Devotional 63: They Might Also See Lazarus

John 12:9-11

The Plot to Kill Lazarus
9 Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Dead four days, and no Christ to speak Life to him.

When Jesus did arrive, Martha, lacking the centurion’s faith, not-so-gently rebukes Him.

Jesus cautions her on doubting His ability, and restores her to a path of faith in Him, and shortly after, her brother is resurrected, unbound, and restored to her and Mary.

The Pharisees, chained in the grave of laws of their own making, infamous for their hard hearts and earthly concerns, don’t rejoice, but plot to murder a man and friend of Jesus, simply because people believed on Him after that miracle, and slipped from their control and influence.

Lazarus was a daily reminder and testimony to the authority, power, and life changing ministry of Jesus: a life restored by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Promised One.

Are we also daily reminders and living testimonies to the hard-hearted?

Are we willing to be?

Once dead in our sins, now restored to Life with the seal of the Spirit on our souls, which we must now guard against the desires of the flesh for earthly things.

We are the called, and no one takes us from his hand, but we can wriggle free if we want.  We can stray from the path at any moment. We grieve the G-dhead daily, if not hourly, and our hearts are reminded in the watches of the night that the darkness is harder to walk in than the light.

Sin by daylight, repent by starlight? No, brothers and sisters, cling to Him always, in all things, and when temptations come, and weariness assails, and doubt soils our songs of praise, and our offerings are unacceptable to Him, consider this:

There was only one way out of the grave, and Christ has revealed it to us. His ‘great shout’, I believe, is the “Come forth!” on the last day, when those who’ve built their house on the Rock of Heaven, and follow the Lamb of G-d, will reign with the Prince of Peace in an eternal Kingdom with no sin, and our sun shall be the light of the Father, with a new Heaven and a new Earth, restored to purity, with Hell and evil and faithlessness, and all manner of sin destroyed.

Even through his grave clothes Lazarus saw, and stumbled toward the Light….

Let those of us who say we see and know walk in it, as we work out our salvation, and bear good fruit.

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

I struggle with my building on Your commands. Doubt creeps into my prayers, and Your delay in answering my prayers kindle in me a quiet resentment. “If you were here, my __________ would not have died.”

Help me to know that “Even now, He will grant You whatever You ask.”

Help me to be a daily reminder and living testimony to the glory and power of Your atoning work, that hearts may soften, minds will change, and people will see You in me, as I strive in my earthly heart to see You in them.

I would not struggle and fight to love my fellow man, Lord Jesus. I would not lay charges against those who curse and wrong me. I would pray for those who wish me harm and use me. I would have my rewards stored in heavenly places.

I would claim my crown to throw at Your feet, and live in the center of the Father’s will, doing the work I’ve been called to do.

Only abiding in You is it possible, for with G-d, all things are. 

Keep me from wriggling out of Your hand, pierced for the redemption of my soul, restoring me to You as my Brother, and walking with You as my friend, and serving You as my Messiah and King, for the Father has given all into Your hand.

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

Amen. 


	

Devotional 49: Strengthen Our Hands

Nehemiah 6:5-9

Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written:

It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.

Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.”

Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

The attacks and harassment came from everywhere: the enemy physically lurked about and taunted as the work of restoration was being done on the walls of Jerusalem. Protected by one king, the threat of the king where Nehemiah went  to work among his people to restore them was no less real.

The accusations followed:    It is reported among the nations, and Geshem[a] says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their  king.

They sought to wear him down and delay the work of restoration with the threat of physical harm and and psychological weakness.

Through it all, Nehemiah , like David, took comfort in the Lord his G-d, and guided by the Holy Spirit, he thwarted them. He strengthened Nehemiah’s hand to answer five times, “I am doing a great work. Why should  the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

Notice the direction Nehemiah had to go to reach them?

As persistent as their enemies’demands were, his focus was equally clear; the wall was not just to put Jerusalem right, but it was to the glory of G-d to have His people do it as an act of loving service.

