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 clich├ęs 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.

nondeductible donations

When you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know about it. [Matthew 6:3 CEV]

This verse reminds me of what Jesus says just a few sentences later in verse 21:
Your heart will always be where your treasure is.
Where and how we give is always an indication of where our heart is.

This year the tax law in America has changed giving a higher standard deduction.
Charities are wondering how it will affect them and donors' desire to give to them.
Will people donate money to them if it they cannot deduct it from their taxes?

In a sense, real charity is all about the things that you cannot deduct on your taxes.
One should not need the enticement of a tax break to support those who need our help.
As Jesus indicates, the issue is not with our heads but with our hearts.

Help us Lord to have hearts filled with compassion for those who need our love and our money.

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

the desire to be seen

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. [Matthew 6:1 NKJV]

The desire to be seen can lead us into dark places.
Places where our egos are stroked and accolades are abundant.
In contrast, Jesus warns us of the dangers of doing things to be seen.

Generally speaking, I think that he is referring to 'good things'.
The desire to do 'good things', like preaching, can feed our egos.
When this happens the focus of our gifting and our giving is turned inward.

There is something about public speaking that is seductive.
I think that many enter religious and political service to simply be seen.
The notoriety and the power of public speaking can be intoxicating and addictive.

Many who are drawn to public service are drawn to service to be seen rather than to see.
As a result these folks are often blind to the needs and pain of those around them.
They are so focused on themselves, and their celebrity, that they can see little else.

What Jesus says here is a reminder to us of the invisible nature of following Him.
John the Baptist said: He must increase and I must decrease.
There is really no place for egoistic nonsense in our Christian service.

So try to ways to invisibly give of yourself and your things.
Follow your loving heart instead of your ego driven head.
And see where this sort of secret love will lead you.

God deliver me from the temptation to serve to be seen.

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

the perfection that is love

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:46-48 NLT]

I think that it is interesting that Jesus speaks of perfection in the context of love. Consider how John the apostle speaks to us about the nature of divine love in his first letter.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
Perfect love expels fear. This sort of love is motivated by a sense of being loved. Paul also writes of love in chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. Here is how he describes love.
  • patient: the older I get the more I realize the profoundness of patience.
  • kind: being kind when we are offended can be so challenging.
  • humble: pride is self focused and seems to be the enemy of everything loving.
  • forgiving: letting go of offenses may be the most divine thing we can do.
  • just: we are like God when we rejoice whenever the truth wins out.
  • hopeful: it is easy to lose hope when we forget that we are loved.
  • enduring: keeping faith in hard times reveals our love for God.
We are perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect, when we live, and love, in this manner.

Lead me Lord. That I might be complete in the way that I love.

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

the power of pain

He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. [Matthew 5:45 CEV]

This statement has puzzled the world from the very beginning.
Adam's son Cain, a farmer, felt pain and murdered his brother Abel.
Yet he was still blessed with sun and rain for his crops.

Life is often not logical and seems to thumb its nose at the rules.
Bad things happen to good people like Abel and bad people like Cain seem to be blessed.
Bad things like cancer are no respecters of the moral character of a human being.

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote a book about the subject.
He called it "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".
Here is an excerpt from it.
“Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”
Pain is the price we pay for being alive.
Oh my what and accurate description.
Pain is an evidence of being alive.

Dead things do not feel pain.
Only living things experience it.
The older we get the more that we understand the need to deal with our pain.

What do we do with our pain?
Will we allow pain to have power over us?
Or will we transform pain and make it our servant?

Since the death of my first wife Ellen I have tried to turn my pain inside out.
I have counseled grieving people asking them to step into their pain.
In a sense we have to acknowledge our pain to transform it.

Once acknowledged we can step into it and make it our servant.
We can cause pain to make us more loving, understanding and compassionate.
In this way our pain can become a vessel to reconciliation and healing.

My wife Ann is a great example of a person who has stepped into her pain.
In spite of her need of a wheelchair, Ann is optimistic and wonderful to be around.
She feels pain all of the time but has not allowed it to have power over her.

I guess that is the issue.
Will we be changed by pain for the better or for the worse?
What will we do with our pain?

Teach me Lord to transform my pain and make it my servant.

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

unconditional enemy love

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5: 43-45 NLT]

Jesus ends this section of his sermon by dropping a spiritual atomic bomb.
In this he crushes those who aspire to live according to the letter of the law.
In a few words he reveals to us the true nature of divine love.

