Of Stars and Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise Men from the East

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a]

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Admittedly, and to the peril of our understanding, we’ve narrowed this tale down to three kings because of the three gifts. The truth of the matter is, while it was probably more, the text doesn’t specify, and certainly all of them didn’t fit inside the house.

We also know that it wasn’t the same night the shepherds went evangelizing, otherwise there would be no reason for what follows. Journeys weren’t swift undertakings, but regardless of the logistics, it was certain that the wise men were following a supernatural sign. Granted, it was more subdued than the one given the shepherds, but no less spectacular, for it was visible in the daylight hours as well, and moved more dynamically than any other.

There are some who hold the star was an invention of Satan, since it led these men to Herod to announce the birth, and the resulting slaughter of innocent children, but Matthew ties it back to the prophet Jeremiah.

Truth be told, I don’t know why G-d would cull innocent souls in response to the birth of His Son, who gave His life for the rest of us, but this is where the sovereignty of the Father makes us question, and that’s okay. We can’t know.

We do know that the wise men didn’t return to tell Herod anything. In a dream they were told by the angel not to return, and to a man, they obeyed. None sought to curry favor or riches with the king.

When they got to the house (though all Nativity scenes place them at the manger), they worshiped Him (not Mary), and gave them gifts out of their treasures. While we’re not told if these men were specifically Jewish, they certainly would have heard of the prophet and Magi Daniel, who dwelt in their land, faithful to G-d even in His captivity, and delivered by the hand of G-d Himself.

This Christmas season, romanticized or not, we rejoice with our Persian brothers and sisters of the faith in welcoming  our Lord to the earthly stage. He certainly set it on a different path, and by calling us to Him, set us on one as well.

Let us honor Him with our own gifts, but mostly the gift of time, as we reflect on His mercy and grace, and the peace He imparts to us that passes earthly understanding.

Let us return that which we treasure to Heaven, where thieves can’t break in, and honor Him with the first fruits of our labor and our praise.

He is our divine dream, our Heavenly King, and the Redeemer of our lowly souls, G-d’s gift to us in our poor and wretched stats. Let us worship with exceedingly great joy, as the wise men did, for being extracted out of the world through the truth of His ministry, and remember that He is, indeed, G-d with us.

May it be to us as He has said.

Merry Christmas.

Devotional 76: The Hired Man’s Rest

Job 14:1-6

14 “Man who is born of woman
Is of few days and full of trouble.
He comes forth like a flower and fades away;
He flees like a shadow and does not continue.
And do You open Your eyes on such a one,
And bring me[a] to judgment with Yourself?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one!
Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.
Look away from him that he may rest,
Till like a hired man he finishes his day.

 

I think it’s true that it’s when G-d moves in sovereignty, entrusting us with His silence, that we have our crises of faith. But we are encouraged to remember this:

18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:18)

Job, in the midst of his affliction, asks G-d to look away so that a man can rest. For him, it would be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If He doesn’t look on us, we can rest from the kingdom labor to which we’ve been called as believers.

These days, we’re certainly being tried and tested, as our once-sacred holiday season crumbles into  fits of mass hysteria and greed.

But we are yet called to remain as salt and light, yet to be light on the hill, and yet maintain our peace beyond understanding in circumstances that drive others to act emotionally and make bad decisions.

We are reminded in the Gospel of Luke by our Savior: ” “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

And again: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

We now live in prophesied times, where it was said that what was done in the darkness will come into the light, and men who thought they held power forever are being toppled.

Increasingly, we’ve heard major natural disasters being described as ‘unprecedented.’

Our Lord tells us that these are the beginnings of sorrow as we leave the year of the Lord’s favor, and enter into the day of his vengeance.

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24: 4-10)

We know in hindsight that although Job thought it was G-d who afflicted him, it was Satan, and what he saw as the one thing that kept Job connected to G-d was in fact not, although it was a barrier.

In the end, it’s Job who claims:

Job 42:4-6

Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”

There is nothing left for the enemy to use as a wedge against Job, and so it must be with all of us.

In the aftermath of our own afflictions, can we counted on to keep our integrity in the face of such affliction?

