless) are just as hungry on President’s Day.”

In America, our churches are mostly segregated, and there’s strife even about man-made doctrine and church policies, music styles, preaching styles, and all the other things that become relevant when the focus is taken off Christ.

We all would do well, especially among the leadership, to bring to mind the words of the Apostle Paul: (1 Corinthians 2: 1-5)

Christ Crucified

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

And if we have studied at all, we know there was no more worldly place than Corinth.

This is not to say that pastors, leaders, and believers should not become involved in each other’s lives, form friendships, and such; even Jesus had an inner circle.  But as we minister we are to continually remind ourselves and each other of this: the focus is Christ, the mission is the Gospel, and all that we do is to be done in love, and to the glory of G-d.

Matthew 15:29-31

Jesus Heals Great Multitudes

29 Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. 31 So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus did the healing, but the glory went to G-d.

Yet our Lord tells us that no one who works a miracle in His name can speak ill of Him, and it need not even be a miracle, but a cup of water.

All that we do in love need not be grand, or spectacular, or on display.

Let your act of kindness, no matter how small, be to His glory, and if your neighbor does a different one, our Lord commands that you not rebuke them because they don’t believe the same as you.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

We give thanks today that the Father is long-suffering, and merciful.

We thank You for being our Shepherd, for the flock is amazingly vast, and incredibly impulsive.

Like the disciples, we don’t always understand, and we don’t always believe; there were those who doubted they saw You after the resurrection.

But our hearts are for the kingdom, and You tell us You are here to help us, and have sent the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the truth in all You told your disciples, and G-d has preserved His word for those He called to You through that power.

We pray today for the lost in the churches who’ve placed the doctrine of men over the Word of the Lord, and in their error and pride, give status and prestige to pastors and leaders and entertainers; we ask that the Spirit convict us if we are of such, for the Father doesn’t share His glory, and is the only one worthy of our praise. As You tell us of those who do their deeds for the praises of men, they have their reward.

Let us abide in You, that we may be reminded to go about doing good, and preaching the Gospel, and ministering to the least with as little as a cup of water. Let us study to show ourselves approved, and know when we are being led astray.

Let our faith be child-like, our zeal like Paul’s, and our focus on the kingdom and the Father like Yours, unwavering in the face of all the worldly opposition, and even the temptations of Satan.

Help us to keep in mind, above all, that You’ve said this about sectarianism:  

“Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

May it be to us as You have said. 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devotional 80: They All Said Likewise

Mark 14:27-31

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.’

28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.

30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And they all said likewise.

It is in the struggle of the day to day that as we strive to be more like Christ, we reveal ourselves to be more like Peter when Jesus was captured. We are sincere in our hearts and minds, but what doesn’t bear us out are the actions.

The Parable of the Sower is quoted so often because it is so true, and speaks to not only the heart, but our spirit nature as well. Because it dwells within a mortal frame, and the mortal frame seeks its own comfort, we find that we, like the Apostle Paul, do that which we don’t want to do.

There are books aplenty on how to focus during prayer, how to pray more powerfully, more earnestly. There are books on fasting, and connecting with our spirit. There are books and cds and podcasts all dealing with the issue of being more devout because as we go about our earthly existence, we are not, in most cases, working out our salvation and heeding the Holy Spirit’s call to our own spirit.

It’s about achieving levels of consistency that keep us in Jesus’ presence, and yet, we have this story: a simple fisherman, selected by Christ Himself, as passionate and mercurial a man as could be found, a man whose fate was so fearful to Satan that he asked Jesus to sift Him, made a vow he believed to be true, and wasn’t worth the air it took to breathe it.

Luke 22:  31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter then proceeds to fall asleep in Gethsemane’s courtyard, and in waking, cuts off a soldier’s ear. And we all know as the night proceeds, Jesus’ prophecy comes true, causing Peter to weep.

And as Jesus is arrested, we are told these devout disciples, whose passionate claims of loyalty were still in their hearts, broke apart like hammered stones.

Mark 14:50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Jesus knew, for we are told He knows what’s in the hearts of men; He tells us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But He also knows that if we stray, if we have a mustard seed of faith, that we will return. And when we do, we must strengthen our brethren.

