religious blindness

“Elijah does come and get everything ready. I’m telling you, Elijah has already come but they didn’t know him when they saw him. They treated him like dirt, the same way they are about to treat the Son of Man.” [Matthew 17:11-12 MSG]

The three disciples have just witnessed the appearing of Elijah on the mountain.
They are walking back to the others and have questions about what they just saw.
These ask about the prophet and the scripture in Malachi that says:
“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
Jesus points to John the Baptist indicating that he spoke in a prophetic manner.
He goes further and identifies the Baptist as a modern day Elijah.
Interesting how he alludes to the way that John was rejected and killed.

This is not how everyone thought that the prophet Elijah come.
I imagine all believed that Elijah would be received and acclaimed by the Jews.
No one thought that Elijah would be rejected by religious folks and murdered by a king.

Jesus says that he will receive a similar fate at the hands of religious people.
I wonder if this is a message that God wants us to consider?
The idea that a prophet would come and be rejected is a troubling thought.

Who amongst us could ever imagine that we ourselves might reject God in the flesh?
Maybe the message is about how a narrow religious view can obscure our spiritual eyesight?
Perhaps such a view blinds us to the voice and presence of God?

I cannot get past my own dogma Lord. Open my eyes to your appearing.

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

comfort in scary times

Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

All I can say when I read such accounts as this one is WOW!
I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be up on that mountain with Jesus.
All of a sudden Moses and Elijah shows up and Jesus speaks to them as one would with old friends.

Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

Peter is crazed and amazed. He begins to babble about tents.
God then speaks from a cloud speaking directly about his Son.
With a few words he removes any doubt concerning the origin and identity of Jesus.

When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

I would be terrified too - way too spectacular for this guy.
Yet Jesus comes and does what he always does, speaking comfort and peace to his friends.
In difficult and scary times his words bring comfort to me still.

One minute Jesus is speaking with men who have been dead for centuries.
And the next he is talking with his disciples.
I cannot imagine the awe that Peter, James and John must have experienced.

Hearing the very voice of God must have been so surreal.
Small wonder that Jesus touched and spoke to them the way that he did.
Even more the reason to seek rest and comfort in him when times are scary times.

I am in awe of you Lord. Touch me and take my fears away.

... verses from Matthew 17:1-8 MSG

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

the ecstacy of self-sacrifice

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? [Matthew 16:24-26 MSG]

I love this contemporary rendering of the ancient words of Jesus.
My friend Don often speaks of the battle we experience with the false self.
In these words Christ teaches us that we find our true self as we are following him.

I find the Lord's word to be so practical and realistic.
Instead of telling us to deny or reject suffering he instructs us to embrace it.
In doing so he elevates our painful experiences and helps us see them as teachers.

In truth, I struggle so much with this idea - nobody wants to embrace suffering.
Yet I think that it echoes those beautiful words of the serenity prayer.
Lord, help me to accept the things that I cannot change.

I think pain has the ability to transform us like nothing else.
In reality, self-sacrifice is all about the embracing of pain and suffering.
Our false-self wants self-help while our true self values self-sacrifice.

Like many, I have learned with age that you can lose yourself in fleshly dreams.
Like some, I have known the ecstacy of rising to the challenge of self-sacrifice.
I think that there is no higher call than the one to lay down our life for another.

In a world filled with self-centeredness and greed, self-sacrifice is counterintuitive.
Yet in the kingdom of heaven, the King demands that we love without condition.
The end of such love is losing everything only to find our true self.

Dear Lord. Help me to embrace my pain. Teach me live sacrificially.

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

eternal focus

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” {Matthew 16:20-23 EsV]

I wonder what it was in Peter that provoked him to rebuke the Lord.
Maybe a bit of religious pride entered in when God revealed Christ's identity to him?
It sounds like something I would have done for sure.

I think that it is a problem that many new believers face.
We get a bit of revelation then feel empowered to rebuke those who are older in the faith.
Jesus would have none of it and responded strongly to Peter.

I think that the Lord reveals to us a bit about the nature of the Adversary.
He tells us that Satan hinders God's work by causing us to focus our attention on the temporal.
In focusing on the visible we lose sight of things eternal and invisible.

It is humbling to know that Jesus knew of his fate in Jerusalem and went there anyway.
In doing this he modeled for us what it is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow God.
We emulate Christ when we embrace an eternal focus over a temporal one.

Lord, help me to embrace my cross. Open my eyes to eternal things.

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

on this bedrock

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18-19 ESV]

These two verses have separated Roman Catholics and Protestants for many years.
Some see the rock to be Peter and some view the rock as something else.
I once thought the rock was, as Jesus indicated, the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah.

Yet these days I understand that rock to be Jesus himself.
He is the Head of the church and its bedrock foundation.
It is odd to think that the Lord was referring to Peter as its foundation.

Many get confused by the next verse trying to discern what binding and loosing is all about.
To me the simple explanation is that the keys to the kingdom is prayer.
When we pray we affect matters pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.

When we pray things are bound and loosed - locked and unlocked.
In truth, prayer changes the world and transform us in deep ways.
This speaks to me of the importance of prayer and of our need to be faithful to pray.

You are my rock Jesus. Help me to be faithful to pray.

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

messianic revelation

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 16:13-17 NCV]

Jesus Christ, the most controversial person who ever lived.
The issue of his identity has been debated for thousands of years.
Most people admire him and call him a great teacher.

