Devotional 62: This is Man’s All

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
13  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

I have come to accept that our society in America has decided to serve mammon rather than G-d, yet Jesus tells us this as a sign of the end times, that the evil men will do to each other will increase not just between nations, but within households.

We can pray, and do well, and keep faith and obedience, but as much as we don’t like to think about it, there’s going to be an end to this, just as in the days of Noah. All that we’ve come to know and love in this life will be destroyed, but rebuilt without the evil that pervades it.

It’s been explained like this in a sermon I once heard the late Myles Munroe preach:

G-d gave man dominion over the earth, but by listening to the serpent, and being disobedient, Adam, in not rebuking Eve and blaming G-d,  gave dominion to Satan. Since G-d doesn’t take back that which He gives, prayer is seeking G-d for divine intervention in earthly affairs.

Whether you agree with it or not isn’t the issue, but it’s clear that in the hearts of men today someone else is holding sway, and people are doing and saying things they wouldn’t ordinarily.

Paul’s oft-quoted verse reminds us we aren’t battling flesh and blood, but waging war in heavenly places and demonic strongholds.

We have a fear inducing media, that plays both sides using different balls, and our representatives (not leaders) grow increasingly insulated and disconnected as they pack their granaries with more illicit grain.

The news is rife with conspiracy theories, the Illuminati, the Masons, and all the little subdivisions thereof taking place at night in basements and caves and isolated places.

People are speaking things that sound deep but aren’t, and talking heads with opposing viewpoints are so busy shouting down each other that nothing is heard.

So what do we do, dear Believer? We fear G-d, and keep His commandments.

The evil that men do in secret is known to Him. There are no secret societies hidden from Him. There are no sacred rituals that drive out His presence. There are no men whose names are on the letterheads of these societies that have the final say over Him. He sees them and their deeds as we see each other on the street at noon, vibrant and full of life and color, and His vengeance is stored up for their sins.

We are told that the wicked prospered even in the days of King David, yet David’s son tells us they will be cut off with no remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

As we know the road to life is narrow, and the travelers few, we must hold fast, and tight, to the knowledge we possess of the reality of G-d, and His power. Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body but destroy the body and soul (Matthew 10:28)

We are told over and over again, as we see mounting atrocities, idolatries, cold churches, colder people, disconnected wealthy people making ‘backroom deals’ (which, by the way, G-d also sees), that His vengeance and judgment are being stored up.

I emphasize we are in the year of the Lord’s favor, as Jesus quoted in Isaiah when He first declared what His ministry was to be, but let us be reminded Jesus did not continue that verse:

‘And the day of vengeance of our G-d.’

We are reminded in the parable of the vineyard workers that everyone received their due at the end of the day when the work was finished.

Again:  Ecclesiastes 8:11-12
11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. 

Continue to pray for our representatives, do good to others, spread the Gospel in love, and keep faith and obedience as the scales that will balance your life before Him.

To quote ‘Julian of Norwich’:  It behooved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

      We are surrounded by Your enemies on every side, and therefore, Lord G-d, they are our enemies too. Yet Your will for them is that we love them, and pray for them, and do good to them as Your ambassadors, that their hearts might soften and turn to You. This is what Your Son commanded of us through You.

      It’s a difficult thing You ask of us, for our human inclination is to avoid them, indeed, to hide from them, if not ignore them. We are much like the Pharisee who stood next to the sinner, thanking You he was not like that man. But these sinners are unapologetic, unrepentant, and indeed glory in their wickedness, in their prosperity, in their ability to keep others from gaining what they themselves have, and cutting off their means to attempt it.

     We ask of You that which the Apostles asked Jesus:

     ‘Should we call down holy fire upon them?’ 

     Let us be reminded that there is a harvest, and that choices against You in the year of Your favor can still be reversed until the day of judgment. Until then, we are to keep Your commandments, and leave the rest to You, in spite of our inclinations to do otherwise.

     I myself have been forgiven much, but I have trouble forgiving others. I don’t want to leave it on the altar, though the weight is terrible. Yet I’m told if I don’t forgive, I won’t be forgiven by You. 

     Help me in this, Lord. I’m getting better, but I’m far from over a lot of things that should be dead and buried. I walk by the hole, and look in, and say, ‘I remember that,” but I don’t fill the hole.

     You’ll have to help me do that, Lord. I want to keep Your commandments, I don’t want to sin, and I can do far more than I have been, in Your strength, and by Your will.

     Help me to fight the temptation of disobedience over that which you’ve given me dominion, to keep my integrity, to labor as unto You, bearing fruit to Your glory, for this is my all, and the all of my brothers and sisters. 

     I ask it in the Name of Jesus, believing I’ve received. 

     Amen

 

 

 

Devotional 53: Wash and Be Clean

2Kings: 9-14 Namaan’s Leprosy Healed

Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 Arenot the Abanah[a] and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Namaan was highly esteemed and a man of titles, used to a certain level of pomp in his presence, yet he was humbled at the house of the prophet Elisha. Indeed, he was insulted at the affront of not even getting a personal greeting.

