My House Is a House of Prayer

Jesus was clear in telling the faithful in His day to honor the sanctity of the Temple, which had a courtyard reserved for non-Jews to use in prayer. That was the arena confiscated by synagogue leaders to overcharge Jewish peasants for the animals used in sacrifice for their sins. Non-Jews also were discouraged from attending. Our houses of worship are to be dedicated to God’s use — to praise Him and to serve our neighbors.

“The offerings and sacrifices they place on my altar will please me, because my Temple will be called a house for prayer for people from all nations.” — (Isaiah 56:7b NCV)

[Jesus] said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” — (Matthew 21:13 NLT)

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Join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.

YOU CAN JUST SEE JESUS GROWING ANGRIER BY THE MOMENT.

He has completed his triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, which fulfilled Scripture (Zachariah 9:9), while His faithful followers called  out Hosannas, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38 NIV).

63. Jesus-cleansing-templeThen He enters the Temple and clears out the money changers and sellers of animals for ritual sacrifice.

“It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Luke 19:46 NIV)

Continue reading “My House Is a House of Prayer”

Today’s Meditation … AVOIDING AVOIDABLE DANGER

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Proverbs 27:12 (NIV)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

DANGER AHEAD!

What could be clearer than a warning sign?

Yet how often do we heed sound advice? How often do we shake off the wise counsel of others, preferring to take our own advice, even when we’re filled with rage, flooded with baseless hope, or propelled by the logic of prior ill-thought-out decisions?

45. Children_Ignoring_ParentsProverbs warns us that wise men and women listen to the warning signals,  the red flags in our lives, and take evasive actions. The foolish among us — including us in our foolish moments — fail to listen.

Then, as the Bible says, we pay the price for our stubbornness, our pride, and our foolishness.

Wise counsel, indeed, given to us for free from our Creator and Life Sustainer.

QUESTION: Why is it so hard for many of us to accept the wise counsel of others, especially when they mean to help us and not insult us? Can it be our sinful pride refuses to recognize an encouraging word? How can we pray for softer hearts that long for wisdom?

PRAYER: Our gracious heavenly Father — Your love for us knows no end. Not only did You send Your Son to pay the penalty for our sins, but You’ve given us a roadmap with Your Holy Word — the Bible — on how to live faithfully this side of glory. Help us, Lord, to overcome our stubborn sinful pride and listen to Your wisdom. Help us to see the dangers that lie ahead when we’re off course and give us the wisdom to avoid the pitfalls. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

GIDEON: MIGHTY WARRIOR

God knows that each one of us is weak, yet He has chosen to work through us to reach broken humanity. We cannot do it on our own, but He does not expect us to. Instead, He will empower us through the Holy Spirit. In His Bible, He shows us how He can take a simple man like Gideon and turn him into a mighty warrior.

When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 NIV)

But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)

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GIDEON — YES, THAT GIDEON OF THE BIBLE — was not anyone’s idea of a gifted leader.

Yet, we read that an angel of the LORD appeared to him one day and called him “mighty warrior.”

62. Gideon_And_AngelWhen Gideon heard this word of affirmation, he replied with that famous battle cry: “Pardon me, my lord.” 

Hmm.

Not too commanding, was he?

“Pardon me, my lord” was the ancient world’s equivalent of our “Say what? You talkin’ to me?”

Let’s go back to the scene. Our hero, Gideon, is busy with the post-harvest chore of separating the wheat from the chaff. The best way the ancient world had for doing this was labor-intensive: the farmer stuck a pitchfork into the bale and threw it into the air, where the wind current would blow the lighter chaff away, thus separating it from the heavier wheat, which would fall into a heap.

Normally, this was done in a location where the wind currents were felt.

But Gideon was found in a winepress, which is a depression out of sight of those on the ground. The wind currents were not very strong there, but it afforded him sight protection from the enemy Midianites, who were prowling about.

If they saw Gideon, they probably would have run him through with a sword and taken the wheat.

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SO, HERE’S GIDEON HIDING from the Midianites, when an angel of the LORD comes down and sits under an oak tree. His greeting? “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

At this point, Gideon chides the angel, reminding him that if the LORD were watching over Israel, if the LORD were doing His job the way Gideon thought He should, then why were the Israelites afraid for their lives. Heck, why was Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress.

