Devotional 148: Growing Faint in Battle

2nd Sam: 21:15-18

2 Samuel 21:15-18

Philistine Giants Destroyed

15 When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. 16 Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”

G-d did not tell David not to fight, but allowed him to grow faint in his last battle against the Philistines. Had it not been for Abishai, David would have met his end since he’d grown too old to be out there fighting.

His men perceived this, and told him he would no longer come out, as his role at that point was to continue to be ‘the lamp of Israel.’

It is a time we will all face. Having had many health challenges this year, I now find myself viewing my mortality from my peripheral vision. One day it will stand in front of us, and one day, it will put its cold, skeletal hand on our shoulders and guide us away from the spiritual battle.

Our only recourse to redemption at that point will be our faith in Christ raising me up on the last day with a great shout, as He awakened Lazarus.

In the time that remains, a lot has been shed so that I might move forward faster, as time is no longer a friend, marching relentlessly on to its own inevitable ending where it will give place to eternity.

I wonder if David found it difficult to hear, recognizing the whole latter part of their statement as a polite way of telling him that because of his weariness he might have cost them the victory. Certainly they would have been disheartened if he fell.

Even Jesus said, ‘The things concerning me have an end,’ as far as His earthly ministry was concerned, because He’ll reign over His people forever.

There will come a time when our own work will be winding down to completion, and we find ourselves faint in battle. The lamps of legacies we leave behind will testify to the work we did for the kingdom, and the rest cast out as dross.

We are warrior- priests, servant-leaders, sons and daughters, reaping harvesters, planters, water-bearers, and seed-sowing sheep all united under one Shepherd who leads the way back to the Source who created us: our Father, who is in Heaven, His Name forever hallowed as we dwell, worship, work, and live in His divine light brighter than the sun.

We will no longer cry (Rev 21:4), we will no longer have any questions (John 16:23), no longer die (Luke 20:46) we will be spotless, blameless, and pure, and there will be no more battles to fight as we live, move, and have our being for all eternity (Acts 17:28), sharing in the work where we won’t grow faint (Isaiah 40:31), now and forever.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,
    As we abide in You, please give us the strength to do greater works through Your power imparted to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, to do the impossible with G-d, for G-d.
     Your prophecies manifest themselves with growing frequency and intensity, and we, like Israel, would not have a quenched lamp or a feeble warrior on the field to fight to where we need to be, that we might recover all. (1 Samuel 30:8)
    As we age, checking off the list of declines listed in Ecclesiates 12:1-8, let us hold ever faster to the hem of Your robe, that we might be made well.
    We would not be like the sons of Eli, neglecting Your house for our own, abusing the privilege of servants to the people to our own gain.  Be with us Lord, and help us to feel Your presence even closer in these perilous times; keep us close to You, as we are prone to wandering.
      May we hear and know Your voice as You lead us to do greater work, and bless those who give and speak life by the power of Your will.
    May it be that as we grow weary, His strengths are given us to do greater signs and wonders, not to deceive, but that those who see our works will glorify G-d, and join the family to carry on the work of the harvest, for we must all decrease before your holy power and sovereign will.

    May it be done to us as You have said.

    Amen.

Devotional 143: The Price of Admission

Acts 14:21-27

Strengthening the Converts

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

There are times when even as believers, no matter how devout, we lose energy, direction, focus, and motivation to walk the narrow path as we follow and work alongside our Lord, but He has prophesied to us that the closer we walk, the further we travel, and the more we work, the harder it will be.

To share in His glory, the Word assures us we will share in His suffering. (John 15:18-20)

So, we have an unseen G-d, a foolish message, a man who claims to be the only way to be redeemed from eternal damnation, and the promise that the more faith we place in it, the world will hate us for it.

Yet we have this:

John 8:28-30

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

So today, let us measure the strength of our commitment, and continue to exhort and uplift each other in the days ahead. Tribulations are not small things, they are extended,  relentless, disastrous, and spirit crushing. The very origin of the word means a ‘pressing together.’

The Lord would have it so to refine us, to shake out those who are not truly committed, or who haven’t taken stock of the cost. (Matthew 24: 12) (John 2:19)

What’s to come is the reason we must not forsake meeting together, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us. (Heb 10:25)

The fight for our souls is real, and violent, taking place in a realm we can’t see except through divine intervention. It’s a realm we can’t know unless we are willing to seek it, believe in it, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way to be saved from the material world’s condemnation in the day of the Father’s wrath.