In this passage Jesus destroys every effort of self-righteousness.
Jesus rebukes an age-old practice of hatred towards those who are not Israelites.
In another place he regales a Samaritan, one of a people hated by most Israelites.

Jesus lays bare and destroys all excuses by telling us to love our enemies.
Love, and pray for, those who abuse, persecute and mistreat us.
It is one of the most amazing teachings in all of literature.

He challenges us to live our lives out with unconditional and sacrificial love.
Really, you cannot love your enemy if you have conditions.
This kind of love is in agreement with the spirit of the law.

I repent of conditional love Lord. Fill me up with your kind of love.

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

spiritual justice

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. [Matthew 5:38-39 NLT]

Undoubtedly this is one of the more difficult passages in the Sermon on the Mount when it is read with a literal perspective. Words like "do not resist an evil person" seem to fly in the face of places in the scripture that instruct us to resist the Devil (i.e. the evil one).

I think that the verse makes sense when it is understood that Jesus is speaking in prophetic hyperbole in the same way that he previously spoke of gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand to keep them from sinning. He speaks in this fashion to make an important point.

I think that the point he makes in this passage is the contrast between wanting revenge and wanting reconciliation. Love fuels and motivates the latter while something darker energizes the former. In a sense Jesus is telling us to overcome evil with love.

The theology of "an eye for an eye" is so appealing to our fleshly sense of justice. Yet there is no heart of mercy in that theology. Perhaps that is why Jesus issues a correction to it. We would all be blind and toothless if we followed the letter of the law.

Lord, help me to love justice that is merciful. Help me to love my enemies.

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

the simplicity of yes

You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! … Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ [Matthew 5:34,34,37 NLT]

Years ago I heard a televangelist asking folks to take a vow to support his ministry. Often churches ask members to pledge financial support to them. There are all sorts of ways that religious folks seem to contradict the spirit of what Jesus is saying here. And in these days of litigation and civil lawsuits it seems harder and harder to answer simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

I think that the delineation between these two approaches is the difference between the head and the heart. The head is all about rationalizing and complexity. The focus of the heart is wisdom and simplicity. In a sense wisdom is all about sifting through complex issues and coming to a place where we are able to say, with our heart, yes or no.

Lord, help me to hear the wisdom of my heart so that I can say yes or no.

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

the heart of divorce

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. -Matthew 5:21-22 NIV

Here is a companion passage to this one from the tenth chapter of Mark's gospel:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
It makes me really sad that the main question a person sometimes asks is whether divorce is lawful. By asking the question the person reveals a desire to know the letter and not the spirit of the law. Wanting to know the letter of the law can be an evidence of having a heart hardened to the spirit of the law.

Many today seek to understand the letter of the law concerning divorce and in doing so often miss the spirit of it. Interesting that Jesus spoke about hard hearts. Sometimes a marriage can be destroyed by the hard heart of one party. Sometimes adultery is involved but many times other hard heart factors are at the root of problems that result in divorce.

I have many wonderful friends who have divorced. Most of these never wanted divorce and all of them wanted their marriages to be successful. I have seen the devastation that often results when some harden their hearts to their spouse. But I have also seen the redemption that follows when hearts are soft towards God. In the end, people need us to come along side of them in time like this.

Soften my heart Lord. Help me to know the spirit and not the letter of the law.

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

lustful intent

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Years ago President Jimmy Carter admitted this to Playboy magazine:
"I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times."
I wonder what he meant by that? I think that his confession seems to ignore the deeper issues of lust and how much intent, or motive, factors into it. So often lust is stereotyped and trivialized because of sentiments such as the one that President Carter expressed.

I have found that lustful intent is a complicated matter. People often rush to superficial conclusions rather than trying to understand the underlying aspects (i.e. intents) of it. I have found that, in general, men cower in shame and fear. And others are often not very helpful.

I think that lustful intent is on the same level as covetousness and envy. It is basically wanting something that you cannot have. In that respect the sexual aspect of lust is more of a symptom like stealing is to coveting. In each case the outward manifestation is symptomatic of something deeper.

Lord, help me to keep my intentions pure.

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

if someone calls you an idiot

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. [Matthew 5:21-22 NLT]

Jesus takes relational living below the surface and beyond the superficial as he describes the differences between the letter and the spirit of the law. Consider the verses that follow:
So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24 NLT]
These words convince us of the serious nature of forgiveness and reconciliation. Name calling is serious because of the damage and alienation that results. Yet Jesus also speaks to those offended and their reactions to those who call them names. He requires them to forgive them and seek reconciliation.

