Devotional 78: A Family Comes to Faith

Mark 3:20-21

A House Divided Cannot Stand

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

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him

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

Acts 1:12-14

The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Devotional 77: The Forbidden Name

Acts 4:13-17

The Name of Jesus Forbidden

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

Have people been hostile to your witness? It will increase.

Is His name forbidden in your workplace? It will increase.

The demons are busy, and immorality is described as progress. You are bigoted and intolerant if you actually practice the tenets of your faith, and crime is low because nothing’s illegal.

But our Lord tells us we can’t serve two masters; we will love one and hate the other, and that G-d and money can’t be served at the same time.

As the unfaithful and unrepentant gather around us with their own stones, we must take stock and ask what we are willing to lose, for our Lord tells us there is a cost to follow, and that we, being servants, will be subject to like treatment.

Matthew 10: 24-26

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

Let us be reminded that Simeon said in the temple:

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.”

The hearts of men have been hardened toward G-d since the fall, since the Flood, since the Exodus, but one day we will give an accounting of our own hearts.

The world would have us believe the Rolling Stones in the song Sympathy for the Devil:

‘And I was ’round when Jesus Christ/ had his moment of doubt and pain

‘Made damn sure that Pilate/ washed his hands and sealed His fate.’

This is why we need to read our Word. Jesus asked that the cup pass, but He never doubted. Pain, undoubtedly. Doubt? Never. And He said to Pilate,

John 19:11

11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

The Pharisees too thought His fate had been sealed, and thinking they put fear in the hearts of the Apostles, (who’d already had their moment of doubt Mark 14:50) didn’t realize they’d have to continue with an even more rapid spreading of the Gospel than before. But they recognized the source of it: the power in the Name of Jesus, so they forbid it to be spoken.

In today’s world, we have our mockers as well. They would have us keep it to ourselves, and take pride in the things they should be ashamed of, but as Paul says, for it is in Him we live, move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

From within, we have prosperity preachers, and believers who will not study and hand their teaching completely over to their pastors, who are now themselves preaching false doctrines and substituting the Apostle Paul for Jesus, forgetting the Apostle himself admonished against this: 1 Corinthians 4-6

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

Let us remember our enemy is subtle with his power, and that his light still seduces into pride and falsehood, for he became the father of lies in Eden, and has not strayed from his mission.

Let’s not stray from our own, and remember, as this man,  to cry out all the more: mercy for ourselves…(Luke 18)

39 Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And forgiveness for others: (Matthew 18)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

If we are not pure and sure in our own hearts, our witness won’t reach even those who have good soil to receive it.

Therefore I pray:

Rekindle my fire to spread Your word, Lord, with a pure heart, a right spirit, and fill me with the boldness and power of Your Holy Spirit, that I may speak the goodness of Your name in fearlessness and power.

The signs are gathering together, the day is far spent, the hour is late, and the love of many is growing cold, and the elect are being deceived.

I would have that You strengthen me to endure to the end, for I would be saved, and have those you’ve sent to me endure with me, and enter into Your rest. As a temple, a living stone, and Your creation, I would be reconciled to the Father through You, and fear not those who can only kill the body, but rather He who can cast my soul into hell.

Help me, in this new year, to draw closer to You, to abide in You, to believe in You, and know that Your promises are true, and Your prophesies concerning me shall come to pass. Help me to keep in mind that there will be a judgment, where I will give account for the time You allotted me, the talents You’ve given me to use to Your glory, and the provision You’ve sustained me with along the way.

Let Your Name increase, and mine be as nothing, for it is through Your will that I draw my next breath, and by Your grace that all my faculties are yet mine to possess. 

I thank You for life as I know it, health as I have it, and strength as You’ve given me. Let me have a heart of joyful thankfulness, and a fearless spirit to confess You before men, as You confess me, even now, to the Father. 

Thank You, Lord Jesus. 

May it be to me as You have said. 

Amen.