As salvation has been extended to all nations through grace (Acts 10:34-35), and the prince of this world corrupts weak people with foolish ambitions, people who don’t seem to realize that one day their lives will be required of them, and their plans come to nothing in the grave, evil people who press their will upon the powerless and turn them against each other using their fear as a weapon, he echoes through the ages all that he spoke to Eve in the garden: Did G-d indeed say…? (Gen 3: 1- 4)

So yes, we are to sow, water, and harvest, but it is the Father who provides the increase, and Christ tells us that it will be worse for the places that don’t receive His message in the last days.

Having been called out of the world, we are not to stay in such places physically or spiritually. Indeed, we are commanded to come out. (2 Cor  6:17)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven, 

We are thankful that You have widened the circles of Your chosen, that we, appointed to eternal life, have seen the Truth in time for the harvest, and to take part in it, ministering Your Word through the message of Your Son, and through ourselves as His vessels.

There are times we are faithful, but not true, and times we are true, but not faithful. We have our moments, and You understand, but to to dwell in doubt is to backslide, turn away, and fall victim to the perils of this world.

Help us return to godly fear and repentance, restoring our fellowship with You as we seek salvation for ourselves and those we encounter throughout this life You’ve given us. 

May we be salt and light, and may our works stand and remain under the refining fires of judgement. 

May our spiritual fruit be sweet to the taste, and pleasing to You, for without Your Son, we are to be cast into outer darkness if He denies us before You, and says He does not know us.

When we stray, send our Nathan to us to warn us of what’s to come if we continue, send a messenger to say it is not lawful for us to have to give in to the desires of our flesh, and help us make no provision for it.

Let us instead abide under the loving gaze of our Savior, and answer His question: “Do you believe that I can do this?” with, “Yes, Lord.” (Matthew 9:28) and let us exhort and uplift each other along the way.

When the tribulations come, give us the strength of the voices of Paul and Silas, the power to bring down angels that open doors and break chains through praise, giving all glory and honor to You, Father.

We would endure to the end, holding onto the True Vine, following the Good Shepherd, and working in the peace of the Light of the World, under the protection of the blood of the Lamb of G-d, to be raised on the last day by the Lion of Judah, and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”

We ask, in faith believing.

May it be done to us as You have said. 

Amen.

Devotional 141: He Wrote About Me

John 5:39-47 

39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

41 “I do not receive honor from men. 42 But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

From the second book of the Bible, from the time of the Passover Lamb sacrificed in its perfection, the coming of Christ was foreshadowed.

From the hanging of a scarlet thread in the window of a prostitute’s house, the safety of those inside and those outside was assured (Joshua 2:8-22)

The people of Nineveh heard the shortest sermon ever recorded, and the entire city had a revival. (Jonah 3:4)

The Queen of Sheba ran into a man with a fragment of G-d’s knowledge, and a spirit of skepticism was subdued. How much more foolish then, for the people who claimed G-d, to doubt the one who said, “One greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:38-42)

The missionary work of Saul of Tarsus, the ‘Pharisee of Pharisees,’ was so thorough in proving Christ was throughout the Scriptures that he confused and angered them to the point where they sought his death. (Acts 9:20-22)

In modern days, those who don’t like what the Bible says ascribe to the Lord a ‘laid back’ disposition because He ‘hung out’ with sinners. What they miss is that He never left them as they were, and admonished them to repentance, and not to backslide. (Luke 5:32)

Those He ministered to were not right with G-d and headed for damnation, for he mentions greater sins and worse things befalling those who do.

As faith was required to believe all things pointed forward, up until the fulfilling of the Father’s Promised One, so too, must we believe now that all things lead back to Him, for He is in the center of all that’s to come. (Luke 24:30-32)

As we have been grafted in through the Father’s will to grant us mercy and grace, we must now have faith in His promises, trust in His prophecies, and obedience to His commands, for He tells us they came from the Father, and those who hear and do the Father’s will shall be victorious.

We have to believe the atoning work, symbolized by the spotless lambs of Exodus in the year of the Lord’s favor, will be sufficient for the forgiveness of sins to be passed over by the Lion of Judah in the day of the Father’s wrath.

Let us pray it may be so. (Zephaniah 2:3)

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

Let us hold to the fact that You are, in fact, the scarlet thread that runs all through Scripture, that before the foundation of the world You were destined to be sent to redeem the sins of man.

We pray for an attitude of reverence for the words you spoke, that the grace You imparted in the grafting in of the Unchosen is not a license to sin, but a call to flee from sin, even in matters of the mind and heart. 