Here’s the angel’s response: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Can you hold onto that question for a moment: “Am I not sending you?”

Where have we heard that one before?

Was it not Moses at the burning bush asking the LORD who should he say was sending him to free the Israelites from Egypt, and the LORD replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Ex. 3:14)

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GOD’S COMMANDS TO US ARE ACCOMPANIED BY GRACE.

He never sends us out without promising to be with us.

The LORD requires us to speak, think, and act according to His will. Our job, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), is to teach others that God has come into the world to save us from our rebellion, our hardness of heart, our human pride.

We are to take the message of redemption and forgiveness to a broken world.

All the while, He promises this: “Remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” (v. 20 GW)

62. RedemptionOften we fail. Some of us, quite often. Even when we do the right thing(s), our hearts might be looking for our glory, not His. So we repent, He forgives, He toughens us up, and we grow. Next time around, we do better. We’re stronger … until, again, we fail. The process repeats itself until we’re in glory with our LORD.

How comforting to hear our LORD’s promise to sustain us. He will not forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) nor leave us as orphans (John 14:18). He tells us not to be afraid because He will hold us up (Isaiah 41:13). When He has commanded us to do something, He says He will be with us while we do it (Joshua 1:9).

Our faith is essential to this process (Hebrews 11:1) for without faith, we cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6).

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GOD CAN TAKE A WEAK MAN LIKE GIDEON and turn him into a mighty warrior, a warrior mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). God’s will will prevail. His word goes out and accomplishes all that He has tasked it with. It will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Now, it becomes our turn to go, to be obedient, to share the Word of the LORD, to encourage others — in the name of Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD asks whom shall He send, let’s be like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV).

Well, Gideon was no Isaiah, so he didn’t quite say, “Okay, I’m your man.” Instead, he said, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh [one of 12 Israeli tribes], and I am the least in my family.”

That is where many of us stay. We know there’s Kingdom work to be done, but too often we feel we’re just not qualified to do it. The Lord certainly knows our limitations.

Most of us, if pressed, could readily point to someone else to take our place, someone else whom we think is much better equipped to handle the task the LORD has laid on our shoulders. In fact, we’re very eager to supply names, e-mail addresses, and mobile phone numbers — just to help out. We can be very helpful that way.

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WHEN WE LOOK TO THE BIBLE’S LIST of great leaders — Nehemiah, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul — we find that each one of them was prepared by the LORD to handle the task he was given before the task was assigned.

It’s not our position or title in a group that makes us a leader — not any more than expensive sneakers makes us an NBA star or nifty skates takes  us to the Stanley Cup.

62. Hockey skatesWhat makes a leader is character, and character is developed over time, usually starting with a vision, then denting that vision with adversity, then wrapping the result around perseverance. (Romans 5:3-5) (James 1:2-4)

Other examples of “leaders” were of lesser stuff. We think immediately of Barak, who would lead Israel into battle only if the female judge Deborah accompanied him.

Then, of course, there’s Gideon.

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THE BIBLE’S ACCOUNT OF GIDEON’S TRANSFORMATION is an interesting story.

First, Gideon places God’s messenger under a variety of tests or “proofs” that he is, indeed, sent from God. Of course, the angel passes every test with ease.

Then the LORD tells Gideon to assemble an army. He adds a caveat that if Gideon wants further proof that he was anointed by God, he could sneak up on the Midianites’ compound. When Gideon does — with a companion, of course — he hears the Midianites proclaiming their fear of Gideon and his army!

Yes, there’s also the winnowing down of Gideon’s troops from 30,000 to 300 because God said He wanted Gideon and the Israelites to know that it was He, the God of the Israelites, that delivered the enemy over, not the might of the Israelite army. (Judges 7:2)

First, God let every man afraid to go into battle to leave — that dropped the total by two-thirds — then He wanted only the men who lapped water by scooping it up in their hands instead of sticking their faces in the drink — that whittled most of the rest of them.

With 300 men, Gideon was fodder for a slaughter … except that the LORD’s mighty sword was raised on behalf of His people. They “won” the skirmish without fighting. The Midianites slaughtered one another.

