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 67: You are My Witnesses

Isaiah 43:10-13
10 
“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me.
11 
I, even I, am the Lord,
And besides Me there is no savior.
12 
I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no foreign god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,”
Says the Lord, “that I am God.
13 
Indeed before the day was, I am He;
And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand;
I work, and who will reverse it?”

There have been many who cried out “These are the last days,” but there are things to come yet that haven’t happened, even now, to prove that; events are unfolding, but we are nowhere near the last days.

In these times, however, is where the rubber of our faith meets the road of reality: blasphemers, conspiracies, endorsers and co-signers of Nicea, atheists, false teachers, corrupt preachers, lying prophets, and the advance of mediums, Wiccans, and all things occult will advance.

Pr. David Jeremiah once said in his book, The Invasion of Other Gods, is that the appeal of Eastern religions is that you have something to do.

We can do nothing to earn grace, or buy our way into heaven, as the church once sold Heavenly assurances to the earthly rich regarding their salvation. It makes no sense to fill our granaries, when possibly this very night will require our lives.

Truly, as John the Baptist claimed, we will be voices crying in the wilderness.

Yet our Lord says, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

For all the marvels mankind has put their collective minds too, for evil as well as good, we are unable to reverse the will and work of G-d. The prophecies of Christ, and the Book of Revelation will come to pass.

In the inexorable passing of time towards those days, we are to be living stones, and bold witnesses to the existence of the living G-d, who has proclaimed all through the Son, and given all to the Son, and who will pour out His Spirit.

Remain steadfast in the face of all this, Brothers and Sisters, and be encouraged that the G-d we serve is the creator of all. He gives, and raises up, and delivers, but He also takes away, puts down, and casts out. This is no time to be agnostic, for that is being lukewarm, and we are all familiar with what our Lord says about that:

Revelation 3:15-17
15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,[a] I will vomit you out of My mouth.

The act of vomiting, spewing, or whatever genteel synonym you’d rather use, is still this: a violent expulsion of waste.

The writer of Hebrews further encourages us:

Hebrews 13:8-9
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

As our Lord tells us the Father has given all things into His hands, we can count on Jesus’ accountability to be faithful and just, and as He is the Deliverer, we can trust His words.

As our Father says He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and unrepentant, we know that He will punish the unbelievers, no matter what form their faithlessness takes.

Paul admonishes us to take heed when we think we’re standing, lest we fall, but as we stand as witnessing stones of remembrance, let us keep this always in mind: the wheat and the tares are growing together, and we are as capable of being deceived and falling away as anyone else when we are tried.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We thank You for Your consistency in dealing with Your children. Rebellious, wayward, stubborn, and angry, we question and challenge Your authority in our own lives when we should be pointing at You and telling others, “He is where Your help comes from, and Your source of all You need.”

We do not.

We are told by powerful men to live in fear of their wealth and depravity.

We are told by the media to worship the vain and stupid.

We are told love exists only in mansions, and that true love doesn’t involve modesty and covenant bonds of fidelity and spiritual submission.

We are told to sign off on confusion and perversion, or we are seen as intolerant bigots.

Yet our Lord tells us that the path is narrow, so if we are to find it focusing on the kingdom, must we not be ‘narrow’ minded if we are to dwell in the house of the Lord forever? If we are to endure to the end, and suffer with Him that we may be glorified by the Atonement to live with You, must we not be willing to stay the course?

Let it be so with us, and fill us with Your Spirit to do that which You require to make hearts burn, to plant seeds in rich soil, to forgive the blasphemers, to heat up the lukewarm, and to shake the dust off our feet at the hard hearted, praying for their souls while they yet live.

We would be fruitful and faithful servants, Father. We would be focused and bold, unwavering in our devotion, unshakeable in our belief that You, and You alone, are the One True G-d.

Let us confess our own sins, and restore fellowship with You.

Bless us in our weakness, and help our unbelief, then use us to Your glory.

May we approach Your throne in humility and fearful reverence, for You have redeemed our souls from the grave in grace and mercy through the blood of Your Son. Help us to remember:  (Hebrews 10:26-27)

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

Purify us, O G-d, that we may not be adversaries, for the battle is one-sided, and Your victory assured.

Though we are living stones, we ask for hearts of flesh.

