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.

spiritual farmers and shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unholy spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spiritual not cerebral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

faith that endures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord help an enduring faith grow in my heart today.

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

the miracle maker

“My daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her, and she will live.” ... Then Jesus went into the official's house. When he saw the musicians for the funeral and the people all stirred up, he said, “Get out, everybody! The little girl is not dead—she is only sleeping!” Then they all started making fun of him. But as soon as the people had been put out, Jesus went into the girl's room and took hold of her hand, and she got up. [Matthew 9:18,23-25 GNT]

Desperation has taken hold of a Jewish official causing him to come to Jesus.
He kneels in front of Jesus begging him to restore life to his young daughter.
It is hard to read, his cry for help and not be moved deeply by his sorrow.

While the man is kneeling, a funeral service is beginning at the man's home.
People are grieving, expressing their sorrow and comforting each other.
This seem to be a very normal reaction to such a great loss.

I can relate to both of these reactions to the death of a loved one.
My young children and I stood by and watched Ellen die right in front of us.
I stood alone in that room after she passed and asked God to bring her back to life.

Ellen died, we gathered with friends and celebrated her life and legacy.
Folks might have reacted badly if I brought in a man saying she was just asleep.
Wonder what would it be like if someone chased away grieving people today?

In reality, I think that we can all relate to the official and his grieving friends.
We pray. We kneel. We plead. We do all we can do to help and heal the ones we love.
We want miracles. We want answers. Often these things do not come.

Because of the rarity of miracles, it is so hard to believe in them.
So often we become fixated on our problems and see no way out.
This passage points us not to the miracles but to the miracle maker.

The man in this story had no ability to invoke the miraculous raising of his child.
His only recourse was to bow, physically and spiritually, to the miracle maker.
The miracle required him to let go of his daughter and trust Jesus with her.

Lord, help me to let go and trust you when miracles do not come.

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

old clothes. sour wine.

No one uses a new piece of cloth to patch old clothes. The patch would shrink and tear a bigger hole. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins. Both the skins and the wine will then be safe. [Matthew 9:16-17 CEV

Why do you think Jesus compares old and new clothes or old wineskins with new wine?
Is it to illustrate how there are differences in the old and new covenants?
Is he saying that the religious practices of the Pharisees have no place in the new covenant?

Firstly, I think that he is not saying that disciplines like fasting are irrelevant.
But he does seem to be saying that ritualistic rites like fasting are a part of the old covenant.
It speaks to me of how the new covenant is not a patch for the old but a replacement of it.

On a very personal and practical level, I understand the challenge of new things.
Many of us really love our old clothes and are not happy when fashions change.
So it is when new music or new liturgies are introduced in worship services.

In reality, I think that we can be as stubborn as the Pharisees when it comes to change.
We are happy with our old clothes and old wineskins and do not want new things.
We find ourselves fighting the Holy Spirit's work in our lives instead of embracing it.

In the end, God wants to proverbially pour new, fresh and delicious wine into our lives.
The old wine has gone sour. Our old clothes are worn and faded. It is time to change.
In this sense, the blessed New Covenant can be new every new day.

Lord, help me to recognized those old wineskins in my life.

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

mourning, grief and facebook

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. [Matthew 9:14-15 NLT]

John the Baptist is probably in prison and his disciples are mourning with fasting.
You can sense the mournful angst as John's friends ask the 'Why' question.
It reminds me of how hard it is to understand why folks celebrate while we grieve.

Jesus understands that he will, like John, be gone and his disciples will be mourning.
It is in this context that he indicares that we must celebrate with each other while we can.
And how we must, in our grieving, not let sorrowful bitterness grab hold of us.

Experiencing loss can cause us to see the world darkly and cause us to act wrongfully.
Like the Baptist's followers, loss can create a judgmental attitude in us towards others.
And instead of celebrating, we strike out out those who are not suffering.

I can really relate to this experience when I see the posts of my Facebook friends.
I sometimes experience envy and jealousy when I read of friends enjoying vacations.
Instead of rejoicing with them, I focus inward and simply feel sad and get depressed.

These times can be wake-up calls, reminding me that life is beautiful - it really is.
Great loss can really cause us to forget the simple fragrant bouquet that life can be.
So today, let us let go, and resolve to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

Open our eyes Lord to the awesomeness of life. And help us to rejoice with our friends.

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

religious pride

But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Matthew 9:11-15 NLT]

Crazy how religious folks judged Jesus and those they marginalized as "sinners".
Referencing a verse from Hosea, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees admonishing them to embrace mercy.
I wonder if Jesus would rebuke many today who choose to ignore the command to be merciful?

Also crazy how much of our tithes and offerings are targeted at religious programs and activities.
Virtually a pittance is budgeted to support those who are poor, sick and imprisoned.
I wonder how many of us need to learn what is means to embrace mercy instead of religious activities?

A good giving question: "Who benefits when we give of our time, money and energy?"
I think that the answer to this question reveals our inner motivations.
Perhaps it is why Jesus instructs us to give our gifts in private?

I can relate to giving sacrificially with a motive to be known for being generous.
That kind of giving is self-serving and reveals an inner religious pride.
I think that there was a prideful aspect in the visible act of offering sacrifices.