Remember that although He gives us the desires of our hearts, He also gives us over to our sins, should we persist in our willful rebellion.

(Romans 1:24-28)

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.

 

Neither did G-d spare His chosen, whom He handed over to their enemies on multiple occasions as they forgot Him and sold themselves, being brought back to repentance in the lands of their captivity.

Let there be no barriers, no potential weaponry of idolatry to give the enemy. In the days ahead, seek always to be mindful, prayerful, and peaceful.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

I would have no barriers between us, though there are times my thoughts and my heart toward you are full of frustrated emotions, and I act out in the short term instead of the eternal perspective.

Daily You examine me, and hold up for me the standard of Your Word, which is higher than Your name, and the words of Your Son, who shed His holy blood to turn Your wrath from me, and reconcile me to You as sinless, that I may enter into His joy in worshiping You eternally, in the light of Your presence shining on the new earth.

Help me to remember that although Your judgment isn’t swift in coming, it is no less terrible for the delay, for you tell us that vengeance is Yours, and You will repay.

We stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters with no voice, and are hated. Embolden our quailing spirits in the face of a secular population that no longer celebrates the season, but litters it with the luxurious garbage of the world, even purging the name of Your Son’s title from its celebration. Let us return to spirit and truth, and purge it also of its pageantry and pagan symbols.

We remember that He told us these days would come, and the love of many would grow cold.

It is a cold season in which we live now, so we ask, Father, for You to rekindle the flame of our first love within us, and like the star of Bethlehem, be an oddity among the things of the world, a one of a kind, unique, and shining wonder, brighter than any hillside lantern, shouting from the rooftops what You’ve whispered to us.

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” For faith comes by hearing the Word of the Lord, and one day, we will see You too, as Job did, with no filter between us, as it was meant to be before Adam, asking not, like the prodigal, that You make us as hired men for sinning against You, but as true sons of the kingdom, grafted in by Your mercy and grace.

And we ask that, like Job, our latter days be blessed with more fruit than the former, as new creations to Your glory.

In His name I ask, believing I’ve received. 

Amen.

 

Devotional 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 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 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.

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 21: So he left all…

Luke 5  27 After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” 28 So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

The Lord requires we carry nothing to distract us from what He would have us do in His service. When he sent out the disciples, he told them to take nothing, so that they would not be distracted with the things they carried over the preaching and ministry they were assigned to do.

I’ve heard the Gospel of Matthew referred to as the ‘testimony of Jesus’ enemies’ (Pr. James McDonald, Walk in the Word Ministries). The phrase stuck with me because it amazed me to realize that even your enemies can see the Power of G-d in your life, and come against it. But the Lord is our vindicator in these matters, and indeed, sets a table before us in their presence, that we might either make peace, or watch the Lord move them aside, as He fights our battles.

While the tax collectors weren’t necessarily enemies to Christ, their corruption and greed were widespread and well known, and Jesus often preached the evil of riches in the hands of greedy, corrupt men. So when He calls us to Him, we, like Matthew, must leave behind earthly treasures.

In Luke 18:18-23 we read the account of the rich young ruler:

18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”[a]

21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

This was the only thing that separated him from the kingdom of God, but it was also the greatest thing, and he chose it over the kingdom. His heart was in the right place, but it was not prepared. Many of the things Jesus spoke about doing regarding wealth escaped the understanding of those who had it, as it was in this instance.

Yet when Matthew, called Levi then, heard the voice and saw the love in the countenance of Jesus, he left everything: his books, his writing tools, possibly even the stashes of overage he collected that day, and had a feast that night, as much to celebrate his own freedom as to honor Jesus.

The widow gave all with her two mites, and even Zacchaeus, called out of a tree by name,  gave half his wealth to the poor, and paid quadruple what he stole by the time Jesus was done, and the Lord blessed the tax collector’s house by saying it was now under salvation

So we see there is a spiritual currency for following Jesus, a currency for faith, and many of us are not sure we’re willing to pay sometimes. Yet Jesus makes several references to this currency throughout His ministry. He speaks of casting unprofitable servants into outer darkness, he speaks of being unfruitful, and counting the cost of taking up our crosses, and leaving everything, never to go back again. He speaks of taking on work we are not able to finish when we fail to count that cost.

