Devotional 63: They Might Also See Lazarus

John 12:9-11

The Plot to Kill Lazarus
9 Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Dead four days, and no Christ to speak Life to him.

When Jesus did arrive, Martha, lacking the centurion’s faith, not-so-gently rebukes Him.

Jesus cautions her on doubting His ability, and restores her to a path of faith in Him, and shortly after, her brother is resurrected, unbound, and restored to her and Mary.

The Pharisees, chained in the grave of laws of their own making, infamous for their hard hearts and earthly concerns, don’t rejoice, but plot to murder a man and friend of Jesus, simply because people believed on Him after that miracle, and slipped from their control and influence.

Lazarus was a daily reminder and testimony to the authority, power, and life changing ministry of Jesus: a life restored by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Promised One.

Are we also daily reminders and living testimonies to the hard-hearted?

Are we willing to be?

Once dead in our sins, now restored to Life with the seal of the Spirit on our souls, which we must now guard against the desires of the flesh for earthly things.

We are the called, and no one takes us from his hand, but we can wriggle free if we want.  We can stray from the path at any moment. We grieve the G-dhead daily, if not hourly, and our hearts are reminded in the watches of the night that the darkness is harder to walk in than the light.

Sin by daylight, repent by starlight? No, brothers and sisters, cling to Him always, in all things, and when temptations come, and weariness assails, and doubt soils our songs of praise, and our offerings are unacceptable to Him, consider this:

There was only one way out of the grave, and Christ has revealed it to us. His ‘great shout’, I believe, is the “Come forth!” on the last day, when those who’ve built their house on the Rock of Heaven, and follow the Lamb of G-d, will reign with the Prince of Peace in an eternal Kingdom with no sin, and our sun shall be the light of the Father, with a new Heaven and a new Earth, restored to purity, with Hell and evil and faithlessness, and all manner of sin destroyed.

Even through his grave clothes Lazarus saw, and stumbled toward the Light….

Let those of us who say we see and know walk in it, as we work out our salvation, and bear good fruit.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

I struggle with my building on Your commands. Doubt creeps into my prayers, and Your delay in answering my prayers kindle in me a quiet resentment. “If you were here, my __________ would not have died.”

Help me to know that “Even now, He will grant You whatever You ask.”

Help me to be a daily reminder and living testimony to the glory and power of Your atoning work, that hearts may soften, minds will change, and people will see You in me, as I strive in my earthly heart to see You in them.

I would not struggle and fight to love my fellow man, Lord Jesus. I would not lay charges against those who curse and wrong me. I would pray for those who wish me harm and use me. I would have my rewards stored in heavenly places.

I would claim my crown to throw at Your feet, and live in the center of the Father’s will, doing the work I’ve been called to do.

Only abiding in You is it possible, for with G-d, all things are. 

Keep me from wriggling out of Your hand, pierced for the redemption of my soul, restoring me to You as my Brother, and walking with You as my friend, and serving You as my Messiah and King, for the Father has given all into Your hand.

I ask it in Your Name, believing I’ve received.

Amen. 


	

Devotional 62: This is Man’s All

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
13  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

I have come to accept that our society in America has decided to serve mammon rather than G-d, yet Jesus tells us this as a sign of the end times, that the evil men will do to each other will increase not just between nations, but within households.

We can pray, and do well, and keep faith and obedience, but as much as we don’t like to think about it, there’s going to be an end to this, just as in the days of Noah. All that we’ve come to know and love in this life will be destroyed, but rebuilt without the evil that pervades it.

It’s been explained like this in a sermon I once heard the late Myles Munroe preach:

G-d gave man dominion over the earth, but by listening to the serpent, and being disobedient, Adam, in not rebuking Eve and blaming G-d,  gave dominion to Satan. Since G-d doesn’t take back that which He gives, prayer is seeking G-d for divine intervention in earthly affairs.

Whether you agree with it or not isn’t the issue, but it’s clear that in the hearts of men today someone else is holding sway, and people are doing and saying things they wouldn’t ordinarily.

Paul’s oft-quoted verse reminds us we aren’t battling flesh and blood, but waging war in heavenly places and demonic strongholds.

