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.