the fourth watch

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14:22-27 ESV]

Ever wonder why Jesus sent his friends off and chose to be alone?
I think he needed to process his deep feelings of grief over the death of John the Baptist.
I wonder what his prayers looked like up on that mountain.

When my first wife died my prayers became a spiritual lifeline.
Mostly I prayed for strength for me and my kids.
I imagine that Jesus prayed similar prayers.

Somewhere between 3am and 6am Jesus comes to his disciples walking on water.
These had been struggling against the waves and the wind for some time.
Interesting that he could have come earlier but chose to let the disciples struggle.

Perhaps that is a sermon in miniature about the way that God works.
Maybe we have to exhaust all of our options before God shows up?
I wonder if Jesus would have prayed all night long if his friends did not need him.

The reactions of his friends are pretty predictable.
I too would have cried out in fear at the sight of someone walking towards me on the water.
Perhaps God is often unrecognizable in the way that he comes when we need him?

I love Jesus' compassionate reaction to their fear.
He doesn't chastise them for a lack of faith like he did on another occasion.
He simply comforts them telling them to take heart and not be afraid.

Help me to persevere in faith Lord knowing that the fourth watch is coming.

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

compassion, miracles and grief

On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone. ... When Jesus landed he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd. Matthew 14:13-14 TPT

Jesus has just heard the news about the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist.
He responds to this devastating news by withdrawing to a quiet place.
I cannot imagine the sadness that the news must have brought to him.

People handle grief differently.
Some want to be alone and some want to be surrounded by friends.
Jesus wanted to be alone but his fame would not allow an extended time of grieving alone.

This is the context of his compassion.
From the depths of his grief Jesus heals hurting people and then he does an amazing miracle.
Still reeling from sad news, he takes five barley loaves and two fish and feeds over 5,000.

Interesting how Jesus works the miracle of the fishes and the loaves.
For everyone to eat a few people had to give Jesus all of their food.
The disciples wanted to send the crowds away - they only had enough food for themselves.

Yet Jesus wanted them to let go of the safety of their food.
Perhaps miracles and compassion can be released in the midst of grief only when we let go?
Maybe God wants us to leave our comfort zones by giving him all of our fishes and loaves

Lord, help me to let go of my fishes and loaves.

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

spiritual familiarity

So the people were very unhappy because of what he was doing. But Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their own family.” And because the people did not have any faith, Jesus did not work many miracles there. [Matt 13:57-58 CEV]

Familiarity is something that many of us deal with.
The word itself seems to have it's root in the word "family".
Consider this saying:"Familiarity breeds contempt".

It is sometimes difficult for some to honor a person they have known all of their lives.
Consider Jacob's son Joseph who was sold into slavery by his older brothers.
These listened to him speak of his dreams of leading them and contempt grew in them.

On the flip-side it is often so difficult for children raised in the religious families.
Sometimes these develop a contempt for their religious environment, leaders and family.
Especially when they see (or even smell out) a bit of hypocrisy.

The sad thing about familiarity, in adults or children, is how it cuts us off from faith.
Familiarity with people and organizations can sometimes obscure the image of God.
Sometimes it can skew our impressions of Him and his ways.

Many times if takes an unfamiliar face to bring faith to the surface.
Such was the journey of Jesus when he travelled outside of his own hometown.
These believed in Jesus the man because they were not familiar with him as a boy.

Lord, help me to be an unfamiliar face for someone today.

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

spiritual understanding

“Do you understand all these things? “Yes,” they said, “we do.” Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” [Matthew 13:51-52 NLT

As he shared with his disciples Jesus would often say to them "He who has ears, let him hear."
He now turns to them and asks them if they actually heard and understood when he was saying.
And like many of us would have done they all answered in the affirmative.

I am sure they might have understood his words with their heads.
But, like us, I doubt that they had a real understanding of them in their hearts.
With our heads we understand literally but it takes our hearts to really understand.