We have a fear inducing media, that plays both sides using different balls, and our representatives (not leaders) grow increasingly insulated and disconnected as they pack their granaries with more illicit grain.

The news is rife with conspiracy theories, the Illuminati, the Masons, and all the little subdivisions thereof taking place at night in basements and caves and isolated places.

People are speaking things that sound deep but aren’t, and talking heads with opposing viewpoints are so busy shouting down each other that nothing is heard.

So what do we do, dear Believer? We fear G-d, and keep His commandments.

The evil that men do in secret is known to Him. There are no secret societies hidden from Him. There are no sacred rituals that drive out His presence. There are no men whose names are on the letterheads of these societies that have the final say over Him. He sees them and their deeds as we see each other on the street at noon, vibrant and full of life and color, and His vengeance is stored up for their sins.

We are told that the wicked prospered even in the days of King David, yet David’s son tells us they will be cut off with no remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

As we know the road to life is narrow, and the travelers few, we must hold fast, and tight, to the knowledge we possess of the reality of G-d, and His power. Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body but destroy the body and soul (Matthew 10:28)

We are told over and over again, as we see mounting atrocities, idolatries, cold churches, colder people, disconnected wealthy people making ‘backroom deals’ (which, by the way, G-d also sees), that His vengeance and judgment are being stored up.

I emphasize we are in the year of the Lord’s favor, as Jesus quoted in Isaiah when He first declared what His ministry was to be, but let us be reminded Jesus did not continue that verse:

‘And the day of vengeance of our G-d.’

We are reminded in the parable of the vineyard workers that everyone received their due at the end of the day when the work was finished.

Again:  Ecclesiastes 8:11-12
11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. 

Continue to pray for our representatives, do good to others, spread the Gospel in love, and keep faith and obedience as the scales that will balance your life before Him.

To quote ‘Julian of Norwich’:  It behooved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

      We are surrounded by Your enemies on every side, and therefore, Lord G-d, they are our enemies too. Yet Your will for them is that we love them, and pray for them, and do good to them as Your ambassadors, that their hearts might soften and turn to You. This is what Your Son commanded of us through You.

      It’s a difficult thing You ask of us, for our human inclination is to avoid them, indeed, to hide from them, if not ignore them. We are much like the Pharisee who stood next to the sinner, thanking You he was not like that man. But these sinners are unapologetic, unrepentant, and indeed glory in their wickedness, in their prosperity, in their ability to keep others from gaining what they themselves have, and cutting off their means to attempt it.

     We ask of You that which the Apostles asked Jesus:

     ‘Should we call down holy fire upon them?’ 

     Let us be reminded that there is a harvest, and that choices against You in the year of Your favor can still be reversed until the day of judgment. Until then, we are to keep Your commandments, and leave the rest to You, in spite of our inclinations to do otherwise.

     I myself have been forgiven much, but I have trouble forgiving others. I don’t want to leave it on the altar, though the weight is terrible. Yet I’m told if I don’t forgive, I won’t be forgiven by You. 

     Help me in this, Lord. I’m getting better, but I’m far from over a lot of things that should be dead and buried. I walk by the hole, and look in, and say, ‘I remember that,” but I don’t fill the hole.

     You’ll have to help me do that, Lord. I want to keep Your commandments, I don’t want to sin, and I can do far more than I have been, in Your strength, and by Your will.

     Help me to fight the temptation of disobedience over that which you’ve given me dominion, to keep my integrity, to labor as unto You, bearing fruit to Your glory, for this is my all, and the all of my brothers and sisters. 

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

     Amen

 

 

 

Devotional 61: Let Your Peace Return to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Devotional 61: If Anyone Thirsts

John 7:37-39

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

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

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

It wasn’t enough for Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

My Savior,

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

All things in time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

Devotional 60: His Command is Everlasting Life

John 12:42-50

Walk in the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

And you say ‘Yes.’

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

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

Amen.

Devotional 59: I Delight to do Your Will

Psalm 40:8-9

I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.”

I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.