I think that it is so easy to fall back on the letter of the law in these situations. I mean who in their right mind would befriend one who insults and accuses them? It is the difference between those who live according to the letter of the law and those who live from the spirit behind it.

Father, help me to embrace the spirit of the law. Help me to forgive.

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

the prophetic fulfillment of the law

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. [Matthew 5:17 NIV]

When I think of the word "fulfill", I think about fulfilling the terms of a contract. When we make the final payment on our car, the contract with the bank is fulfilled because the terms of it have been met. This is the context of the transition between the Old and New Covenants.

On the cross Jesus fulfilled every obligation of the law and every Messianic prophecy. When Jesus was raised from the dead God declared that the Old Covenant is no longer in effect and we are no longer under it's laws. Here is what the writer of Hebrews repeats twice about the New Covenant:
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
The simplicity of the New Covenant overwhelms me. The complexity of laws that need lawyers to interpret them are reduced to the simplicity of ones written on our hearts. Thank God for this simplicity. Thank God that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

Help us Lord to understand what you have put in our hearts and minds.

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

testing vs trusting

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. [Matthew 4:7b GNT]

In 1976 my diabetic wife Ellen thought that God was telling her to stop taking insulin.
She began to feel bad and decided to look at what the bible said.
She opened the book and her eyes fell to this verse in the book of Acts:
"How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?"
We were both very young Christians.
We did not understand that getting this kind of biblical direction was pretty ill advised.
Nevertheless, God used this to help us.

Ellen immediately gave herself an insulin injection.
Later that year she received wise counsel with our Christian doctor.
He said that she would know if God healed her because she would have an insulin reaction.

It is interesting how Satan, and our own desires, cause us to test God.
So often they use the bible to appeal to our flesh and deceive us.
Our desires for miracles and healings can sometimes be a source of temptation.

So often we can misuse the scriptures.
We believe that we are acting in faith.
In fact we are simply, and foolishly, testing God.

At the heart of it all is trust.
Will we trust God in the midst of suffering and difficulty?
Or will we challenge God by putting him to the test?

Will we lean into our hearts or into our heads.
Will we find comfort in the bible and let it assure us of his goodness?
Or will we use it to test the very nature of God?

In the end, the choice is ours.
To test God is to not trust him.
To trust the Lord is to not need proof that he is with us.

Teach me Lord to discern your voice, and your will, as I read the scriptures.

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

for the love of bread

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

I love bread.
I grew up on a street that had an Italian bakery that made the most amazing bread.
On Sundays my dad would send one of us there to buy a dozen warm dinner rolls.

My mouth waters at that memory.
This is the context that I have when I think about bread.
Even so, consider this response to the word of God from Psalm 119:
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Sometimes I think that we are what we love and desire.
As I said before, I love bread.
My waistline shows it.

Yet I am not sure that I love God's bread as much.

My love of bread has caused me to sometimes eat it too much.
Yet I am not sure that I am fat on spiritual bread.
Honestly, my mouth does not water for it like it does for that stuffed cooked in ovens.

Lord, cause my mouth to hunger and thirst for the Bread of Life.

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

the light of the new heart

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:14-16 NIV]

Again Jesus makes an amazing declaration about his followers. He does not say that He is the light that shines from within us. He says that we are the light. A few thoughts:
  • God created that light within us. He gave us a new shining regenerated heart (i.e. innermost being) when we were born again.
  • Jesus says that we are not to hide this light. We are not to suppress the workings of our heart. We are to live from our new heart and not from our head (i.e. flesh).
  • People notice when we live from our heart because we act differently. Love emanates from our new heart and God is glorified as we love others.
Lord, help me to shine. Help me to love from my heart today.

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

spiritual salt shakers

You are the salt of the earth. If salt loses its taste, how can it be made to taste like salt again? It is no good. It is thrown away and people walk on it. -Matthew 5:13 NLV

These verses cause me to remember that we are salt shakers in the Lord's service.
In a sense, the Holy Spirit turns us upside down when he lives through us.
He shakes us and releases beautiful seasoning into the lives of those around us.

In that sense, the releasing ofsalt defies all that we find comfortable.
Being turned upside down, like a salt shaker, is really uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable, but necessary if we want to help those around us.

When I think about this idea, the word encouragement comes to me.
And how salt often looks like comforting and strengthening those around us.
This kind of loving seasoning will add such flavor to the world.

