Devotional 82: A Chosen Vessel

 

Acts 9:11-15

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

The art of selection, depending on what you’re looking for, and why, is largely a matter of outward appearance: quality, sturdiness, appearance (decor, if you prefer),  your perception of whether or not the item you’ve chosen meets the criteria to do the job you require.

The Father doesn’t work with appearances that way, and he surely didn’t work that way in the life of the most ardent, unlikely disciple: Saul of Tarsus, arguably the most legalistic and zealous Pharisee of his day, to the point where he had a fearsome reputation among those who followed Christ as a cruel man who embarrassed believers by leading them off in chains.

If nothing else, the Word is full of the unlikely, the lowly, and the outcast standing before the mighty, the powerful, the rulers, and proclaiming the even more fearsome Word of the Lord.  It was to their own peril, and the peril of those around them, if they focused on the outward appearance of the man instead of the selection of the G-d who sees, and tests, our hearts.

This goes back as far as Joseph, the runt of the litter, but the favored of his father.

This goes back as far as Samuel, who immediately went for the tallest and strongest among those who would be king over Israel, until the Lord checked him, and led him to inquire about David, the shepherd, regarded as the least likely of Jesse’s sons to do anything great, much less rule.

It goes all the way through to Amos, a tree gardener, with no credentials in the clergy at all, a man on the periphery of an already obscure service.

It’s in the humble birth of Jesus, born to poor parents in a humble setting, for an event as simple as gathering for a census count.

It happens again when the thief on the cross, after a life given over to sin, receives salvation in the last hours of his life, through a simple statement of faith.

But not so for Paul; his educational credentials were unimpeachable, and he admonished men to show themselves approved of their callings (2nd Timothy 2:15)

The spectrum continues on in us, called of Christ, confirmed by the Spirit, chosen by the Father to do the mission work of the Kingdom in pointing lost souls to the Way.

We fail along the Way ourselves, but we are chosen vessels all the same. The Lord repairs us with times of refreshing, and only bids that we open our mouths, and through faith let Him speak to the needs of those who are standing before us, before Him, in the hope that they have ears to hear.

We are sowers, church builders, teachers, living sacrifices, living stones, priests, kings, gods (John 10:34) prophets, healers, and artists and craftsman of every stripe.

And so it was with Paul: the same zeal he had to persecute the Church was the very same zeal he used to defend it, to the point where it says he ‘confounded’ the Jews by proving Christ was written of in what we now call the Old Testament.

Jesus told them: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)

Out the billions born since then, we too are chosen vessels, made to His purposes, filled with His will, for the Gospel of Christ and the salvation of all nations, and to the Father’s glory.  Such zeal as we have, and such persecutions as we suffer for our faith, let us not waver, even unto death.

He chose us before the foundation of the world, and ordained us to his purpose, giving us the gifts to fulfill them, shaping us that we may withstand the tests and trials to come, and tells us: “Be of good cheer,” and “Do not be afraid.”

He knows, and He will bring the work to completion.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You say no ones come to You unless the Father draws them, and the Spirit will come to reveal the Truth of the Word to those whom the Father chooses. 

You tell us no one can snatch us from Your hand, but You never said we could not wriggle out.  I fear sometimes that I may fall of my dark volition, my unrepentant desire to walk in two worlds, when You tell me I too, at the peril of my eternal soul, must choose You over all. (Luke 9:24-25)

Yet Your disciple, Paul, tells us that Your message is foolishness to those who are perishing. (1 Corinthians, 1:18)  You tell us that persecution and the delivering up to faithless authorities is our earthly reward, but that to lose our lives is to gain the kingdom. 

Paul tell us also, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

We ask, in these times, that You gird us, and help our unbelief. Give us new hearts, and a spirit of boldness. Give us a mustard seed of faith to speak to our mountains, and let us abide in You, that our fruit may be good as well as abundant. 