After the battle, the Israelites wanted to crown Gideon their king, but he would have none of it. Not only would he not rule over them, he said, but neither would his son. “The Lord will rule over you,” he said. (Judges 8:23 NIV)

That often happens, too, with leadership.

Once you take the reigns for a time or two, the job is yours forever. People are quite content to let someone else handle the chores.

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EACH ONE OF US CAN BE A LEADER. To do that, we need to take ownership of our jobs. Of who we are and what we can do.

So, what is leadership?60. Faith

Leadership is character. It is not about being the boss or having one’s way. Sometimes, leadership is nothing more than looking around and seeing what needs to be done … and then offering to do it.

A leader — or one who aspires to be a leader — must dig into areas of character, priorities, attitude, and vision.

A leader has to discipline himself not only to set the agenda but sometimes to set the table for others to succeed.

Leadership is not just about our own enhancement or our position or our glory. It is not about attaining our will. It’s about sacrificial service.

Remember our LORD at the Last Supper when he got up from the table, wrapped his cloak around his waist, filled the wash basin, and kneeled down to wash the feet of His disciples — including, we presume, the feet of the man who, within hours, would betray Him.

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WHAT IS THE CALL IN OUR LIVES?

Where is the LORD’s cry in your life?

Has He been laying on your heart a task you think is too big for you, has He given you a word of encouragement that you’ve been hesitant to deliver, has He prepared you for a role in your life that He’s starting to unveil to you?

What does it take for you, for us, to take that first step of obedience?

John C. Maxwell, author of the book, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, tells us this:

62. Bible_Leaders1. There are never enough leaders.

2. Every leader needs development.

>Moses spent 40 years being educated in the Pharoah’s house, plus 40 years of tending sheep in the desert;

>Joseph spent years in servitude to the Egyptian hierarchy and many years in prison;

>Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the Babylonian king;

>Paul was trained as a Pharisee before he was knocked to the ground by a bolt of light; and

>Jesus was … well, He had spent forever in the Trinity and then 40 days and nights being tempted by Satan.

Every leader needs encouragement, training, prayer, support. Are we giving each other that kind of encouragement? Are we coming alongside each of our brothers in prayer?

If we heed these lessons well, no one will end 2018 asking: Where have all the good leaders gone?

Instead, they’ll ask: Where have all these good leaders come from, and how can I become one of them?

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Cross Over BiblePRAYER: LORD, Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth and all creation, we give You all the honor and praise; O LORD, we take joy in worshipping You. Forgive us weaknesses, Father God; forgive us our hesitation to spread the Gospel of redemption; forgive us when we fail to honor You with our words and our deeds … knowing, O Father God, that at the root of this is our failure to honor You in our hearts. Equip us, O LORD, to be mighty warriors for the Kingdom, knowing that You’ll part the waters for us, that You’ll give us the words to say, and that You’ll hold our hands through every task, every abuse, every questions, every prayer request, every plea for understanding and help. LORD, love on us so mightily that we will love on those you place in our way. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

QUESTIONS: 

  1. Do you feel God’s calling you to some task right now, something that seems just too big for you to handle? Are you thinking you’d like to recommend someone else for the job? Why do you suppose He chose you?
  2. What would it take for you to step out in faith and say, as Isaiah did, “Here I am, LORD, send me?” instead of what Gideon said, “Pardon me, my lord.”
  3. Who can you turn to for pray support and help in this matter? How can you pray for God’s will to be done on earth, this time through you?

Controlling the Unguarded Tongue

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He gave His disciples — those standing before Him and those, like us, who would follow — that He wants us to use our words to spread His message of forgiveness and redemption, yet all too often we use our words to let someone else know the extent of our displeasure with them. Not the same thing. Not what He said. Not pleasing to God. Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He said this: “You will be my witnesses.”

And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (James 3:6 NLT)

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words. (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)

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HERE’S A QUIZ.

How many of us have heard the nursery rhyme that ends with these words: “but names can never hurt me”?

Most of us.

Now, how many of us believed it?

I never did. Anyone else?

57.Playground-taunts

Years gone by, when a playmate’s taunt got to me, I got defensive. Then some adult (usually my dad) would recite that little rhyme, with the admonition not to let the little stuff get to me.

Well, it did … and it wasn’t little stuff, either.