Turn me upside down Lord and shake the salt out of me.

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

religious hatred

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. [Luke 6:22-23 NIV]

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:10-11 NIV]

I have to admit that I cannot relate to being persecuted.
I am not really sure that I know what it means to be hated.
Much less hated or persecuted for my faith in God.

Still, the attacks of 9/11 brought home the idea that some religious folks do hate.
Honestly, I cannot relate to this sort of hate.
Yet I do remember the arrogant way that I once viewed non-Christians.

In reality, we often believe that our religion(s) are better than others.
Sometimes theology can be the greatest stumbling block to loving humility.
Sadly, our prideful behavior does not endear us to those of other religions.

Perhaps our greatest challenge is to love those religious folks who hate us.
To pray for those who persecute and torture those who God loves.
Interceding in prayer that those who hate would be won over by love.

Lastly, these verses remind us of our need to endure the hatred of others.
To pray for those who speak ill of us and wish us harm.
To bless those who are blind to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Lord Jesus, help us to show your love to those who are held captive by hate.

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

the uncomfortable call of making peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. -Matthew 5:9 NIV

Methodist theologian Adam Clarke once wrote:
"the Gospel is called the Gospel of peace,
because it tends to reconcile men to God and to each other"
I think that reconciliation is the operative word.
Peacemakers are reconcilers who bring folks together.
Healing folks that are alienated and often hostile to each other.

An old friend died a few years ago.
I was sad because we had not talked in a long time.
It caused me to contact another old friend that I had not seen in a while.

I shared a meal with my old friend.
As we dined together we shared our lives.
Life is too short to allow any sort of alienation in our lives.

Being a peacemaker sometimes involves making contact when it is uncomfortable.
Being a peacemaker is a divine call to reconcile and be reconciled.
Small wonder that folks who make peace are called children of God.

Lord, help me to be at peace and to make peace. Even when it is uncomfortable.

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

when I see with my heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 NIV]

I think that this verse can be a very intimidating one because we are all very aware of the lack of purity in our thoughts and motives. Even so, I think that Jesus is speaking to us of the wonder of the new creation that Paul teaches in his writings. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John's gospel:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Again Jesus speaks of seeing. Seeing God. Seeing His kingdom. Perhaps it was because of their unregenerate and impure hearts that the religious leaders of Jesus' day could not see God standing before them. Could not see the works of God's kingdom done before their eyes?

This speaks to my need to live from this pure heart that was born in me so many years ago. It instructs me to see not with my head but with my heart. It challenges me to move beyond the natural and physical aspects of life and press into the invisible and eternal life of God.

This all helps me to know that when I see with my heart I will see God and His kingdom.

Lord, help me to live from, and see with, my heart.

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

the nature of mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. [Matthew 5:7 NIV]

Is there a quality in life more divine than mercy?
Is there anything like showing mercy to one who does not deserve it?
I guess that is the heart of mercy isn't it?

It reminds me of the Lord's prayer where Jesus instructs us to pray:
"forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors"
Have you ever considered that forgiving others is an expression of mercy?
Especially when forgiveness is not requested or accompanied by repentance.
In reality anyone can be merciful when there are strings attached.

Yet that is not really mercy. Is it?
Mercy is forgiving without the promise of being forgiven.

Interesting how Jesus ties the giving and receiving of mercy in this verse.
Perhaps that is the nature of mercy and forgiveness?
These things flow into our lives when we simply exercise them.
In that sense our mercy muscles gets stronger and we are in turn blessed.

I need mercy Lord. Help me to be merciful.

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

righteous hunger

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. [Matt 5:6]
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [Luke 6:21]

What do you think it means to be hungry for righteousness?
What does a thirst for it look like?
How does such a person live?

The answer, I think, lies in the most righteous man that ever lived.
In reality, the goal of every believer is to be like Jesus Christ.
We must hunger and thirst to be incarnate righteousness.

Our hunger to be a person of love must trump all other hungers.
Our thirst to embody his goodness must overshadow every thirst.
Anything less will never satisfy the one who follows the Lord.

When I consider Jesus, I understand how much the world needs righteousness.
When he came, everyone rejected the very thing they most needed.
We need Jesus and the righteous love and goodness that he embodied.

I need you Lord. I need righteousness. Help me to hunger and thirst for it.

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

meekness and our need to be patient

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 NIV]

Albert Barnes defines meekness as a "patience in the reception of injuries".
Oh my, that really sheds a different light on the word for me.
I find that I can often be quickly offended when I am hurting and in pain.