External activities, like animal sacrifices, are different than showing mercy.
One is on display for all to see while the other is internal and often invisible.
The former can be a cause of religious pride. The other a manifestation of humility.

Lord, I want to learn. Help me to choose mercy over judging. Humility over pride.

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


As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” [Matthew 9:9-11 NLT]

I love the way that Jesus saw past the outcast status of a tax collector.
I cannot imagine what Matthew felt as Jesus called him to be a friend and disciple.
How beautiful it was to see Jesus sharing a meal with so many societal outcasts.

Jesus has such a wonderful perspective about the nonreligious outcasts of society.
He spent so much of his ministry, not with the religious elite but, with outcasts.
Interesting how so many religious folks continue to buck his approach.

Years ago we transitioned some new believers into small groups and made them assistants.
These folks had so much zeal and brought such an energy to the small group dynamic.
I think that outcasts have the ability to do what insiders cannot.

Outcasts do not have the religious baggage that so many Christians have.
They bring important perspectives about life and living to the table.
Yet sadly, so many insiders feel a need to conform them to their views.

Jesus wanted to be with those who the religious folks did not want to be with.
Let that idea sink in and percolate in your mind and soul a bit.
And perhaps it will open you to relationships with outcasts that are not like you?

It is so amazing Lord that an outcast wrote this gospel account. Help me to embrace outcasts.

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

religious callousness

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” ... “This fellow is blaspheming!” ... “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” ... “Get up, take your mat and go home.” [Matthew 9:2-6 NIV]

Loving and loyal friends have brought a paralyzed friend to Jesus.
The reactions of those in the crowd are diverse but not all that surprising.
Religious folks callously judged while the faithful came to Jesus believing he could help.

Jesus sensed the unspoken thoughts of these religious folks and called their thinking evil.
Do you think that he found their their religious thoughts evil?
Or was the evil more about their lack of compassion for a paralyzed man?

My wife is paralyzed and I have to admit that we have encountered weird religious folks.
Many times when they see her in her wheelchair they come with a sense of superiority.
These often want to offer callous religious prayers that frankly make us feel uncomfortable.

In contrast, we know so many people who, like the paralytic's friends, are filled with compassion.
These seem to know how to love us and look past things like wheelchairs and disability.
I consider these friends to be stretcher bearers who regularly take us to Jesus in prayer.

This passage ends by recording:
"Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man."
I am filled with awe when I read how the paralytic rose from paralysis.
I am filled with hope when I pray for healing for me wife.
Mostly, I am thankful that our sins have been forgiven.

Teach me Lord to replace callous judging with compassionate caring.

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

going and knowing

They called out, saying, “What do You want of us, You Son of God? Have You come here to make us suffer before it is our time to suffer?” ... Jesus said to the demons, “Go!” [Matthew 8:29,32 NLV]

Do you find it interesting that demonized men recognized Jesus as the Son of God?
Sad that so many religious people, back then and even today, do not?
Perhaps this kind of understanding can only come through spiritual eyes and ears?

Jesus once said this to Peter:
"My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am."
In reality no one can recognize Jesus as the Son of God unless God initiates.
These demons seemed to kow about Jesus but were blind to who he really was.
I find this to be true of many - they know about him but do not seem to know him.

The simplicity of Jesus' reaction to the demons is mind boggling.
No shouting. No theatrics. One word. Go.
He did not need say anymore because of who is is.

A few years ago a man came asking for money as we were sharing some pie with friends.
My friend Bruce and I took him aside, talked with him and Bruce prayed.
As he prayed I sensed something evil and responded by simply praying "go in Jesus name".

As I placed my hand on his forehead the man shook and I knew that something spiritual happened.
It was a reminder to me that people are being influenced by unseen forces.
And sometimes, we simply need to respond in simplicity with a single word - go.

Help me Lord to remember that greater is He that is in me that he that is in the world.

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

gripped with fear

“Why are you gripped with fear? Where is your faith?” [Matthew 8:26 TPT]

Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on a lake when a violent storm assaults them.
The disciples wake Jesus up from a nap saying, “Save us, Lord! We’re going to die!”
Christ rises, rebukes the storm and instantly it becomes perfectly calm.

Before he rebukes the storm Jesus rebukes the disciples for reacting in fear and not faith.
His reprimand seems to question whether they have been paying attention to him at all.
In the days prior they watched Jesus do all sorts of miraculous acts.

He healed a leper, healed the Centurion's servant and healed Peter's mother-in-law.
He cast out demons with a word and healed many others who were sick.
They saw all of this, every miracle, and still cowered in fear when water entered the boat.

These could not imagine that Jesus had power over the weather.
They had a limited view of who Christ was and they were gripped with fear.
Both their faith, and their understanding of Christ, was small and needed to grow.

I too have seen miraculous things in my life.
I too have seen the faithfulness of God in the hardest of times.
It is not for a lack of evidence that fear has gripped me when life's storms have assaulted me.

I've had the same problem the men in the boat had when fear gripped them.
I think that storms come into our lives to give us an opportunity to exercise our faith.
And exercise will make our faith muscles stronger.

A good thought to remember when the storms come and we are tempted to yield to fear.

Forgive me Lord when I give in to fear. Author faith in me today.