Are we hiding in the crowd today? Are the soldiers watching, waiting for those who’d point the way to you and say, “There they are.”?  Are we vehemently denying to the prince of this world’s servants, with a curse, that we don’t know the Man?

Are our hearts bitterly weeping when we come back to ourselves when we’re alone?

No, believer, not for us the Field of Blood, but Calvary, always. Jesus has prayed for us, and tells us that all who the Father gives Him will not be taken away. He tells us He does not in any way cast out those who seek Him. The Father tells us that if we return to Him, He will return to us, in His longsuffering and desire to forgive and restore us.

There is yet time, and there is yet grace.

Jesus will get us alone and ask: “Do you love me more than these?”

He asked Peter three times, to remove each denial, until Peter was cut to the heart and grieved that the Lord would question him, though I believe in his spirit he knew what was taking place.

It is a wonderful thing to see that after the Ascension, we read these words:

Acts 2:14

Peter’s Sermon

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

Be encouraged then, brothers and sisters, in the covenant of His mercy and grace; He’s prayed for us, and waits for our return. He restores us in body and soul, and we are once again in the fold of our Good Shepherd.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

You tell us that if we deny You before men, You deny us to the Father.

Yet we know that You sighed in Your spirit, You marveled at the centurion’s faith, You wept for Lazarus, You drove out the money lenders, and rebuked the very ones You called for their hardness of heart when they were told You had risen.

You asked for another way to avoid the pain of the Cross, seeing the agony ahead, and as the Apostle Paul tells us, despising the shame. 

What we do not read is that You were afraid, and did not deny the Father, though Satan himself tempted You in a moment where the angels had to minister to You.

Let us remember that when our faith appears dead, and our hearts fearful, and our spirits silent, You speak to us as to the man whose daughter died, and they told him not to trouble You.:

Mark 5:36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Today, we gather together to sing Your praises, to thank You for your sacrifice in reconciling us, in calling us, revealing the will of the Father for us through the power of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin.

Today, we return to You, and ask that you strengthen us for the days ahead.

Gird us up as we stand with other believers, and amid the enemy’s servants, to say in word and deed: “Heed my words.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 79: Not His Doctrine

John 7:14-18

14 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”

16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.

In all things, and throughout the four Gospels, Jesus never wavers in His proclamations of where He came from, and to whom he belongs.

In our desire to understand the Heavenly in earthly terms, let’s recall the words He said to Nicodemus:

John 3:10-13

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Admittedly, it was hard to understand then, and nothing has changed. But we can rest in this, that Jesus over and over again tells us He speaks the will of the Father for us, and indeed, came down to not only tell us, but to do the work that seals the covenant.

Nicodemus had the credentials, the inherent intelligence, and the pious zeal to become a Pharisee. They were at the top of the religious food chain, giving themselves over to studying that which bolstered their faith.

Then Jesus came to tell them that Moses had written of Him (John 5:46), and David also, (Matthew 22:41-45) and that children of Israel could be raised from stones (Matthew 3:9).

Somewhere along the line, as people began to defer to them as the leaders and teachers of Israel, they began to love the trappings of power and the accumulation of exponential wealth, which they gladly shared in showy displays, while their greed allowed them to pillage the poor at will.

Jesus told them it was the temple that sanctified the gold, and the altar that sanctified the gift (Matthew 22:16-20)

He told them that sinners, through faith, were getting into the kingdom ahead of them (Matthew 21:31)

We also fall for the trappings, some more than others: Megachurches with climate control, coffee bars, ‘dynamic’ preachers, worship bands, worship styles, ‘sensitive’ sermons, being in the pastor’s inner circle, the influence of the ‘heavy wallets’ in setting policy, and the decreasing mention of sin and repentance, and religious leaders are led by their politics instead of their relationship to G-d.

Yet Jesus tells Philip, who walked with Him and witnessed the miracles and the crowds,

John 14:9

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Everything our Lord said and did pointed everyone He ministered to back to G-d. (Luke 18:43) and we too, are called to do the same.(Matthew 5:16)  Can we say the same to that which we have been called, in our imperfection? Will we make the attempt? If not now, when?

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

Thank You for reminding us to see in the Father in You, as we strive to see the Christ in each other.

