the wisdom of lambs

I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves.
So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. [Matthew 10:16 CEV]

So often we think of ourselves as grownup spiritual sheep when we are really lambs.
The image of a lamb speaks to me of ones who are innocent and untainted by the world.
In reality, such are ones who have true wisdom and godly character.

I sometimes think that life experiences have given me wisdom and understanding.
In reflection such things often create a bias that is the opposite of wisdom.
More often than not, wounds and hurts cloud my thinking and cause me to be unwise.

The phrase "innocent as doves" speaks to me of a person with no personal agenda.
To embrace wisdom often requires a demand to reject our plans for the way of love.
How hard it is to humble ourselves and become innocent lambs in his flock.

So what does it mean to be "wise as snakes"? And is it contrary to divine wisdom?
This phrase seems to indicate that our approach to wisdom must be of heart and head.
I think that the heart exists to balance the head and vice versa.

The wisdom that Jesus instructs us to have engages both our heart and our head.
In the midst of wolves we need to have a lamb-like wisdom to succeed.
In the end, our lives must model and reflect the humble Lamb of God.

I need your wisdom Lord. Help me to overcome past hurts and embrace wisdom.

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

carry-on baggage

You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. [Matthew 10:9-10 MSG]

Love the imagery that The Message presents when it says 'travel light'.
What do you think of when you hear those words and how does it affect you?
For me, I think of the difference between checking my bags and carrying them on.

Traveling light means to only pack the essentials - maybe just the bare essentials.
Carrying our bags on a plane simplifies our plane travel and makes our trip happier.
It is so popular that many airlines now charge more to carry bags on than to check them.

Love the phrase 'You are the equipment' because it speaks to our sufficiency in Christ.
The primary focus of air travel is not the baggage but the passenger.
In the same way, our Father's focus is not on what we have but who we are in him.

I do not need extra baggage to be complete. I am already complete.
I do not need gifts, talents or abilities. I am already complete.
I am complete because I am in Christ and he is in me.

Our need is to travel light, packing just enough in our bag for today.
As our verse indicates, all we need to pack on this journey are the essentials.
And like carry-on baggage, our journey will be simpler when we travel light.

Father, help me to shed all of heavy baggage and learn to travel light.

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

the untouchables

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. [Matthew 10:5-8 MSG]

These are the first instructions that Jesus gives as he sends out his twelve disciples.
So interesting how these verses follow the Lord's words about farmers and shepherds.
I love the way that The Message paraphrases this passage.

The word untouchables jumped out at me when I read this passage.
It is a given that Jesus was speaking about lepers and the fear of being with them.
Yet I wonder if there is a broader sense in which the word is used?

Like lepers, there are many today who are shunned because of things in their lives.
Divorced people were once treated badly by religious folks and still are by some.
It was once considered sinful for a person of once race to marry one of a different race.

Modern day religious untouchables are folks that have found love in people of the same sex.
Like lepers, they have been shunned and ostracized in fundamentalist religious circles.
Folks who act this way seem to be ignorant of Christ's command to love those who are different.

"You have been treated generously, so live generously."
These words come alive in us when we embrace the untouchables in our lives.
And, in reality, the love of God is on full display when we love like he does.

Lord, help me to love without conditions and to care for the untouchables in my life.

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

spiritual farmers and shepherds

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” [Matthew 9:36-38 CEB]

I can hardly imagine what it must have been like to see so many being miraculously healed.
That said, it is hard to envision the desperation of the crowds coming to Jesus.
Troubled and helpless many came, and kept coming, to the Lord for help and healing.

Interesting that he did not shout to them and heal them all with a few words of healing.
Christ met people intentionally and individually as they came for help.
The personal nature of his ministry is an example to us of what compassion looks like.

The passage tells us that Jesus saw multitudes of sheep needing a shepherd.
He saw a large spiritual harvest in needed of spiritual farmers to care for the crops.
He sees all of this and his heart breaks for people in need. His response is compassion.

In this age of preachers and teachers, I love the imagery of farmers and shepherds.
The work of each seems so personal, caring and down to earth.
Shepherds actually know their sheep and farmers care individually for what they plant.

So I think it is with genuine spiritual leaders.
These have a heart for individuals and spend time with people they lead.
Their followers know that they are loved.

Please have compassion Lord. Please send out authentic spiritual shepherds and farmers to care for wounded sheep and bruised crops. Please raise up spiritual laborers.

