Devotional 64: The Day is Far Spent

Luke 24:28-35

The Disciples’ Eyes Opened
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

Imagine walking with Jesus, receiving essentially a master class on all that concerned Him regarding the Scriptures, yet not knowing it was Jesus, at least by sight, but having your heart respond during His lessons, and realizing in hindsight you’ve been given the greatest gift there is: to walk with the Lord as He taught.

We see this over and over again, though doubtless some in the crowd just came to be healed, and fed. Who’s to say whether or not they went on to turn their hearts to Him in faith and obedience, or having received the desires of their hearts, went back to their earthly existences.

The tax collectors (a special breed of sinners, because they always separated the two: ‘tax collectors and sinners’), the sinners, the prostitutes, the downtrodden, all repeatedly followed Him to receive the message over and over again that they had value to their Father, that there was a better life waiting, that they were worthy of respect because of their humanity, not their theology or finances.

And Cleopas and his companion, their hopes of a new way of thinking and living dashed with the crucifixion, flee the center of the chaos to mourn quietly and return to their homes, when in fact they were on their way to a divine appointment.

So this learned traveler walks with them, joins their conversation, and rebukes the news of the faithlessness expressed to Him, and He begins to teach.

25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

There is no hurry now, or thought of discomfort, or even worry about the future. There is only the silence of the surrounding countryside, and the compelling voice that has touched hearts, revived spirits, changed lives, and saved souls in this intimate moment.

And Jesus, knowing He’ll soon depart, sees them to their destination, but they invite Him to stay, “for the day is far spent.”

Not knowing Him, they know the night roads are dangerous and unsafe for solitary travelers. They would not see the innocent harmed, so they offer the shelter of their dwelling for the night.

It is when He breaks bread with them that their eyes are opened, and it’s only then that He leaves.

32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

And on the same roads unsafe and dark roads they wouldn’t see Him travel, they went back as soon as He left them to tell the news.

I remember being that excited once. If I’m to be honest, it’s not the case any longer on most days. I do it as discipline and ritual, in a spirit of duty rather than joy. My heart, once burning for the Word, is now merely, barely, a warming flame.

My fruit is unripe, my offering unacceptable, my obedience resentful as I rely on my own strength to do my own thing in my own way.

Is it any wonder Jesus calls me foolish?

I know better: I’m to show myself approved, to always have an answer for my hope, to be assured of my calling, to work within my capacities and giftings to spread the Gospel to every nation, doing my part to hasten the end.

  (Matthew 24:14) And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

One thing is certain: My end is assured, and for the time I have left I need a rekindled heart, a revived spirit, and a changed life.

Be careful in your walk, brothers and sisters, lest the day be far spent and He does not abide with you.

Therefore I pray:

   Lord Jesus, 

    Walk the road with me, teach me, and open my eyes.

    Break bread with me, and open my heart as You open the Scriptures to me once again.

    Reveal Yourself to me in my sadness, my darkness, and my time of need, that I might remember You spoke of all things that concerned You, and told me that as Your disciple I would undergo them too, both suffering and glory.

    My days are far spent, and I draw closer to the shining light of the kingdom, not grieving with Cleopas, but rejoicing with David in the knowledge my Redeemer lives,  my King forgives my debt, my Shepherd protects me, my Master’s yoke is easy, and my Savior breaks the chains of sin and the power of the grave.

   Let me shout from the housetops what is whispered in my ear.

   Let my burning heart be the light on the hill, filled with oil for the bridegroom’s wedding feast. Let me drink the new wine with You in the Kingdom of G-d.

   Let me humble myself to receive my crown, and place it at Your feet.

   Let my praise reflect my gratitude and joy for all You’ve done, as You bring Your good work to completion in me, never leaving or forsaking me, sticking closer than a brother.

   Breathe the Spirit of Truth back into my soul, Lord, for I would seek deeper truth and mysteries of You, preparing the answers for my hope, and to let my light shine before men that they may glorify the Father.