We subject our will to Yours, and offer up our lives back to You even as we are endure, glorify, testify, teach, learn, and seek Your face while fellowshipping with You and each other here on earth, as it will be eternally in the Kingdom of the One True, Living, and the Most High G-d, now and forevermore.

Amen.

Devotional 64: The Day is Far Spent

Luke 24:28-35

The Disciples’ Eyes Opened
28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

Imagine walking with Jesus, receiving essentially a master class on all that concerned Him regarding the Scriptures, yet not knowing it was Jesus, at least by sight, but having your heart respond during His lessons, and realizing in hindsight you’ve been given the greatest gift there is: to walk with the Lord as He taught.

We see this over and over again, though doubtless some in the crowd just came to be healed, and fed. Who’s to say whether or not they went on to turn their hearts to Him in faith and obedience, or having received the desires of their hearts, went back to their earthly existences.

The tax collectors (a special breed of sinners, because they always separated the two: ‘tax collectors and sinners’), the sinners, the prostitutes, the downtrodden, all repeatedly followed Him to receive the message over and over again that they had value to their Father, that there was a better life waiting, that they were worthy of respect because of their humanity, not their theology or finances.

And Cleopas and his companion, their hopes of a new way of thinking and living dashed with the crucifixion, flee the center of the chaos to mourn quietly and return to their homes, when in fact they were on their way to a divine appointment.

So this learned traveler walks with them, joins their conversation, and rebukes the news of the faithlessness expressed to Him, and He begins to teach.

25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

There is no hurry now, or thought of discomfort, or even worry about the future. There is only the silence of the surrounding countryside, and the compelling voice that has touched hearts, revived spirits, changed lives, and saved souls in this intimate moment.

And Jesus, knowing He’ll soon depart, sees them to their destination, but they invite Him to stay, “for the day is far spent.”

Not knowing Him, they know the night roads are dangerous and unsafe for solitary travelers. They would not see the innocent harmed, so they offer the shelter of their dwelling for the night.

It is when He breaks bread with them that their eyes are opened, and it’s only then that He leaves.

32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

And on the same roads unsafe and dark roads they wouldn’t see Him travel, they went back as soon as He left them to tell the news.

I remember being that excited once. If I’m to be honest, it’s not the case any longer on most days. I do it as discipline and ritual, in a spirit of duty rather than joy. My heart, once burning for the Word, is now merely, barely, a warming flame.

My fruit is unripe, my offering unacceptable, my obedience resentful as I rely on my own strength to do my own thing in my own way.

Is it any wonder Jesus calls me foolish?

I know better: I’m to show myself approved, to always have an answer for my hope, to be assured of my calling, to work within my capacities and giftings to spread the Gospel to every nation, doing my part to hasten the end.

  (Matthew 24:14) And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

One thing is certain: My end is assured, and for the time I have left I need a rekindled heart, a revived spirit, and a changed life.

Be careful in your walk, brothers and sisters, lest the day be far spent and He does not abide with you.

Therefore I pray:

   Lord Jesus, 

    Walk the road with me, teach me, and open my eyes.

    Break bread with me, and open my heart as You open the Scriptures to me once again.

    Reveal Yourself to me in my sadness, my darkness, and my time of need, that I might remember You spoke of all things that concerned You, and told me that as Your disciple I would undergo them too, both suffering and glory.

    My days are far spent, and I draw closer to the shining light of the kingdom, not grieving with Cleopas, but rejoicing with David in the knowledge my Redeemer lives,  my King forgives my debt, my Shepherd protects me, my Master’s yoke is easy, and my Savior breaks the chains of sin and the power of the grave.

   Let me shout from the housetops what is whispered in my ear.

   Let my burning heart be the light on the hill, filled with oil for the bridegroom’s wedding feast. Let me drink the new wine with You in the Kingdom of G-d.

   Let me humble myself to receive my crown, and place it at Your feet.

   Let my praise reflect my gratitude and joy for all You’ve done, as You bring Your good work to completion in me, never leaving or forsaking me, sticking closer than a brother.

   Breathe the Spirit of Truth back into my soul, Lord, for I would seek deeper truth and mysteries of You, preparing the answers for my hope, and to let my light shine before men that they may glorify the Father.

   I place this life You’ve given me in Your hands once more, to ripen the fruit, to take the plank from my eye, to dry the tears, and ease the loneliness, to cleanse the stains of sin, and to pierce the heart to grieve them, not the Holy Spirit, and  to repent before Your throne.