Some, like his disciples indicate here, consider him to be a great teacher or prophet.
And some, like Peter, have received a revelation from God concerning Jesus' true identity.
In Mere Christianity CS Lewis frames this tension like this:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."
I think that their is a missing element in Lewis' trilemma.
One cannot come to the conclusion that Jesus is divine using logic.
Like Peter we need a revelation from heaven to understand who He is.

Lord, reveal yourself to me today.

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

religious influencers

“O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:8-12 ESV]

I can really relate to the disciples. So often my troubles seem so large.
So often the minutiae of forgotten bread obscures my thinking and makes me forget.
About the miracles of His provision and how He always meets my needs.

When I find myself worrying about forgotten bread I am reminded about my need to trust.
The Lord instructs me to trust Him with my heart and not lean on my own understanding.
Worry is an issue of the head but trust is a heart thing.

Jesus calls the teaching of the religious leaders leaven because of it's influence.
I sat under the teaching of a fundamentalist pastor for 16 years.
His teaching influenced me to embrace the scriptures in a literal and legalistic fashion.

His teaching fed a dark part of me and caused me to act judgmentally.
Such is why Jesus told his disciples to be on the alert when Pharisees and Sadducees taught.
It is why we must watch and beware of who we allow to influence our lives.

Lord, help me to discern when I am being influenced by false teaching.

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

divine fingerprints

The proud religious law-keepers and a religious group of people who believe no one will be raised from the dead came to Jesus. They asked Him to show something special from heaven. They wanted to trap Jesus. ... The sinful people of this day go after something special to see. There will be nothing special for them to see but the early preacher Jonah. [Matthew 16:1,4 MSG]

So often Jesus speaks with veiled speech seemingly teaching in innuendo.
It is easy for us, two millennia later, to understand what Jesus' teachings.
Jesus had already spoke about Jonah (possibly to another group of people) saying:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Yet even that had to confuse the ones who intently listened to his words.
The Pharisees heard things literally and the Sadducees rejected raising folks from the dead.
Who amongst them could have imagined Christ's resurrection or related such an event to Jonah?

Do you ever think about our preoccupation with the signs of the sky?
Many embrace astrology and look to the stars for guidance.
I sometimes seem addicted to the predictions of weather forecasters.

And all the while so many of us miss all of the signs that are evident in creation.
When I look around around I see the fingerprints of God in every beautiful tree.
In every sunrise and sunset. In the face of a newborn child. I see evidence of God.

Signs of God's presence are all around us if we choose to see such things that way.

Lord, please open my eyes to the signs of your presence all around me.

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

tenacious faith

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. [Matthew 15:28 NLT]

A Gentile woman has come to Jesus to asking for mercy that he might heal her daughter.
He rebuffs her saying: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

This account can be a troubling one if it is generalized to say something it does not mean.
If one tries to teach that salvation is exclusive to the Jews they miss the point.
I believe that the message is mean to teach us about the nature of faith.

I am so inspired when I read of a gentile woman coming to Jesus in behalf of her daughter.
It inspires me to press in and pray when answers seem so far away.
This woman would not settle for a rebuff from the Lord - she would not accept no.

This gentile woman was fearless and bold as she fought tenaciously for her daughter.
Jesus calls her faith great because of the persistence and tenacity of it.
To me she is a model of how one might intercede for one that they love so much.

God help to be bold, fearless, persistent and tenacious when I pray.

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

healing tears

Jesus called his disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, otherwise they might collapse on the way.” [Matthew 15:32 CSB]

What image do you see when the disciples report about the compassion of Christ?
Do you read words "moved by compassion" and wonder how they knew he was being moved?
Ever think about a Jesus who walked around being confronted by devastation?

How is he moved as he heals "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others"?
Do you see him weeping as people who are in such pain are laid at his feet?
Can you envision the healing tears of the son of God? Can you see the compassion of the Lord?

In Hebrews we read about a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
The eternal compassion of Jesus astounds and touches me deeply.
When I pray I picture him right there with me helping and interceding on my behalf.

As I walk through life I imagine him cheering me on to greater things.
When I hurt I know that He hurts with me feels everything that I feel.
His compassion is great and without comparison - for me and people in the world.

I am in awe of his compassion for on the crowds and on me.
And with those crowds I glorify God for the gift of His son in my life.
I do not know where I would be without the compassion of my friend Jesus.

I am unworthy of your compassion Lord. I thank you and give glory to your name.

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

the wisdom of ignoring leaders

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” [Matthew 15:12-14 NLT]

Jesus has offended the religious leaders by comparing them to vain people.
He calls them people who honor God with their lips but have hearts alienated from Him.
He further compares them to blind guides who are leading their followers astray.

The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees seems to increase as the story continues.
In these verses He indicates that these fundamentalists are not ordained by the Father.
His instructions to ignore them is a compelling one for people like me.

I wonder when I should stop conversations with people who embrace different views.
I have a hard time doing that - especially online with people who have egos like mine. ツ
Maybe I need to learn to ignore those with pharisaical attitudes alone?

That seems to be the heart of why Jesus advises us to ignore leaders like this.
For years I was manipulated by a fundamentalist leader who brought out the worst in me.
I would have been wise to ignore much of the teaching that I once embraced.

Lord help me to avoid useless religious conversations.

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

spiritual defilement

Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. [Matthew 15:10-11 ESV]”

Religious people sometimes seem to be all about the things that we do.
They focus on food we eat, drinks we imbibe, music we listen to and movies we watch.
Such were the religious leaders that confronted Jesus about eating with unwashed hands.