   I place this life You’ve given me in Your hands once more, to ripen the fruit, to take the plank from my eye, to dry the tears, and ease the loneliness, to cleanse the stains of sin, and to pierce the heart to grieve them, not the Holy Spirit, and  to repent before Your throne.

   I ask by the power of Your Name, believing I’ve received by the mercy of  Your holy hands.

   Amen.

 

Devotional 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 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 52: All the People Stood Up

Nehemiah 8:5-6

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.

Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Purification takes place through fire or water. As the sins of man were washed away symbolically by water and blood, the Lord promises fire for the next time.

It has always interested me that the Lord will use what we view as opposites to achieve the same purpose: our works tested by fire, and the unbelieving, unrepentant souls cast into it along with the unfruitful servants, in contrast to the Great Flood.

But putting that aside, let’s consider the fact that when the work we do for the Lord is of the Lord, we get a deeper sense of connection to Him, joy in Him, and a sense of reverence and holy fear.

The Holy Spirit moved on the gathering the day Ezra had come to rededicate the hearts of the people and strengthen Nehemiah. The Spirit exposed their hearts in the midst of rebuilding the wall that they were still prone to greed and lust through the acquisition of foreign wives and their fortunes.

By the time Ezra gave the reading, their hearts were ripe, and the Spirit gave them the strength to stand all day as He worked. With broken hearts and contrite spirits they could not look toward Heaven, worshipping with tears and their faces to the ground.

In such assemblies, there was always preaching by the leader, then dissemination and exposition by those of understanding who went out among the crowd to answer questions and explain passages, as Phillip did with the Ethiopian, and as the Apostles did after Pentecost.

Reassured that G-d was pleased with their rededication to obey the Law and honor the Lord, it became a time of rejoicing. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Opposites achieving the same end: rededication to our G-d.

So from the Water Gate we have tears of sorrow, then of joy as the children of Israel returned to the Father.

Will we, as believers, stand up for the Word in unity and purpose, tearing down strongholds as we rebuild the walls of our spirits and put back the boundary stones on our faith, so that we don’t come down to the enemy. Let’s rededicate ourselves in the Covenant of Grace and place ourselves back in the hands of the Living G-d.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

Daily we are prodigal at some point; a stray thought, a random flash of anger, a harsh word, a grumbling against something You haven’t brought to pass yet. Since judgment is not swift in coming, the boundaries of our faith begin to crumble, the walls of our sanctuaries become curtains, and we get a random peek at the opulence of a sick and dying world, reveling in its hedonism as it says You are a product of ancient history, and a figment of our imagination.

Hourly we are tested by those closest to us, who have their own thoughts and opinions, their own ways of relating to the world that are not ours, and we are commanded to love, forgive, and if possible, restore them.

Clothed in mortal flesh, we fight against moral urges. We are admonished to crucify it, deny its desires for ease and comfort, and to count the cost, walk the talk, and fight the fight.

We are admonished to limit the rudders of our eager tongues to lash, to speak love and not judge.

And we are told by Your Son that with man it is impossible, but all things are possible through You.

So Father, we beseech You for strength in rebuilding these things, in setting up guards around them, in establishing partnerships that will reinforce them when we forget to turn to You. We ask for Nathans in our lives to deliver warnings, Ezras to remind us of Your Word, Davids to put songs in our hearts, and Christ above all, to strengthen the work of our hands as we strive to live by His example.

Let us also be mindful to heed the Spirit, whether it comes as a mighty wind, a still, small voice, or a bird flying in the direction we should go.

We thank You, Father, for people of understanding You’ve sent across our paths to guide us out of the dark places. Let us always be mindful of that You’ve said Your Word is higher than Your Name, and if Yours is the Name above all Names, the pinnacle cannot be attained under our own power.

