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 … THINKING ABOUT OUR LIVES

As you reflect on God’s Word, can you see how he is calling you — yes, you! — to be His special friend?

“Fools will believe anything, but the wise think about what they do.” (Proverbs 14:15 NCV)

“Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1 NLT)

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RECENTLY, PROF. STEPHEN HAWKING — a brilliant theoretical physicist and avowed God denier — perished from this life. Like everyone, upon earthly death, he met the Lord. My fear is that it did not go well with him. Even sadder is the outpouring of AA. night-sky-starssupport from among his fan base, praising his skepticism and denial.

Psalms 14:1 NLT says, “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” 

What about our loved ones who join Hawking in his non-beliefs? How do we reach them? How does one live a life that lacks self-reflection or that doubts the eternity that God has placed within out hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 

How does a person, especially an educated and highly intelligent one, ignore the sacrifice our Lord made on the Cross to atone for our sins?

Let us pray that the Lord will quicken the hearts of our loved ones who do not know the Him, softening their resistance to Him. Let us pray that He will strengthen our walk with Him that we might be better witnesses for His saving grace.

PRAYER: O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth. The heavens 44. Cross_on_Bibledisplay Your glory, the variety of life shows Your imagination and creativity, our very bodies show Your kindness and consideration. Thank You for molding us in Your image. Lead us to be faithful witnesses for the Truth, to be God-honoring in our thoughts, our speech, and our deeds. For the Kingdom’s glory. We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.

QUESTIONS: Whether you need to ask for forgiveness or you need to grant forgiveness, did you find it comforting to pray this prayer? Could you feel God’s Holy Spirit moving through your heart? How can you move forward in asking God to speak into your heart His message of forgiveness and mercy? Are you convinced now that God exists and that He is calling you — yes, you! — to be His special friend?

 

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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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?

Today Is … Loving Others as Christ Loves Us

The Bible tells us as followers of Christ to live lives that are worthy of respect so that we will reflect well on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts. We’re also to be ready to testify to the life-changing power of Jesus’ love.

“My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring.” — 1 John 3:18 (NCV)

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” — 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

God calls us to witness for Him 24/7/365. We are to live out the Gospel in how we act, think, and talk. While this includes sharing a word of encouragement with a brother or Cross Over Biblesister, and looking for opportunities to do so, it’s also about putting God’s Word to use in how we live our lives.

Then, when someone asks about the joy we feel, we should be ready to explain how Jesus Christ has changed our hearts. That’s when we share the Word in personal testimony.

QUESTION: Are you ready to share with someone — a family member, co-worker, neighbor, or even a stranger — your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Whether you answered “yes” or “no,” could you take a moment and pray along with me and other readers of this post the following prayer for God’s guidance?

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PRAYER: O Gracious LORD, our Heavenly Father, we thank You for being a God of love and a God of mercy. Work on our hearts, O LORD, to turn them from stone to flesh, from hard hearts that are self-centered and prideful into hearts of love, hearts of mercy, hearts of service, hearts of encouragement, hearts of teaching, hearts of testimony. Lead us to serve You, for Your glory. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Galatians 3: “Law and Promise”

Trying to make it on our own instead of relying on God’s grace is as human as sin, which, of course, is why we try to make it on our own — we suffer the sin of pride. God knows us and has told us that we are better off living our lives His way, which includes accepting the grace of salvation by believing in His Son. The apostle Paul wrestled with this same issue when he told the church in Galatia to stop relying on their own efforts to earn salvation and rely on God’s promise of grace.

This meditation is Part 3 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is available here.

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“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)

I KNOW I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.

I can’t believe what I just said; what I just did. That just isn’t me. I mean, I’m more even-50. Backslidingtempered than that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m tired, hungry even, certainly  stressed by work, family. You know, the usual things.

I can do better than this. I just need to try harder.

Becoming perfect by our individual human effort is the ultimate New Year’s resolution, and, besides, the idea of taking charge is so American, isn’t it? No way are we going to sit back and wish things were different! No, siree! We’re going to do something about it!

Buck up … and try harder.

Despite our best intentions, the outcome of our self-help promises are just as predictable as the rest of our resolutions. After a few tries, with diminishing enthusiasm, we give up.

Maybe we’ll try later, give it another go over the summer or maybe just wait until the following year. We aren’t really quitting, we tell ourselves. We’re delaying our effort. The timing just wasn’t right.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL must have felt the same way with the church in Galatia.

We can see his frustration when he saw those new Christians backsliding. One massive New Year’s resolution fail, but this time a slipping away from God’s saving grace.

No, this is not a discussion of whether a person can lose his or her salvation, but  Man goes on concrete pier in the sunrisewhether once saved, a person can miss the closeness and love for the Father that comes from a growing and continuing relationship with Him.

Jesus referenced this slipping away in Revelation 2:4 (MSG), when He told the church in Ephesus, “You walked away from your first love.”

That is, a person can remain saved but not progress in his/her spiritual walk with the Lord by remaining in place at the very point where they started their walk, like a newborn who never outgrows diapers or starts crawling.

Paul admonished the church in Corinth along those same lines, when he accused them of not growing in their faith. “I fed you with milk, not solid food,” Paul wrote, “for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV).

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HOW COULD WE MISS the unmistakeable promise that our Lord and Savior has given us? The great gift of grace! We don’t have to do life on our own. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, God pours His grace into us and relieves us of the burden and responsibility.

“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28 MEV).

Okay, so there’s a catch, right? Once we surrender our lives to God, we are “owned” by  someone else, required to live up to someone else’s agenda and match their standards. 

50. Making_DecisionsYes, absolutely true! The Bible is very clear about that. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV, Paul states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

But, wait!

According to the Bible, God’s revealed testimony, you always were owned by someone else.

Listen to what Jesus says about that. Here He is in John 8:34 GW: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.’”

Here’s Paul again: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)

So, either way, you’re owned, right? Either you’re owned by sin, which leads to death, or you’re owned by righteousness, which leads to life.

You pick. Your choice. God’s gift of free will.

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SOMEWHERE, THERE’S THAT VOICE of doubt that whispers, “Maybe not everyone. This cops-and-robbers stuff might affect those people, but surely not me.”50. Open_Bible

Yes, you and me. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22a NIV that we’re all engulfed in this sin mess, everyone of us. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”

Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead, he goes on to tell us that God has provided an escape for us, if we would just trust Him. What is that escape? Well, verse 22 continues with the answer: “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

What was promised?

The promise, as the following verses (23-25) explain, is that we are no longer prisoners under the law but justified (considered righteous) through Jesus Christ. “Now that faith has come,” Paul writes, “we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

The law was about works, doing the right things and trying to earn God’s favor by our actions. Replacing the law with grace, through Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection means we are recipients of God’s free gift of grace (Romans 3:24).

That was the point Paul was trying to drive home to the struggling Galatians. God, through His mercy, has given you the kingdom through your faith in His Son. Why are you falling back on old habits of trying to merit salvation through your own efforts, when Scripture tells us you are destined to fail … every time?

Better to accept God’s gift of grace through His Son. God reconciles us to Himself and grants us an eternity in His rest.

As we reflect on that gift, we are moved to join Paul in his prayer of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).

Amazing.

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PRAYER: O Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe, Who made us in Your image, we confess we have failed You in our willfulness, striving to earn salvation on our own merits despite the sinful natures of our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, and change our hearts from hearts filled with anger and lust and pride and sloth and covetousness and treachery and guile, and give us hearts that love the Lord and want to serve only Him. In Jesus’ precious Name we lift this prayer. Amen