Their preoccupation was with the externals of the law than the heart of it.
Religious folks often focus on the externals of faith rather than the essentials of it.
And often, the judgmental and unkind things that these speak defile them.

Consider Jesus' explanation of the parable:
“Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
This verbiage is similar to what the Lord taught in the sermon on the mount.
Jesus reminds us in that message that sin is an issue of the heart.
The real issue of Christian life is not about the things we do but why we do them.

I think that the issue may be one of transformation.
A transformed heart is one that is free from the sins that Jesus speaks about.
And we are not defiled when we speak from the heart.

Lord help me to focus on the internals, rather than the externals, of life.

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

hypocritical rules

You hypocrites! How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! ‘These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach human rules as though they were my laws!’” [Matthew 15:7-9 GNT]

I can relate a bit to the way that Jesus reacts here to these religious leaders.
I sometimes bristle when I hear various doctrines and theologies presented as fact.
Often religious people elevate their own rules to the level of scripture.

When someone does not agree with these they become like the Pharisees.
These reject anything that disagrees with their entrenched dogma and tradition.
And often they respond by pitifully exerting a phony kind of authority.

Jesus identifies the issue as one of hypocrisy.
He presents a definition of hypocrisy that is a bit different.
He calls them hypocrites because their religious rules are all external.

Their focus is on the letter of their rules rather than the spirit of the law.
Their doctrines come from their heads rather than the heart of God.
They worship God in vain because their obedience is to the rules instead of the Lord.

Lord, help me to not lean on my own understanding of the scriptures.

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


And when they had climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. The others sat there, awestruck. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. [Matthew 14:32-33 TLB]

How do you react to something amazing that you cannot understand?
I have never seen anyone walk on water but I have been awestruck at times.
Really, it is crazy to think that there is an explanation for everything that happens.

I think that it is interesting to note that, before this, these guys had seen miracles.
They had seen miracles of healing, provision and deliverance.
Yet there was something different about seeing their rabbi walkin on water.

Perhaps these disciples needed this to shake them out of familiarity?
For months they saw miracles every day and they had become accustomed to them.
When they saw Jesus walking towards them, on water, they had a reset.

I have had also had resets in my life - things that have caused me to be in awe.
With each reset I joined these disciples in worshiping Messiah Jesus.
I love how God surprises us in life with events that leave us awestruck.

Lord Jesus. I once again affirm that You really are the Son of God!

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

uncomfort zones

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. [Matthew 14:30-31 MSG]

Jesus has come to the disciples' boat walking on the water.
Their initial reaction was one of great fear - who would not be afraid.
Jesus calls out to them and tries to calm them down.

Then Peter says: “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
A pretty amazing pivot from fear to faith - maybe helped out by a bit testosterone?
Sometimes I think that the Lord simply wants us to leave our comfort zones.

I believe that the story gives us a pathway out of our comfort zone:
  • Recognize where God is. Peter left the boat because Jesus was on the water.
  • Ask God if he wants you to join him where he is.
  • Trust the Lord by taking one step of faith into the unknown waters.
  • Continue to walk in faith keeping your spiritual eyes on God.
  • Know that others, like Peter, have doubted when the waves are choppy.
  • Call out to the Lord when you feel afraid.
  • God will rescue you and you learn from the experience.
Help me Lord to walk to you even when you are outside of my comfort zone.

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

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.

small seeds

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” [Matthew 13:31-32 NLT]

Again Jesus shares a parable using an example from farming.
He speaks of how a small seed becomes something bigger than anyone could have imagined.
It reminds me of something else that Jesus said:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [John 12:23-24]
The seed that was planted in the ground was Jesus himself.
And when He was resurrected from death everything changed.
No one hearing him could have imagined the impact that he would have on the world.

Who could have thought that kingdoms would be uprooted and religious thought revolutionized.
No one there saw how lives would be changed just because a seed was sown in the ground.
And, to a lesser degree, we who have had spiritual seeds implanted in us do the same.

I need resurrection today Lord. Help me to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow you.

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

human weeds

‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. [Matthew 13:28-29 GNT]

Jesus again speaks a farming parable comparing physical and spiritual plantings.
He teaches us about the mixture of wheat and weeds, real and phony believers, in the world.
Consider these definitions of a weed:
  • a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
  • any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.
No one likes weeds because they are valueless, undesirable and troublesome.
When we see one our first inclination is to pull it out.
We can do this because we can recognize it.

Not necessarily so with the weeds that Jesus speaks of.
By inference He tells us that it is not always so easy to identify the human kind of weed.
And he says that we should leave the sorting of believers and unbelievers to God.

This seems all well and good until we consider the ways that we sort out humans these days.
Many times we judge people to be weeds that are not and do not see the ones that are really weeds.
It is why Jesus says to leave such things to the God who knows the heart.

Help me Lord not to judge another person's heart.