But having done all we can, when we bring Your Word to mind, let us remember to stand up.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 51: The Things Concerning Me Have an End

Luke 22:37

37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’[a] For the things concerning Me have an end.”

Branded a criminal, a demon, a blasphemer, a charlatan, an upstart, a rebel, and a fraud, all prophesied from the beginning, our Lord came to save us and not only take on our sins, but our labels; have we not been guilty of all these things?

Yet we can rejoice in celebration as we are yet in the year of His, with mercy and grace continually pursuing us.

We have the Word, the gift of hindsight, technology, pastors, preachers, and prophets today, yet do you believe we really understand any better than the Apostles did as they walked with Him in His earthly ministry as He spoke of Heavenly things?

Could we place our faith in spiritual matters any more than they did when they felt the heat of the desert sun on their bodies?

Did the concept of eternity click for them as they aged and came to the persecution Jesus prophesied they’d receive for preaching in His Name?

Today, this Good Friday, brothers and sisters, we still have cause to rejoice; though the earthly ministry of Jesus had an end, the eternal reign of Christ with G-d does not, and we discover to our exceeding joy that the things concerning Jesus do have an end, not in time, but eternity.

Take heart, be still, and know that He’s taken away the sins of the world, once for all, for those who believe.

“You believe in G-d. Believe also in Me.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, that You would save the unworthy, the ungrateful, and even the unfaithful speaks to the everlasting love You had for us before the world’s foundation.

We’ve counted the cost, and chosen this day whom we serve.

Alongside You, in Faith, we take up our crosses, put on our armor, set our faces like flint in these times of softened souls and hardened hearts, striving to be wheat in the midst of tares, willing to bear the blows and count ourselves blessed for the sake of the Gospel.

In our times of faltering, help our unbelief, strengthen our hands, send the Spirit to us in boldness, rekindle our hillside lamps and fill them with the oil of joy, and help us to hear the Father’s voice and do His will on earth as it is done in Heaven: immediately and without question.

With thankful hearts we praise You, with hope we long for You, and with love we serve You all the days of our lives, that we might rule and reign with You, and glorify G-d and enjoy Him forever, which is the chief end of humanity.

Amen.

 

Devotional 50: He Put Them All Outside

Mark 5:36-43

36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37 And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.39 When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

40 And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated,“Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43 But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

I love the story of redemption through the cross, because it means that Jesus is resurrected, and that means those who believe in Him will be resurrected too, spotless and blameless before the Father.

Personally, I think the Resurrection doesn’t get enough attention. We have the hope of eternal life, and life means we must be raised. The power of the grave is broken, to the point where even the sea will give up its dead.

We read in the Word that Jesus could work no miracles where there was no faith, yet we’re told if our faith is the size of mustard seed, it can provide the spark.

In some ways this story parallels that of Lazarus: Jesus was ministering elsewhere when the death occurs, and He visits once he’s done ministering to the crowd. What’s different is that the closer Jesus gets, the thinner the crowd, until only His inner circle and the child’s parents remain as witnesses, whereas the raising of Lazarus was more public.

The way Mark puts this is almost humorous in verse 40: And they ridiculed Him. But when He put them all outside…” The juxtaposition is jarring, and there was probably nothing humorous about it, but Christ does not surrender His authority any more than the Father shares His glory. They left.

Jesus had no time for the faithless clamoring of useless mourning.

How bold they were to mock Him, knowing who He was, ‘knowing’ the child was dead.

But we’re not unlike them at times, even professing faith. We ‘know’ things that Jesus doesn’t about ourselves, our lives, our plans, our families…we are not as quick to submit to His authority in all aspects of our lives.

We ‘know’ it’s too late to start over, or the marriage is ending, or the delinquent child is never going to get it together….

We must begin to do with our own faithless behaviors what Jesus did to the doubters at the door: Put them all outside, and say to the things of G-d, “I say to you, arise.”