 

And it is to our earthly shame, and our eternal peril that we do so.

Therefore I pray:

Lord, let me be willing to leave all for the sake of following You.

Don’t let my emotions of doubt and fear and loneliness lead me into temptation, where I would blame Your absence for my present, yet transitory plight.

Help me to empty my hands and heart of idols of my own making, however temporary, for tomorrow is not promised to me, and I would not die in sin.

Help me to know that my heavenly mansion is financed by my heavenly treasure, for I will take nothing with me from this world when my time is done, except a spotted soul made spotless by Your holy blood, which redeems me into the kingdom, that I may achieve what you say is the chief end of man: to glorify G-d and to enjoy Him forever.

In Your Name I ask it, believing I have received.

Amen.

 

All Nations will be Gathered Before Him

Devotional 17: All Nations will be Gathered before Him (Matthew 25:32)

   Matthew 25:31-32New King James Version (NKJV)

The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[a] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

 

A college professor I had once described getting off the topic as ‘birdwalking.’

I was never really sure why this particular phrase stuck with me, and I’ve since tried to research whether or not birds walk in a straight line, but as with all things these days, there are conflicting opinions.

For the purposes of not being an ornithologist, I’ll use it anyway, since I’ve told you what he meant by it.

We have before us the doctrine of the Great White Throne judgement, though nothing says it is a great white throne, but rather simply ‘the throne of His glory.’ Since his body will be transformed, whether or not we get to look at it directly is up for debate, but now I’m  birdwalking.

For those who have a ‘no-hell’ doctrine, I would ask, why then would there be a need for separation? God can’t look on sin, nor will He allow it inside. Spotless, or spotted.

There is no middle ground, no compromise, no ‘winking’ and saying “Well, all right, he / she did try.”

There is salvation in faith in Christ and repentance of sins, or condemnation.

There is only one Way to God, and while other ‘gods’ may have said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, ‘ none of them followed it with, “No man comes to the Father, but by Me.”

There are some who say the everlasting punishment Jesus speaks of is metaphorical.

As metaphors are comparative, I would ask, compared to what?

There are others who say that non-whites should not worship a white Jesus, yet when Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all nations,” I see no exceptions in that list.

If He was black, He didn’t say “Only the nations where they look like Me.”

If He was white, He didn’t say, “Only the nations where they look like Me.”

The enemy has us fighting over the wrong issues with each other: His existence, His color, what He said or didn’t say about certain issues, whether or not He was married and had children, which Bible translation is more accurate, hymns vs. contemporary worship music….

We argue all this, and have allowed the sectarianism which He forbid to invade our thinking, and have separated ourselves while saying we’re of one accord, instead of simply doing what He told us to do: preach the Gospel to the nations who don’t know Him.

Our fruit rots on the vine for all these things we debate that, at their core, are fleshly and of no use Kingdom building.

As Paul admonishes us: Cease from strife. Know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified.

As Christ commands us: Love one another, and fear God, and see the Day of Salvation through the Power of God.

The rest is birdwalking.

 

Therefore I pray:

 

        Father in Heaven, bring to mind the words of my Lord and Savior when I would be distracted, and need to ‘defend’ against the hard-hearted the nature of His sacrifice. Let me not worry about what I will say, but let the Spirit fill my mouth with what You would want them to know, and speak the Truth in love.

     Help me to plant seeds in fertile soil, or to soften hard ground to receive the Good News of the Living Word.

     Forgive me when through my silence, I renounce Your presence in my life, and keep my tongue still when I should testify to Your goodness.

    I know the plans You have for me, and as You are no respecter of persons, allow me to be gracious in imparting the word of Your willingness to bless another.

    Help me too, O Lord, in keeping my own path straight, that I might not cause my brother or sister, new to Your revelation, to stumble, to birdwalk, and stray because of  my lack of discipline and self control.

     Let my rejoicing in Your salvation of me come through in all that I say and do, and forgive me when the world comes in like a flood, and I forget what You have done in my life.

     By the Power of Your blood, and in Your Name, I ask, in faith receiving.

 

     Amen.