Devotional 72: Not With a Loyal Heart

2 Chronicles 25:1-2

Amaziah Reigns in Judah

25 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a loyal heart.

The Chronicles, if nothing else, testify to man’s inner heart when he comes to power and prospers, when he leads others, and when or if he follows the Lord, as the Kings of Israel were supposed to do, but with Amaziah, there’s a different shading.

In His compassion, the Father granted the Israelites their desire not to deal directly with Him, as they sent Moses up the mountain, when G-d would have addressed them all. It grieved Him, but He did it, even though He also said everything the bad kings would cause them to do, and suffer.

The kings seemed cases of extremes, swinging Israel and Judah on the pendulums of their egos first one way, then the other, but with Amaziah, we see a difference: he did right, but not with a loyal heart.

How is that possible, to serve G-d doing good, but not with loyalty?

What, then, was in Amaziah’s heart: fear? Probably, for he saw what happened to the maverick kings, and he would not invite the Father’s wrath through his personal indulgence in all the potential debauchery a king could engage in.

Perhaps it was a sense of duty, obligations and rituals to be carried out, and he observed them along with the people, but did so with no joy or reverence.

As king, it could be said he carried out the letter of the Law, but had no spirit for it.

We call it ‘going through the motions,’ like people who hedge their bets by going to church on Christmas and Easter, like they’re keeping a foot in the door. They don’t want i to close, but they don’t want to come all the way inside to experience the Lord.

Perhaps he went through the motions during the day, and publicly, and indulged himself ‘a little bit’ privately.

We’ve had those days, those emotions, perhaps even today. We go through the day the Lord has made with no thought of Him other than ‘getting that out of the way,’ and coming back to the daily milling wheels He has us push around in seemingly pointless circles, to an audience of mockers and scoffers.

Is that all there is? they ask.

Where is your G-d?  they ask.

or, as they said to a pastor I know: ‘Oh, you’re one of those.

As I write this, it’s raining here, and I thought about how my day’s plans are now ruined, yet I have no idea if the sun is coming out later today.

Yet, I’m out of the rain, and I can write this on a pretty neat machine that allows me to do it quickly and share it with you, while having my coffee. By those standards, if my plans have to wait on the weather, should I not be assured that what I need to do will get done, just not on my schedule? By those standards, am I not blessed and provided for by His hand? Has He not told me not to worry on these things, because in His eyes I’m worth more than the birds that He also provides for?

And I remember I’m told to let my light shine before men, and that in this hostile climate of the nation I’m not allowed to hate my brothers, that I’m set apart and called to a higher standard, and I’m to serve and praise in spirit and truth, and keep the statutes and commandments passed on to us through the Son, confess Him before doubting, sinful, earthly minded people, and abide in Him, because I’m incapable of doing all of that without Him.

I say this to tell you that the first I focused on this morning was me, even as I got up and prepared to write this. So you see these are as much for me redirecting that focus as they are for anybody else.

Believers, we are told to guard our hearts for a reason; it is as possible to do good in the flesh as it is to do evil, yet our Savior tells us that if we do that, we have our reward, and to not let our left hand know what our right is doing.

In times of trial, grief, and loss, when our hearts are heavy, and reasons for them aren’t present, we can turn tearful eyes and angry hearts to Heaven, and like the rich young ruler, walk away with great sadness, having made our choice.

May the Lord’s voice be gentle in your ear: ‘Will you also go away?’ Like the unsteady, passionate Peter, let us answer: ‘To whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

It is the reason G-d says Israel  ‘honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8)

There is a reason why it’s first in the list when Jesus says, ‘Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ (Luke 10:27)

And to not let them be troubled by our fear: ‘Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (John 14:27)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We lift our hearts to You today, to do that which You need to it, for change, for cleansing, for softening so that Your words are fall into fertile spiritual soil that delights to do Your will.

