the life of sparrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

going public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a response to malignment

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

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

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

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

spiritual survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spiritual words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the wisdom of lambs

I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves.
So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. [Matthew 10:16 CEV]

So often we think of ourselves as grownup spiritual sheep when we are really lambs.
The image of a lamb speaks to me of ones who are innocent and untainted by the world.
In reality, such are ones who have true wisdom and godly character.

I sometimes think that life experiences have given me wisdom and understanding.
In reflection such things often create a bias that is the opposite of wisdom.
More often than not, wounds and hurts cloud my thinking and cause me to be unwise.

The phrase "innocent as doves" speaks to me of a person with no personal agenda.
To embrace wisdom often requires a demand to reject our plans for the way of love.
How hard it is to humble ourselves and become innocent lambs in his flock.

So what does it mean to be "wise as snakes"? And is it contrary to divine wisdom?
This phrase seems to indicate that our approach to wisdom must be of heart and head.
I think that the heart exists to balance the head and vice versa.

The wisdom that Jesus instructs us to have engages both our heart and our head.
In the midst of wolves we need to have a lamb-like wisdom to succeed.
In the end, our lives must model and reflect the humble Lamb of God.

I need your wisdom Lord. Help me to overcome past hurts and embrace wisdom.

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

carry-on baggage

You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. [Matthew 10:9-10 MSG]

Love the imagery that The Message presents when it says 'travel light'.
What do you think of when you hear those words and how does it affect you?
For me, I think of the difference between checking my bags and carrying them on.

Traveling light means to only pack the essentials - maybe just the bare essentials.
Carrying our bags on a plane simplifies our plane travel and makes our trip happier.
It is so popular that many airlines now charge more to carry bags on than to check them.

Love the phrase 'You are the equipment' because it speaks to our sufficiency in Christ.
The primary focus of air travel is not the baggage but the passenger.
In the same way, our Father's focus is not on what we have but who we are in him.

I do not need extra baggage to be complete. I am already complete.
I do not need gifts, talents or abilities. I am already complete.
I am complete because I am in Christ and he is in me.

Our need is to travel light, packing just enough in our bag for today.
As our verse indicates, all we need to pack on this journey are the essentials.
And like carry-on baggage, our journey will be simpler when we travel light.

Father, help me to shed all of heavy baggage and learn to travel light.

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

the untouchables

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. [Matthew 10:5-8 MSG]

These are the first instructions that Jesus gives as he sends out his twelve disciples.
So interesting how these verses follow the Lord's words about farmers and shepherds.
I love the way that The Message paraphrases this passage.

The word untouchables jumped out at me when I read this passage.
It is a given that Jesus was speaking about lepers and the fear of being with them.
Yet I wonder if there is a broader sense in which the word is used?

Like lepers, there are many today who are shunned because of things in their lives.
Divorced people were once treated badly by religious folks and still are by some.
It was once considered sinful for a person of once race to marry one of a different race.

Modern day religious untouchables are folks that have found love in people of the same sex.
Like lepers, they have been shunned and ostracized in fundamentalist religious circles.
Folks who act this way seem to be ignorant of Christ's command to love those who are different.

"You have been treated generously, so live generously."
These words come alive in us when we embrace the untouchables in our lives.
And, in reality, the love of God is on full display when we love like he does.

Lord, help me to love without conditions and to care for the untouchables in my life.

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

spiritual farmers and shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unholy spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spiritual not cerebral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

faith that endures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord help an enduring faith grow in my heart today.

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

the miracle maker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old clothes. sour wine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mourning, grief and facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

religious pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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