   I ask by the power of Your Name, believing I’ve received by the mercy of  Your holy hands.

   Amen.

 

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 61: If Anyone Thirsts

John 7:37-39

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It was a late summer Sunday, late in the afternoon, the last day of the Men’s Retreat.

The pastor, finishing the last sermon, gave an altar call to those who were not Spirit filled. I went down, more in a spirit of indulgence than faith. I knew Jesus, and that was enough for me.

It wasn’t enough for Jesus.

“Put up your hands, and just start praising G-d,” the pastor said.

I began to praise, and in seconds I didn’t speak a word of English for the next ten minutes or so.

A connection so deep, so sweet feeling, and the other-worldly language I spoke so fluently let me know that I’d been sealed with the Promise of eternal life.

Many times before, I’d heard and read the story of Pentecost, and now it came alive.

I even tried to stop, and I couldn’t. Neither did the tears of joy.

From that time way led on to way, but one day I found myself at an event with the church that took me to the retreat, and one of the brothers said to me that he’d kept a journal of that time, and I’d said on the bus going up there:

“I don’t want anything to do with that Holy Spirit stuff.”

I was stunned initially that I would’ve said it, but thinking back to my visits of various churches in my childhood, it seemed people used the excuse of ‘getting the Spirit’ to do some pretty bizarre and out of order things.

In His grace, Jesus let me experience the real Spirit who came with a gentle power to live in me and reveal the truth that the Lord’s promises and prophecies are ‘Yes and Amen.’

And I will dwell in the House of the Lord, forever and ever. Amen.

Therefore I pray:

My Savior,

You used the phrase, ‘My hour has not yet come’ several times in Your ministry, until the hour came, and You tell us it will do so again.

All things in time.

You say we sleep, and prophesy that with a great shout, (I believe it to be the ‘Come forth’ you spoke to Lazarus) You will raise all the Father has given to You on the last day.

Thank You for the gift of the Spirit, who helps me to hold fast to that promise as the summer of my life begins to color in, like the mountains on the day You sealed my heart to Yours.

Thank You for the covenant of grace and the atoning work that will redeem my soul from the power of the grave. Thank you for the mercy that went through the fault of my faithless obedience, and saw my spiritual need.

May it be the same for my brothers and sisters, that they might know and be edified by the Comforter who reveals all truth as You continue to shepherd us down the narrow path.

He carries Your voice to us in the distant places where we stray, and leads our hearts back to You. 

We would not grieve Him, but we will again until we are home at last. But in this we are assured: the threefold cord of the G-dhead will tether us, that no one will snatch us from Your holy, nail-scarred hands.

With praise and gratitude, I thank You for all of it.

Amen.

 

Devotional 59: I Delight to do Your Will

Psalm 40:8-9

I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.”

I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.

 

The googled definition of delight is to 1: please someone greatly  2: to take great pleasure in.

Do we, as believers, delight to do G-d’s will? Do we really?

The Lord says that the greatest among us will be the servant of all, that He himself came to serve, and not be served.

It’s one thing to do the Lord’s will when we are the centerpiece, and quite another to do it in obscurity among the ungrateful, or for only a brief period, or even to the point of martyrdom, where no one knows you or will bother to remember you. What about when your body, quite possibly, will never be found?

Delight?

How can one take delight in such circumstances to the do the will of an unseen G-d?

We must, in all things, take caution to make sure we are hearing from G-d, and listening (they are not the same) to what He has called us to do. There’s doing what we think is His will, and then there’s being in the center of it.

Yes, there’s delight. There’s also fear, doubt, reluctance, hesitancy, excuse-making. It’s all there, right alongside courage, faith, resolve, rejoicing, and immediacy.

Let delight be at the center, for this is not our eternal home.

Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. King, Elie Wiesel, these are some of my heroes who demonstrated true courage in the face of intense adversity, whose faced down their beliefs in the darkness, and set their faces like flint as they picked up their crosses, flaws and all.

But there’s no delight in beatings, imprisonment, watching comrades die, and staying among the filth and stink of dying lepers.

Yet we are reminded of the ‘others’ in Chapter 11 of Hebrews, who took their stand on their way to death and persecution.