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

unholy spirits

While they were leaving, some people brought before Jesus a man with a demon spirit who couldn’t speak. Jesus cast the demon out of him, and immediately the man began to speak plainly. The crowds marveled in astonishment, saying, “We’ve never seen miracles like this in Israel!” But the Pharisees kept saying, “The chief of demons is helping him drive out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 TPT]

Movies like The Exorcist, and ones like it, come to mind when we hear the word demon.
This passage indicates that religious leaders had a narrow theology about them.
When they mention the 'chiefs of demons', they describe a sinister invisible kingdom.

Like the Pharisees, many religious folks today have developed a complex theology of demons.
Some believe that they are fallen angels following and led by Satan, the chief of demons.
Some deny their existence and relegate their appearance in history to superstition and myth.

I think that the truth lies somewhere between the two extreme views of demons.
When I consider human history, it seems evident that evil has existed from the beginning.
People have done, and still do, evil things to each other creating much pain and suffering.

When I read passages like this one, I am reminded that Jesus came to restore humanity.
Throughout his ministry Christ rebuked demons and restored people to wellness.
Perhaps verses such as these were written to give us hope in dark times?

That said, I am reticent to expound in detail on the nature of demons.
The existence of the Holy Spirit seems to indicate that there are also unholy spirits.
It makes sense that they exist and have probably always influenced human beings.

It does explain, to a degree, why people sometimes do awful things to others.
Things like addictions seem to have more than just a physiological aspect to them.
Yet, like sickness and diseases, unholy influences are mostly not quickly dealt with.

I love that Jesus had power over all things physical and spiritual.
He healed people who were physically sick and those who were spiritually sick.
Yet today, these miracles of healing are rare even though we pray much for them.

The takeaway for me is that we must do all we can do to stay healthy.
And when we are sick, we must do all that is in our power to return to health.
In the end, we pray for health believing that Jesus has the power to heal and deliver.

Open our inner eyes Lord, that we might discern and rebuke the presence of evil.

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

spiritual not cerebral

“Do you believe that I have the power to restore sight to your eyes?” ...
“You will have what your faith expects!” [Matthew 9:28,29 TPT]

Two men have heard of Jesus' fame and with impassioned voices they chase him down.
They loudly cry out “Son of David, show us mercy and heal us!”
Can you feel into their desperation and the guarded optimism in their voices?

It is hard for me read about these blind men and not think about Ellen.
In my early twenties my first wife Ellen was blind for three years.
Those were difficult days. Our young lives had some really difficult moments.

Jesus had an interesting response to the blind men chasing him down.
He does not ask if they believe that he is the Messiah or even a prophet or teacher.
He asks them if they believe in his ability to heal their blindness - "their" blindness.

Jesus then responds saying that he would act according to "their" faith.
Do you catch the significance of how Jesus makes it so personal?
Jesus was not really challenging their head but went right to their heart.

I do not think that Jesus is laying down a health and wealth trip on them.
He was never about theological formulas and 12 step healing processes.
The focus of his ministry was spiritual and not cerebral.

The words of Christ in this passage challenges me today.
Believing that God has the power to help me is not really about my theology.
Faith is all about what we believe with our heart and not our head.

Lord I believe in you. Help me to believe that you are able to answer the prayers I pray.

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

faith that endures

Just then a woman who had been sick with a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind. She touched the bottom of His coat. She said to herself, “If I only touch the bottom of His coat, I will be healed.” Then Jesus turned around. He saw her and said, “Daughter, take hope! Your faith has healed you.” At once the woman was healed. [Matthew 9:20-22 NLV]

The bible is filled with stories of people who showed enduring faith as they followed God.
In faith, three young boys defied a Babylonian leader and were cast into a fiery furnace.
In faith, their friend Daniel later defied Babylonian law and was cast into a pit of lions.

Enduring faith seems to be the hallmarks of people like the woman in this passage.
She was a person who believed and trusted in God for a very long time.
For twelve years she prayed. And, as she suffered in sickness, she persevered in faith.

I know such a woman. My wife Ann is a person that has a faith that endures.
Since 2002 she has courageously overcome many paralyzing obstacles.
In 2007 she began conquering life and a rare disease using a wheelchair.

I think that it is so easy to gloss over the twelve years mentioned in this passage.
I think that those years forged a faith that emboldened this woman to touch Jesus.
When Jesus look at her, he saw a woman of substance that did more than just touch him.

In reality, faith does not grow by accident or happenstance.
Each day this woman, like my wife Ann, arose and chose to trust God in her pain.
So it is with everyone who puts their hope, and their trust, in the Lord Jesus.

Lord help an enduring faith grow in my heart today.

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