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 114: A Legacy of Obedience

Jeremiah 35:1-14

The Obedient Rechabites

35 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, “Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.”

Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites, and I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door. Then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Drink wine.”

But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. 10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. 11 But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and for fear of the army of the Syrians.’ So we dwell at Jerusalem.”

12 Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, 13 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” says the Lord14 “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandmentBut although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.

We, as believers, have to begin to believe that the matter with G-d is settled. That despite all the mysteries, discoveries, epiphanies, setbacks, and new beginning, the war between good and evil was always our own.

The forbidden Tree of Knowledge was willingly plundered of its beautiful fruit by pointing out what was good about it. The consequence of disobedience was made light of, and doubt was planted about the meaning of the Father’s command.

Skillfully, the serpent reduced the Almighty to being fearful Adam and Eve would be usurpers, for once they had His knowledge, they would seek His place, too.

And so now, we have the knowledge, and the choice, but we also have the ultimate weapons to fight: The Word of G-d, the covenant of redemptive grace, and the revelation and conviction of the Holy Spirit.

In these days, the enemy has grown more powerful, and seems to be putting more wins in the column as emotions get ‘triggered’, and excuses and scorn are bandied about like troops of chimps playing tennis.

It is the job of godly parents to bring up their children in G-d’s ways, but it is also the duty of the children to hold onto those ways, and to grow in their own knowledge of the Lord.

Nineveh stood for a time after hearing Jonah, but fell again because the future generations could not stand.

Solomon fell, though his father David sought the Lord constantly in almost all things, and even then, Uriah’s murder was the one stain on his earthly ledger. Yet it was David’s line through which Christ came.

Throughout the books of Kings, we see the contrasting examples of those who did what was right in the sight of G-d, and those who turned away, and what happened to them, and the people who went along, and the grief and peace of the kingdoms they ruled.

In this New Year, let the matter be settled in our hearts and minds that victory belongs to the Lord, that redemption is ours to claim, that the Father loves us and wishes to be reconciled, and the the circumscription of His rules is to keep and protect us from evil and harm.

Let it be settled, as it was when Abraham took Isaac to the mountain, as it was when the Hebrew boys defied Nebuchadnezzar’s decree, and as it was with the generations of Rechabites, who heeded their earthly father to the degree that G-d said of them,

18 And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, 19 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.” ’ ”

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven, 

Your Son tells us that our foundation on Him will withstand the storms of this world, and that we are always to watch and pray, we are always to believe and abide, and we most importantly, we are always to obey Your Word, as He did, even unto death.

Yet our earthly faith is a defective mustard seed, our understanding placed in the box of flesh, and we shoot tethered arrows to the heights of the Babel tower to bring You here. But Your thoughts and ways are higher than ours, and we, like the Rechabites, are but sojourners here.

Unlike them, we have been disobedient, relying on the atoning work of Your Son to excuse us, but not coming to godly repentance that produces tears, not understanding that grace is not license, and that not one word of the law will be discounted.

As we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the New Covenant, let us take comfort in the words of our Savior in these days of mocking, lying spirits that now infect the children of men with confusion, filling them up with emotions and irrational thoughts, believing You to be a vague-shaped power as they indulge their pride in their sins:

John 14:1-3 

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

We hear, O Lord, and believe. And obey.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

Devotional 85: Repentance and Remission

Luke 24:44-49

The Scriptures Opened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ask it by the power in Your Name.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 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 74: Rejoice in the Spirit

Jesus Rejoices in the Spirit (Luke 10:21-22)

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 22 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Part of the sovereignty of kingship is that the King gets to pick who belongs in the kingdom, and who doesn’t. I’ll admit that seeing this verse, particularly verse 22, gave me pause because in my youth, though I believed in G-d, I did not serve Him, and I wasn’t interested in following Christ.

After all, like so many others say, “I wasn’t hurting anyone.” But I wasn’t helping anyone, either. I was an unfruitful branch, dormant, empty, like the cursed fig tree when my Lord needed me to fulfill an earthly need. My life was undisciplined, spent doing what I wished, not planning for the future, and pretty much coasting and drifting with a jumbled set of ambitions, up to when I had my first child.

Fast-forward to my first day of Pentecost, when the Spirit opened my eyes to all that G-d was and meant to me on a new level, and all that He wanted to do for me and through me.

That brings me back to verse 22. Christ, in His mercy, sent the Spirit to reveal Himself to me, and through Him, reveal the Father. I was a basket case for a few hours, kept asking why, kept feeling His presence all through me. It was a glorious day I’ll never forget.

Fast forward again: No longer a husband, a father of adult children on their own, and I find myself again being able to do what I want, when I want, if I want.

I still don’t always stick to the path and do what I know,  yet again Christ in His mercy, through the Word, tells us this (Luke 9:23-26)

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 

Self-denial, aka ‘crucifying the flesh,’ is a requirement, not an option. Professing to be a follower when I’m not damages both our reputations, and I again become unfruitful.

Paul reminds us in Romans:

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

And the writer of Hebrews says this: (Hebrews 10:26-29

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.[ And again, “The Lord will judge His people. 