(end of v. 35) Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Delight? The Messiah tells us this:

John 15:18-25

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. 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. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’[a]

Delight? Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Take heart, and be resolved in your minds to delight in doing His will. In the end it shall be: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (Matthew 25:23)

For the Lord takes delight in our service, whatever it is, wherever it may be, for however long the time. He takes delight in our purpose fulfilled, our lives fruitful, and our service rewarded in in the proper place and time.

He will sing over you, and anoint you with the oil of rejoicing.

Yes, delight.

 

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

In our trembling humanity, help us to count the cost of loving our neighbors in a hateful, selfish world. 

Let our hearts be resolved, our motives pure, our desires for fleshly praise extinguished.

Let our hands be helped by like-minded brothers and sisters who come alongside and aid us when we falter, and if necessary, send angels to minister to us in our gardens of stone and beauty if we begin to look for another cup, surrounded by satanic spears, traitors, and the wrathful faithlessness of Your enemies.

Let our minds not be entrapped by the foolishness of the many tangents Your Word fosters among us: How old is the earth? What animals were on the ark? What was Jesus’ skin color? Hymns over secular sounds? What version of Your Word is the best? 

It is the work of Satan planting tares among wheat, and unleashing his wolves among flocks. 

The best version of the Bible is the one that has the story of Your Son’s death and the power of His Resurrection. Like the Apostle Paul, let us determine to know nothing among this fickle populace except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 

Let us delight in obscurity and persecution if it is the center of Your will.

Let us be ready to embrace death when the proverbial sword is at our necks and we hear the words of man say: Renounce your Savior. 

With delight, let us open our mouths for the Spirit to fill, not worrying what we shall say, and pour ourselves out, embracing our fate, since You have determined it since before the foundation of the world, and revealed Yourself to us through Your Son and Your Word to us through the power of Your Spirit.

Let us always please You, and take great pleasure in doing it, as we delight in each other having one will through the Son, us in Him, and Him in You.

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

Amen.

Devotional 58: A Book of Remembrance

Malachi 3:16-18  A Book of Remembrance

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name.

17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts,
“On the day that I make them My jewels.
And I will spare them
As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
18 Then you shall again discern
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between one who serves God
And one who does not serve Him.

 

The year of 2017 is half over. It is a good time to reflect and look back at the anticipation of the first month, and what we offered to the Father for the sacrifice of praise.

What were our petitions?

What were our sins and backslidings?

What were our gains and losses?

And where does our faith in His providence stand today?

If a person shall fall seven times and rise eight, are you standing? (Prov 24:16)

New Year’s Day is much like the wedding, a splashy, extravagant affair of public celebration, extravagant dressing, feasting, and wishing each other all the best.

And then there is the marriage: the commonality of the day to day, the taking out of trash, the washing of dishes, the stress of parenting, the stress of taking care of self.

But in the midst of it all, when you forget the celebratory times, there is a book of remembrance: The Wedding Album. You go back to it, and remember, reminisce, and recapture those feelings. Hopefully, if this is you, those feelings are reinforced by your spouse in the day to day grind that leads to anniversaries, fidelity, partnership, and lifelong commitment.

Yet, sadly, it is not so between us and G-d. Indeed, in the verses before these, the people have judged G-d as not worthy of being served since the wicked prosper in the midst of the righteous. (Mal 3:13-15)

It’s still true today.

A prayer is not answered, a miracle of healing not given, a child not conceived, a financial blessing not received in time, no food, no means of transportation, and what little you have is seized by greedy oppressors under the guise of the law.

Your faith is tested, and the serpent slithers through the weed ridden garden of your life, its eyes on yours, and its sibilant question as it opens its mouth is always this:

“Did G-d really say…?”

Let us remember: the coin of gold the serpent offers for ease and quick riches is counterfeit. When the Lord brings wealth, He adds no trouble to it  (Proverbs 10:22)

The coin for your taxes, the cost of serving Christ, is in the mouth of the fish; you have to go find it, under the guidance of the Lord Jesus, being obedient to His commands, using that which you are called to do. As Peter used his fishing skills to serve, so too, you will use your own gifts. (Matthew 17:24-27)

One coin falls out at your feet, and the price is your soul; the other you must work to get out, and the reward is salvation.