Let us focus on that which tells us to do the Father’s will in loving one another and praising Him in spirit and truth, loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Let us use our gifts to increase the harvest of redeemed souls through the power of the Holy Spirit to the Father’s glory.

We humble ourselves in gratitude that You have revealed the Father to us, that we might enter into His kingdom and rest, secure from evil forever in word, thought, and deed.

Help our moments of unbelief, increase our faith, and remind that when we believe on You, we believe in Him who sent You, and He will remember our sins no more.

We ask in faith believing.

May it be done to us as You have said. 

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 139: New Hearts, Right Spirits

Ezekiel 36:26

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

What we consistently fail to understand about the Father’s will to cleanse us is that it is as uncompromising as it it unwavering, though it does not come without requirements.

People who claim the Word is contradictory have been blinded, given hearts of stone, and ears that cry out for tickling, adapting the infinite, glorious, majesty of G-d to their limited knowledge and puffy intellects.

They place Creation under the tangible but cloudy lenses of ‘Science’ and ‘Evolution’, which has theories it takes just as much, if not more faith, to believe in. But the know there’s no G-d. They are, at best, houses built on shifting sand, and such believers in it are willing to go with it as their source.

And yes, they have their time and place, for He gave us a mind to establish dominion over the earth and subdue it, but they don’t replace Him. It is simply that they can’t fathom the mind of G-d, but the Father is not inconsistent in dealing with His creation.

The matter of hearts and spirits is like a ‘pop-up’ ad throughout Scripture, perhaps the most known of them being this verse:

Psalm 51:10

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

    Repentance is the cornerstone of renewed fellowship with G-d, just as faith was the cornerstone of Christ’s miracles manifesting themselves in the lives of those who sought Him.

G-d is not ignoring our sins because we make them legal, and nothing is being done unseen before His eyes. Those things He’s called abominations have only morphed into more forms of spiritual confusion and deception.

The tide of faithlessness is rising, and the current of persecution disguised as legislation moves more swiftly, yet the questions remain the same: “Where is your G-d?”  “Why doesn’t He just save us/ purge evil?”   “You really believe that nonsense?”

Yet Christ tells us:  We will suffer for our faith (Matt: 24:9) The love of many will grow cold (Matt: 24:12) False christs shall rise (Matt: 24:24) He will come at an hour we don’t expect (Matt: 24:44) Not all who call on His name will enter into His rest (Matt: 7:21)

Right hearts and renewed spirits, then, have become things we can’t do without in these times. Peter tells us:

Acts 3:19-21

19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. 

Are we prepared for the unexpected?

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

It is no small thing to walk behind our Shepherd through the valley of death’s shadow.

The path is narrow and steep, and the unholy line both sides of it, waiting for the weak to fall, the foolish to stray from under the protection of His rod and staff, for the inattentive to lose their way, the tired for fall behind, and the fearful to turn back.

Our enemy speaks to us, as he did in Eden, of the fleshly good of Your creation, tempting us with pretty things, and planting seeds of doubt about what You’ve said to us: Did G-d really say…?

He proclaims to us in moments of spiritual fatigue and moments of crisis: All these things I will give to you…

So Father, today we repent of our sins, we confess them to You that we may be cleansed of all unrighteousness, all doubt and uncleanness, all fear and sorrow. Renew our hearts, Lord G-d, and refresh our spirits.

Restore us to fellowship with You, and each other.

Keep us from invoking Your heavenly Name to justify our earthly evils.

We present ourselves before the throne of grace and judgment. We come to You in our filth, with wretched hearts, weak flesh, tired minds, blind eyes, and hard hearts, that You might send the Son to us again to bring us back to You.

We say to Him today, in Your sight and by Your grace:

“Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 138: Of Such is the Kingdom

Mark 10:13-16 Jesus Blesses Little Children

13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

What’s interesting to note is that Jesus was greatly displeased when He saw the disciples not letting the children through. Often he was frustrated at their lack of understanding, but every teacher knows that learning is a process, and as they were uneducated men for the most part, Jesus was patient. Here, it says He was displeased, the word ‘greatly’ implying that perhaps He was even angry.

The Apostles had succumbed (as they often did) to thinking their role was to protect Jesus from the world, and had a sense of exclusivity (which was partly the reason He was frustrated. (Mark 9:38-40) (Luke 9:50-55) 

What’s also of interest is that unbelievers will often use this verse, if they’ve read it or heard it, to point out why the idea of faith is ridiculous to them. They believe we somehow become stupid once we declare it, as if all the intellect in us suddenly vanishes, and all we’ve done up until that point is rendered null and void. They tell us in no uncertain terms that we’ve lost their respect and / or admiration.