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

letting go of security

A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” [Matthew 8:19-22 CSB]

I am intrigued by the two responses that Jesus gave to some pretty simple questions.
I think that his answers hits to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.
In a few sentences he addresses two things that people find hard to let go.

He tells the scribe that following him is not about earthly security.
Many of the disciples left the security of homes and fishing boats to follow a man that had neither.
To follow Jesus is to let go of our need for earthly security and trust God to meet our needs.

He tells the second disciple that following him is about embracing a new family.
Often we read into verses like these and think that God want us to reject our family.
I think that he is simply asking us to let go of the security of one family for another.

The cost of discipleship is not cheap and should not be entered into lightly.
Jesus put it this way later in Matthew's gospel:
“Whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than me is not fit to be my disciple. And whoever comes to me must follow in my steps and be willing to share my cross and experience it as his own, or he cannot be considered to be my disciple. All who seek to live apart from me will lose it all. But those who let go of their lives for my sake and surrender it all to me will discover true life!
This is a difficult message. His words speak for themselves.
Following Jesus has never been easy because it requires us to let go of earthly security.
In the end, trusting God is all about letting go of things temporal for things eternal.

Have mercy on me Lord that I might let go of my life to find security in you.

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

pain magnets

He did these things to bring about what Isaiah the prophet had said: “He took our suffering on him and carried our diseases.” [Matthew 8:17 NCV]

I think that pain is the a common denominator in suffering and diseases.
Sometimes suffering is the result diseases but often it is not.
Many times pain comes when we suffer from things not related to sickness.

In the preceding verses, Matthew tells us of Jesus dealing with demons and sickness.
I think of sickness representing 'seen' illness and demons the 'unseen' aspects.
It is amazing how much of our pain is unseen by many - until it is.

I love how the verse uses words like 'took' and 'carried' to describe Christ's role.
It reminds me that, in prayer, I can release my pain to God.
As I do, the promise is that Jesus will take it and carry my pain.

For sure, there is something therapeutic about releasing the things that cause us to suffer.
Counselors and friends are often the agents that God uses in the process.
In that sense, God has called them to be magnets who draw out our pain.

In that way they are the Body of Christ Jesus - helping us to release our pain.
These minister to us by taking on our suffering and carrying us through difficulty.
And in the process Jesus takes on our pain and healing comes.

Lord help me to be like a magnet that draws out pain and helps people to heal.

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

the heart of intercession

As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick. He can’t walk. He’s in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.” “Oh, no,” said the captain. “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. ... Jesus turned to the captain and said, “Go. What you believed could happen has happened.” At that moment his servant became well. [Matthew 8:5-8,13 MSG]

I love this passage and the demeanor of this military officer.
This soldier comes to Jesus not for himself but for his servant who is suffering.
I can feel him tearing up as he speaks to Jesus of his friend.

Compassion drips from this man's mouth as he enters into the pain of his servant.
Jesus witnesses his compassion and immediately responds with compassion.
He says that he will come and heal. Compassion is at the heart of what is happening.

The next statement the officer makes floors me.
Instead of agreeing with Jesus he tells him that he is unworthy of a visit.
Do you sense the humility in this man?

In humility he acknowledges Jesus authority over sickness.
He invites Jesus to simply speak a word of healing.
Jesus then gives us a peek into the source of this man's compassion and humility.

Christ regales the officer's faith and trust in God's ability.
This military officer gives us a great example of what it means to be an intercessor.
He inspires us to allow faith, humility and compassion to rise up in us as we pray.

I need humility and compassion Lord. Author faith in me. Help me to be an intercessor.

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

healing touch

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” [Matthew 8:3-4 NLT]

There is something moving and heroic about people who touch the untouchables.
I think that leprosy was the AIDS/HIV disease of Jesus' day.
The disease carried a stigma and people avoided lepers because they were contagious.

Interesting that Jesus does not question the leper about how he contracted the disease.
Neither did he cast innuendo on the man's character or lifestyle.
He replied to the leper's request to be healed with a simple “I am willing”.

There is something so amazing and awe-inspiring about this act.
How can a man just speak to a disease and instantly heal it?
Again, the simplicity of the words "Be healed" are almost underwhelming.

If it were me, I would have made quite the spectacle of the healing.
In contrast the humility of Christ shines as he tells the leper not to advertise the miracle.
Jesus' response to this leper teaches me so much about the heart of God and real ministry.

Also interesting to note is that Jesus spoke a word of healing to an individual not a group.
His ministry was always personal and his compassion was focused on one hurting person.
Another example to me about nature and character of God and of ministry.

Lord, wash the pride out me. Help my words to be simple. Lead me to embrace those deemed by society to be untouchable, without hope and broken beyond repair.

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

reader vs author

With that Jesus finished His teaching, and the crowds were amazed by all He had said. But Jesus taught in His own name, on His own authority, not like the scribes. [Matthew 7:28-29 VOICE]

I love the way that the Voice renders these verses.
Jesus' teaching was not different because of style or even substance.
He commanded their attention because of who he was.

The scribes, interpreters of the law, could only cast their spin on the old testament.
Jesus could go deeper by explaining the purpose and the intent of the law.
Scribes only knew what it said but Christ knew why it was said.