Let us rejoice in the trials that beset us, and keep our eyes focused on You, with the Word of G-d as a lamp, held higher than His Name to light our paths that lead to the Narrow Road, through the torn veil, to Your throne at G-d’s right hand, and to the Kingdom of Heaven in His presence forever.

Let the dark glass of the world be cleansed, that we may finally see, and understand, as You wipe the tears from our eyes, and bid us enter into Your rest, having fulfilled our purposes as Your vessels.

We would hear, “Well done.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Devotional 80: They All Said Likewise

Mark 14:27-31

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.’

28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

29 Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.

30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

And they all said likewise.

It is in the struggle of the day to day that as we strive to be more like Christ, we reveal ourselves to be more like Peter when Jesus was captured. We are sincere in our hearts and minds, but what doesn’t bear us out are the actions.

The Parable of the Sower is quoted so often because it is so true, and speaks to not only the heart, but our spirit nature as well. Because it dwells within a mortal frame, and the mortal frame seeks its own comfort, we find that we, like the Apostle Paul, do that which we don’t want to do.

There are books aplenty on how to focus during prayer, how to pray more powerfully, more earnestly. There are books on fasting, and connecting with our spirit. There are books and cds and podcasts all dealing with the issue of being more devout because as we go about our earthly existence, we are not, in most cases, working out our salvation and heeding the Holy Spirit’s call to our own spirit.

It’s about achieving levels of consistency that keep us in Jesus’ presence, and yet, we have this story: a simple fisherman, selected by Christ Himself, as passionate and mercurial a man as could be found, a man whose fate was so fearful to Satan that he asked Jesus to sift Him, made a vow he believed to be true, and wasn’t worth the air it took to breathe it.

Luke 22:  31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter then proceeds to fall asleep in Gethsemane’s courtyard, and in waking, cuts off a soldier’s ear. And we all know as the night proceeds, Jesus’ prophecy comes true, causing Peter to weep.

And as Jesus is arrested, we are told these devout disciples, whose passionate claims of loyalty were still in their hearts, broke apart like hammered stones.

Mark 14:50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Jesus knew, for we are told He knows what’s in the hearts of men; He tells us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

But He also knows that if we stray, if we have a mustard seed of faith, that we will return. And when we do, we must strengthen our brethren.

Are we hiding in the crowd today? Are the soldiers watching, waiting for those who’d point the way to you and say, “There they are.”?  Are we vehemently denying to the prince of this world’s servants, with a curse, that we don’t know the Man?

Are our hearts bitterly weeping when we come back to ourselves when we’re alone?

No, believer, not for us the Field of Blood, but Calvary, always. Jesus has prayed for us, and tells us that all who the Father gives Him will not be taken away. He tells us He does not in any way cast out those who seek Him. The Father tells us that if we return to Him, He will return to us, in His longsuffering and desire to forgive and restore us.

There is yet time, and there is yet grace.

Jesus will get us alone and ask: “Do you love me more than these?”

He asked Peter three times, to remove each denial, until Peter was cut to the heart and grieved that the Lord would question him, though I believe in his spirit he knew what was taking place.

It is a wonderful thing to see that after the Ascension, we read these words:

Acts 2:14

Peter’s Sermon

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

Be encouraged then, brothers and sisters, in the covenant of His mercy and grace; He’s prayed for us, and waits for our return. He restores us in body and soul, and we are once again in the fold of our Good Shepherd.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

You tell us that if we deny You before men, You deny us to the Father.

Yet we know that You sighed in Your spirit, You marveled at the centurion’s faith, You wept for Lazarus, You drove out the money lenders, and rebuked the very ones You called for their hardness of heart when they were told You had risen.

You asked for another way to avoid the pain of the Cross, seeing the agony ahead, and as the Apostle Paul tells us, despising the shame. 

What we do not read is that You were afraid, and did not deny the Father, though Satan himself tempted You in a moment where the angels had to minister to You.