There are other ways to strengthen hands besides giving them the ability to lift heavy objects. During the holidays I was getting cash back from a machine that gave me $60 of the $100 I asked for; the cashier went to get the manager who didn’t look to see the screen had already given me $60. She counts off $100 and gives it to me; we’re the only two there a the machine and no one there between the time it was my turn and the time the manager came back, and I could have had $160 to spend ….

He can strengthen our hands not to steal.

There are men (and a rising number of women) alone at night in front of their computers, and the ‘adult only’ email slides like Eden’s serpent into the Inbox…

He can strengthen our hands not to give in to temptation.

And in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, knowing the pain and forsaking to come, clasps his hands together and entreats His Father to take the cup…

He can strengthen our hands to pray.

Pray, Brothers and Sisters, that He strengthen your hands to complete the task He’s set for you, to His glory and your sanctification.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

We see them coming from a long way off when we are high on the ladder of the center of Your will. 

We hear their mocking whispers and veiled threats as clearly as if they’d said them in our ears.

We see their smug smiles of doubt and their frowns of frustration.

We see the ill intent in their eyes.

We see their bravado, for they don’t know You’re in the midst of us.

And in our humanity our hands would strike back, our tongues would give flight to our anger, and our reason would flee the faster for our warming blood.

Let us take comfort in You, Father. Let us see You in them, even as we rebuke them, even as they seek  to turn us from the task You appointed us to do. And by faith, let us remember to turn to You. Let us behold Your smile and loving touch as we answer by the power of Your Spirit: I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.

I ask it by the strong, nail pierced hands of our Savior, hands You strengthened to bear my sin and put on the altar of His all consuming sacrifice, to Your glory and my sanctification, believing I’ve already received.

Amen.

Devotional 43: You Shall Recover All

1 Samuel 30:1-8

David’s Conflict with the Amalekites

30 Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire, and had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way. So David and his men came to the city, and there it was, burned with fire; and their wives, their sons, and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep. And David’s two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite, had been taken captive. Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, “Please bring the ephod here to me.” And Abiathar brought the ephod to David.

So David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?”

And He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.

Losses come in two forms: the first is through attrition and time, when we lose our ancestors, and the loss is felt more keenly the more we know and love them. This is why great-grandparents hold such esteem among us, and is considered a title and age to be honored by their descendants.

The second is through the nature of man: greed and the love of money, jealousy, hatred, and we don’t understand why, if we’re good people our Lord will not always shield us from such.

But Jesus tells us the world hates us because it hated Him first, and it hates Him because He testifies that its work are evil.

Yet the plan of the Father is redemption, and so was here with David, and so it shall be with us. The one thing that was consistent with David was that whenever he was victorious, he sought the Lord first. Coming home to find all you’ve loved, worked and fought for taken from you by an enemy is a crushing thing, and David, flaws and all, was as human as the lowliest soldier in his army.

David returns home after being rejected by the Philistines to find the city burned and everything stolen. He weeps with his people, and when that’s over, his people talk of killing him because he led the men from home and they weren’t there to protect their own.

He was the king, and he’d left their gates open to the enemy. Like true thieves, the Amalekites came when no strong man was there, they captured the weak, and took what  belonged to the king and his people.

This was an indictment against David, who had a reputation of being strong and might, feared, and a brilliant strategist. If ever there was a moment for a man to despair, this was it, but David knew where his help came from.

v6 But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

Do we believe God is control of our circumstances, even if we suffer loss? Do we believe he reins in what Satan is allowed to do to us? Consider, this is the only time we’re told that there was a raid with no slaughter, just thievery. Everyone they lost was still alive. Who kept them all safe, that David would recover all?

How odd that an Egyptian would fall sick and be left behind, and in the countryside, just happens to come across the king looking for the men who attacked his home, and this man just so happens to know where the troops are…

When we seek G-d first for answers, He honors our faith.