To make matters worse, he was told to do something so simple that it also affronted him even though he was told it would heal his leprosy: Go take a bath.

There is within us that which refuses to believe that that it’s not about works and rituals and ‘doing.’ Pr. David Jeremiah in his book The Invasion of Other Gods points out that the appeal of Eastern religions is that the level of human involvement gives a sense of control, of being deserving of the favor of those gods by doing that which pleases them.

It’s an ancient conditioning of the human mind: From early on in life we are told that hard work, submission to authority, and obedience to rules are how we are rewarded in life, and by life. Productivity and frugality secure our futures, and sense of personal responsibility allows us to live civilly (for the most part) with each other.

We work to secure our legacies and security for the days we are no longer able to work. Inheritances are passed down, added to, and passed down again, and nothing is accrued unless the work is done to amass them.

Yet for those of us who believe, serve, and follow the Lord this is a paradox, for we are told not to worry about such things.

Or is it?

Let’s keep in mind that work was given to us a curse for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in eating from the Tree of Knowledge:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

That being said, we are told in Proverbs 22:9 that a man skilled in his work will not serve obscure men, but kings. We have this example in the workmanship of Solomon building the House of the Lord.

We are also admonished by the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:22-25

22 Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for[a] you serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.

In other words, being in bondage is no excuse to sin.

The point of this seemingly rambling post is that it is often the simple things, not the grand, where we find the Lord’s blessing.

Namaan was hoping for a public spectacle that would reinforce his sense of greatness, yet he felt insulted by being told to just go bathe.

There were no wars for him to fight, no conditions attached, no rituals to perform, and until the gentle rebuke of his servants, he was angry. But it wasn’t until he obeyed the prophet’s message that he received his healing.

There’s a saying that’s popular in some Christian circles: ‘Lord, don’t move the mountain, just give me the strength to climb.’

Sounds noble, doesn’t it? You don’t wish to trouble the Lord with something so trivial as moving a mountain out of your way.  In fact, it’s as egotistical and foolish as Namaan wanting to do something more difficult to cure himself.

See, here’s the thing:  the Lord didn’t say He would move it, he said, ‘Speak to the mountain in faith, believing it will move, and it will be cast into the sea.’

Why would you want to struggle to ascend a difficult path the Lord would flatten, and straighten, and make smooth without obstructions? The view of your destiny is not only clearer when that happens, but faster.

There is no need for false heroism; life is hard enough, isn’t it? Just do the task before you, or as Oswald Chambers puts it, ‘the task that lies nearest to hand,’ and receive your blessing. Stop complicating that which the Lord would make easy for you.

Therefore I pray:

Lord, I thank You that the grandiose egos of men count as nothing under the covenant of grace. Let me not block my own way through sin and rebellion. Let me not be cast down because of pride and make my blessing void.

Help me to be ever mindful that You are the One who raises and puts down, that Your mercy is for the repentant, that Your love is everlasting, and that Your will is for me to thrive in whatever I do, wherever I am.

Let the works of my hands please You. Bless them, increase them, and let them find the ones who need it. Let my integrity be intact not only when the rulers watch, but when no one’s around. 

Keep me from a false sense of self-sacrifice, looking for strife where You have given peace. Let me discern the still, small voice from the pompous, empty grandiosity of earthly recognition and platitudes.

Bring to mind that I am in the year of Your favor, that I may consecrate my life to You, and You alone, and that always, You hear my prayer of faith in my affliction:

Be removed, and cast into the sea.

I ask it by the Power of Your Holy Name, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.

 

Devotional 42: Do Whatever He Tells You

John 2:1-10

Water Turned to Wine

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

There are two ways to think of obedience:

One is to obey out of love, much the way a child does who wants to please their parents, or a student to please their teacher.

Jesus was constrained to obedience in this way, not only in doing the Father’s will, but in honoring His earthly parents as well.

The other way is how we more often think of it: as being under threat, something we must comply with in order to avoid harsh consequences, which are heavier to bear.

Yet with the story of Jesus we are told He was obedient to the Father’s command to come to us ‘…because He loved us first.’ (John 4:19); and that He was ‘obedient even to death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:8)

But here, as Mary makes her ‘request’ Jesus portentously says to her:

“My hour has not yet come.”

Yet if a mother knows her child, how much more does the one whom all generations call blessed?

By now, Mary has observed Him with people, and surely the event of Him as a boy sitting among the learned rabbis remained a strong memory.

By now, she’s seen His heart of compassion, and yet while His mission is the salvation of the world, the judgment of all nations, and reconciling the hearts of the sinful to the heart of G-d through establishing an eternal Kingdom, His mother is feeling compassion for such a simple thing as running out of wine at a wedding feast.

The beauty of this story lies in the fact that we’re not told why they ran out:

Were there drunkards?

Was there not enough money?

Was this a mistake regarding the number of guests attending?

