Devotional 75: Friend, Go Up Higher

Luke 14:7-11 

Take the Lowly Place

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

For a number of years, I played bass for worship bands. One of the most constant admonishments I heard was, ‘Turn it up.’ The reason I started out low was because the bass, although supportive in nature, can be extremely annoying at loud volumes. It is sparingly played, but can pretty much drown out everything else and cut through if it’s loud enough.

I could then find a comfortable volume that wasn’t overwhelming for the room. We respected the house we were playing in, if we were guests in another church. I was once told, “You’re the first bass player we’ve had to tell to turn up!”

But then too, I started playing bass in my 30’s, so the urge to ‘rock out’ was behind me. I was more mature, and more or less learning the instrument on the fly. And also, the reasons I started playing was to give a gift I’d neglected back to the Lord for saving me under the covenant of grace. We occupy a unique place as players. A bassist, for me, is the bridge between the rhythm and melody: we have to lock in step with our drummers, and keep up with the melodic instruments and singers, basically outlining what’s being played. It’s more challenging than it sounds, but it’s rewarding when done well. It’s a matter of yielding to the Spirit as well, because when His presence hits, there are deep places you go that weren’t planned.

I was honored that my worship leaders considered me good enough to use me, and doubly honored to play before my Father. It was humbling to be used as a vessel to lead people into worship. I didn’t take it lightly, or for granted.

So it is with G-d, and through our Lord He continued to send a message to those who were proud of heart and prideful of place.

“Humble yourself.”

We are, it seems, living in times of prideful overabundance. Everyone is marching for themselves, and protesting the pride of others. Don’t get me wrong, there are times to speak out against things we know are wrong that some justify (and sometimes through the Bible), but among all the marching, the air reeks of pride, self-righteousness, anger, arrogance, and hate.

It’s a powerful thing to be a champion, and a heady feeling to ‘strike a blow’ for something you care deeply about. But that’s where the thistles grow, and if we’re not careful, we forget to listen the way our Lord listened, and He listened to everyone who entreated Him.

He had compassion on us, even when He was tired, or needed to be alone.

The disciples He called couldn’t understand Him, or were afraid to ask Him things, or related heavenly matters to earthly things,”It’s because we don’t have any bread,” and “Who among us will be the greatest,” and “Should we call down fire from Heaven?”

We are admonished in Proverbs not to praise ourselves. (Proverbs 27:2)

Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.

We are told by Jesus not to put on a show. (Matthew 6:2)

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Indeed, we’re commanded to love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:34-40)

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

And beyond that, to pray for our enemies and those who take advantage of us. (Luke 6:28)

28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

How then, are we here, when even standing for right causes we get a sense of pride in ourselves at being selfless.

We have all kinds of pride parades now, and the slow descent into lawlessness under the guise of ‘rights’ is a clever, deadly trick of the enemy.

We celebrate the evil dead under the guise of ‘fun’ at Halloween.

We celebrate solstices under the guise of ‘freedom from religion.’

We celebrate gluttony on Thanksgiving, then, after we allegedly give thanks for what we have, go right into greedy consumerism at Christmas.

As believers, we are voices in a new wilderness. We should cry out all the more, from the lowly places. Let us also not be afraid, for G-d will exalt us, and lead us to those who have ears to hear.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

By the very act of coming to us, to tell us we are worthy of saving grace, you’ve humbled yourself more than anyone. A servant-king is an oxymoron to us. We have mistaken having dominion for ruling without stewardship of our world, ourselves, and each other.

The one to whom Adam handed dominion now blinds us with his own sins of pride, self-exaltation, and open rebellion against You.

Let us, in these haughty times, remember that the Father resists the proud, and brings them low.

We would be lifted up by You, Lord, longing to enter into Your rest, willing to take the lowly place to do the Father’s will. It’s a hard thing to do in an age of opulence, for we give no thought to the source of our comforts these days. 

Even the day that we celebrate Your arrival has become a mockery, but you were never about pageantry Lord, born in a manger, riding colts through the gates to topple an empire on its spiritual ear.

Help us to remember it is the Father who raises up and sets down. 

It is only through Your testimony of us before the throne that He does so, so we will continue to speak the goodness of Your name from the alleys and rooftops of our lives. We would call attention to ourselves shining Your light from a hilltop, turning neither left nor right.

Our reward is with You, our home is with You, and all that we have was made possible through You, who saw Satan fall like lightning for seeking equality with G-d. 

Let us remember Your words, that apart from You we can do nothing, but all things are possible with G-d. 

We humbly thank You for choosing to reveal Him to us, for reconciling us to Him, for our names in the Book of Life. While no one can take us from Your hand, let not our pride make us wriggle out of it, and walk our own path back to the darkness, in our own strength. Let us be ever reminded: there will be no refuge for the proud in the day of His vengeance.