Let us remember that when our faith appears dead, and our hearts fearful, and our spirits silent, You speak to us as to the man whose daughter died, and they told him not to trouble You.:

Mark 5:36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

Today, we gather together to sing Your praises, to thank You for your sacrifice in reconciling us, in calling us, revealing the will of the Father for us through the power of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin.

Today, we return to You, and ask that you strengthen us for the days ahead.

Gird us up as we stand with other believers, and amid the enemy’s servants, to say in word and deed: “Heed my words.”

May it be to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 78: A Family Comes to Faith

Mark 3:20-21

A House Divided Cannot Stand

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

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Send for Him

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

Acts 1:12-14

The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Devotional 77: The Forbidden Name

Acts 4:13-17

The Name of Jesus Forbidden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 10: 24-26

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

Let us be reminded that Simeon said in the temple:

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

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

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

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

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

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

John 19:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And forgiveness for others: (Matthew 18)

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

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

Therefore I pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You, Lord Jesus. 

May it be to me as You have said. 

Amen.

A Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul

Luke 2:34-35

34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

As we began, so we end this Christmas Eve day, with the words of Simeon.

When he was done prophesying, he turned his attention to Mary and spoke those words. There was a great foreshadowing here, and later, throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry, did He not reveal the thoughts and hearts of men?

Did he not admonish those He called to follow?

John 15:17-19 

The World’s Hatred

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Did He not give us the reason?

John 7:7

 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. 

Did He not tell is we would share in His suffering, as well as His glory?

John 15:20

 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

And yet, though it says she pondered these things in her heart, she forgot. On the day they went looking for Him, he was an embarrassment, and they thought He was out of His mind.  This was especially striking, because every day, Mary was in His presence. Every day, was she not reminded of the miracle of His birth? Reminded of the angel’s visit? Reminded of her song? Reminded of the visit to her cousin?

She watched Him grow in favor and wisdom with G-d and man, so why would she think He was out of His mind all those years later, even after the enigmatic words He spoke in the temple as a child?

Mark 3:20-22

A House Divided Cannot Stand

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

It is because we also forget, Brothers and Sisters, that the divine love of the Father afforded us the means to reconcile with Him through Jesus, and only through Jesus can we do so, and we do not understand divine love even as we fear divine judgment.

John 14:6   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Only abiding in Him do we have the ability.

John 15:5  “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

His teachings were hard for some to understand and follow. They turned away.

For others, their worldly wealth got in the way of their mission. They chose their wealth.

What is it for us, today? The commercialism, the career, the emphasis on things and saving money, going about our everyday lives, and making of His sacrifice, as the writer of Hebrews says, ‘a common thing.’

Hebrews 10:29

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?

We are repeatedly told we cannot fathom mind of G-d. Why redeem us in this way, when He has the power to cleanse all and start over, as He did with the flood? He didn’t create a new man, he preserved a remnant of a righteous one, and He did it all through the Word, searching for them, and putting His hedge of protection around them even as He delivered them in their fallen states into enemy hands.

We fail to understand our worthiness of grace, and therefore are keenly aware of when we’ve received it for our own sins. That is the piercing of our souls: and with it comes sorrowful repentance, purification, and the chance to return, and like the prodigal go from: “Father, give me–” to “Father, make me…”

We ever reduce the things of Heaven to the things of man. “The Big Man in the Sky.” Really? “The Energy of the Universe.” It just exists with no source?

No, let’s not be sidetracked by the foolishness of celebrating solstices. Let’s not have our own questions cause us to doubt. If we say we believe in the promise of salvation, in our humanity and day to day struggles, there are times we will forget, but it isn’t Jesus out of His mind. It’s us out of fellowship, no longer abiding, because the pasture in the valley looks greener, though it’s shrouded in shadows and death and fire.

But when we do, let us be still, and remember that He yet still rejoices over our coming to Him, as He came to us.

Let us remember to take up our crosses, and count the cost.