Let our hearts be quiet within us when calamity comes, when the outside world is scornful and full of men scrambling for power they can’t keep, in a world they can’t stay in.

Let our hearts be steadfast within us when moments of doubt come, when the foolish wisdom of men and their philosophies seems to contain a form of godliness, but lacks the truth.

Let our hearts rejoice within us today at the reading of Your Holy Word, in the praises of our singing, and in the works of our hands as we minister and serve in Your Name, and to Your Glory. 

We thank You for this day, whatever the weather may be, whatever our plans are, and we will rejoice in it with grateful hearts of fear, reverence, and love as we gather to praise You, or meet with You in the quiet places of our souls as we speak to You alone. 

Replace the hearts of stone with those of flesh, tender, receptive, and discerning, as we turn them back to you, reconciled in the work of Your Son, to Your glory, and redemption of our souls.

I ask it, believing I’ve already received. 

Amen.

 

 

 

Devotional 71: Your Redemption Draws Near

Luke 21:25-28

The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

One of the titles rarely discussed about our Lord is the title ‘Prophet.’ He was known primarily as a teacher, and outside of prophesying His own death and resurrection, we’re only told about the temple he said would be destroyed (and it was), and the end times, though He goes out of His way to tell us that only the Father knows when that will be.

It is the nature of prophecy, unless the Father reveal it, not to get into dates and timelines; the prophet tells us what will happen, and the mark of whether or not they’ve heard from G-d is this: the event comes to pass, or it does not.

Jesus’ prophecies, handed down to us,  tell us what will happen, and while I know there’s a lot more that goes with it, it would be a mistake to say we’re not beginning to see these signs. A lot of the weather events have been called unprecedented.

The aftermath is tragic, awful, hard to look at, and heart-wrenching, and yet even with that, people are making dumb and hateful remarks at the leaders as well as the victims, and tensions and emotions are running high all over the place.

In the midst of this, our Lord would have us look in another direction; it’s the one He’s been emphasizing since His ministry began. We are not to gather earthly treasures, or put our trust in men, nor do good deeds or give to receive our reward in their praises.

If we’ve placed our trust in Him, let us understand the times: He will not be proven a false prophet, for if all was made by His hand, all will be taken by Him, and by Him, judged.

He’s told us few will find the road to life.

He’s told us the world will hate us if we are of Him, and we can expect hatred and persecution from those closest to us.

He’s told us to go into all the world to preach the Good News, and when that is completed, the end will come, but the hour will be unexpected; we must be like the wise virgins on the hill who came prepared to go into the wedding because they had enough oil for their lamps.

He tells us to confess Him before men, that we might be confessed to the Father, and the consequences of not doing so. That means, for some, they must be ready to die in that moment. But He tells us not to fear those who can only kill the body.

This is the prophet in whom we’ve placed our faith and trust, our Lord and King, who lives at the right hand of G-d, and has told us He will raise us up on the last day.

These are the words He’s spoken to us through the ages, and we say, ‘I believe.’

Will you, when the rubber of your faith meets the road of reality? When the blade is at your throat, and the fires rage around you? When your loved one looks at you with absolute hatred in their eyes, and curses you?

I read where a preacher said: “If you believe in G-d, why do you ask if missions your children undertake will be ‘safe? ‘”

Certainly none of the disciples’ missions ended well, yet we’re told they’ll judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the kingdom.

If our Lord called and chose us to be out of the world, and testified that its works are evil, and a new earth will be created because Satan has corrupted this one, and G-d will not look on sin, and all these other things, are we looking at all these signs and asking ‘Where’s G-d?’

If you haven’t heard the unrepentant and unbelieving say it yet, you will, and soon. But remember, the signs were already spoken of in this ‘outdated, irrelevant’ book, which is the Father’s sword that will save souls even as it divides nations and households.

He punished the world once, and spared no one but Noah, because Noah’s heart was faithful to Him. Remember everyone laughed, until it rained from above, and the ground opened up beneath them.  The rainbow was His promise not to destroy it again, but only by water.