We are left to figure this out, but this is no mystery to Mary, nor is there uncertainty on her part about what He will do; though she has no way to know the specifics her faith in her Son is such that she considers the matter settled:

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.

Indeed, she walks away in faith and doesn’t address Him again.

We are told this is Jesus’ first miracle. How then did she know He was able to do anything?

How could Emmanuel, G-d with us, not?

It doesn’t matter why you come to Jesus; it only matters that You come, but if you do,

Be ready to obey whatever He says to you.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus

I thank You for interceding in the small, finite details of my earthly life.

I thank You for granting me peace past earthly understanding.

I thank You for the people I’ve loved, and the family You’ve redeemed to the Father who no longer dwell here on earth with me.

I thank You for taking my deserved condemnation on Yourself, that I may be in the presence of my Creator’s glory for all eternity as spotless, blameless, and guiltless by the power of Your blood.

I thank You for imparting the Holy Spirit to me, that the truth my be revealed to scaly eyes and a heart of stone softened by the harsh, loving words of the King of Heaven.

Help me also in this: that I lay up treasure in Heaven even as I walk the extra mile in the hot sun, or endure the chill of the evening as I give my coat also, or ignore the offense of personal assault as the pain of life’s slaps and punches mark my cheeks.

In this, I would obey in love and reverent fear of the Lord my G-d, and ask it in Your Name.

Amen.

 

Devotional 35: If It is of God…

Acts 5: 33-42 Gamaliel’s Advice

33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. 34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”

40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His[a] name.42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

The Apostles had been released from prison by an angel of the Lord, who told them to go out and speak to the people. Finding them doing so, the military officers brought them before the enemies of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had ordered them to stop.

The captain had gone with his officers to bring them from the court, but didn’t harm them. Surely men who’d escaped a guarded cell in the middle of the night might have some clout in heavenly realms. Best to be careful when dealing with G-d’s anointed, as David himself took heed, though Saul was out of favor.

But at this point, the Apostles had seen the fulfillment of all that Jesus had taught to them, and indeed, had feasted with Him after He rose, so they defied the council with bold words, in no uncertain terms saying they would not obey man, but G-d, as they, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to the Ministry.

Acts: 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (italics mine).

It is indeed an exhilarating thing to minister under the power of the Spirit, and to be under one who’s preaching or worshiping to bring in His presence.

But title, power, wealth and influence are ever reluctant to let go of earthly things:

33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them

None other than Gamaliel, Paul’s mentor, stands to speak a word of caution over the rising tide of anger, and does so eloquently. As he commands the respect of the people as a teacher of the Law, he speaks with authority, and persuades the council to consider what it is about to do.

38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.

And that, no matter how dirty you fight, is a losing battle before it begins.

Even in the midst of all the hostility that surrounded Christ, there are those who recognize the hand of the Father in the unfolding of things, as Jesus never spoke a word that didn’t come to pass.

We see it even now, in these times: Nation against nation, brother against brother, rebellious children, broken marriages (there are websites now dedicated to the practice of adultery and fornication), the contamination of our land and water, increasing natural disasters, the breakdown of ecosystems, and the rising defiance in those who would call evil good, and sin, tolerance and freedom. The bestowing of self-rights rather than being our brother’s keeper is the order of the day, and those of us who stand fast in faith in our Deliverer find ourselves increasingly dismissed, insulted, and shunned.

There are those in the faith who have compromised for the sake of being approved by men, and there are those who have left, feeling the Power should compel them to obedience, for they don’t seek the way out of temptation, and failing, turn their backs.

Now more than other, we must seek the hem of His garment, lest we too, be dragged away among the multitude, our voices crying unheeded in the wilderness, that hearing they may neither hear nor understand.

The way is narrow, and few there will be who find it, says the Lord.

Will you be among them, walking the narrow road, following the true Good Shepherd’s voice? I dare ask, will I?

Therefore I pray:

Father, we would be with You, watching the Light of Your glory in the new heaven bathe the new earth, so that no sun is needed, no moon affects the tides, and the lion rests beside the lamb, the two aspects of our Lord reconciled, as we will be to You because of the Atonment.  We long for the day our tears are dry, our pain is gone, and death and hell and sin have no dominion over us.

So let all we do be at Your command, and let us move in obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that our work will move the hearts of mankind, and no one will stand against it.

Fill our mouths with praise and Truth, and give us bold hearts, but help us to temper it with mercy and grace to those not yet ready to receive. Bring to mind the wheat and tares, and that we are but seed planters, and You are the One who waters and adds daily to the number.

Set a table before us in the presence of our enemies, that they may see the love of our fellowship, and turn from their worldly ways. Help us also to have discernment of the Judases in our midst, who smile and smile, and yet are villains. 

You have, Lord Jesus, commanded us to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves, but also to shout from the rooftops, and let our peace return to us when not properly received. Let us not have to be scattered, but to willingly go, willing to suffer shame for the Gospel, knowing we have rewards where no man can break in and steal.

In the Power of Your Holy Name, and by the Blessing of the Almighty, I ask it.

Amen.