In debates they are quick to point out their intellect and the value of science.

“The Bible was written by men.” But so were science books. Our quest for knowledge does not invalidate the Bible, but science invalidates ‘known’ information all the time, though they refer to it as ‘adding on.’  What was ‘true’ for science as it existed in the past has now either been disproved, debunked, or added to, but the Word of the Lord is unchanging yesterday, today, and forever. And He is the reason they will never fathom how the universe works. Our knowledge is of good and evil, science and art, and doing what we need to survive.

NASA has done wonderful things, but light-year space travel continues to elude us, and probably always will.

It is bothersome to be summarily dismissed, but the truth is we need G-d more than we need their earthly respect and admiration, since they’re aligned on relying on earthly matters.

But our Lord did not mean the kingdom would be full of childish people(1 Corinthians 13:11) but to be child-like in matters that please G-d,  and continue to do His will despite the circumstances where we find ourselves. 

Children are: trusting, sharing, capable of feeling great love and compassion. They are quick to forgive and have a desire to please. They get excited about giving and receiving, they are inclusive and will expand their circles with no questions asked  (Do we not respond when a child we don’t know waves at us or greets us?)

Children seek comfort when things are not right with them. They tell you everything  that happens to them, and everything they feel. Even when they’re angry, they are quick to forgive and restore fellowship.

They don’t hate. They smile, laugh, and dance freely. They offer to help, or sometimes just start without even offering. They apologize (sometimes). They love to hug.

They are, in fact, most like themselves while they are children.

And then we teach them…

Compare the atmosphere of our country now to this: (Acts 4)

Sharing in All Things

32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

We ignore to our soul’s peril these words:  “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 

We keep believing, to our soul’s peril, that it’s a nice sentiment, and not a mandate.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, we can’t restore our innocence, having the seed of the Tree of Knowledge in us, we are born in sin from Adam’s legacy, yet we are redeemed in You, but lose our way as the enemy works his own plan among us, in our thoughts, hearts, and deeds.

All that You’ve prophesied is unfolding, and You tell us that if we endure to the end,  we shall be saved.  Endurance means we must retain the hearts of children while experiencing and pushing through a world full of evil and sin.

We hold onto Your words: See, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:25)

Let us today take comfort, like children, in the knowledge that You have redeemed us, and though we are buffeted  on every side, no one can snatch us from Your hand. Help us to follow Your voice in the wilderness, and to keep to the Narrow Path of righteousness, holiness, and the truth of the Gospel of Grace and Redemption.

Restore to us a child-like desire to please our Father in Heaven, and trust Him fully in all things, for all things, and to see us through all things.

Lay Your hands on us today, Lord Jesus, and speak blessings to us once again.

Let it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 129: A Rift in Ministry

Acts 15:36-41

Division over John Mark

36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

From what we are told and not told, Barnabas and Paul never ministered together, or quite possibly, ever even met again. We are told that Mark left them, but not why. As Paul’s missions were extensive and difficult, but critical to the spreading of the Gospel, whenever Mark left them to return to Jerusalem was likely an inopportune time, and made an already difficult task that much more difficult.

Barnabas, however, was still willing to give Mark another chance, but Paul was not.

As an alternative seemed to be available, we’re not sure why it got to the point of a such an argument, but perhaps Barnabas at this time had seen and heard enough of Paul, and knew enough of Mark, to launch out on his own. We are not told that was the case, but very often, when G-d splits a ministry amid chaos and strife, it still ends to His glory.

The Book of Acts itself came after the church was persecuted and its members and missionaries forced to run for their lives, if not their freedom.

We don’t have any books written by Barnabas that chronicle his time with Mark and the work they did in Cyprus.

But we do have this, later, from Paul:

2 Timothy 4:9-11

The Abandoned Apostle

Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.

Alone and in prison, perhaps Paul had received word of all that Mark did in Cyprus to assist Barnabas. We are told that Demas made his decision to return to worldly things, and the others left for their own reasons. But now, he tells Timothy to get Mark, and bring him to help Paul during his last days, “for he is useful to me for ministry.”

This, like Paul’s conversion, is a complete 180 from where he was when Barnabas took Mark away. How very lonely even the tone of Paul’s letter is, where after having preached to millions, he only has Luke.