I liken the comparison to the difference between a reader and an author.
One who reads is limited by the context presented in the pages of the book.
The author can tell you the what and the why of their communication.

I believe that is what the crowds heard as Jesus spoke.
They were amazed that he was unafraid to correct religious misunderstandings.
His wisdom was that of the author of the scriptures that they held so dear.

This is the reason that we must see the scriptures through the lens of Christ.
To know truth we must first let go of the teachings and spin of our favorite teachers.
We must allow ourselves to be amazed by the divine author of everything good.

Lord. Open the eyes and ears of my heart that I might be amazed by your teaching.

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

bedrock faith

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock.

But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.” [Matthew 7:24-27 CEB]

These verses are the last ones of the Sermon on the Mount.
In these few sentences Jesus makes an amazing statement.
He asserts that the words he preached on the mount are on the level of scripture.

Jesus often quotes something from the Old Testament and then says "but I say to you".
He could say these things because he was more than a great teacher or prophet.
Christ was God incarnate and had the authority to correct things written by Moses.

Jesus tells us that there are two parts to building your life on bedrock.
He says that we must first simply hear what He says.
This is more than hearing with our ears but believing his words in our hearts.

Then once we believe, we must respond in faith and actually do what he said.
He assures us, that if we do that, our spiritual house will stand.
And the spiritual winds, storms and floods of life will not overcome us.

I have found the words of Christ to be true in my life.
Storms cannot overcome us when we love because our foundation is solid.
Believing in Jesus does not keep us from the storms but it does keep us in the storms.

Thank you for your words of life Jesus. Please give me grace to hear and do what you said.

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

doing vs knowing

Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter God’s kingdom. The only people who will enter are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. On that last Day many will call me Lord. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, by the power of your name we spoke for God. ... and did many miracles.’ Then I will tell those people clearly, ‘Get away from me, you people who do wrong. I never knew you.’ [Matt 7:21-23 ERV]

These verses tell us that you can be religious and not be doing God's will.
Many people do all sorts of religious things but are not doing God's will.
They do things in God's name but strangely miss doing his will.

It is interesting how Jesus transitions from doing to knowing.
I think that the issue is not about just doing religious works.
It is really all about why we do things like preaching and ministering.

Knowing God, and Him knowing us, should be at the heart of what we do.
It is so easy to do religious stuff without actually knowing God.
To do the will of God requires that we first know God.

Jesus brings these ideas together in the sixth chapter of John when he says:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The first step in knowing God is believing that God sent Jesus.
This opens a door for a spiritual birth that connects us to God.
This connection enables us to know God and his will.

Lord. Help me to know you more so that I can do your will.

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

internal toxicity

A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. And any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do. [Matthew 7:17-20 GNT]

Interesting how Jesus likens the health of a prophet to that of a tree.
Fascinating that he identifies the purpose of the tree to bear good fruit.
Reminds me of how our external actions are influenced by our internal health.

When I consider healthy spiritual fruit, I think about love, joy and peace.
These seem to be evidences of a person who is internally healthy.
In contrast, hate, bitterness and anxiety evidence an inner toxicity.

I think that these verses help us to understand our purpose in life.
They connect us with the idea that God wants us to be internally healthy.
Apart from this our witness is hollow and our fruit is without power.

There may be nothing more important than being healthy on the inside.
Living from a transformed heart will transform every part of us.
Operating from our own understanding will never accomplish his purpose for us.

The concept is simple but living healthy everyday is not that simple.
Pain. Hurtful things. Betrayal. This have the ability to make us unhealthy.
If untreated things like these can fester and bring internal toxicity.

In contrast, the receiving and giving of forgiveness can cleanse us.
Mercy received, and mercy given, can create a health within us.
Maintaining internal health requires the discipline and humility of love.

Remove all that is toxic within me Lord. Create health in me that produces good fruit.

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

character vs charisma

Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. [Matthew 7:15-16 MSG]

The way that The Message renders these verses reminds me of the word 'hypocrite'.
The dictionary defines the word as a deceiver, liar, phony, fraud, sham or fake.
I have heard that hypocrite can refer to an actor playing a part or a role.

In other versions these false preachers are described as inner wolves who attack sheep.
It is a chilling image when you think about the damage that is done to the faithful.
A reminder that, as these verses indicate, we must look to a person's character.

That said, I can relate to being attracted to charismatic speakers and teachers.
For many years I was a part of a group that was led by a man who was very gifted.
I found that charismata, Greek for spiritual gifts, can sometimes hide character flaws.

In the years that I was involved with that group, the leader preached hard against sexual sins.
In the end, he left his wife and ran away with one of the group's secretaries.
Often preachers preach the hardest against the thing that they struggle with the most.

When I read "look for character" in these verses I think most about love and humility.
These two words best define qualities that I look for in great leaders.
Is their preaching filled with dogmatic answers or humble words that cause us to seek?

I find that I am more attracted to leaders who ask good questions that give simple answers.
Charismatic preachers seem prone to simplistic clichés and rigid formulas.
In contrast, a person of character is more interested in helping people to love God.

Lastly, I need to state the obvious: charismatic people are often people of character.
The issue is not an either/or proposition but one that is revealed over time.
Good to remember that Jesus was the most charismatic person that has ever lived.