Instinctively, I sensed with my little-boy brain what the grown-up me has come to know:Behind whatever the “mean” words were was a mean feeling. It came from the other person’s heart and merely shaking it off  was not enough for me.

Jesus spoke about the heart to His disciples when the Pharisees complained that they were not ritually washing themselves before eating. Our LORD looked sadly at the speaker, then searched the faces of each of the synagogue leaders gathered before Him.

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” our LORD declared, enunciating each word for effect, “but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11 ESV)

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WORDS NOT ONLY CAN HURT, they can set into motion a whole set of actions and reactions that quickly spin out of control, often to the speaker’s surprise.57.Ritual-handwashing

Here’s an example:

“That’s not what I said!”

“Yes, it is. I was right here. I heard it.”

“Well, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Maybe you didn’t, but that’s what you said. How was I supposed to know what you meant?”

Or these examples:

“Did you hear that …”

“You know what really galls me?”

“You’re about one inch from getting a piece of my mind.”

“You’re such a brave woman. I could never wear that shade of green this time of year.”

“You know what the matter with you is?”

While many of the bromides thrown about are not intended to hurt, many are.

Try this. Cue up FaceBook and scroll through the offerings. Don’t comment on anything, just go through the list of what your “friends” are posting. Now look at some of the comments posted in response to the original posts and the responses to those comments.

57.Girl-cryingDon’t count them, but just notice the number of times someone uses the occasion — maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace — to lance someone.

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NOW, LET’S GO BACK TO THE BIBLE.

Let’s compare the types of words many of us hear every day … and maybe even we say … with how Almighty God wants us to talk.

Try to hear our conversations against the backdrop of Jesus, who said that a person’s speech marks his or her character, because the words come from the person’s heart. They reflect what the speaker is feeling.  (Matthew 15:11)

Or listen to the apostle Paul remind us to say only those things that will benefit someone else, not harm them. He said: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 BSB)

Or Solomon, the wise king of ancient Israel, writing that we’re responsible for what we say, both the good and the bad. He said: “What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words.” (Proverbs 18:21 GNT)

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SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

God left it to James to “tell it like it is.” James is such a good choice because he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger half-brothers. (Imagine growing up with God as your older brother! James never caught on to who Jesus was until He was resurrected from the dead.)

James tells us that the “tongue is a flame of fire.” He said it is “a whole world of wickedness, corrupting the entire body.” (James 3:6 NLT)

That’s pretty serious.

57.Tongue-fireIf we go back to the Gospels and watch how Jesus handled his accusers, we see that He never, ever sunk to their level rhetorically. He modeled love, patience, and understanding. Yes, He had the advantage of being divine, but He also was fully human.

Speaking just for myself, I find the standard set by Jesus very difficult to match. Even when I graciously hold my tongue, I am still frustrated because I often do not have a replacement sentence immediately available; you know, a sentence that would encourage my accuser or signal forgiveness and fellowship. Instead, I remain silent and pray that my silence will be a form of reaching out.

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IN THE END, OUR MASTER HAS GIVEN US the words to say … and a mission to fulfill.

After His resurrection and immediately before His ascension into heaven, our LORD told His disciples (and, by extension, all of His followers down through the ages — including us), what that mission is. 

He wants us to go to our neighborhoods, and our communities and states, and throughout our country and even to the ends of the earth with a message of hope and redemption.57. JESUS - Ascension 2

He said our mission is to share the fruit of the Holy Spirit: words of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 (CSB) directs us to spread the word, to tell everyone the world over about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”

Instead of using our tongues to spread lies or hatred or zingers or greed, the Christ wants us to use our tongues to speak for Him. In His final words on earth, He says it this way: (Acts 1:8 ESV), “You will be my witnesses.”

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PRAYER: O LORD, our God, hear our prayer. How often we grieve the Holy Spirit with our words. We use our words to reduce others, to put them down, to spread rumors about them, to malign them. Oftentimes, we don’t actually say the words out loud, but we say them to ourselves. That’s just as grievous to the Spirit. Guard our tongues, O LORD, and help us see how hurtful our words can be. Our LORD and Savior told us to use our words to tell others about Him and His love for us. We undermine that message with our sinful talk. In Jesus’ loving Name we pray. Amen