Yet even so, that was one more than Jesus had when ‘they all forsook Him and fled.’

And as Christ restores Peter, so Paul restores Mark, even if indirectly, back into the ministry of the Gospel. Mark, however, in contrast to Demas, never truly left.

We have the words of John:

(1 John 2:18-20)

Deceptions of the Last Hour

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.

Let us be thankful that we yet have the grace and mercy of our Father, who has imparted it to the Son, who has encouraged us to stay the course. For Christ says of those who turn back: (Luke 9:62) 

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

In the course of our walking, there are days it is not in us. As Mark returned to Jerusalem to get back on familiar footing, with maybe some fear of such a pagan and polytheistic culture, so we too seek comfort zones even in our missions. 

Paul took some hard, long, and difficult journeys, but as You sustained him, so You sustain us. 

Paul’s faith and trust in You was absolute, more often than not. His communication and obedience were shining examples of what our own walks could, and should be. 

Yet even when we are Mark, we yet serve. Forgive us when we take the lowly place not in humility, but in fear, discomfort, doubt, and anger. 

It is in the matters of Your sovereignty, and in Your will for our lives and the pleasures of this world come into conflict, that we ask You for Paul’s resolve, but Barnabas’ compassion. As we minister to the next generation, of new believers in all nations, and look to those who have run the race for guidance to take their mantles with fear and reverence, let us remain connected to You. 

And when and where we fall, let us rise to once again be useful in ministry, being refreshed, restored, and reconciled to You, to Your glory, and abiding in Your will.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen. 

Devotional 126: His Own Word

John 4:39-42

The Savior of the World

39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word.

42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

The woman at the well had already spoken to Him, and Jesus had revealed Himself to her, as her heart was seeking Him, and her life certainly needed Him. While the text doesn’t specifically say she was something of an outcast, she was certainly alone, but something in her was so different the people who heard her were curious enough to see for themselves who this man was that had the woman so fascinated.

And their lives changed as well.

What they found was someone who was supposed to be the enemy of their people, two cultures that despised one another, and yet they too, were open to His words, looked on Him, and most importantly, listened. 

Throughout Christ’s ministry, His words always got past the layers, broke the walls,  stripped away the veneers, and got to the heart of the problem, the real question, and the true need.

His teaching had carried an authority that had been amazing not only to the people, but to the rabbis in the temple from the time He was missing as a child.

The Boy Jesus Amazes the Scholars (Luke 2:41-47)

41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

Our Savior says to us, even today:

John 10:24-27

24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

Yet we have among us false Christs, false teachers and prophets, and those calling themselves apostles who are not. Caught up in the world, their true trust is in their riches, and the belief that Jesus does not, in fact, mean what He says about all nations being gathered to Him.

They walk with hate in their hearts, and arrogance, exuding airs of exclusivity, mocking those who are different from themselves, and placing trust of their eternity in the hands of false shepherds who are focused on riches, favors, politics, and gimmickry.

I once debated, almost daily, with a man who held a different view, and when I showed Him from the Scriptures where his error lay, it shook him. We parted ways due to circumstances, and kept in touch for a short while, but way lead on to way, and I trust he held onto the truth, as he also believed the Word of G-d was unerring. His claim, however, was that his faith required teachers who studied and rose through the church ranks to reveal the word to the flock, and he believed that they were the most accurate. Until I showed him the error of his belief that there was no hell, that Jesus Himself spoke of it, so it could not be a metaphor.

The most disturbing thing he told me was how many Christians they angered because those Christians didn’t read their Bibles. I imagine that’s how they got most of their converts, showing them in the Scriptures what they wanted them to see, and convincing them, because they had no spiritual voice of their own, neither connecting with Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Believers, we have the Word in our own hands, and to neglect it is to be led astray. While study is necessary, reading it is also required. Jesus tells us that even hearing it is not enough, we must act on it.

There is only one path back to the Father, only one true G-d, but His enemy does have power and influence. In fact, he is called the prince of this world. Let us give thanks that we have the King of kings, the Most High, and the Almighty G-d, whose power is greater than he who is in the world.

Acts 17:10-18

Ministering at Berea

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

The Word of our Father is such that, even in a polytheistic pagan society, men and women came to faith in the Savior of the world.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We are losing sight of our Shepherd, Your Son, who came to reveal the truth of Your existence, the honesty of Your Word, and the love that You bear for His errant, straying, ever-rebellious, ever-doubting flock, for He tells us that You have given all over to Him regarding our righteousness as well as our judgement.

