hyperbole and the moving of mountains

Jesus told his disciples, “Have faith in God! I tell all of you with certainty, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ if he doesn’t doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. That is why I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. [Mark 11:22-24 ISV]

The idea of moving mountains is a great example of how Jesus used hyperbole.

Images of hating parents or blinding our sinful eyes are other examples.

These exaggerated statements are never meant to be taken literally.

Yet often, religious people read verses like these and are stymied by them.

I do love that Jesus begins by telling his followers to have faith in God.

Having faith in prayers, or the moving of mountains, is not the same.

There are prayers that are not answered and mountains unmoved.

God is really not in the business of moving mountains for you.

It is why I think that this whole passage may be an example of hyperbole.

Perhaps Jesus is exaggerating to prove a divine point?

It is possible that he is teaching about the futility of selfish prayer.

Teaching an absurdity such as mountain moving may be an indictment.

Perhaps an example of how self-centered prayer can be?

Maybe an exposition of the foolishness of the so-called sin of doubting?

However one looks at it, I think that Jesus desires us to reexamine prayer.

He wants us to avoid being certain and understand that it is okay to doubt.

In that sense, the Lord invites us to come to him with our doubts.

God is interested in the condition of our hearts more than our mountains.

I think that we should be as well.

Of course, the verses preceding these deal with Jesus cursing a fig tree.

More on that another time.

Lord give us grace to bring our doubts and cares to you in prayer.

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

the myth of religious karma

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ [Luke 18:9-14:]

This religious dude seems to have embraced the idea of religious karma.

By that, I mean the idea that our lives are rewarded because we do religious stuff.

His words would be hilarious if not for the idea that this guy should know better.

I sometimes hear religious folks saying things like: 'I don't need luck. I am blessed'. 

It seems to reflect the way that these folks see their lives.

These rarely attribute their misfortunes to being cursed.

Yet the same folks will credit being blessed when things go their way.

In reality, bragging about our blessings often reflects self righteous thinking.

Consider about the saying 'There but for the grace of God, go I'.

Another quazi-self-righteous sentiment.

Life so often resembles luck and has little to do with some arbitrary grace.

Jesus saw it a bit differently when he called poor people blessed.

In the beatitudes Christ obliterates religious ideas of what it means to be blessed.

He really subverts the prevailing idea of what it means to be blessed.

In my view luck seems to be a better description of life.

Some are lucky and born into loving families while some are not.

Many lead healthy lives while others suffer from diseases.

In the end, life has nothing to do with karma.

Some people work hard and are lucky enough to see good results from it.

Some work just as hard and do not see good results at all.

In the end, life is more about luck than it is about religious karma.

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

feeling alone and forsaken

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” [Matthew 27:45-47]

Has there ever been a more surreal death in all of history?

Lean into this with me if you can. 

For hours, in the middle of the day, darkness reigned over the earth. 

The atmosphere was tenuous and people were certainly on edge. 

Then from the cross a scream penetrated the darkness. 

It was God's own son crying out with words of being forsaken. 

Oh my! Small wonder that some thought he was calling out for Elijah. 

Who would have ever thought the Messiah, the son of God, would feel forsaken and say such a thing.

This short statement so encourages me. 

Many times I have felt forsaken by God. 

When my first wife died at age 43 my soul cried out with words too painful to say out loud. 

In hospital rooms and rehab facilities I have felt so alone and forsaken. 

To know that Jesus experienced like feelings of being forsaken gives me courage to hope again. 

To know that my Lord knows what it is like to feel forsaken gives me renewed energy to pray. 

The son of God could have kept silent but broke the silence.

He understands us at the deepest of levels of our pain and despair. 

Who is like this Messiah? 

Who is like Jesus?

My God. My God. Thank you for suffering the pain of feeling forsaken.

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

the human on the cross

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. [John 19:28-29 NIV]

These words are the first that Jesus speaks to us that reminds us that he was fully human.
So far he has spoken divine words of forgiveness, assurance and care to those around him.

In saying that he was thirsty he identifies with all who are in need in the world.
I do think that there is an element of prophetic fulfillment in the passage.