 

The googled definition of delight is to 1: please someone greatly  2: to take great pleasure in.

Do we, as believers, delight to do G-d’s will? Do we really?

The Lord says that the greatest among us will be the servant of all, that He himself came to serve, and not be served.

It’s one thing to do the Lord’s will when we are the centerpiece, and quite another to do it in obscurity among the ungrateful, or for only a brief period, or even to the point of martyrdom, where no one knows you or will bother to remember you. What about when your body, quite possibly, will never be found?

Delight?

How can one take delight in such circumstances to the do the will of an unseen G-d?

We must, in all things, take caution to make sure we are hearing from G-d, and listening (they are not the same) to what He has called us to do. There’s doing what we think is His will, and then there’s being in the center of it.

Yes, there’s delight. There’s also fear, doubt, reluctance, hesitancy, excuse-making. It’s all there, right alongside courage, faith, resolve, rejoicing, and immediacy.

Let delight be at the center, for this is not our eternal home.

Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. King, Elie Wiesel, these are some of my heroes who demonstrated true courage in the face of intense adversity, whose faced down their beliefs in the darkness, and set their faces like flint as they picked up their crosses, flaws and all.

But there’s no delight in beatings, imprisonment, watching comrades die, and staying among the filth and stink of dying lepers.

Yet we are reminded of the ‘others’ in Chapter 11 of Hebrews, who took their stand on their way to death and persecution.

(end of v. 35) Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Delight? The Messiah tells us this:

John 15:18-25

The World’s Hatred

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’[a]

Delight? Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Take heart, and be resolved in your minds to delight in doing His will. In the end it shall be: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (Matthew 25:23)

For the Lord takes delight in our service, whatever it is, wherever it may be, for however long the time. He takes delight in our purpose fulfilled, our lives fruitful, and our service rewarded in in the proper place and time.

He will sing over you, and anoint you with the oil of rejoicing.

Yes, delight.

 

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

In our trembling humanity, help us to count the cost of loving our neighbors in a hateful, selfish world. 

Let our hearts be resolved, our motives pure, our desires for fleshly praise extinguished.

Let our hands be helped by like-minded brothers and sisters who come alongside and aid us when we falter, and if necessary, send angels to minister to us in our gardens of stone and beauty if we begin to look for another cup, surrounded by satanic spears, traitors, and the wrathful faithlessness of Your enemies.

Let our minds not be entrapped by the foolishness of the many tangents Your Word fosters among us: How old is the earth? What animals were on the ark? What was Jesus’ skin color? Hymns over secular sounds? What version of Your Word is the best? 

It is the work of Satan planting tares among wheat, and unleashing his wolves among flocks. 

The best version of the Bible is the one that has the story of Your Son’s death and the power of His Resurrection. Like the Apostle Paul, let us determine to know nothing among this fickle populace except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 

Let us delight in obscurity and persecution if it is the center of Your will.

Let us be ready to embrace death when the proverbial sword is at our necks and we hear the words of man say: Renounce your Savior. 

With delight, let us open our mouths for the Spirit to fill, not worrying what we shall say, and pour ourselves out, embracing our fate, since You have determined it since before the foundation of the world, and revealed Yourself to us through Your Son and Your Word to us through the power of Your Spirit.

Let us always please You, and take great pleasure in doing it, as we delight in each other having one will through the Son, us in Him, and Him in You.

In the Name of Jesus I ask it, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.

Devotional 58: A Book of Remembrance

Malachi 3:16-18  A Book of Remembrance

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name.

17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts,
“On the day that I make them My jewels.
And I will spare them
As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
18 Then you shall again discern
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between one who serves God
And one who does not serve Him.

 

The year of 2017 is half over. It is a good time to reflect and look back at the anticipation of the first month, and what we offered to the Father for the sacrifice of praise.

What were our petitions?

What were our sins and backslidings?

What were our gains and losses?

And where does our faith in His providence stand today?

If a person shall fall seven times and rise eight, are you standing? (Prov 24:16)

New Year’s Day is much like the wedding, a splashy, extravagant affair of public celebration, extravagant dressing, feasting, and wishing each other all the best.