Counted worthy to be among the flock, we have the power within us to not make the Shepherd work harder than He needs to, but we are incapable of withstanding temptation, of doubt, of cleansing ourselves from sin.

Daily, the Shepherd must wash us clean again.

We are grateful to Him, Father, that He tells us You are faithful and just to forgive, and that You would see us reconciled to be with Him in the kingdom, and that the memory of this sinful world will be no more.

We humbly submit ourselves today back under His hand, back into Your favor, back into Your grace, back into Your presence.

As we search our Word, let us also search our hearts, minds, and motives. Let us deny ourselves, take up the cross, count the cost, and follow Him through the valleys of the shadow of death on either side of the narrow path, that we might find the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and live forever.

Until then, may we no longer be like the sin-filled pagans among us, who believe all manner of things that require no change within themselves. Let us not put our trust in the created, and in men who love the praises of men, or who call ‘good’ that which you call ‘evil.’

Let the Holy Spirit close our eyes to false teachers, prophets, and Christs; they are tares the enemy has sown among the wheat.

Let us come out to hear You for ourselves, Father, that we might believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and that You have told Him all He should say to us concerning You. Let us affirm that our search for the Savior of the World is over, because now we ourselves have heard His own word, and know Him by His voice.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 119: No Man Common or Unclean

Acts 10:24-33

Peter Meets Cornelius

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

When we understand that G-d means to graft us in through the covenant of grace, the act of holding onto our own salvation without sharing the good news takes on a different kind of disobedience.

We understand the Jews were chosen, as Moses said:

Deuteronomy 7:7-9

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.

But under the New Covenant, Christ tells us: (John 10:14-16)

14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Paul affirms this again (Romans 9:22-26)

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

25 As He says also in Hosea:

“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

We should be joyful that we who believe are no longer under the wrath of G-d, but we are not to keep silent. We are to tell the Good News, and it is up to Holy Spirit to open the ears and hearts of those who would listen.

Cornelius thought to gather his relatives and close friends ahead of Peter’s arrival. They were expecting something great to happen in the presence of the most volatile disciple who had finally come to a more steadfast faith, to the point where he was standing up in the midst of assemblies to proclaim the divine glory of someone he once vehemently denied to the point of cursing.

And he says to them:

Acts 10:34-35

Preaching to Cornelius’ Household

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

If the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and all who dwell on it, how then, in His presence, can anyone be unclean? Through faithlessness,  doubt, denial,  unbelief, backsliding,  compromise, and willful and presumptuous sin without repentance.

We cannot find the Narrow Way without faith, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and works.

In the current times when xenophobia and racism are at a fever pitch, not just here, but all across the world (as Christ foretold, ‘brother against brother, and nation against nation’) we are not to consider the ‘other’ as an unclean thing unworthy of salvation.

As Paul told the Corinthians,

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

So while there is no partiality, it is not a license to continue sinning, for without repentance and faith in Christ there is no remission of sin, and the wrath of the Father remains.

We are not called to judge, but tell, and let the Spirit do His work. He may be content to leave the seed for the moment, and water it another time, but we must remember always that it is G-d who brings the increase.

In the meantime, we work out our own salvation, and take the planks from our eyes, living righteous lives and worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth, loving G-d with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving one another as Christ loved the Church.

In these times, it’s a daunting task, but we have the words of our Savior: (Matthew 19:26)

26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You have invited us to the wedding feast, ragged and unworthy to stand before G-d, worthy of judgement and the outer darkness. Thank You for giving us a way to be reconciled to our Creator without sin, and that is through faith in the atoning work you did for us, that we might escape the tribulation of the days to come, and inherit the kingdom along with You.

We thank you, Good Shepherd, for the grace you’ve given us, for sustaining us in the valleys of trials and temptations, for bringing us out, for healing us by Your stripes, for granting us Your peace, and for showing us the Father.

We thank You for providing us a Comforter who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin. He is the seal and approval of our salvation, when You’ll call us forth from the grave with a great shout.

We thank You for interceding for us, the unchosen, before Heaven’s throne, and not condemning us as we continue to strive for Your example, growing in favor with G-d and man. Continue to speak to us while we’re enduring the scorn of Your enemies as proof we are indeed the sons and daughters of the living G-d, as we contend in the gates with those who would silence us. Fill our mouths with Truth no one can speak against, and give us what we should say.

Help us to speak truth to power, and truth in love, proclaiming You before men that we might also be proclaimed by You to the Father.