In the Book of Remembrance we call the Word of the Lord, go there to see what G-d really said:

His Word says His promises are ‘yes and amen.’ It says the wicked shall be punished, the unrepentant condemned, and the dead who have faith in the atoning work of the Son of G-d shall be redeemed from the power of the grave, and live eternally in the presence of the Father, under the rule of the Son, and all will be empowered by the Spirit to give thanks and praise, doing the work of the Kingdom.

If need be, enhance His Word with a book of remembrance of your own making: a journal, a blog, a notebook and pen.  I don’t remember who said the following, but I remember the quote:

The dullest pencil is clearer than the brightest memory.’

If there is no access to these things, simply offer a prayer of thanks, or put a marker in a special place where something good happened. It can be a small stone, or you can build an altar of special items. The Father understands that in our spiritual walk, we need material reminders to bring to mind all the good things He’s done for us. Be careful of idolatry, however, and always seek to add to your book, whatever form it takes.

Maintain gratitude, remain faithful, and be obedient to Him in the face of adversity? It sounds like the stupidest thing to do. 

It isn’t. It will be rewarded. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

He promised, and He is not a man that He should lie. (Num. 23:19)

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven

Today we praise you for all the good things You’ve done in our lives, for all that You will do until we are called home. Help us to complete that to which we’ve been called.

Increase our faith, and help our unbelief.

In our obscure service, let us sings songs of joy.

In our failed missions, let us give thanks and praise.

In our spiritual irresponsibility, let us meditate on Your love and willingness to restore us to fellowship with You.

As You are the Author and Finisher of our faith, so too, be the Author of our books of remembrance, and let them reflect You in us, as we stand as ambassadors of the Way in a nation that has lost it, living among people who don’t want it, and navigating a world that rejects it; for that also is according to Your Word.

You tell us that narrow is the path, few are the travelers, and yet, we ask that You strengthen our hands, enlarge our territory, and give us a spirit of boldness not worrying what we will speak, for we know the Spirit will fill us in that moment, as You have said.

And let us stand for You, remembering always, that one day we will be with You. Not because we deserve it, but because You loved us first.

In Your Name, I ask it. 

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 56: This Man Receives Sinners

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Relinquishing control is perhaps the most difficult thing we do in our lives, but it is quite another to have it taken from you by new ways of thinking. Seldom, if at all, do those established in wealth and power adapt without force of numbers or violence.

But as difficult as it is to give up control, when someone invades our little fiefdom and takes such authority as we possess, real or imagined, it’s hard not to bristle at that.

Standing aside at the pinnacle of where our experience finally synchronizes with our mastery of the given tools to do our jobs, and the recognition and rewards that came with it, is humbling, especially if the invader does a better job, and deep inside, we know it. The effectiveness of our Lord’s ministry was proven by the short time He had to accomplish it, and how quickly and widely it spread, and how lasting it’s been.

This verse in Luke tells us that the men in power complained about Jesus as the sinners and tax collectors (a special breed of sinners, it seems) drew near to hear Him.

He preached to them, and for them, not at them, and He did so in the midst of their uncleanness, with all the dirt and smells attached. He did it despite their ignorance of doctrinal matters and higher ideas. He did it in the midst of their pain and suffering as a Man who had a message from no less of an authority than their Father in Heaven, and He delivered it with great power and compassion, and it resounded in their hearts, went beyond their mortality and hugged their downtrodden spirits, and they drew near.

Let us, in the midst of our own needs and pain, rejoice and praise and worship our Lord in this, the year of His favor.

Let us too, draw near and repent under the covenant of grace, for there will be no more chances under the covenant of judgment.

Let us, in faith, give control of our lives and those of our loved ones, trusting the words and promises of providence and salvation handed down to us through the ages, the words of a Man we’ve never seen, though His presence is all around and within us. (1st Peter: 1:8) Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. (NIV)

And know that our Redeemer lives, and our Deliverer is coming.

In whatever authority we attain, in whatever ministry we guide others into faith in our Lord, let us be mindful of the disciple’s admonishing that we can’t claim to love the unseen G-d by faith, yet hate our brothers and sisters before our very eyes.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

We often pray that You be with us, but it isn’t You who moves away, for You tell us that You are always with us, even to the end of the age of man. 