A new earth will not co-exist with an old, and good cannot co-exist with evil, and the saved and faithful will not be cast out with the unbeliever and the unrepentant.

Our Lord has said it to us, and we must believe His prophecies, like His promises, are yes, and amen.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We would be like the sons of Issachar, who understood their times and knew what to do.

Let our faith be strong, our peace even stronger, though our hearts are heavy, because we know what we’re seeing around us is what You’ve prophesied.

You’ve said we come to You only through the will of the Father, that we might be reconciled back to Him through You, and that eternal life will be our reward for doing His will. Therefore, Lord, in the aftermath of the disasters, let us do what we can, where we can.

We pray Your spirit move among those who’ve had to go toward the sites, and pray Your protection over them. Anoint the ministers who move among the afflicted, and give them the words to say, that souls may be redeemed.

We pray for this nation, rife with hate, corruption, and greed, serving mammon instead of You, though it honors You only with its lips, and not its heart.

Give us a bold spirit when they ask us where You are, for they haven’t read Your Word, and reading, liken it to the superstitious imagination of men that made up pagan theologies, foolish with philosophy and meaningless rituals. Their mouths say prayers You don’t hear, sing songs You don’t listen to, and though you reject their offerings, they remain blind.

We ask that in the days to come, we would know Your voice among the rise of many false Christs to come. We would endure to the end, not being fooled by signs and wonders that fool even the elect.

Let us abide in You, Lord Jesus, knowing that apart from You, we can do nothing, and without faith in You, we will become nothing, our souls separated for damnation, and destruction when Hell is destroyed. Help us keep our eyes on the hem of Your garment, and follow the narrow way, in faith believing.

Let such light as we have be a guide for those who’ve placed their faith in Your word through us, as we do the Father’s will at Your command, and through Your love, leading them from earthly calamity and tears to heavenly peace and glory.

I ask in faith, believing I’ve received. 

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 16: They were Astonished at Him

The only story we have of Jesus as a child outside of the Christmas story is found in the second chapter of Luke, where Jesus was missing for three days after his parents had returned to Nazareth, each thinking He was with the other.

 

In Luke 2:46 – 47 we read:

    46) Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking questions. 47) And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

These words come again with Christ as an adult in Luke 4: 31-32:

   Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. 32) And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.

The occurrences of the words ‘astonishment’ followed by ‘authority’ appear several times throughout Jesus’ ministry, because His authority, His claims to divinity and being the Son of God, never wavered.

Who He was, and why He came never changed in His preaching, despite the intense pressure the religious leaders brought to bear on Him to recant.

His words were consistent regarding the issues surrounding our salvation, and His call to it consisted of three essential parts:

 

  • Repent: God will not wink at sin or compromise on what His Word says. In Psalm 138:2 David writes that the Lord God has exalted His Word above His Name, therefore if His Name is above all names, how do we get to thinking that He will nullify or compromise His Word, and therefore it doesn’t apply?

  

  • Believe: The Father will not brook doubters, for we read in the Gospel of John 3:18: He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

 

  • Follow: The Father will only acknowledge those who acknowledge His Son. In John 15:23 we read: “He who hates Me hates My Father also.”

And when Jesus was transfigured on the high mountain, we have the second manifestation of God’s approval of His work, as we had at the beginning of His ministry, when He came to John the Baptist.

In Matthew 17:5 we read:

     And while (Peter) was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

       We have other admonitions by Jesus to take up our crosses, count the cost, forsake that which we love for His sake, and to be ready for persecution.

These are admittedly not easy, but for the sake of our salvation, if Jesus teaches with astonishing authority, the uniqueness and consistency of His words are designed to penetrate, to reach us, to break down our resistances and remove our excuses for not doing them

In effect, they sift those who claim to believe from those who truly believe.