Give us the strength, in our trembling, to stand in the midst of the assembly, and by the power of Your Spirit preach the Gospel to all who cross our path, that they may see and know we are Christians, and glorify G-d as You claim them for the kingdom.

Open our hearts, our eyes, our spirits to rejoice with the angels when souls are redeemed from all nations, not just with those who look, act, and believe as we do.

From this day forth, help us to know that it is the Father’s will that all should come to repentance and faith in Christ, and no one should perish, but to also tell them that there will be a day of judgement, and in that day the Covenant of Grace is void.

May the grace, peace, and power of  the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 117: To the Unknown God

Acts 17:22-32

Addressing the Areopagus

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD

Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.

It’s interesting to note that in such a polytheistic society that put the wisdom of man and the study of human nature above at the center of the universe, there was still a blind spot, but still a longing of the spirit.

The list of Greek gods in comprehensive, and their attributed powers were formidable, but in their natures and emotions they were as capricious and prone to error as the flesh they ruled over, and were indeed, sometimes jealous of human beauty or strength, and visited terrible affliction on the objects of their wrath.

Yet in the midst of all the paganism stood an altar that spoke to the void in their hearts,  a G-d they felt might be there, but one they didn’t know, because they didn’t create Him, He created them. And there was Paul, the Lord’s messenger, to finally proclaim Him, remove their ignorance, and give them fulfillment.

And yet the passage concludes:

3So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Not everyone who heard Paul that day came to the faith.

G-d is never not worshiped by those He reveals Himself to, He is only unknown by those who choose not to believe.

And so it is today. G-d is proclaimed, the message of salvation is shared more rapidly, more internationally now than ever before, and yet there are still those who mock, and those who put it off until later, if they decide at all.

Like Paul, we are not to lose heart, we are not to stop working, we are not to turn aside because our words don’t reach the rich and powerful, or the mockers who place creation above the created, or those who feel the tug in their spirits of a greater calling, and run because it means they’ll have to change their lives to meet G-d’s standard, and not the other way around.

Do we know people like this?

Pastors read volumes on growing churches, and seem no longer content to preach the Word, but put on showcases, and events, and grand conferences, and wonder why nothing is happening.

It is G-d who gives the increase, the anointing, the blessing, and the silver and gold is His, also the land. We are to stay humble, and keep planting.

Luke 17: 1-10 Faith and Duty

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”

The implication is that they did not do more than their service required, in their own strength, and of their own will.

How far in our service are we willing to go? What are we willing to do? Who are we willing to love as Christ would love? What are we willing to give to show that we serve Him, and keep His commandments, building our heavenly homes on rock, and not sand?

Or are we the rich young ruler, who leaves and was sad because he had great possessions? Are we afraid to approach the unlovely, the different, the scary?

Not every ministry is for every temperament, granted, but there is a temperament for every ministry, and there is an altar carved with the Unknown God on its heart in the spirits of our fellow man.

Are we proclaiming that G-d to them?  “What I tell you in secret, proclaim from the rooftops.”

Will we?  “If they will not hear you or receive you, let your peace return to you.”

When?  “The time is coming, and now is….”

It is what we unprofitable servants are called to do, not in our own strength, or of our own will.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

Your most headstrong apostle outside of Peter used the fire of his zeal that persecuted You to then proclaim You to others who were like himself before You encountered him. 

He then confounded those learned men with the same vast knowledge, only with a difference: You had opened His eyes to see You as the Father’s emissary to mankind, that we might be reconciled, and in the middle of a land that had gods for everything, he found the one altar set aside to the Father, but they did not know Him.

Such was the longing in their spirit, such was the power of creation’s testimony, that even in their explaining it away with emotional gods, they knew there was yet another presence, but had blinded themselves to it by creating gods in man’s image.

And again, so it is today; they know, but they are waiting until later, and mocking the resurrection, the gift of eternal life. They see the proliferation of evil, and the rise of hatred, the frenzied greed of the wealthy, and the needless death and destruction we are constantly visiting on each other as countries, as people, and say to us: “There is no G-d.”

If we are honest, Lord, though You said these things must be and come to pass, it is hard to look at, and defend. And yet, it’s not at its worst point, and You did not command us to give up. 

As You are coming at an unknown hour, in a day where mankind will be living normal lives before the sign is revealed, I ask for all who hear Your voice, that You strengthen us as You did Paul to stand before the mobs, and when they tell us

“There is no G-d,”

to answer them in love, truth, and steadfast faith,

“The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved from the Father’s wrath to come, for He will purge the earth and heaven of his enemies. Believe, and live.”