And like the little girl our Lord raised, we must feed those things in us of G-d that provides us with perseverance, and shut out that which distract us, taunt us, mock and abuse us by assailing us with the words and deeds of long ago. Give yourself something to eat.

Put them all outside, brothers and sisters, and as Jesus told Jairus: “Do not be afraid, only believe.”

Therefore I pray

Lord Jesus, help me to put outside all of the thoughts or feelings that are not tied into Your power to redeem me from sin.

Help me not to hear those who say “Don’t trouble the Teacher any longer,” so that I am not caught up in the noise of faithless fatalism.

Increase my peace in times of turmoil, my faith in the midst of trials, and my understanding in times of confusion.

Let me feel the presence of the Spirit as I enjoy the blessing of restoration.

Let me hold fast to the hope of being raised into eternal life in the Kingdom of G-d, to the cloud of witnesses after the Great Shout: ‘Come forth!’

I would not be among the faithless of the outer darkness who reject the Gospel because they ‘know’ there is no G-d. You say that in that time, as here, there will be weeping, for the killing of the soul is true death, and not merely sleep.

I would not be snatched from Your hand, even when I stray, so I ask Your forgiveness when I stood silent among those who ridiculed You.

I ask these things in faith, believing I’ve received, and for all my Brothers and Sisters who believe in You across the nations of the world.

Amen

Devotional 49: Strengthen Our Hands

Nehemiah 6:5-9

Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written:

It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.

Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.”

Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

The attacks and harassment came from everywhere: the enemy physically lurked about and taunted as the work of restoration was being done on the walls of Jerusalem. Protected by one king, the threat of the king where Nehemiah went  to work among his people to restore them was no less real.

The accusations followed:    It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their  king.

They sought to wear him down and delay the work of restoration with the threat of physical harm and and psychological weakness.

Through it all, Nehemiah , like David, took comfort in the Lord his G-d, and guided by the Holy Spirit, he thwarted them. He strengthened Nehemiah’s hand to answer five times, “I am doing a great work. Why should  the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

Notice the direction Nehemiah had to go to reach them?

As persistent as their enemies’demands were, his focus was equally clear; the wall was not just to put Jerusalem right, but it was to the glory of G-d to have His people do it as an act of loving service.

There are other ways to strengthen hands besides giving them the ability to lift heavy objects. During the holidays I was getting cash back from a machine that gave me $60 of the $100 I asked for; the cashier went to get the manager who didn’t look to see the screen had already given me $60. She counts off $100 and gives it to me; we’re the only two there a the machine and no one there between the time it was my turn and the time the manager came back, and I could have had $160 to spend ….

He can strengthen our hands not to steal.

There are men (and a rising number of women) alone at night in front of their computers, and the ‘adult only’ email slides like Eden’s serpent into the Inbox…

He can strengthen our hands not to give in to temptation.

And in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, knowing the pain and forsaking to come, clasps his hands together and entreats His Father to take the cup…

He can strengthen our hands to pray.

Pray, Brothers and Sisters, that He strengthen your hands to complete the task He’s set for you, to His glory and your sanctification.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We see them coming from a long way off when we are high on the ladder of the center of Your will. 

We hear their mocking whispers and veiled threats as clearly as if they’d said them in our ears.

We see their smug smiles of doubt and their frowns of frustration.

We see the ill intent in their eyes.

We see their bravado, for they don’t know You’re in the midst of us.

And in our humanity our hands would strike back, our tongues would give flight to our anger, and our reason would flee the faster for our warming blood.

Let us take comfort in You, Father. Let us see You in them, even as we rebuke them, even as they seek  to turn us from the task You appointed us to do. And by faith, let us remember to turn to You. Let us behold Your smile and loving touch as we answer by the power of Your Spirit: I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.

I ask it by the strong, nail pierced hands of our Savior, hands You strengthened to bear my sin and put on the altar of His all consuming sacrifice, to Your glory and my sanctification, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.