In our mortality, and our inability to wrap our minds around the mind of G-d, we turn to You, who speak the words of Life and Truth, who tells us, “Assuredly, I say to you…”, who tell us, “If it were not so, I would have told You…”

Help us to keep in mind You are the Prophet of Nazareth, and what You say will come to pass. All of it, even to the separation of sheep and goats, wheat and tares, the outer darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the misplaced trust in our works and our own ‘goodness.’

And the casting of soul and body into the fire.

Let our repentance be true. Help us to keep our vows to G-d, or put a guard over our mouths so that we don’t renege, for You say it is better not to vow, than to vow and not do it.

As we were bought with the price of Your blood, and nothing can snatch us from Your hand, let us draw near that we may ever be ready for Your use, to Your purposes, if we would bear fruit for the Kingdom of G-d, and even if the world mocks us.

Bear with us on the days we don’t count our sorrows as joy, but bring Your promises to mind that we may bear our sorrows.

Bear with us on the days our rudderless tongues meander to slash and cut, and even to curse. In the quiet of the wreckage that follows, ask us, as You did Peter, do we love You, and let us be restored to those we’ve wounded.

Bear with us in our moments of doubt, when we turn away following the shiny carrots the world dangles before us. Open our eyes, and let us return to ourselves as You come to find us once again, and bring us home under the authority of Your voice, rod, and staff, drawing us near to You, over and over, until we are Home to stay.

Amen.

 

Devotional 55: A Blessing and Message for Mary

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.”

Imagine that someone held your baby and told you all they were destined for, and that it was as calamitous as turning a nation on its head?

What would you do as a young mother or father? What would you say?

Simeon’s message was directed at Mary, so it was already prophesied that Joseph would not be there when the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side fulfilled it on Calvary.

She received a lot of messages during these times, from the greeting of the angel until now, and she thought about their meanings. We only have a few snippets of them interacting, and even one where she took the siblings and went looking for Jesus because they began to think He was unstable.

We wonder from 2017 years later: ‘But how can you be told all these things regarding your child, deliver Him as a virgin, and come to doubt that they were true?’

She was just a young girl, and not one who moved in the circles of prophecies and divine things and thunderous, ponderous teachings. No wonder the angel told her not to fear!

And having been told she’d conceive the child, she gathered up her courage, knowing G-d would sustain her through the stigma of being pregnant and unwed. “Let it be done to me as you have said.”

And the destiny of this child had not only a national impact, but a global one. Indeed, an eternal one. In the carol ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ there is a line that says: “The Child that you delivered/ will soon deliver you.”

Yet she protected Him, poured out her life into Him, soothed Him, tended His cuts and bruises, pushed Him, set examples for Him, taught Him…

And watched Him die.

I’m sure on that day, she felt more than one sword in her pierce her.

And yet she saw it through, having done all she could.

To the mothers out there who are holding on, and ministering to your children every day, in acts both great and small, from teaching them how to hold a spoon to standing at their college graduation to the birth of your first grandchild, know that you are doing a noble work in obscurity, a grand thing no one notices, a divine calling no one else heard but you.

But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit see you, and your child is destined, and you, handmaiden of the Lord, have been selected to pour into them as Mary did to hers, trials and all, swords and sundry.

Today, Mother, may your children rise and call you blessed.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We thank you for our mothers, for the many sacrifices they’ve, for their teaching, for their willingness to give their all for all their children, for their intimate guidance in knowing their child like no one else.

Even for their discipline, when no one else would rein in misbehavior.

 It is a ministry like no other, so much so that You’ve called them, and not man, to do it.

I’ll not pretend I understand the withholding of children from those who deeply desire them, and the granting of them to the cold and callous, for You, O Lord, are sovereign in these things.

Rather, I pray You would change hearts and open eyes, and protect the gentle souls of Your little ones in harsh circumstances, and console and guide those who desire to be blessed with them. I pray You grant their desire.

To those who’ve lost a child, you are no less a mother today than you were then. You’ve carried the pain of your sword awhile, and G-d sees your tears, even the ones you keep inside.

Mourn, and be comforted that you will see them again in their innocence, and they will be restored to you.

I pray you continue in grace, faithfulness, strength, patience, integrity, kindness, honor, and virtue, and that your legacy be inherited in double portion through those you leave behind, that the harvest may grow.

Thank you, mom, for giving, caring, and loving us through it all.

And releasing us to that which we are divinely destined.

Amen