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

the four hearts

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:
  • When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
  • As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
  • As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
  • As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” [Matthew 18:18-23 ESV]

I thought that it might be good to frame Jesus' explanation of the parable in a bulleted fashion. He explains to us that there are four different types of hearts. My thoughts about each type:
  • The Hard Heart: The seed never penetrates the soil because the path has been walked on and packed down. This speaks to me about how sometimes life experiences can harden a heart towards God and the religious experiences.
  • The Shallow Heart: The seed grows and quickly dies before emerging. I know of many that have fallen away when life gets hard. I think that if they would have looked past their pain things might have been different. Even so, I hope for healing for ones like these.
  • The Strangled Heart: The seed grows and emerges but bears no fruit. We choke out our spiritual life when our focus is on material things and worldly aspirations. Pride will always strangle our heart because it favors the brain over it.
  • The Persevering Heart: Fruit doesn’t come immediately but with time. Reminds me that Jesus tells us that following him involves denying our self and picking up our cross. Humility will cause us to persevere and trust God. Spiritual fruit will come as we wait.
When I think about a farm I think about the importance of plowing before we sow and weeding and watering after seed is planted. So it is with our hearts. We must allow God's Spirit to plow us, weed us and water us if we are to see the fruit of the spirit grow in our lives.

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

spiritual eyes and ears

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. [Matthew 13:16-17 ESV]

This verse was one of my late wife Ellen's favorites.
In her early twenties she was blind for three years.
I can still remember that day when she got the news about her eyes.

I can still feel the devastation as we held each and cried uncontrollably.
Those years were so difficult - we were both blind in so many ways.
The joy that Ellen experienced as she got her sight, and her life, back was indescribable.

God healed her and our lives forever changed - I was never the same.
When I was born again it was like my eyes began to see for the very first time.
My life changed as I began to see and hear life through God's eyes.

It was like I had been blind to an inner reality for so many years.
My spiritual eyes were opened to mercy as I experienced God's forgiveness.
Sounds of joy rang in my spiritual ears as I discovered His grace.

My spiritual eyes and my ears are still blessed in so many ways.
Each day I wake to the voice of the Lord in my heart assuring me that I am not alone.
The Lord continues to reveal himself to me opening my senses to see the world differently.

Lord, please tune my inner senses helping me to see and hear like you.

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

hidden messages

Then his disciples approached Jesus and asked, “Why do you always speak to people in these hard-to-understand parables?” ... I teach the people using parables, because they think they’re looking for truth, yet because their hearts are unteachable, they never discover it. Although they will listen to me, they never fully perceive the message I speak. [Matthew 13:10,13-14 TPT]

Have you ever heard a joke and just didn't get it even when it was explained to you?
This was the state of the religious leaders who followed Jesus around trying to trip him up.
These stories were often about how leaders like the scribes and Pharisees rejected God.

These religious folks had a blinding lust for power and a predisposition to jealousy.
They simply did not get the messages contain in the parables.
Here is a part of the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes about them:
"this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed"
Thankfully, Jesus speaks something very different about those who follow him.
Unlike the religious folks, these have hearts that are not dull, ears to hear and eyes to see.
He says that people who follow him will have more and those who oppose him have less.

I can relate to having spiritual ears that did not hear and spiritual eyes that refused to see.
It took me a long time to repent of Pharisaical pride and arrogance.
It all began when I fully accepted the gospel that Jesus preached.

I began seeing the scriptures, and human beings, through the eyes of Christ.
I began to reject the theologies that captivated my mind in my youth.
I began to embrace the divine messages that seemed to be hidden in years past.

I believe in you Lord. Help me to reject the things that dull my heart, my eyes and ears.

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

spiritual seeds

A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. [Matthew 13:3-8 MSG

I love hearing a good story that is communicated orally, in writing or on video.
Stories have a way of drawing us in and teaching us in ways that nothing else can.
Jesus understood this and often taught in stories that are called parables.

He begins this passage in Matthew telling the first of six parables.
The story is so universal because everyone understands the idea of planting seeds.
Following are a few points that I think we can glean from this parable.

The sower cast seed on places he knew that the seed would not grow.
When I think about that I consider how needlessly careful I am when I speak about God.
Perhaps it is better to speak truth in love and let the seed fall where it may.

The sower had no control over the condition of the soil.
The sower is not responsible to weed, water or plow - his role is to cast seed.
I think that it is good when we know what our role is and what it is not.

The sower did not know what results his sowing would produce.
We really do not know what results our words and actions will have.
All we can know are the motives and attitudes that we speak and live.

We have no control over how a person will hear what we say.
Our responsibility is limited as we do not know how our words will be received.
We in turn need to trust the Lord as we cast our spiritual seeds in the world.

Lord, help me to have the confidence to cast your seed in the world.

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

spiritual family

“Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother! [Matthew 12:24 NLT]

One of the first songs I remember singing as a new believer had a refrain that went:
"I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God"
I loved, and still love, the idea of having a spiritual family.
Yet, with time, I understood that spiritual family did not always translate to church family.

When someone left for another church the idea of family sadly took on the persona of a divorce.
Yet I rejoice knowing that some who I churched with 30 years ago are still my friends.
In reflection, I understand that the connection Jesus speaks of is spiritual not religious.

I think that there is a universal familial phenomenon of people who are marked by love.
In reality, we who love often have more in common with people outside of our faith traditions.
Our spiritual family seems to be far greater than the people we see on Sunday morning.

I love how Jesus calls us family members, identifying us as something more than servants.
When he compares us to his actual family members he is speaking to spiritual relationships.
So amazing that this eternal familyhood will outlast all temporal family relationships.

Lord, thank you that I have the privilege of calling you Father.

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

worse than the first

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” [Matthew 12:46-50 ESV]

There is a tendency by some to read these verses literally.
Some use these to try to explain the interactions of demons with human beings.
I once approached them that way.

When we focus on that aspect we really miss the greater message of it.
We miss that Jesus is speaking of a generation of unbelieving people.
A generation that embraces some sort of faith for a season and then falls away.