Strengthen us, Lord, for we are unprofitable servants, doing as we are commanded.

Let it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

Devotional 112: The Jesus Whom Paul Preaches

Acts 19:11-

Miracles Glorify Christ

11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 

At some point, as believers, we’ve walked into places and felt a presence, either of the Holy Spirit, or something else, an ‘off’ feeling, or an outright feeling of malevolence. What is fortunate is that the powers Jesus imparted to His disciples weren’t just given to the twelve, or to the seventy, but to all who put faith in His Name that He empowers to preach the Gospel.

Paul and the itinerant Jewish exorcists were not of the Twelve, yet the Word states that the miracles performed through them by G-d’s power were unusual in and of themselves. People were healed by inanimate objects that were in Paul’s possession, anointed with holy power in that the Spirit abided on them, and did the work He was supposed to perform on the afflicted where Paul preached.

Jesus Himself said to the Twelve,

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.

It stands to reason that if we are grafted into the Branch, we are not forbidden to carry on His work. In fact, He expects that, and calls to account those who don’t as unprofitable servants.

The work of the Kingdom supersedes all, and the work must be carried out by the faithful, for that’s the only way the power of the Spirit can work.

John 14:12 The Answered Prayer

12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

But He also cautioned the disciples He sent out: Luke 10:19-20

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

More, as we understand it, is not given in greater measure to one than another, Paul says:  (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

If the gifts were of diverse gods, or diverse paths to G-d, there would be no need to preach the Gospel to every nation.

The Christ Paul preached is the same one we hear about on Sundays, and read about in our Bibles, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, until He comes again in His fearful glory, ready to vanquish His enemies and judge His people, to be redeemed to the Father, or separated forever.

G-d did not spare Christ from His absence when He took our sins to the cross to the point where Jesus physically felt Himself forsaken; how then, are we spared His wrath?

Let us, like the itinerant priests of Israel, be steadfast in the unity and consistency of our faith as we drive out the darkness while we pray, sow, and reap by the power of the Holy Spirit, done in the Name of Jesus.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

The veil tore not only the barrier between man and the Father, but between the Chosen and the unworthy, the Jew and Gentile, and we who are now grafted in through grace now know, too, that the joy of salvation is ours through faith in You.

We have sometimes taken grace for granted, and put You in a human box of tolerance and acceptance of that which G-d did not allow. Those You forgave, You also told to repent. It is a hard calling to deny our flesh, take up our crosses, and follow a narrow road to unseen glory. Sin feels good, and we justify our evil by twisting the Word to our purposes, by putting repentance on a schedule, and by continually removing ourselves from G-d’s presence.

Suffering with You is better, but not desirable, and when You tell us that to find our lives with You we must lose the earthly one, seeds of doubt sprout in the heart.

As we spiral downward toward tribulation, increasing our own sorrows, we who believe will continue to pray and intercede, as You did for your disciples, sent out as sheep among wolves, trusting You to fill us with the power of the Gospel for present times.

Yet Your love and power converted one of your most staunch detractors into the most powerful ministry of the Gospel, and he reminds us that You are the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that the Father is not a man that He should lie, and that we must suffer to attain the promises.

We want redemption on our terms, but that is being lukewarm water, unfruitful, unprofitable, tasteless salt, and a dim lamp indeed if on our best days, our righteousness is as rags in the Father’s sight.

Strengthen us, Lord, to continue on with You as the days grow dark, and the signs of the end You spoke of manifest themselves through the evil hearts of powerful people who do not know You, and the beauty of the grace You offer. You tell us they have their reward, and there will be none to be found on the new earth, or in the Kingdom of G-d.

I would not be among that company, Lord. Rekindle in me the love and reverent fear of the Father, who will not compromise and make exceptions for me, having revealed You to me, for the life I now live, and the parts of it I do not, will not, give to You. Help my unbelief, but complete my submission as well, for my heart is hard, and my head is filled with earthly concerns so that my focus is not on You, or the Narrow Road.

Without You, Lord, I will fall, and stumble, and embrace the darkness, believing it light.

Without You, I am only fit to be burned out of existence, never knowing peace, and never entering into my Father’s rest.

You are the Christ whom Paul preaches, even now, reaching down to strike me from my pedestal, and newly open my eyes, continually. Let what miracles You manifest through me, if any, always give the Father greater glory, as You have done.

And with a grateful heart, I thank You.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.