Devotional 76: The Hired Man’s Rest

Job 14:1-6

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, it’s Job who claims:

Job 42:4-6

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

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

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

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

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

(Romans 1:24-28)

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

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

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

 

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

Devotional 73: The Wisdom of G-d

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”[a]

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The modern world insults the intellect of the believer, but here in Paul’s letter we read they did the same in the ancient one.

Jesus took a learned man in dramatic fashion to preach a foolish message that did not bring him fame and riches, but put him before the kingdom courts of that world to preach the Gospel and get imprisoned, beaten, and eventually killed. Yet His impact on the Gospel has been enduring, and influential beyond question.

I love that with the same zeal Paul went after the church, the Lord used that to His purposes, and with the same zeal Paul preached, and once convinced, never wavered, even calling out Peter when he tried to return to popularity among the Jews! (Galatians 2:11-13)

The problem with all of them, the Pharisees and other religious street gangs of the day, is that they kept looking for the man-made in Heavenly things. Jesus whole birth was simple, with no adornment, indeed, in a place where you’d expect an outcast to be born, not a king.

And Paul reminds us that G-d is not a man. Jesus tells us He is spirit.

Jesus was homeless, He rode on donkeys, not horses, He taught in the deserts and mountains as well as the synagogues, and He died a criminal’s death.

That’s why He tells us the road is narrow, for who would believe this to be the story of a king, much less an eternal ruler?

Paul didn’t, at least not at first, but who would still be an unbeliever after an experience like that on the Damascus road? He suffered, and the impact of his writing still anchors us in the Gospels today. Do we think to be spared if we’re to bear fruit?

All of the Apostles, save John, were martyred. Do we think we couldn’t be?

I’m reminded of the scene in one of those Indiana Jones films when the soldier picks the cup he thinks is the Holy Grail, and it’s gold and studded with precious gems, and it’s the wrong one. It was the simple cup made of clay.

Where are we looking for G-d? Who is it we think makes us worthy of salvation?

Matthew 23: 16-22

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it. 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it. 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells[b] in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. (letters in bold for emphasis).

See, the wood and stones of a building in and of themselves, we don’t consider valuable, and the wood or stone of an altar in and of itself, is not considered valuable. But when it is used to the purposes of G-d, and is sanctified by those He’s called through Christ, then, indeed, are we not standing on holy ground? The sanctuary is therefore a sacred place, and is profaned when churches devolve into performance, and defiled when ungodly messages are preached.

It is Christ who makes us worthy, and His message is simple: You believe in G-d, believe also in Me.

Let our words be few: Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Therefore I pray:

Today, O Lord, I lay my gifts on the altar of Your grace and mercy, seeking forgiveness if I’ve misused and neglected them. Sanctify them, and use them for Your glory. Take what I have and increase it, according to Your will.

Forgive me for letting the clamoring of the world distract me from Your purpose for my life.

Keep me from falling into enemy hands, and enemy work. I would not enter that kingdom, which You have marked for destruction and everlasting separation, where my very soul will wink out of existence, and my life forgotten, even by You, though You take no pleasure in my death.

There are days I bend under the burden, smile grimly at the storm clouds, thinking of them as my portion according to Your will,  and  panic at the emergencies that occur, then question Your love for me.

And yet, I’ve heard You speak to me through those clouds, and in the quiet moments, and I feel Your presence, sense Your touch, and remember that You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies, and restore my soul.

Even Pilate, not knowing what He wrote, proclaimed You as King.

Help me to keep my vows to G-d, whether I take an oath or not, and let me remember that Your family is those who do His will. (Mark 3:31-35)

Let me abide in You, that I may accomplish the work You’ve given me to do, remembering to give thanks in all things, and be content in all circumstances, lifting my eyes to where my help comes from. Let me remember to bless Your Name in the quiet moments, where nothing opulent and grand is happening, and let my praise be pleasing to You, that I may enter into Your joy, and life everlasting, reconciled to my Father, praising Him forevermore.

I ask in Your name, believing I’ve already 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.