courage to trust

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” ... Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” [Matthew 26:38,39, 42 ESV]

If you ever wondered whether God understands what it is like to be fearful?
Or if he could remotely relate to your anxiety about future events?
This passage helps us to answer those questions and bit.

Knowing the painful fate of scourging and crucifixion every part of Jesus' being is stressed.
His words to friends, and his prayers, are racked with agonizing thoughts and terrifying emotions.
In another gospel it is reported that he sweat droplets of blood as he faced death in the eye.

Every part of Jesus wants to run but he stands firm in prayer.
In a small way I can relate to the thoughts and emotions conveyed in this passage.
Here is a clip from a really stressful time in my life.
A month before my first wife Ellen died I found myself racked with pain and anxiety. I had been praying for her healing for years and she was not any better. That day I prayed a prayer similar to the one in this passage. I released Ellen into the hands of the Father and said that whatever He wanted was OK with me. It was one of the toughest prayers that I have ever prayed. Prayers such as these always are because they involve trust.
Praying like this can be so hard because it involves the releasing of our control.
Gut wrenching when we understand that the future may involve personal loss and pain.
Yet these prayers are the kind that dig deep into what it means to trust the Lord.

In times of great pain and struggle it takes courage to trust the Lord.
It can be so hard to release control and simply ask for his will to be done.
Jesus' prayers in the garden help us to know that God can be trusted with our pain.

Not my will but yours Lord. Let your kingdom come and your will be done.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

spiritual impotence

Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. ... Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. [Matthew 26:31-35 ESV]

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to hear those words from Jesus.
Put yourself in the setting and try to imagine yourself as one of the disciples.
Perhaps you would be thinking thoughts like these as Jesus and Peter exchanged words:
What is going on? The mood was sweet - we had just sung a hymn. Why was Jesus saying that we would all fall away? I hear Peter speak about staying true to our Lord and I am in agreement with everything he says. I will never deny Jesus.
How could any of them know what was coming in just a few short hours?
How could Peter know that Jesus would not allow him to use a sword when the enemy came?
They were all ready to fight but did not understand the terms of engagement.

And such is the state of many to this day.
We all fall back to fleshly weaponry.
Sometimes we sadly prove to be spiritually impotent.

Following God has never been about fleshly power.
It has never been about fleshly weapons.
Following God has always been about unseen power and weaponry.

And those who don't understand this risk falling away.
People who have not prepared spiritually may not be ready when trials come.
Yet, consider what the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
And maybe that is the message in our gospel passage today.
We will always fail when we try to fight spiritual battles with our own power.
But if we walk according to the Spirit we will be found faithful when the rooster crows.

Give me spiritual eyes to see Lord. Help me to prepare for spiritual battle.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

an intimate table

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” [Matthew 26:26-29 ESV]

This is one of the most amazing statements in all of human history.
Jesus proclaims that his body and his blood signified the covenant that God had made with man.
I think that it is so easy to miss this idea when we get caught up in the logistics of communion.

Here are a few things we should consider when we come to communion:
  • It is the Lord's table. It is his body and blood. We are merely participants together. We all are equals at his table. We all come with empty hands.
  • It is a table of forgiveness. It is in his blood that we hope. We are merely the recipients of that forgiveness. We all come needing a touch from the Lord.
  • It is a table of intimacy. It was one of Jesus' last desires to spend an intimate meal with his friends. We are joined together by his body, his blood and his forgiveness. 
Jesus ends this passage with a promise that he will once again eat this meal with us.
His heart for intimacy seems to transcend space and time.
Because of that we hope and look forward with hearts filled with faith.

Draw us close together around your table Lord.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

the dark path of disappointment

Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. ... When it was evening, Jesus reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [Matthew 26:14-16,20-21 ESV]

A modern day theory purports that Judas was merely forcing Jesus' hand.
The idea is that he wanted Jesus to overthrow the reign of Rome over the Jews.
The theory seems palatable until you read about Judas taking money for the betrayal.