We have, interceding on our behalf, not only the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Chief Judge, but also a Master Teacher whose words are still being discussed some 2,016 years after His birth, even to the point of denying His existence.

Such is the manner of bold, authoritative teaching.

Take the Gospel seriously, because it’s not pick-and-choose, and it’s best you not be found lukewarm with one foot in the world.

Our Lord has overcome the world, and He is the Living Word.

As He overturned the money tables, so too, will He flip backwards and topple all who seek to wink at God’s mercy and say, “I’ll do it at the end.”

The ‘end’ may come suddenly, and sooner than you think, and you’ll have died in your sins, as well as your ‘sleep.’

Therefore I pray:

      Father in Heaven, make me to understand the neediness of my time, and give me what I need to change what has to be changed in my own life, and to affect the lives of others for Your kingdom.

      Help me, like Issachar’s sons, to understand the times, and know what to do.

     Help me to subject myself to the authority my Lord and Savior would wield over me as He teaches me to follow Him into Your Presence, in reverence to You, in faithfulness to Him, and in obedience to Your Holy Spirit.

     By the Power of His Blood and in His Holy Name I ask it, believing I have already received.

      Amen.

 

 

 

Devotional 12: “Unless you repent…” (Luke 13: 1-5)

Repent or Perish

13 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Lord Jesus dispels the concept of ‘worse sinners’ receiving ‘worse punishment’ (except when he berates the cities that didn’t repent and believe in Him though he performed works in them; Matthew 11: 20 – 22)

The key is to repent, but today, in addition to not wanting to call sin, ‘sin,’ we remain unsure of what that means or looks like.

Various definitions and parameters set by denominations only serve to confuse us further.

Hollywood portrays it as just a matter of saying ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s an apology, not forgiveness.

Sins, once committed, can’t be undone, and as Paul says, the battle between flesh and spirit is one we will fight until our final day. But as he also says, we’re not to go on sinning so grace may abound (Romans 6:1)

Proverbs says we will perish ‘without remedy’ (Proverbs 29:1) if we keep hardened necks and refuse to bow.

We must confess (agree with God you’re in sin, then confess to God, and to our brethren, not to a priest; we have a high priest that has made atonement already).

It is simply not possible without God’s help to live a sinless life, but we can get as close as we ever will if we keep our vision focused, guard our hearts, place a watch over our mouths, and make a covenant with our eyes. These will be imperfect, but we are called to come out of the world, and so we must do our best, and repent when we fail at that.

Therefore I pray.

I thank You, O Lord, for your long-suffering mercy.

Without it, for the things I’ve looked upon, I should be struck blind.

For the things I’ve coveted, I would lose my hands.

For the unforgiving hardness of my heart, which was once softened by the healing balms of Your mercy and grace toward me, and once basked in the warm promises of Your holy Word, I would burn eternally for having turned my lukewarm back to You, to revel in worldly pleasures, mocking Your sacrifice and the coming Judgment.

And like King Saul, die in my sins of disobedience, having played the fool.

Therefore now, Lord Jesus, I come once again to You, reeking of the world, unable to stand in Your presence, to ask once more, like a beggar, for you to clean and purify me, that I may stand among the spotless and blameless of Your selection, before the white throne, where the children of the Lord, the sons and daughters of the king, the righteous, do not beg.

Forgive my doubting, help my unbelief, and rub the mud of Your mercy over my spiritual eyes, so they would open more fully, be more perceptive and discerning, and bold to test, rebuke, cast out, and restore to Yourself a straying soul.

 I would not be a greater sinner in Your sight, that I would perish from Your sight forever.

Remember me, O Lord, when  You come to claim Your bride.

Or let me meet you in the air, beloved Savior, and pull me from this hellish husk of flesh; cast my sins from me, and dry my tears that I may dwell in the House of the Lord forever, because Your goodness and mercy followed me all the days of my earthly life, into eternal life.

By the Power of Your Holy Name, I ask it,

Amen