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

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 73: The Wisdom of G-d

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 23: 16-22

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

 

 

Devotional 68: Let This Cup Pass

Matthew 26:36-41
The Prayer in the Garden
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We know that as believers, we are going to suffer trials. Our Lord told us this in no uncertain terms. (John 16:33)

33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In knowing all that He knew, from the time He declared His ministry, the horror of the moment was coming near, and while He didn’t panic and abandon His mission, He yet asked the cup be taken from Him, if there was another way.

Often, if we’re honest, we don’t see the reason why He’d allow Himself to suffer the pain, anymore than those standing didn’t understand that if He was who He claimed to be, He could just come down and spare Himself the trouble, This included one of the thieves hanging next to Him, who mocked Him even as the other came to faith in that moment.

His death was quick because He’d pretty much been bleeding out from the time of His ‘trial’ until He actually died. They wouldn’t stop beating and torturing Him for hours, and the Romans, as we know, had some creative ways to induce suffering and pain.

“But He’s Jesus, and that was His mission. Why should we suffer if He did the work? If he took our sins, why not our pain?”

It’s because when you declare yourself to be part of something that testifies to the world that its works are evil, you are marked, and have become a target of everything from close scrutiny to persecution. You don’t even necessarily have to be a Christian for that to be so, but it’s amplified once you say you are.

This is why I say we’re more like Peter than Christ: if you can ask that question, you claim a stronger connection than you actually have. Peter boasted he would stay even if the others left. When Jesus told him what would happen when the moment came, that’s exactly what Peter did. It was such a heinous thing that the angel made a distinction when he told Mary to tell the disciples. (Mark 16:6-7)

6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Indeed, does not our Lord command us to take up our crosses? In His response to the young ruler we read: (Mark 10:20-22)

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”      (italics mine)

So yes, He felt the pain when He could have numbed Himself, He endured the beating because to strike back would have unleashed legions of angels, who I’m sure were brandishing swords of fire, itching for a fight. In the midst of His suffering, He begged forgiveness for those who made Him suffer.

Our bruised and battered Savior, ‘the Man who would be King’ allowed all to happen that was supposed to, so that, as He told John the Baptist, all righteousness would be fulfilled. (Matthew 3:13-15)

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

Any deviation would have nullified the work, so it was important that Jesus not only drink the cup of condemnation, but that He drain it.

Can we, should we, as believers who claim to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Light, do any less, suffer any less? For if we do, how much less will be our glory with Him? How tightly are we really connected? How closely do we really follow? Or do we, like Peter, get lost in the crowd until the morning, rebuking those who say, “You were with Him.”

Do we, like the young ruler, turn away in sorrow, go back to our great possessions, and lose our souls?

Do we, like John the Baptist, say no, I need to come to You, when Jesus needs us in the moment to do that which He asks of us?

Do we fall asleep in the Garden, when our Lord would have us pray?

Or do we, when we realize we must drink the cup of suffering that will not pass from us, say “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”?

Therefore I pray:

Lord, You tell us that You are the vine, and we are the branches, and that apart from You, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

We boast, as Peter, that we will never abandon You. We boast, like the Sons of Thunder, that we are able to drink from Your cup.

And yet, You asked if there was another way. So too, do we, but unlike You, we are not as sure of our willingness to follow through. We’ve had it easy and comfortable, for the most part, and our churches have become whitened sepulchers.

I ask of You to bring to mind that we are to be out in the world, but not of it. That we are called to minister the Gospel, “and if necessary, use words.”(St. Francis).

Let us be reminded that You called us out, and it was our choice to return back through the press of the crowd, calling Your name out to have mercy on us, and reconcile us to G-d.

Help us to honor You by not waiting to be asked to open the gates of that which we are able to provide in abundance, and to honor you by giving our two mites in the times when abundance is absent, and there is no cattle in the stalls, no fruit on the vine, or whatever our modern day equivalent of that may be.

Remind us that we are not only to take up our crosses, but crucify our flesh in the times of temptation.

Let our peace return to us from those who will not hear, and let us pray for their hardened hearts, that You might turn that soil, and grow whatever seed we may have planted in Your name.

And let us, above all, remember, that Your suffering was beyond earthly agony, because the Father turned His face from You with a dark sky, for He cannot look on sin, and You, Lord Jesus, took on the sins of the entire world, for all eternity. You endured the horror of the cross that we deserved, so that we, through grace, would only know the Father’s mercy, and not His wrath.  For who among us could stand before that and live, but You.

Help us to stand, and watch, and pray, so when the cup is passed to us, to drink our portion along with You, and do the Father’s will.

I ask it in Your name, in faith, 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.