And then there is the marriage: the commonality of the day to day, the taking out of trash, the washing of dishes, the stress of parenting, the stress of taking care of self.

But in the midst of it all, when you forget the celebratory times, there is a book of remembrance: The Wedding Album. You go back to it, and remember, reminisce, and recapture those feelings. Hopefully, if this is you, those feelings are reinforced by your spouse in the day to day grind that leads to anniversaries, fidelity, partnership, and lifelong commitment.

Yet, sadly, it is not so between us and G-d. Indeed, in the verses before these, the people have judged G-d as not worthy of being served since the wicked prosper in the midst of the righteous. (Mal 3:13-15)

It’s still true today.

A prayer is not answered, a miracle of healing not given, a child not conceived, a financial blessing not received in time, no food, no means of transportation, and what little you have is seized by greedy oppressors under the guise of the law.

Your faith is tested, and the serpent slithers through the weed ridden garden of your life, its eyes on yours, and its sibilant question as it opens its mouth is always this:

“Did G-d really say…?”

Let us remember: the coin of gold the serpent offers for ease and quick riches is counterfeit. When the Lord brings wealth, He adds no trouble to it  (Proverbs 10:22)

The coin for your taxes, the cost of serving Christ, is in the mouth of the fish; you have to go find it, under the guidance of the Lord Jesus, being obedient to His commands, using that which you are called to do. As Peter used his fishing skills to serve, so too, you will use your own gifts. (Matthew 17:24-27)

One coin falls out at your feet, and the price is your soul; the other you must work to get out, and the reward is salvation.

In the Book of Remembrance we call the Word of the Lord, go there to see what G-d really said:

His Word says His promises are ‘yes and amen.’ It says the wicked shall be punished, the unrepentant condemned, and the dead who have faith in the atoning work of the Son of G-d shall be redeemed from the power of the grave, and live eternally in the presence of the Father, under the rule of the Son, and all will be empowered by the Spirit to give thanks and praise, doing the work of the Kingdom.

If need be, enhance His Word with a book of remembrance of your own making: a journal, a blog, a notebook and pen.  I don’t remember who said the following, but I remember the quote:

The dullest pencil is clearer than the brightest memory.’

If there is no access to these things, simply offer a prayer of thanks, or put a marker in a special place where something good happened. It can be a small stone, or you can build an altar of special items. The Father understands that in our spiritual walk, we need material reminders to bring to mind all the good things He’s done for us. Be careful of idolatry, however, and always seek to add to your book, whatever form it takes.

Maintain gratitude, remain faithful, and be obedient to Him in the face of adversity? It sounds like the stupidest thing to do. 

It isn’t. It will be rewarded. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

He promised, and He is not a man that He should lie. (Num. 23:19)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven

Today we praise you for all the good things You’ve done in our lives, for all that You will do until we are called home. Help us to complete that to which we’ve been called.

Increase our faith, and help our unbelief.

In our obscure service, let us sings songs of joy.

In our failed missions, let us give thanks and praise.

In our spiritual irresponsibility, let us meditate on Your love and willingness to restore us to fellowship with You.

As You are the Author and Finisher of our faith, so too, be the Author of our books of remembrance, and let them reflect You in us, as we stand as ambassadors of the Way in a nation that has lost it, living among people who don’t want it, and navigating a world that rejects it; for that also is according to Your Word.

You tell us that narrow is the path, few are the travelers, and yet, we ask that You strengthen our hands, enlarge our territory, and give us a spirit of boldness not worrying what we will speak, for we know the Spirit will fill us in that moment, as You have said.

And let us stand for You, remembering always, that one day we will be with You. Not because we deserve it, but because You loved us first.

In Your Name, I ask it. 

Amen.

Devotional 57: In Vain They Worship

Defilement Comes from Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is for the fire.

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Your Name, we ask it.

Amen

Devotional 56: This Man Receives Sinners

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

And the casting of soul and body into the fire.

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

Devotional 55: A Blessing and Message for Mary

Luke 2:34-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And watched Him die.

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And releasing us to that which we are divinely destined.

Amen