Help me Lord to be influenced by humble people who know how to love.

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

the narrow way of love

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life, and there are few who find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 AMP]

These verses are often interpreted to infer that Jesus is speaking to his listeners about the narrow gate to heaven. He could be saying that, but I think that the context of his statements indicate that he is speaking more about finding the way to real, and everlasting, life. Many often miss the fact that the eternal life that He speaks of begins on earth and many times it begins long before we die.

This passage tell us that the way to real life is narrow and hard. The context of it tells us why it is narrow and hard. The context informs us that the narrow way is a way of:
  • humility: the beatitudes show us the narrow way of a humble person that makes peace, shows mercy and is sometimes persecuted;
  • character: Jesus tells us that the narrow way is all about having an internal life that is not murderous, envious or lustful;
  • persistence: asking, seeking and knocking reveal a type of prayer that keeps walking that narrow way when prayers are not answered and the going is rough;
  • love: caring about others and doing to them in ways that we want things done to us reveals the reality of the narrow way of love that Jesus walked to the cross.
These verses from the sermon on the mount speak to me about a transformed life. A life so transformed that it persistently walks in prayer, humility and love even when the way is hard. They paint a picture of a transformed life that reflects the character of God himself.

Lord, please transform those parts of me that are not humble and loving.

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

the essence of the bible

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 NLT]

A few years ago WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) seemed to be every where.
On billboards, tee shirts and bracelets we were told to try to imitate Christ.
Interesting that Jesus doesn't say that here.

The Lord tells us something that is way more practical.
And does not require an understanding of Christian theology.
In a sense six of the Ten Commandments embodies this behavioral code.

Think of what the world would be like if everyone lived this way.
No one would ever murder, steal or commit adultery if they embraced this concept.
Instead we would all treat others with patience and kindness.

This verse reflects the idea that God wants us to love others as he loves us.
When we treat people with love we witness to the reality that God loves us.
When we are merciful we testify to the mercy that we have received.

We honor the kindness of God in our lives when we are kind to others.
Our actions are a reflection of the presence of these realities.
How we treat people reveals the influence of God in our lives.

This, to me, is the essence of the biblical message.
Loving God, and people, is the central message woven in pages of scripture.
In reality, apart from love there is no gospel to believe in.

Forgive me Lord. Help me to love. Help me to treat others with love.

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

he only gives us good things

Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread?
Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish?
As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children.
Your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask. [Matthew 7:9-11 CEV]

I wonder if James was thinking about these verses when he wrote:
My Christian brothers, do not be fooled about this. Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God. ... We are the first children in His family. [James 1:16,18 NLV]
There is a deception that many embrace when bad things happen.
When cancer or some other horrible disease strikes, some call it God's will.
When an earthquake or tsunami kills thousands, ignorant people call it an act of God.

Folks often give up, thinking that it is really not God's desire to give good things.
It is important that we understand God's role correctly when bad things happen.
Our view of God will affect our relationship to God and how we interact with him in prayer.

Jesus communicates here that the Father's will is to give good things his children.
He indicates that it our role to trust the character of our Father with our requests.
And to know that it is His desire to give us good things that we need and not simply crave.

This is where it gets a bit dicey - when we do not receive what we think we need.
In times like those, it is best to simply lean into the character of God as our Father.
We need this most when life is hard and our prayers are unanswered.

Lord, you are good. Whatever happens, I choose to trust your goodness and your love for me.

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

transforming prayer

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 GNT]

In absentia of other verses on prayer, this passage paints a binary image of prayer.
One can read a cause and effect principle in these sentences.
We pray and God gives us what we want.

Like most things that are seen in black and white, that explanation comes up short.
It imagines God to be a benevolent Santa Clause and we as greedy children.
I think that the passage better understood in light of the Lord's prayer.

In that model prayer Jesus teaches us to ask for God's will to be done.
There Jesus teaches us that the focus of prayer is asking for His kingdom to come.
In this paradigm there is no room for selfish and greedy requests.

In contrast, Jesus teach us to pray simply, asking God to meet our needs.
He speaks to us of our need to forgive and to be forgiven.
In that short model prayer, the Lord is helping us to see the purpose of prayer.

In that light, perhaps our prayers should be more about:
  • asking to receive understanding;
  • seeking to discover the will of God;
  • knocking that the eyes of our hearts might be opened.
The purpose of prayer is not about getting things from God.
Prayer is all about getting to know God better.
In doing so we are transformed into the image of his Son.

Lord, help me to pray in a way that I might be transformed.

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

discerning a fool

Do not give what is holy to dogs—they will only turn and attack you. Do not throw your pearls in front of pigs—they will only trample them underfoot. [Matthew 7:6 GNT]

Apart from the context of the previous verses, this is a difficult verse to understand.
Jesus has been teaching us not to judge other people.
In this verse he is speaking to us of our need to exercise discernment.

Consider these verses from Proverbs:
  • As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
  • Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
  • Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
These verses speak to me about how we must be wise in what we say and who we say it to.
Sharing our hearts with foolish people will often break our hearts.
Knowing when and what to share requires spiritual discernment.