This idea speaks to me of my need to be patient with others.
And quick to forgive those who have injured and offended me.
Patience and forgiveness seem to really go hand in hand.

I wonder if meekness is what happens when we really love someone.
Possibly the earth that we inherit is of a relational nature?
Maybe those who are patient and forgiving are those who gain influence on the earth?

Possibly patience and forgiveness are the only ways we can be meek?

Lord, help me to be meek. Help me to be patient and quick to forgive.

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

people who grieve

God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort! [Matthew 5:4 CEV]

I wish that I did not know what it was like to grieve.
Grieving seems to be all about pain.
Who needs more pain?

It hurts to lose someone who is close to us.
It is painful to lose an ability you once had.
All negative change seems to be an exercise in grief.

I heard a counselor once say that we circle around our grief until we step into our pain.
It is a scary thing to grieve because we are not in control of it.
Yet it is the release of control that often brings us comfort.

It blesses me that Jesus speaks directly to this issue.
He speaks to us not of the blessing of grief but of the blessing of being comforted.
I have really needed the comfort of God and of friends in my life.

I remember the time when my friends mourned with me when my first wife died.
I remember comforting friends who suffered great losses.
We all need the blessing of comfort in our lives.

I am thank for this blessing.

Thank you Lord for the promise of comfort.

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

blessed are the poor

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. [Luke 6-20 NIV]
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:3 NIV]

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by speaking of being poor.
Matthew thought him to mean spiritually poor.
Luke does not make that differentiation.

This verse speaks to me of humility.
I think that we are blessed when we are humble.
Our lives reflect the kingdom of heaven when we are humble.

Humility is rooted in the idea that we are poor and in need of help.
Help from God to make it spiritually.
Help from people to make it physically.

In a sense, all blessings begin with humility.
In truth humility is acknowledging our poverty.
We are blessed when we walk humbly with God.

Lord, help me to be recognize my poverty. And to walk humbly.

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

red letters

On January 1, 2011, I began writing about the Red Letters. The things Jesus said in the gospels that are often printed in red. Today I begin revisiting those posts and making a few changes to them. Below is an index to these devotions as I republish them. Click on on titled link to read each post.

  1. blessed are the poor: Humility is rooted in the idea that we are poor and in need of help.
  2. people who grieve: We circle around our grief until we step into our pain.
  3. meekness and our need to be patient: Meekness is manifested as patience when we are injured.
  4. righteous hunger: We must hunger and thirst to be incarnate righteousness.
  5. the nature of mercy: Mercy flows into our lives when we exercise our mercy muscles.
  6. when I see with my heart: I see God and His kingdom when I see with my heart.
  7. the uncomfortable call of making peace: Life is too short to allow any sort of alienation in it.
  8. religious hatred: Sometimes theology can be the greatest stumbling block to loving humility.
  9. spiritual salt shakers: Being turned upside down, like a salt shaker, is really uncomfortable.
  10. the light of the new heart: The regenerated heart is one that is filled with light.
  11. for the love of bread: More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.
  12. testing vs trusting: To test God is to not trust him.
  13. the prophetic fulfillment of the law: Every legal obligation and all Messianic prophecies.
  14. if someone calls you an idiot: Our reactions to name calling are important.
  15. the heart of divorce: A marriage can be destroyed by the hard heart of one party.
  16. the simplicity of yes: Wisdom is all about simplifying complex issues.
  17. spiritual justice: We would all be blind and toothless if we followed the letter of the law.
  18. unconditional enemy love: You cannot love your enemy if you have conditions.
  19. the power of pain: Will we allow pain to have power over us? Or will we transform it?
  20. the perfection that is love: We are perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect, when we love.
  21. the desire to be seen: Good things can become bad when done with the wrong motive.
  22. nondeductible donations: Real charity is all about the things that you cannot deduct on your taxes.
  23. praying like a hypocrite: An admonition to not pray to be seen and heard by others.
  24. divine will: Manifested in things that are small, priceless, hidden and eternal.
  25. food and forgiveness: We need both physical and spiritual bread to live.
  26. praying for deliverance: Life is a spiritual battle and we need God to fight the evil in our lives.
  27. his kingdom. eternal. amen.: I always end with these words when I pray the Lord's prayer.
  28. invisible treasure: When we love unconditionally we lay up treasure in heaven.
  29. spiritual cataracts: If left untreated spiritual cataracts can form and obscure the light.
  30. misplaced love: How we use money is often representative of how we serve God.
  31. an antidote for worry: We cannot think our way out of worry.
  32. seek first to love: Walking in love is evidence that we are seeking his kingdom.
  33. the toxic paralysis of worry: Worry is a toxic state of despair, unbelief and hopelessness.
  34. the reflection of judgment: Judging others can be a reflection of the way that we see ourselves?
  35. cataract surgery: We cannot perform spiritual surgery on ourselves.
  36. discerning a fool: Sharing our hearts with foolish people will often break our hearts.
  37. transforming prayer: Prayer is not about getting things but getting to know God better.
  38. he only gives us good things: It is always best to simply lean into the character of God.
  39. the essence of the bible: How we treat people reveals the influence of God in our lives.
  40. the narrow way of love: The Sermon on the Mount and walking the narrow road.
  41. character vs charisma: Dogmatic answers or humble words that cause you to seek.
  42. doing vs knowing: Why we do things religious things is more important than actually doing them.
  43. bedrock faith: Faith does not keep us from the storms but it does keep us in the storms.
  44. reader vs author: Jesus spoke as the author of holy writ.
  45. healing touch: Jesus' response to this leper teaches me about the heart of God and ministry.
  46. the heart of intercession: A great example of what it means to be an intercessor.