When we are told to pursue, we get what He’s set aside for us to have; it has been preserved for us, but we must take action. G-d did not put a change of heart in the Amalekites to suddenly come back with everyone and drop them off. David still had to go, though he was sad, tired, and angry.

When we too are done shaking our fist, grinding our teeth, and rending our garments in times and moments we don’t understand, surrounded by people who are out to destroy us from within and without, we must still go.

And the Father promises, we shall surely recover all, with increase for our faith. David took back what belonged to Him, and the Amalekites. Moses led the Hebrews out with increase after all those years of slavery.

Nothing will ever be missing, or dead, when we recover all.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven, if I am to pursue according to Your word, give me the strength to pursue. As your servant David said, ‘I am poor and needy,’ and I am of little faith. 

You are the G-d of eternity who redeems our times when we’ve gone astray, and You keep and preserve all that You have for us until we are found ready to receive, or worthy of the prize. 

When my works are tested, I will weep at the loss of reward for I know that among them is stubble, good for nothing, and times of fruitlessness where I was cursed. I know that I have not only grieved Your Spirit, but I’ve broken the heart of the Son, and made You turn Your eyes, for You cannot look on sin.

Yet You see the end of my days, and my future is a memory to You. So I ask that You walk with me as I pursue, and help me to perceive the signposts, my Egyptians, my markers of stone, my altars, my pillars of cloud and fire, that I may finish the work You’ve called me to do.

And in so doing, I shall recover all that was mine and the enemy’s by the power of Your right hand.

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

Amen.

 

Devotional 38: He had Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Jesus Raises the son of the Widow of Nain

11 Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

16 Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”17 And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.

Here in the United States, we have acronyms of exclusion: NOK (Not Our Kind) and NIMBY (Not In My Backyard).We want no proximity with the unpleasant. We don’t want to sup with the unfortunate, much less was their feet.

Yet the Lord Jesus says this: (Matthew 25:34-40)

  34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

There are those who toil in the background, unseen and unsung, unknown and uncared for, taken for granted, whose names we don’t ask and never know. There are those readily helping people without question, the thought of cost or usury, or getting anything back in return. It is these who will enter into the Savior’s rest, glorified and lifted by the Savior Himself.

The most striking thing about this was something I heard from Pr. Alistair Begg, who preached that in this particular story no one asked Jesus to do anything. It seemed a matter of timing and opportunity, but there was never anything random about the ministry of our Lord.

A large crowd and many disciples, not just the twelve, are with Him.

A large crowd proceeds from the gate with the unclean corpse, to bury it.

A mother is losing her son, a recurrent theme in the Word of G-d, but so is what follows.       In verse 13 we read:

When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

And such was His compassion that he not only went into the midst of them, but in the midst of all the uncleanness of the moment, He touches the open coffin, and such was His authority, those who carried it grew still.

With no further delay, or even an introduction, He speaks to the body of the young man, and restores his spirit to him, and life. We can only wonder what the first words of his new life were, but we are told only that he began speaking. I’m pretty sure it was a bunch of questions.

He also restores the mother’s joy.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Son, all of their eyes were opened, and they knew Him, and as with all the culmination of Jesus’ work, the Father was glorified in reverent fear and love.

Therefore I pray:

With thanksgiving and reverent joy, I thank You, Lord Jesus, for raising me from the dead, restoring me to my Father in Heaven.

   You saw my soul being carried from the gates, an unclean thing borne by unclean things, to be taken out as a fruitless vine for burning, and you touched the open casket of my life, and commanded the demons to stop.

    And You spoke to me in Power, and restored my spirit to me, for I did not complete the work, and you’d not finished making me into Your likeness.

     I would arise, Lord, and take my rightful, lowly place, but the grave is quiet and peaceful, and there are no dreams, nightmares or strife. No one mocks me there, or asks me where You are, or tells me You’re only in my mind and don’t exist.

     No persecution comes because of the Word, and I would have peace, and have You depart from me.