That said, discernment is not a cop out for timidity.
When the Holy Spirit prompts us to speak we should follow his lead.
When we are presented with an opportunity to share we must embrace the moment.

In times like these we should resist the urge to wax theological and speak from our heads.
People need to hear from our hearts in transparent and vulnerable ways.
Not all are fools. Many need Jesus. He is the priceless pearl that many are seeking.

Lord help me to be discerning. Help me to be bold in sharing my heart with others.

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

cataract surgery

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. [Matthew 7:3-5 ESV]

I earlier wrote about the idea of obscured vision in a post titled spiritual cataracts.
I think that idea perfectly communicates what Jesus is teaching here.
I mean really, it is doubtful that anyone would engage a surgeon impaired by cataracts.

Even so, there seems to be many who feel empowered to diagnose and judge other people.
These have no awareness of the size of their own spiritual cataracts.
Yet these, with obscured vision, feel that God has called them to spiritual surgery.

When I consider what it takes to be a surgeon, I think of training, experience and precision.
In a spiritual sense these are the things that prepare us to help each other.
Unlike judgmentalism, compassion is acquired through education and experience.

Like surgery, issuing correction is a precise activity.
After prayer, and God's leadership, we can really help each other see clearer.
The more specific we are, the more successful the surgery will be.

Lastly, it is good to remember that Jesus is not saying that no one should judge.
He is simply saying that we need to look first at the blindness in ourselves.
And perhaps enlist the help of a friend who can help remove our spiritual cataracts.

Then, with a heart filled with empathy, our vision will be clearer.
The judgment will look more like compassion than condemnation.
And the result will be healing instead of hurting.

Give us inner vision Lord. That we might help each other remove things that impair our vision.

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

the reflection of judgment

Do not judge others, then you will not be judged. The way you judge others, that is the way you will be judged. How much you give to others is how much will be given to you. [Matthew 7:1-2 WE]

I have heard it said that we often see in others what we see in ourselves.
If we struggle with something then we may see it in people around us.
Our harshness towards others is sometimes a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.

In past years I have known what it is to be hard on myself.
I have found this sort of self judgement to be unhealthy and unproductive.
This sort of condemnation has set my focus on the problem and not the solution.

In reality, almost all judgement operates in this fashion.
It creates an atmosphere that places problems above solutions.
And it rarely resembles discernment - i.e. healthy judgment.

The last part of this passage speaks so much to how we should live.
If we desire grace and mercy we must be willing to give it.
And if we want a great measure of it we must give it liberally.

It is difficult because it requires to first really love ourselves.
Love is not like judgment because it is patient, and kind and forgiving.
I really cannot condemn one in judgment if I see them with eyes of love.

Boiling it down, the issue is what our judgment says about us.
Is our judging simply a reflection of the way that we envision ourselves?
And will we recognize our desire to judge as invitation to simply love?

Help me to see myself and others through your eyes of mercy Lord.

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

the toxic paralysis of worry

Don’t worry about tomorrow. [Matthew 6:34 CEV]

A few days ago I wrote about playing out worst case scenarios.
In a sense living in fear of future events is what worry is all about.
I have found it to be a futile effort in trying to control what cannot be controlled.

The sad side-effects of worry is that incapacitates us.
Worry keeps us from doing things that are productive and healthy.
At it's worst it is a road block in our journey of trusting God.

Around Christmas 2002, on a cruise in the Caribbean, crisis came knocking at my door.
My wife Ann had a waist-down paralyzing relapse of Devic's Disease on the ship.
One afternoon, off the coast of Mexico, I headed to the hot tub as she napped.

Her paralysis was causing a toxic paralysis of worry in my life.
All I could focus on was how things would get worse.
I needed help in the worst way and I could not find it.

As I stepped into the waters of that tub, I sensed God speaking to me.
I felt him encourage me to release control and simply flow in the moment.
Waves of peace began to come as I started to trust the Lord with my heart.

Worry is an evidence that we have begun to trust our heads rather than the Lord.
It is a toxic state of despair, unbelief and hopelessness.
In contrast, trust embodies hope and a belief that God will help us get through.

Remembering the events of Christmas 2002 reminds me of my need to trust and not worry.
It helps me to center my hope on what God can do and how much he cares for me.
Trusting the Lord frees me up from the toxicity of worst case scenarios.

Remind us Lord of our need to trust you when things seem out of control.

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

seek first to love

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
[Matthew 6:31-33 ESV]

The operative word in these verses is "seek".
Interesting that Jesus does not say seek God.
He says to seek things that are in accordance with his kingdom and his righteousness.

I think that it is always wise to know that not all who seek God seek him in accordance with righteous kingdom principles. I think that Paul gives us a picture of what this looks like when he says:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. … For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. … For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Interesting that Paul speaks to the issue of judging people by what they eat and drink.
Jesus says it is not about food, drink and clothing.
Paul elaborates about this and tells us that it the issue is walking in love.

Love is the currency of the kingdom of God.
Love is at the core of being righteous.
When we seek first to love we seek God's kingdom and righteousness.

I do not need things Lord. I need you. Fill me afresh with your love.

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

an antidote for worry

So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? [Matthew 6:25 GW]

In the following verses Jesus compares us to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
He tells us that God cares for us more than He does for them.
Consequentially we should not worry about our needs.