Let us remember that we share in His suffering, to be mocked and persecuted.

Let us remember we will be tempted, and that there are times we will fail.

But most importantly, this Christmas, let us remember that He loved us first, and came down to be with us, to speak the heart of the Father to us, and His will for us, and left us a reminder in His Word that we can access whenever we want, no veil, no sacrifice, no law.

Let us ponder these things in our hearts, and remember.

Let them pierce our own souls when we forget.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas

How Can This Be?

Luke 1: 18-20

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

 

 

The angel Gabriel made two visitations, and got the same response, but issued two very different outcomes.

It actually seems a bit unfair on the face of it: Zacharias is muted, and Mary gets an explanation.

Zacharias, as priest, had been serving for a long time, had no doubt read the Torah through countless times, studied at the feet of rabbis, and was deemed worthy to serve in the temple, and up to this point, had probably never experienced a visitation quite like this.

But he’d read of them, and studied them, and knew of the power of G-d performing miracles where His people were concerned.

He’d read of G-d opening the wombs of the barren, and so, we discover, prayed that his own wife’s reproach be removed.

Yet when the moment came, instead of offering his praise and thanks, he, like Abraham and so many others, doubted. Abraham and Sarah’s time had also passed beyond the realm of physical love.

But if G-d did it to His purposes for Abraham, would He do less for Zachariah and Elizabeth, using them as vessels, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, to fulfill all righteousness? (Matthew 3:13-17)

Gabriel had to remind Zachariah too, despite all he’d learned, studied, and experienced in the natural world, that all things are possible with G-d.

Luke 1: 30-34
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Mary, a young, betrothed, village girl, not widely known beyond her village, expresses wonder at the angel’s news.

Raised in the tradition of a patriarchal society, she is a dutiful daughter, faithful to the Law, and to G-d. But there’s something else there too: a courageous heart.

Gabriel’s announcement takes her from the obscurity of her village to the eternal stage in a matter of moments, and the Lord chooses her because she has the mettle to not back down from the hidden-behind-the-hand whispers of gossip from the village women, the embarrassment to her betrothed and her family.

Nor will she run away from the coming challenges of the arduous journey to be present for the census, then the perilous flight to Egypt.

She ponders the meaning of her role in G-d’s plan, and though she later forgets (Mark 3:21), she is still no less faithful in the moment of her Son’s execution than she was at His birth. She was there for Him in the beginning, and the end, of His earthly ministry, and grieved with a mother’s love.

As she was a virgin, unknown to a man, and untried in the ways of the world, Gabriel did indeed have to explain what G-d was about to do.

And her answer confirms the Father’s choice as the correct one:

(38) Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.     

No matter our age or station, there are times the Lord demands things of us where we don’t see how they’re going to happen, or even why.

There are times we pray, and are surprised when they’re answered.

There are times we’re blessed, when we haven’t asked for anything.

This holiday season, let’s remember with gratitude all the Father has done for us through the Son and the Spirit. We need not get caught up in solstices, pagan rituals, or the accuracy of the calendar, or even whether or not He’s commanded us to celebrate.

(He didn’t command us not to 😉 )

All of that is pretty rubble and utter nonsense in the light of the coming glory that awaits His faithful.

Winter is cold, beautiful, and a season of death, but it is also a herald to a season of renewed life. If the natural world reflects the kingdom, and if the words of Christ are indeed true, we too shall experience a season of renewed life.

We shall be spotless and blameless before the Almighty, the blood of His Son covering the blight of our flesh, and shining forth the purity of Jesus’ righteous spirit.

Our illnesses will be made well, our bodies transformed as His when He ascended.

The Spirit of Christmas will indeed be manifest, without all the trappings and frenzy of things that are not of G-d. Our family gathering will be never-ending. The feasting will be holy, and the fellowship happy.

And while we yet dwell, awaiting His return, let us continue to spread the Gospel to those we have in this moment, and be at peace with ourselves and each other in the doing.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

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.