It reminds me of these chilling verses in Hebrews:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
I am really not a fire and brimstone kind of guy.
In my life I have found that love, and not fear, brings me closer to God.
Yet these verses and others like them must be included in a complete theology.

They speak to me of temporal and eternal consequences.
When a person continually rejects the Holy Spirit they harden their heart towards Him.
These continual actions cause the last state of that person to be worse than the first.

Lord, I lift to you those with hard hearts. Help them to simply say yes to you.

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

seeking proof

Jesus said, “You’re looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you’re going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. [Matthew 12:39 MSG]

I love how Jesus responds to the religious leaders request for a sign.
A common thread throughout history is the way that people chase after God for signs.
Many still require proof that God hears their prayers and the cries of their hearts.

Sometimes it is about farmers needing rain for crops or hurting people simply wanting relief.
Don't get me wrong, I have many needs and want to see miraculous signs.
But I have learned that seeking signs and seeking God are polar opposites.

I remember that night in April 1976 when I first prayed.
My heart broke as I saw my young wife go forward for healing prayer.
I closed my eyes and told God that I would give my life to him if he healed her.

As soon as I prayed that prayer I knew that it was wrong ...
Prayers with strings attached are not offered in faith ...
So I responded by giving my life to Him with not strings attached.

Interesting how the religious leaders in this passage now want a sign.
A few verses ago they quarreled with Jesus when he gave them signs on the Sabbath.
Their request for a sign comes across as a bit preposterous.

Yet to them, and to us, Jesus speaks of the sign given to all peoples of all times.
The Jonah-evidence is an allusion to the resurrection of Christ.
In truth no other sign is needed. No other proof need be offered.

Help me Lord to be one who seeks you for who you are and not what you do.

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

evil hearts

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Matthew 12:24 ESV]

The Pharisees have accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.
Jesus responds the way that John the Baptist did and calls them a brood of vipers.
He says that their words are representative of people who have evil hearts.

Many people bristle at the idea that some have evil hearts.
These think that all people are basically good.
It reminds me of our need for spiritual rebirth and inner transformation.

Here is the promise from the prophet Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
The truth is that we all need a new heart that is neither evil or desperately wicked.
The promise is that God will give us that new heart when we respond to him.
And our mouths will speak good things from that new heart.

Thank you Lord for your transforming power. Thank you for my new heart.

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

spiritual slander

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [Matthew 12:30-31 ESV]

Jesus has responded to accusations by the Pharisees that concern the source of his power.
He then says something very chilling about the words that they uttered.
He says that there is a sin that will not be forgiven.

Blasphémia (βλασφημία) is a Greek word that can be rendered as 'slander'.
It signifies a switching of right for wrong and wrong for right.
The Pharisees were certainly guilty of this in the gospels.

Much has been written about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The context here indicates that this sins involves being against the Messiah.
This is basically the sin of continually rejecting the convicting the Holy Spirit.

Given that, it is understandable why this sin cannot be forgiven.
For if one confuses right with wrong, they will continue to slander what is right.
The progressive entrenchment of such behavior will make it impossible for repentance.

This is where some are at today when the Holy Spirit begins to convict them.
Like the Pharisees they will, at every turn, reject God's influence in their life.
In doing so they present themselves as people who are against Jesus the Messiah.

Breakdown the hardness of hearts today Lord. That each might respond to your Spirit.

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

religious divisions

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste,
and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [Matthew 12:25 ESV]

Once again Jesus is confronted by pejorative religious unbelief.
A man is miraculously healed by him and the means of the man's healing is questioned.
Sadly everyone was amazed by this miracle except the religious leaders.

How could the hearts of these leaders be so hard and lacking compassion?
It seems that jealousy has taken hold of them and blinded them.
In this state of jealousy they begin to rationalize that Jesus is in league with Satan.

Jesus mocks their logic and says that only one stronger than Satan could cast him out.
He then confronts their opposition saying that they should be with him and not he with them.
This is where I fear many are at today in their faith.

Many today do not understand how God may be working in the world today.
As such, they find themselves mocking things that they do not understand.
In the end they choose to divide instead of finding common ground.

So heartbreaking the way that believers in God argue with each other.
These see people, who think differently, as their enemies.
In reality, these will never cast out demons or heal the sick.

Religious divisions embrace an unhealthy inward focus that ignores hurting people.
Instead of uniting Christ's body to do the work of the kingdom, they separate it.
In contrast, healing can come when we see past our differences and find common ground.

Come Holy Spirit. We need you. Unite us in the love of Christ.

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

callous indifference

When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him. [Matthew 12:10 MSG]

Can you imagine coming to an emergency room and finding it closed because it is Sunday?
That would make no more sense than the hypocritical legalism of these religious folks.
What kind of a person would deny a cure to a hurting person in the name of religion?

Jesus then compares the man to one of the their sheep who fell into a ditch on the Sabbath.
He knows, and they know too, that these would certainly lift their sheep from the ditch.
His teaching exposes a callous indifference to the suffering of this hurting man.

The scene transitions to the miraculous as Jesus brings heaven to earth.
The words “stretch out your hand” are so understated.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been that man?

Jesus didn't touch him but merely spoke a few words to him.
His withered hand becomes like his healthy one as he stretches it in faith.
This passage, and others like it, are some of the most chilling ones in the gospels.

In reading these verses we are reminded that God is not limited by religious rules.
He will meet us in times when everyone has given up on us.
Such is the very nature and character of the one who call us to “stretch out your hand”.