Cognitively I think that we all know this.
Yet our brains, much larger and complex than the birds, seem ill equipped to deal with worry.
Oddly enough, our brains often contribute to our anxiety.

There are times when my mind begins to race about future events.
I start playing out the worst case scenarios.
In such times I find it helpful to pause and lean into my heart.

It helps me to remember that trust is something I do with my heart.
Leaning on my own understanding only brings anxiety.
Leaning into, and trusting with all of, my heart brings peace.

Lord, help me to trust you with all of my heart and not lean on my understanding.

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

misplaced love

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. [Matthew 6:24 NIV

What does it mean, and what does it look like, to serve money?
I wondered that myself so I looked up the Greek word that is translated serve.
I saw words like slave and bondage - that last word caught my attention.

I know what it is like to be in bondage to money.
To evaluate every decision from a fiscal perspective.
To care more about the fiscal bottom line than the spiritual one.

I am not saying that we should not be wise in how we use money.
How we use money is often representative of how we serve God.
When we are in bondage to something God will always be a lesser priority.

Consider how the Apostle Paul told us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
In a very real sense love is the issue and money is just an example of misplaced love.
When we serve and love money we make an idol of it - and idolatry is the heart of the issue.

Open my eyes Lord to ways that I idolize money and the things that money buys.

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

spiritual cataracts

The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is unclouded, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If the light in you is darkness, how dark it will be! [Matthew 6:22-23 GW]

I have heard it said that we are what we gaze upon.
This statement makes us feel a bit uncomfortable.
We all watch stuff in movies and on TV that are pretty dark.

Even news shows are often full of darkness.
The culture is full of dark images and pictures that are hard to avoid.
Sometimes it is a challenge to find positive ones to gaze upon.

I like the way this version speaks of our eyes being unclouded.
There are things in life that tend to cloud our vision.
Sometimes these things slowly blind us like spiritual cataracts.

Like a cataract, this darkness begins small and grows slowly.
Over time our lives are changed by suffering and trials.
If left untreated spiritual cataracts can form and obscure the light.

We can keep these cataracts from forming by keeping our hearts clean.
Things like forgiveness, love and hope will keep our eyes clear.
And having clear eyes will keep us filled with the light of Christ.

Lord, help me to remove anything that is obscuring my spiritual vision.

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

invisible treasure

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. [Matthew 6:19-21 RSV]

Some say, if you want to know something about a person's heart then look their check book.
There is some truth in that statement but it is not a complete picture.
I think that a more accurate picture might be found in their calendar and checkbook.

How we spend our time and finances is often indicative of the things that we treasure the most.

It is often said that we should spend our lives investing in things that will outlast us.
When I consider the phrase "treasures in heaven", I think about things that are invisible and eternal.
These things are mostly relational and worth remembering.

When we love unconditionally we lay up treasure in heaven.
We do the same when we embrace the beatitudes that Jesus previously taught us.
When I think about heaven I think of a place of worship.

When we love and worship, we lay up heavenly treasure.

Lord, please remind me every day about heavenly things.

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

his kingdom. eternal. amen.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. [Matthew 6:13 NKJV]

Some translations leave these words out but I never do when I pray the Lord's prayer.
There seems to be such a worshipful acknowledgement in these words.
When I pray these words I remember that the kingdom, the power and the glory are all his.

Prayer is real when there must be an understanding that these things belong to our Father.
Things like power and glory simply do not belong to created beings.
We pray these words with a sense of humility knowing that we are but servants in His kingdom.

Forever. Amen. What great words to end this prayer.
Life is but a vapor and and experience that passes so quickly.
I can hardly believe that so much of my life has passed already.

When I pray 'forever' I remember that I am speaking to One who has always existed outside of time.
This word instills such hope in my soul. I am, and will be, forever His.
That is something to say amen to - with my whole heart and with everything that is in me.

You are God. The kingdom, the power and glory is yours. Forever. Amen.

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

praying for deliverance

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [Matthew 6:13 ESV]

I have heard that this verse changes a bit when the comma is moved to follow 'lead us'.
Either way you read this there seems to be two aspects to what Jesus is saying.

He speaks first to our need for God to lead us in life.
Left to ourselves, I have found that we usually give in to temptation.
Yet through His indwelling presence, we have the power to resist and overcome temptation.

The second part of the verse is sometimes translated 'deliver us from the evil one'.
It reminds me of this verse in the book of Jude:
Not even the chief angel Michael did this. In his quarrel with the Devil, when they argued about who would have the body of Moses, Michael did not dare condemn the Devil with insulting words, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
This obscure verse tells us that even archangels need the Lord to fight the evil one.
Often when I sense an evil presence I will do what Michael did.
In prayer, I simply ask the Lord to rebuke the evil.

The Lord shows us in these verses that we are to pray for such deliverance.
Life is a spiritual battle and we need God to fight the evil in our lives.
Praying in the name of Jesus defeats the evil that wants to lead us astray.

Lead me today Lord. I need your presence. I need your deliverance from evil.

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

food and forgiveness

Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. [Matthew 6:11-12 NCV]

Food and forgiveness are separated into two verses.
So we tend to think of them as two different things.
We also get hung up about whether debts or sins should be forgiven.