You are the Good Shepherd of all nations, not just the ones that look like us. We get so caught up in the smallness of a big world, that we don’t take time to understand what You truly represent, and what You’ve truly done for us. 

Help us to not follow You because we ate of the loaves, and were filled, but to seek You as the Bread of Life. In the Middle Ages, it was the lords who were responsible to see to it that everyone had bread, though some were as corrupt and lured away from their duties as they Pharisees. But You are the Lord of lords; You see to it that all are filled, and as the King of kings, You see to it that all who come to You know that it is of the Father’s will, and it is His good pleasure to lead us to the Truth through the power of His spirit, and a faith in Your atoning work on Calvary.

As a new spring approaches, and new life begins to bloom and grow anew, refresh our spirits also, Lord, as we rededicate ourselves to take care of not only our spirits, but our bodies which belong to You as well. 

Let us seek more fellowship with You, and learn that the Father’s doctrine You tell us will not only come to pass, but is true, yes, and amen as His will for us all.

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 78: A Family Comes to Faith

Mark 3:20-21

A House Divided Cannot Stand

20 Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him

31 Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers[a] are outside seeking You.”

Acts 1:12-14

The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

What we essentially have in these three passages is a crisis of faith that was resolved after Christ was crucified.

We have scattered disciples, a fearful church, and the emotional letdown of Jesus not delivering the Jews from the Romans, because despite everything else He said and did, they still thought that was included. He told them to have hope, but it wasn’t in that; human nature being what it is, they hoped anyway.

With His absence came uncertainty, for until Peter took charge after being restored, no one was really leading, though they were in corporate prayer.  And now, with all  of those who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, were His family, right alongside, also in prayer.

Things had changed. Dynamics had shifted, and the things Mary once pondered in her heart now became clear. The questions the disciples had been afraid to ask Him about, content to be in His presence and not wanting Him to leave

We have our own crises when we’re disconnected from Jesus, when He’s gone from us because we’ve moved. We too feel uncertain, like a kid told to sit there on the bench at the train station while his dad goes to get them something to eat.

This is the reason the book of Acts reinforces the idea of fellowship with other believers, and in seeing our faith on display, people respond when they see someone who strongly believes in something be consistent with it. Even if they hate it, as the Apostle Paul once did, they pay attention to it. This is true even in the Old Testament, where time and again because they saw faith in action, enemies came against Nehemiah’s leadership.

It’s important to note that while the multitude may have followed Jesus for their own reasons, and dispersed when they’d received what they wanted, there were likely some that came to real faith, since the miracle couldn’t be denied.

And so it was with Mary and Jesus’ brothers. All that He spoke came to pass, and they couldn’t deny His divinity any more.

With that, when Peter took his mantle the persecution began, and from the unity of the gathering in the Upper Room, the church was scattered throughout the world.

Stay encouraged by the words of the writer of Hebrews:  (v.23-25)

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We thank You that we get the chance to assemble freely and praise Your Name.

As the persecution mounts through our government from the top, and the faithless from every side, let us remember that we live in the times You prophesied, and that we must endure to the end.

While we may, let us read and study to show ourselves approved, so that we may recognize the false teaching and compromise that creeps into the pulpits and leads astray as they break Your commandment not to add or subtract from the Word of G-d as they twist it to profit, and to their own glory, serving self and mammon instead of You.

We too, because of our faith in You, are told we are out of our minds; but as we live our lives devoted to You, as beacons on hillsides, as salt, living sacrifices, and  fruitful branches, they too will see us, and come to glorify the Father in Your name, no longer able to deny Your divinity as it works through us to heal a broken, hurting world.

Strengthen our hands as we continue Your work. Help us keep focused on the truth of Your word, awaiting the fulfillment of Your promises in our lives. Keep us in a right spirit and sound mind, helping us to speak with boldness the reasons for our faith, so that when the enemy says to stop  so they can give us their terms, we can say to them like Nehemiah,  (6:3)

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

As Your faith family gathers once more to seek, honor, praise, and thank You for reconciling us to the Father, help us to find the narrow path, finish the work, bear worthy fruit, and go out to minister in Your name with boldness, and in gladness.

Let it be to us as You have said, and done to us according to our faith.

Amen.