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 being 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.