I am in awe of your compassion and power Lord Jesus. You are God the Son!

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

the Lord of the Law

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. [Matthew 12:6-8 ESV

The context of this passage is a condemnation by the Pharisees.
They accused the disciples of "doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath".
Jesus' rebuke to these religious leaders points to a truth that transcends written law.

In these few sentences Jesus seems to redefine the whole concept of Sabbath.
When he says that He is the lord of the Sabbath he points us to something greater than a day.
In essence he asks: "Why follow the Law when you can follow the Lord of the Law?"

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that Jesus knew that he was God Incarnate?
When he speaks of being lord of the Sabbath he attests to that.
He shocked them all when he said that he was greater than the temple of God's presence.

Jesus implies that he is greater than King David and priests who minister in the temple.
In saying these things he acknowledges the kingly and priestly nature of the Messiah.
Jesus absolutely knew who he was and left no doubt about that.

So when he says ‘I desire mercy’ he is speaking the the nature of divine law.
He is communicating to them, and to us, about the timeless will of God.
And he is offering us a challenge to act differently.

Jesus, I confess you as Lord. Help me to show mercy today and every day.

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

the root of peace

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [Matthew 11:28-30 ESV]

There is no verse that speaks so well to the heart of Christ as this one.
Jesus speaks to that deep part of us that is weary and in need of encouragement.
When I think of the rest that I need I go directly to how I need peace in my life.

Life can be so stressful and peace can be so hard to find.
Yet Jesus' invitation is so clear. And so compelling.
His words are a call to a different sort of life.

When Jesus speaks of himself he gives us a peek into what peace looks like.
He identifies as being gentle and lowly in heart.
In saying this he calls humility to come forth in our lives.

The truth is that we will never have peace if we are not humble.
Pride will always bring stress to our lives because it demands that we control.
Peace will accompany an attitude of humility because it calls us to release control.

The image of a yoke speaks deeply to me about how Jesus wants to walk beside us.
I love this image of a leadership that walks with us and not before or behind us.
This to me is the difference between humble and arrogant leadership.

In John's gospel Jesus says that he will send the Holy Spirit when he leaves the earth.
He uses the Greek word paraklētos to describe the Spirit.
The word is descriptive of one who is called alongside of us to help.

Jesus' invitation is not for us to simply come, but to come and walk with him.
His assurance is that he will bear our burden and the load we carry will lighten.
His pledge is that we will find peaceful rest when we come to him.

Lord, I come.

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

spiritual children

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father. You are Lord of heaven and earth. You have hidden these things from wise and educated people. But you have shown them to little children. [Matthew 11:25 NIRV]

There is a spiritual knowledge that can only be received by spiritual children.
These have not learned to rely on their heads for direction and leadership.
In contrast, I can relate to leading a religious life where my head trumped my heart.

This verse in Proverbs 3 changed that aspect of my life when I began to fully embrace it:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
The religious side of me bristles at the idea that following God is not about following rules.
I love rules and principles because I can blindly use them to follow God.
Of course that is exactly the way that the Pharisees lived their lives.

In reality, following God, and understanding spiritual truth, is not about religious rules.
When I think about children I first consider how much these little ones love.
The way that innocent children accept what their parents say as truth is beautiful.

Children are believing because they have not been taught to be unbelieving.
They have not learned to rely on their own understanding.
They know what it is to trust with ALL of their heart.

Lord, I give you all of my adult religious filters. Give me the heart of a child.

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

positive repentance

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had taken place, because they didn’t repent. [Matthew 11:20 ISV

Repentance is a word that is sometimes associated with a negative style of preaching.
I think that is unfortunate and a gross misunderstanding of the word.
I find repentance to be one of the most positive and life-giving words in the dictionary.

In essence, repentance is a turning from disbelief to belief.
It is not so much what you turn from but Who you turn to.
Spiritual life is about turning our hearts towards Jesus and trusting in him.

Jesus' indictment of people who will not repent is one of the most serious in scripture.
He says that people would be judged not for what they did not see but for what they did.
And so it is for we who have, in some way, tasted of the goodness of God.

The Apostle Paul's teaching was that the goodness of God leads people to repentance.
He seemed to understand that repenting was not about fear but about faith.
In reality, fearing God or hell or punishment does not create lasting change in us.

Yet embracing the goodness and love of God has the potential to change us forever.
This is why repentance is such a positive part of the spiritual life.
When we repent we, like the prodigal, find God running to embrace us.

Your goodness leads me to repentance Lord. Help me to see your goodness today.

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

religious bullies

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. [Matthew 11:12 CSB]

The message of repentance that John the Baptist preached was very different.
The religious leaders of his day were intimidated by John and his teaching.
They use all manner of fleshly force to keep control of their religious positions.

They were religious bullies who exalted their rules and intimidated the masses.
When the masses flocked to baptismal waters these leaders sensed their control slipping.
And violence began to grow in their hearts.

As Jesus confronted these bullies we saw violence take root in their hearts.
Their obsession for fleshly religious power blinded them to what was really going on.
They did not see those in need of forgiveness, healing and deliverance.

These power hungry men stopped at nothing to maintain their fleshly power and control.
In their quest for power they began to plot the death of Jesus.
Looking back we can see the fruit of their violent and manipulative actions.

The Pharisees are a compelling reminder to us of the dark side of religion.
When bullies are in leadership the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.
In contrast, humble servants usher in the peace and love of God in this world.