Jesus uses the word scribe to describe those who understand his teachings.
Here are a few words describing the vocation of scribes:
Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition, active from the 5th century b.c. to the 1st century a.d., who transcribed, edited, and interpreted the scriptures.
Jesus says that we, like the scribes, are entrusted to understand and interpret the scriptures.
He sees us developing a mastery that brings treasure from the old testament through his teaching.
This I believe is how we can bring real insight to the words of Moses and the Prophets.

It is only by understanding God's true character that we can clearly see the ancient writings.
Believing that Jesus accurately represented God changes the way that we read the Old Testament.
When we read about Abraham, Isaac and Israel we can do so with new inner eyes.

We can read these scriptures with an understanding that they inform us about ourselves.
Our eyes are opened to God's love, mercy and grace giving us new tools to provide interpretation.
In time Zeus-like wrathful deity disappears as we embrace the One who is called Love.

Help me to hear your voice afresh Lord that I might embrace the scriptures afresh.

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

the last curtain call

God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. [Matthew 13:47-49 MSG]

The imagery of a net being cast into water taps into something familiar to Jesus' listeners.
Like the farmers listening to parables about seeds fishermen were drawn into this story.
I love the way that Christ knows his audience and how to communicate to them.

These fishermen daily cast their nets and sorted out the fish that were edible.
Ones that did not have fins and scales were not to be eaten but thrown away.
The message here is that people will eventually be sorted out by God.

At the end of our lives we will be like those fish Jesus speaks of.
Those who have been born from above will continue to live spiritual lives.
Anyone not already spiritually alive will simply cease to exist.

Lead me Lord. Not into temptation but deliver me from evil.

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

the hidden reign of the heavens

`Again, the reign of the heavens is like to treasure hid in the field, which a man having found did hide, and from his joy goeth, and all, as much as he hath, he selleth, and buyeth that field.
`Again, the reign of the heavens is like to a man, a merchant, seeking goodly pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, having gone away, hath sold all, as much as he had, and bought it.

I love the way that Young's Literal Translation interprets these verses.
The 'reign of the heavens' is such a beautiful way to visualize the kingdom of heaven.
It reminds me that heaven is a spiritual dimension that is unseen and hidden from us.

In the beginning it seemed that God, and his kingdom, was anything but hidden.
Yet, since Adam left the garden, God has seemed to be increasingly invisible to us.
When I was a young man God seemed hidden to me - I did not even think about him.

Then a moment came in my life when I bowed my heart to Jesus.
At that moment things which seemed invisible were now visible to me.
In a sense, things that seemed hidden were found and I became aware of them.

Can you imagine going through life never knowing that you were loved by a distant relative?
What would it be like to discover one day that they had died and left you a great inheritance?
And how would you react when you found letters to you that blessed and nourished your life?

What effect would these discoveries have on your life?
Would you not be thankful for them and treasure them for the rest of your days?
Maybe this discovery would change the way that you viewed your family and your life?

When Jesus speaks about these findings he mentions a joy that caused the men to act.
I wonder if joy such as this is evidence of the presence of a spiritual awakening?
Perhaps joy is a hallmark and manifestation of the hidden reign of the heavens?

Open my heart Father to the treasure that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

spiritual expansion

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” [Matthew 13:33 NLT

I can imagine bakers listening to this parable as Jesus spoke about making bread.
These had an experiential understanding of the effect that yeast has on dough.
In these words Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as an agent of expansion and growth.

Here is a definition that I think describes the purpose of leaven:
"An element, influence, or agent that works subtly to lighten, enliven, or modify a whole."
When I consider the words lighten and enliven I think about something that is growing.
I once heard, and it seems to be true, that healthy organisms grow.
When the kingdom of heaven comes we often experience subtle growth and change.

When we pray "Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven" we are asking:
  • for spiritual life to invade our world and modify it;
  • to become heavenly kingdom agents of spiritual expansion;
  • God to take a seed of faith and produce spiritual fruit.
These words remind me that a life that is spiritual is not a stagnant life.
Such life begins in an instant and expands within us for the rest of our days.
And in the end, every part of our lives is permeated by the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let your kingdom come and expand in me today Lord.

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