Will we backslide? Of course. But we must repent as soon as we’re aware of it. It’s not something we should build up before we do. Again in Hebrews we read: (Hebrews 10:14-16)

14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

Hold Fast Your Confession

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 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.

And lastly, the words of Christ:(Luke 9:26)

26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. 

If I don’t confess Him before men, I can’t evangelize effectively. More importantly, He will not confess me before the Father.

I, for one, don’t want to fall into the hands of the living G-d if I’m covered in sin.

Do you?

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

Let today be a day of praise and thanksgiving for Your mercy toward us, for taking our mustard seed of faith and planting it with the promise of eternal life to come, in Your presence, as we worship the Father in Your Kingdom.

We thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has revealed the Truth of the Father’s word to us, a word that He holds higher than His name, sending You to fulfill it so we are reconciled back to Him, spotless and blameless.

Bring to mind, Lord, that it is only through You we come to the Father, and only because You were willing to put our names into the Book of Life. We would not have them blotted out Lord, by foolishly making Your covenant with us a common thing, lest the Father’s wrath be on us in the day of the His vengeance on His enemies.

You tell us that no one can take us from Your hand, but let us also seek Your face, and know Your voice, holding fast to our confession of You in all that we say and do.

We thank You for redeeming us, for trusting us to do greater works in boldness, proclaiming the drawing near of Your kingdom. Help us to discern the times we live in, and know what to do. Help us not to go down when the enemy would call us from the work. 

And let us, like You, when our days here are done, be able to say: “It is finished,” and enter into Your joy in being with the Father also.

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

Amen

 

Devotional 66: ‘I Am Not Like Other Men’

Luke 18:11-15
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Remember the tee shirt that had: ‘Jesus is my homeboy’ on it? I thought for sure lightning would strike. What familiar arrogance in that statement, worn by the most un-Christian people you’re likely to never meet in Hollywood. Their desire is to reduce the Son of God to the Age of Aquarius.

As Paul says in Romans 6:15: What then? Shall we sin because we not under law, but under grace? May it never be.

I add, may it never be so with us! Christ tells us He has called and chosen us out of the world. In that regard, we are not like others, but we are not to keep such status to ourselves. He also commands us to tell others.

If we’re honest, though, there are times we’ve felt a little more held together than those around us, keeping our composure in the midst of the madness, watching others get caught up.

I don’t know if any of us have prayed such as this Pharisee in our Lord’s parable, but we’ve certainly felt the seed of it grow at certain times. That, in and of itself, is not an evil thing, as long as we remember Paul’s admonition:

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of G-d, 9 not of works, lest any man should boast.’ 

In the watches of the night, we are confronted with our own stock and store of how we’ve handled the day’s events and those G-d has brought across our path, how we’ve performed before our cloud of witnesses, and whether or not we were role models for how to behave and perform under pressure.

And again, if we’re honest, most times we come up short.

But let’s always remember that in fact, with enough time and circumstance, we are equally capable of performing the most reprehensible act as anyone in solitary confinement under the worst jail in the world.

We have it easy here. Need water? Buy a bottle, or turn on the tap.

What if we had to walk miles, with hundreds of others, to a drying pool of it in the middle of a hot, putrid rainforest, on muddy roads runny with sewage?  I’ll not belabor the point: your imagination and self-knowledge will fill in what you’re capable of.

Stay humble before G-d, and penitent. And thankful, realizing that we are all, in fact, just like everyone else. Were it not for the graces and gifts, the blessings and favor, and the delivery from trials by the hand of our Father, and the mercy of His Son, anchoring ourselves in the Spirit and Truth of His Word, it could always be us in solitary confinement, under the jail.

Imagine the darkness, the silence, the exposure to vermin and weather, the stench of your unwashed body, and the reek of sin on your unclean soul.

Will you not ask for mercy? He is faithful and just to forgive.

Since He sees in the darkness as we see in the light, which He created, He knows exactly where you are, and what you’d do.

Would you not be justified before Him?

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

Your Son tore the veil, that we may approach the heavenly throne without fear of death. Your Word says to approach boldly, but some have taken it to mean with an arrogance and familiarity they would not show a powerful earthly man, but have no problem displaying it before a divine King.

Even in our anger, our limited scope of Your plan for us and the lives of our loved ones, Your hand giving and taking according to Your will, let us pour out all that’s in our hearts in humility.

We would not be arrogant, for the very next breath we take is by Your pleasure.

Let us remember that Jesus died for the Pharisee as well as the tax collector, and has left the choice to follow and believe to every person who has heard His words.

Let us remember that you, O G-d, take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and it is Your desire that all would come to repentance.

You sent Your Son to prepare the narrow path, and we are grateful, but we can also hoard the grain of Your truth in our hearts, that we might feel justified before You.

Help us to know, Father, that in those moments it is we who are not like the tax collector, justified before Heaven, and forgiven in Your sight.

I ask it in Jesus’ name, believing I’ve received.

Amen.

Devotional 61: Let Your Peace Return to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Devotional 61: If Anyone Thirsts

John 7:37-39

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

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

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

It wasn’t enough for Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

My Savior,

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

All things in time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

Devotional 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.