He us Lord to place ourselves in the company of servants.

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

when less is more

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [Matthew 11:11 ESV]

As the disciples of John the Baptist leave Jesus remembers and honors John.
He calls him more than a prophet and he identifies John a the forerunner of the Messiah.
In doing this Jesus identifies himself as that very Messiah.

When I think of John I remember that he said of Christ:
"I must decrease and he must increase"
John was a humble prophet and as such he prophetically pointed to Jesus.
He deflected attention away from himself and onto the Messiah.

Jesus then says something crazy.
He says that one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than a great prophet.
To me this speaks to the miracle of the new birth.

Spiritually born people have new hearts with God's laws emblazoned on them.
It reminds me that each reborn person is more than a prophet who proclaims God's message.
It speaks to me about how such people are God's living message.

John was the last prophet of the old covenant.
We who are born again are embodied by the Spirit of the new covenant.
Our lives are greater as they testify to the reality of heaven's kingdom.

Thank you Father that, by your grace, I have your laws written on my heart.

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

the offence of unanswered prayers

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Matthew 11:2-6 ESV]

John the Baptist is in a jail cell and he wonders.
Is Jesus really the one promised who will set the captives free.
He wants Jesus to set him free from prison.

This passage breaks my heart.
I can hear the sadness in John's voice as he speaks through his friends.
John has been expecting Jesus to rescue him and Jesus has not come.

His question to Jesus is a desperate cry for help.
Yet the Lord does not give any indication that he will free John.
His cry for help reminds me of how many of us pray and are disappointed.

Unanswered prayers are so difficult because of the pain we experience.
Sometimes that pain can be transformed into offence at the Lord.
We can be offended that He does not come to our rescue.

To John, and to us, Jesus offers advice when our prayers are unanswered.
He says that there is a blessing to be had when we are not offended.
In a sense, faith is all about our reactions to unanswered prayers.

We are blessed when we trust the Father when answers do not come.
We mature spiritually when we release our pain and offences to Jesus.
And we find healing when we allow the Holy Spirit to embrace us.

Life can be hard Lord. Help me to keep my heart free of offence.

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

divine apprenticeship

Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing. [Matthew 10:41-42 MSG]

I love the way that The Message uses the word apprentice instead of disciple.
Reminds me of the on-the-job training that so many receive in professional life.
In truth, God has called us into a divine apprentice experience.

Consider this explanation of the concept:
An apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study.
Have you ever considered that each generation trains a new one in the faith?
In his words here Jesus seems to indicate that this style of apprenticeship encompasses everything.
The smallest acts of love and kindness are not missed but acknowledged in the heavenly realms.

This is the divine apprenticeship that we are called to both share and receive.
And sometimes receiving help can be harder than giving it because it can be so humbling.
Perhaps the very nature of apprenticeship is to create an atmosphere of humility?

Being an apprentice is all about being able to humbly receive help and instruction.
Jesus told us that this kind of discipleship requires self denial and cross bearing.
In essence, this is the only way that the Kingdom of God grows on the earth.

Help me Lord to both receive and share your love as I walk with you in life.

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

agents of grace

Anyone who receives you receives me,
and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. [Matthew 10:40 NLT]

I wonder what Jesus saw on his disciples faces as he spoke to them?
How did they respond to his words about being persecuted and rejected?
What did they think about this mission that he was sending them on?

Perhaps he was, in this verse, assuring them that they were being sent out as ambassadors?
And that their kingdom mission was not only prophetic but helpful for those they touched.
Good words to think of when we remember that we are ambassadors of divine grace.

The Greek word for grace is χάρις or charis and for grace-gift it is xárisma or charisma.
In the scriptures grace is often portrayed as God working through his children.
I think that this is the normal way that the Lord dispenses grace into the world.

For sure there is an all encompassing grace that is directly bestowed in salvation.
Yet even in salvation, one normally hears of grace through a person's grace-gift.
Paul writes to the Romans of salvation coming through the grace-gift of preaching.

When I consider the word grace, I am more and more convinced of it's practicality.
When grace is needed, it normally comes through God working through a person.
It makes sense when one considers that spiritual gifts are given to be used to help others.

Consider the grace-gifts that Paul writes of in the twelfth chapter of Romans.
When I hear of the gift of healing I think of one person being used to heal another.
He writes of how a grace-gift can bring about the miraculous intervention of God.

Grace is something that we receive so that we can give it away.
The world, people, need the manifestation of grace and grace-gifts.
Our mission should be to be agents of divine grace to a lost and hurting world.

Thank you for grace Lord. Help me to be used as an instrument of your grace today.

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

phony godliness

Whoever knows Me here on earth, I will know him in heaven. And whoever proclaims faith in Me here on earth, I will proclaim faith in him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me here, I will disown before My Father in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33 VOICE]

It is often said that Christianity is more about a relationship than a belief system.
This verse seems to testify to that aspect of the faith.
Those who know God witness, by their words and actions, to a relationship with him.

In contrast, religious folks who do not know God seem to live differently.
The Pharisees, religious leaders of Jesus' day, are good examples of such people.
In a letter to Timothy Paul describes such people as having a form of godliness.

The apostle goes on to tell Timothy that such people deny the power of true godliness.
In essence, true godliness is best revealed by people who manifest the Spirit's fruit.
These folks reflect the love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, goodness and peace of God.

Jesus is the yardstick and plumb line by which all godliness is measured.
Our godliness should reflect the power of God that we see in his life and teachings.
If it does not, then we are living a phony and impotent form of godliness.