     But You have given me a Great Commission, and as you have completed the work the Father gave You, so must I, and do His will unto the least, in Your strength, and in Your Name, and with Your compassion, for I have none in this sinful flesh to give on my own.

    Let it be done to me, as You have said.

   Amen.

Devotional 34: Sifted Like Wheat

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial: Luke 22: 31-32

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

Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest that when Peter rebuked Jesus, it was because he thought he knew where his testing would come, but it came in a place he didn’t expect, and he wept bitterly because he failed so miserably.

Indeed, all of the Apostles swore loyalty, but when the hour came, they fled. We see our Lord sorrowful that they would not even stay up to pray for Him, as they were heavy with food and drink, coupled with doubt and not comprehending the things that Jesus said would occur.

But as I often write, Peter is perhaps the most relatable disciple, because his walk with Christ is as intense, volatile, and prone to error as our own. Jesus, in fact, implies it is Satan who speaks through Peter as the hour approaches, and Jesus rebukes not Peter, but the tempting spirit speaking through him. “This will surely not happen to You.”

It was Jesus’ own hope that the Father pass the cup of sin and gall to find a sweeter way, but He set aside His glory and desire to be spared to obey the Father.

We’re not told when Satan asked to sift Peter, to really see what he was made of, as he sifted Job. But just as God was certain in Job’s steadfastness despite his laments, Christ was equally sure of Peter’s shakiness despite his claims of steadfastness. We see in verse 32 that in fact that He already knows what Peter will do, just as he knew what Judas would do. Peter would deny Christ before men, to the point of cursing those in the crowd who insisted they’d seen him with Jesus.

It is the ultimate act of love in what Jesus not only says to Peter, but to us in our most wretched state in the lifelong war between flesh and soul,

When you have returned to Me…”

This is a statement we are to cling to, for our Savior tells us that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father. This is why the Word admonishes to seek Him while He may yet be found. No one is redeemed faithless and unrepentant from the grave.

“When you have returned to Me…”  The lost sheep is never banned from the flock, because those who follow know His voice. There is no place else to go, as we find so often in our wanderings to other temples and idols, for He alone has the words of life and truth.

As the Father grants the prayers of the Son, there is yet time for Peter to receive the keys to Heaven, and so Jesus prays not only for his return, but commands him to strengthen his brothers.

Satan has planted his tares, and will sift the saints in the last days, but it is Christ and His angels who will reap the last harvest, and there will be nothing left to glean. As John the Baptist tells us,

 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3).

Our Lord would not have His most tempestuous, impetuous disciple be chaff; As the angel said to Mary, “Go and tell the disciples, and Peter…” (Mark 16:7)

As Peter’s denial was threefold, so was his path to restoration, as the Lord asked him three times after the Resurrection:

“Peter, do you love me more than these?”  (John 12:15)

We answer, as he did, in all our failings: “Lord, You know that I love You.”

Therefore I pray:

My Lord and Savior, my heart is grieved that Your inquiry should so pierce my heart, because I have done in deed that which made You have to ask. Under the covenant of grace, I would see myself returned and restored to you, and redeemed spotless again in the Father’s eyes.

I would have my own spirit rejoicing again in Your presence, my place in the Kingdom of Heaven assured, my crown still bright, my works unconsumed as wood, hay, stubble, or chaff, my divine work finished, and my earthly connections to those You gave me intact.

I would not be cast into the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing my teeth.

Like the holy Psalmist in whom the Father was pleased, let me be tested and tried to see if there is any wicked way in me, and give me a clean heart and an upright spirit. Help me to remember, and know, that in You my salvation is assured, my return to You certain. Strengthen my love for You and establish it unshakable in the bleakest of circumstances and the most wicked of persecutions.

And use my trials, O Lord, to help me to strengthen my brothers and sisters, that they may return to You also.

In Your Holy Name, and by the Power of the Spirit of the Living God, I ask it.

Amen.