The truth is that we need both physical and spiritual bread to live.
We need to both receive and give forgiveness to be healthy.
I think that this is our greatest need.

Reconciliation comes from giving and receiving of forgiveness.
This is not to say that God does not want to hear about our physical needs.
Jesus is simply emphasizing our greatest need - giving and receiving forgiveness.

When I think about debt versus sin I think of our need to forgive and be forgiven.
We have a debt of love to each other and when we do not love our neighbor we sin against them.
The definition of sin encapsulates the idea of missing the mark.

In a sense this involves an expectation to hit the mark or pay off a debt.
And the fact is that we can neither hit the mark nor pay off the debt.
It is why we need to give and receive forgiveness.

Lord I forgive. Please forgive me.

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

divine will

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:10 NIV]

This prayer begs the question about what is the will of God.
I suggest that the phrase "as it is in heaven" might give us part of the answer.
God's will is done in heaven and heaven is not really a place but a dimension.

Consider how Jesus describes this dimension, or kingdom, of heaven in Matthew 13.
He uses parables to illustrate that this kingdom is about things that are:
  • small. He speaks of seed and leaven and their ability to grow into larger things. I think that God's will is all about being faithful in small things.
  • priceless. The merchant in the parable sells all he has to obtain a single pearl. Jesus is that pearl and the Father's will is all about us becoming like His son.
  • hidden. He compares this heavenly kingdom to hidden treasure. This speaks to me about our need to seek God to discover His will.
  • eternal. The last parable speaks of how angels will one day separate the evil from the righteous. Areminder that God's will is about things that last. Like faith, hope and love.
When we ask for God's will to be done we are asking for things that are small, priceless, hidden and eternal to be manifested in our lives. On earth as it is in heaven.

Lord help me to understand your will. Let your kingdom come in me.

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

familiar prayers

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. [Matthew 6:9 NIV]

When I think about heaven I think about a dimension rather than a place.
I think of God reigning over a kingdom that is not visible to our eyes.
I know that God hears me because heaven is as close as the air I breathe.
In a sense, we pray asking for the dimension of heaven to break into our dimension.

This verse flashes me back to Moses' first encounter with God at the burning bush.
In that passage we see a picture of what it means to hallow God and His name.
Moses bowed in reverence and awe at the voice of his Creator.
This sense of awe is often missing from my prayers.

Too often I forget who God is and who I am.
Sometimes the familiarity of my life with him gets in the way.
When I pray familiar prayers I am not honoring his name.
In a sense, I might as well be calling him Steve.

I worship you Heavenly Father. Open my eyes today that I might see you.

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

the how, not what, of prayer

This, then, is how you should pray   [Matthew 6:9 NIV]

Jesus has just instructed his disciples to not pray publicly like the Pharisees.
And not to chant prayers repetitiously like the pagans.
Odd that so many seem to embrace these no-nos when they pray in church.

The operative word for me in this verse is 'how'.
Most of our focus when we pray the Lord's prayer is 'what' not 'how'.
I think that the emphasis is, and should be, how we pray.

The example prayer that Jesus gives is one that begins and ends with God.
It includes petitions for our needs as well as our desire to forgive.
The prayer asks God to forgive us, deliver us and lead us.

The how of this prayer should include humility and meekness before God.
Our attitude should be one of submission to his kingdom and his will.
The words should not be a recitation of Jesus words but a personalization of them.

I think the words that Christ offers is an invitation to divine intimacy.
They are meant to break us and bring us to our spiritual knees.
When spoken with vulnerability they have the power to change our lives.

Lord, I want to repeat these memorized words with my friends.
Help me to remember that your heart is not what I pray but how I pray.
Teach me to personalize the words of your son when I pray.

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

empty prayers

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Matthew 6:7-8 CEV]

Two phrases pop out at me: "empty phrases" and "many words".

Several times a week I pray the Lord's prayer in a group setting.
I have to consciously slow my self down so that I can think about the words that I am praying.
It is so easy to pray and not think about the words that you are praying.

Jesus helps us by telling us that it is not really about the great words that we speak.
He indicates that prayer is simply sharing our hearts with the Father.
Not really the effective communication of our prayers but simply the actual act of prayer.

He tells us that God already knows what we need when we are not.
God is waiting for us to simply pray and invite Him to help us.
The Father longs for us to simply share our hearts with him.

Lord help me to be real when I pray.

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

praying like a hypocrite

When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you. [Matthew 6:5-6 GW]

Again Jesus presses in and lay bare our desire to be seen by others.
Praying to be seen and heard by others who we are wanting to impress.
I have witnessed and participated in this kind of religious seduction.

The desire to be seen is an insidious one.
We are duped into thinking that we are being "spiritual" when we are just being Pharisaical.
Jesus says don't do it.

I once heard that the measure of a person is what they do when no one is looking.
I think that we will pray in secret only if we really believe that God hears us.
Secret prayers bring a reality to bear where it is just us and God - face to face.

Lastly, Jesus said "when you pray".
I think that it is good to be reminded that believers pray - it is in our spiritual DNA.
Praying from our heart, when no one is looking, to an audience of One.

Lord give me a heart to pray when no one is looking.

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