When someone is paid to betray a friend they prove themselves to be no friend at all.
And their motives do not seem noble at all - in fact their intentions seem a bit sleazy.
I think that Judas must have been sleeping when Jesus was teaching.

I wonder what it would have been like to hear that a betrayer was seated at the table?
None of the disciples, save one, had a clue what that betrayal would look like.
I imagine most of them felt that the betrayal meant that they would commit a sin.

No one could imagine that one of their own would betray Jesus to the religious elders.
No one, except a disappointed man with bad intentions - a man disappointed with God.
Speaks to me of how disappointment can lead us down a dark path.

Lord, I sometimes get disappointed with life. Teach me to stay off the dark path.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

extravagant giving

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” ... In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. [Matthew 26:6-9,12 ESV]

This passage is one of Jesus' great teaching on generosity.
He uses a woman's extravagant act to illustrate how we are to give to the Lord.
A few points that I think frame the passage.
  • Firstly, he was gathered with his disciples at the home of a one time outcast leper. 
  • Secondly, they were seated around the dinner table enjoying a meal together. So everyone was surprised when a woman suddenly poured this expensive perfume on the Lord. 
  • Lastly, only one person got it right - only one focused on the Lord.
The contrast between the action of the woman and the reactions of the disciples is so telling.
The woman, who probably owned the expensive perfume, could only think of ministering to the Lord.
All the disciples could think of was using money for 'ministry'.

I think that they missed out because their focus was not on the Lord.
Neither the woman or the men understood the profound significance of this extravagant act.
Perhaps that is always true when we give without ulterior motives?

Maybe love is all about ministering to Jesus without knowing the consequences?

Lord, help me to be an extravagant giver and not be concerned about money.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.

spiritual darkness

“As you know, the Passover celebration begins in two days, and I shall be betrayed and crucified.” At that very moment the chief priests and other Jewish officials were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas the high priest, to discuss ways of capturing Jesus quietly and killing him. [Matthew 26:2-4 TLB]

The contrast in these verses of scripture is so stark.
On one hand we see a picture of light and life - Jesus knew what was going on.
On the other hand religious leaders were operating in absolute spiritual darkness.

These leaders did not have a clue about what was really going on.
The differences are so glaring - the darkness of so blinding.
Such was the environment that Jesus lived in back then.

I think that the lessons in this passage are so teachable for us today.
When we operate in darkness we foster an environment where really bad things can happen.
And bad things were afoot as folks hid behind physical, and spiritual, closed doors.

Even so, God has a way of exposing this kind of darkness in our lives.
Over time this kind of scheming, both personal and corporate, always backfires.
God sees it all and eventually causes our dark deeds to be exposed in his light.

Shine your light on me Lord. Examine me and purge all darkness from me.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.


‘Don’t you know? When you refused to help one of the least important among these my little ones, my true brothers and sisters, you refused to help and honor me.’ [Matthew 25:45 TPT]

The way we treat people is so important to God.
When we shut up compassion in our hearts we experience consequences.
It does beg the question of why some let compassion flow freely while others damn it up?

To answer I give you two Greek words that speak a bit to the human condition:
  • hamartanĊ :: to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), to err, especially (morally) to sin. [see Romans 3:23 for context] 
  • parabasis :: violation, breaking, transgression. [see Romans 4:15 for context]
These two words represent two aspects of a phenomenon that the bible describes as sin.

The first (hamartanĊ) is one that is somewhat representative of our human nature.
It speaks to the idea that people who have good intentions often make mistakes and err in judgment.
The second word (parabasis) speaks of people with bad intentions who seek to do harm.

And it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two.

I believe that Jesus, in this passage, speaks to those who live lives of bad intentions.
Folks who have suppressed compassion in their hearts for so long.
These no longer understand what it means to be truly human.

These are those who do not simply miss the mark.
Jesus' words condemn them as he speaks about their hard and selfish hearts.
Hearts that reject pleas for food, clothing and compassion.

To these he speaks words of rebuke.

Help me Lord to remember how you suffer with the poor, the sick and imprisoned.

... this devotion is part of the Red Letters series. Click here to read more.