Yet, I think that the message is much deeper than a mechanical fulfillment of prophecy.

In these words we see into his sufferings and get a glimpse into the normalcy of his death. 

Like so many others who have died Jesus body suffers dehydration.

He becomes thirsty as his body enters it's final stages.

These final words remind me that Jesus is the giver of living water.

And I remember his blood shed when I drink of the cup at communion. 

His words also remind us that he calls all who thirst spiritually to follow after him. 

He is the only one who can satisfy and quench the thirst of our souls. 

He is the human on the cross who suffered and died to do it.

My soul thirsts and aches after you Lord. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

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

finding comfort in each other

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. [John 19:25-27 NLT]
It is so easy to get wrapped up in all of the hoopla that is surrounding the crucifixion. 

As Jesus suffers on the cross it is easy to forget that one is watching him with a broken heart. 

 What would it have been like to have been Mary? 

 Can you even imagine watching your son being treated in such a vile fashion? 

 What a nightmarish experience this must have been for Mary. 

 She was so powerless as she watched her innocent son be nailed to the cross. 

 Words escape me as I try to come to grips with her feelings. 

 Yet another is also watching with a broken heart. 

 John, the writer of the gospel, who describes himself as "the disciple whom he loved" is there. 

 He is standing next to Jesus' mom and he too cannot believe what he is seeing. 

 His soul has also been pierced and hope now seems so far. 

 To these two hurting souls Jesus speaks sweet words calling them into a family relationship. 

 With these words Christ seems to be speaking to us about finding comfort in each other. 

 In a sense we are God's familial gifts to each other made to bear each others pain. 

 Lord, give me an open heart for your family. Help us to share our pain with each other. 

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

two men dying

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:39-43 ESV]

Two condemned men are watching Jesus. 

Both men nailed to crosses and waiting to die.

Both have joined in with the crowd in their mocking of Christ. 

Both have heard Jesus pray and offer forgiveness to those who mock. 

Absolution for those who drove the nails and for those who gamble for his robe. 

One hears him forgive and continues to mock and hurl insults at him.

Perhaps this criminal saw forgiveness as a sign of weakness? 

Yet the other criminal responds differently and rebukes the other thief. 

Two thieves. Two men dying. Two different reactions.

What follows is truly amazing. 

Nailed to a cross, a criminal cries out for the forgiveness that Jesus offered. 

The mocker has been transformed by Christ's words of forgiveness.

This condemned man now defends Jesus to the other criminal. 

And all the while Jesus is listening. 

Not only to what the man says but to the faith that comes from his heart. 

Then, in an amazing mix of boldness and desperation, the thief cries out to Jesus. 

And, oh my, Jesus' response to him is so unexpected. So amazing. So divine. 

As he is dying the Messiah of all of humankind offers hope to all who pray.

I am in awe of your forgiveness Lord. 

Help me to remember that forgiveness is but a prayer away.

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

humanity on trial

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Luke 23:32-38 ESV

The corrupt religious trial of Jesus has ended and now humanity is on trial.

While three men suffer in excruciating pain, the vilest acts in humanity come forth.
• People stand by gawking.
• Men gamble for the clothes of the suffering.
• Religious leaders sneer and laugh with devilish glee.
• Soldiers join in and pretend to offer to quench the thirst of the suffering.
These are the witnesses on the stand at humanity's trial.

The image painted here is one of utter darkness.

There does not seem to be any hope for the people watching these men die.

Then, from one of the crosses, a man speaks and light enters the darkness.

In a few words Jesus turns the ugliness into something beautiful.

Yes, the darkness is still there but something has changed.

The condemned Messiah has taken control of the atmosphere.

With one sentence he proclaims that FORGIVENESS REIGNS!!

I can hardly take the beauty of it in as Jesus renders a verdict of forgiveness.

Mockers are forgiven. Gamblers forgiven. Thieves forgiven. Murderers forgiven.

Hallelujah! In utter pain and desolation God the Son reigns from the cross.

The extent of your forgiveness amazes me Lord. Help me to always forgive.

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