... click on this tag to see all of my Red Letter postings.

Don't Confuse God With Life

In October, 2009 I copied, with permission from my blogging friend Danny Simms, this beautiful post about disappointment. Enjoy the read. I will add a few comments after his thoughts.

When Phillip Yancey was writing his book Disappointment with God he interviewed a friend of his named Douglas. Douglas was a family man, a Christian leader and a trained psychotherapist. He had a lucrative practice but left it to work among the poorest of the poor in a large American city.

Sounds like a great guy, right? Surely everything will work out well for a guy like this!

Several years ago at a Pastor’s conference I heard Yancey tell about Douglas and how his life was going. As I recall the story, Douglas' wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer spread into her lungs. Her life was seriously threatened and a new series of treatment had started.

As this developed a drunken driver smashed into their family car head-on. Douglas's twelve-year-old daughter went through the windshield and was badly lacerated in the face.

At this same time Douglas was serving on the leadership board of his church. The group made a difficult decision to change the direction of a long standing ministry. Though the move was preceded by much prayer and deliberation, one of the deacons and a close friend of Douglas blamed him personally, angrily left the church, and told as many who would listen that it was all because of Douglas.

Yancey thought it was a natural fit to ask Douglas about being disappointed with God. "You know, Philip,” he said, “I don't think I've ever been disappointed with God." Yancey asked, "How can this be?"

His answer went something like this: "I learned a long time ago not to confuse God with life. Is life unfair? You bet. My life has been unfair. What has happened to my wife, what has happened to my daughter, the accusations within our church... it's all unfair. But I think God feels exactly the same way. I think He is grieved and hurt by the cancer, by what that drunk driver did, and by the breakdown of personal relationships as much as I am. But don't confuse God with life.”

Don't confuse God with life. That is a great insight.

There is a verse in Ezekiel where God tells us to consider three of His much loved people: Daniel, Noah and Job. They are specifically pointed out as being righteous. One of them spent the night with a bunch of lions. One of them lived through a huge flood that killed thousands of people. And then, of course, there's Job. He is the greatest example of unfairness in the Bible. Yet when God looks at those people, He says these are three of my favorites.

All three of them—Daniel, Noah, Job—and many others, including many of the people who wrote the Psalms—learned to have a relationship with God that didn't depend on how healthy they were or how many people applauded them and how well their lives were going.

As for me, when I focus on how life is going I can easily come down with a bad case of “woe as me.” I am much better off when I focus on how God is going.

I have struggled with enduring hardship several times in my life.. my first wife was blind for three years in my early 20s and was was healed of that blindness in 1975.. my heart broke when she passed away at age 43 in 1994. My second wife Ann has struggled with a crippling neurological disease since 2002 and I deal with painful arthritic wrists and ankles.

In all this I have discovered that Douglas' perspective is the only one that helps me live a productive life. When hard stuff comes I have not found it helpful to blame God for the difficulties. I have found that having that kind of attitude only makes me bitter. What Douglas says is true.. God is right along side of us in our pain.. He is touched by our sadness.. and our tears do not go unnoticed.

So when bad times come take Douglas' advice - don't confuse God with life.