I repent of my phony godliness Lord. Open the eyes of my heart to real godliness.

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

the life of sparrows

Not one sparrow (What do they cost? Two for a penny?) can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t worry! You are more valuable to him than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:29-31 TLB]

I love the way that this passage speaks about the enormity and the smallness of God.
Nothing happens, not even the death of a bird, that he does not know about.
Despite this amazing ability to know all things, God actually knows us individually.

There is a holy and eternal aspect to ones who have been born from above.
A stark contrast to the temporal and finite existence of sparrows.
Birds, like the unregenerate person, have nothing in them that survives death.

Yet many embrace the idea that all humans have been born immortal.
These think that everyone survives death - some heading to heaven and some to hell.
They have embraced ideas that have their origins in Egyptian and Greek thought.

That said, I am not really wanting to debate immortality or life after death.
What jumps out at me is how Jesus is addressing the fear and worry of his disciples.
He tells them not to worry because he knows the future and he knows his Father.

That last part gives me much comfort because I also know the Father.
Not to say that I never worry - I sometimes do when bad things happen.
Yet I am able to lean into God and trust him because I know him and his nature.

Help us Lord to let go of control and trust you instead of worrying.

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

going public

Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. [Matthew 10:26 MSG]

Going public can be an extremely difficult thing to do.
For years, fears of scorn, ridicule and judgment kept gay Christians in the closet.
And for a very long time, the Roman Catholic denomination has covered up child abuse.

Being transparent about life, failures, mistakes and sins can be a very risky business.
For sure, there will be some who will judge you if you reveal yourself to them.
Many will try to fix you. Some will reject you. Few will embrace everything that is you.

Yet there is a freedom to be experienced when we blow the whistle on our secrets.
Keeping lies and secrets can weigh heavily on our hearts and our minds.
Having people in our lives that love us helps us to be transparent.

In reality, people cannot help share your pain if you stay closed in.
Many friends see our pain and want to simply share it with you.
I think that these loved ones are agents of God's grace to us.

So take a step towards transparency and find a friend that you can be real with.
Take a baby step. Share something small with them. Their reaction will guide you.
If your transparency elicits transparency then you have found a true friend.

Lead me Lord in ways that help me to transparent and real with my friends.

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

a response to malignment

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. [Matthew 10:24-25 ESV]

These are sobering statements when you consider the way that Jesus was maligned.
He was persecuted and murdered by people who did not receive him or his ministry.
When I think about being like Jesus I think about this passage from Isaiah 53:
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
These words speak beautifully to the idea that being like Jesus is definitely not about externals.
Faith is all about having an inner strength and perspective that endures the bad treatment of others.
We are not above our teacher and as such:
  • we must forgive and not despair when we are mistreated;
  • we must not lose hope when we grieve the loss of ones dear to us;
  • we must cling to the goodness that is Christ when evil is all around us.
As we serve the Lord, it is incumbent on us to understand this aspect of discipleship.
Our attitude should embrace the idea that some will malign our motives and intentions.
Even so, our lives must be like the One who forgave those who murdered him on a cross.

Lord help me to be like you. Encourage me when I am rejected and suffer. I need you.

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

spiritual survival

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived. [Matthew 10:21-23 MSG]

Love how The Message uses the word survivor as it paraphrases passage.
Other translations use words like endure or persevere to communicate Christ's message.
These words seem to beautifully describe what it means to be a Jesus follower.

US Senator John McCain died yesterday leaving us with a clear vision of survival.
For five and a half years he was brutally tortured in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.
John had every reason to be cynical and angry towards the country that sent him to war.

Yet John came out of that POW camp better and spiritually healthier than he went in.
Instead of giving in to dark emotions he chose the path of optimism and hope.
His service then, and in the years following, revealed the true heart of a survivor.

John led the way in making peace with his one time captors when he returned to Vietnam.
Refusing to succumb to feelings of bitterness and thoughts of revenge he created hope.
I think that John showed us in his life what it really mean to be a spiritual survivor.

So I think that we should read this passage remembering what it means to endure.
If we endure horrific events and carry with us anger or bitterness, we have not survived.
Yet if we find faith, hope, forgiveness and compassion - then we have embraced survival.

Lord. We put aside everything that weighs us down. We press on with hope.

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

spiritual words

The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words. [Matthew 10:20 MSG]

Jesus is giving instructions to his disciples about their mission trips to neighboring areas.
He has told them that they will be questioned and maybe even brought before authorities.
In this context it is easy to see why the Lord needed to assure them about how to respond.

In truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us is more difficult than it seems.
We all want the process to be easier and the words to flow naturally from us.
Hear what Jesus says about this phenomenon from the seventh chapter of John.
He who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Me], as the Scripture has said, ‘From his innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water.’
Faith changes everything - the way that we act and the way that we speak.
When we trust in the Lord, we are patient and exercise faith in hard times.
In essence, God will supply the words if we will patiently listen for his voice.

Patience can be the hardest quality to nurture but perhaps the most valuable one.
Yet long-suffering, a synonym for the word, requires letting go of control.
I have found that it is so easy to 'say what is on my mind' rather than to be patient.

There is a pure wisdom in waiting to speak as we wait on words to come from our heart
Yet often our words more resemble folly because they come from our heads.
In contrast words flowing from our innermost being are transformative and life giving.

Teach me to wait Lord. Help me to speak words of life and encouragement.

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

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.