religious bullies

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. [Matthew 11:12 CSB]

The message of repentance that John the Baptist preached was very different.
The religious leaders of his day were intimidated by John and his teaching.
They use all manner of fleshly force to keep control of their religious positions.

They were religious bullies who exalted their rules and intimidated the masses.
When the masses flocked to baptismal waters these leaders sensed their control slipping.
And violence began to grow in their hearts.

As Jesus confronted these bullies we saw violence take root in their hearts.
Their obsession for fleshly religious power blinded them to what was really going on.
They did not see those in need of forgiveness, healing and deliverance.

These power hungry men stopped at nothing to maintain their fleshly power and control.
In their quest for power they began to plot the death of Jesus.
Looking back we can see the fruit of their violent and manipulative actions.

The Pharisees are a compelling reminder to us of the dark side of religion.
When bullies are in leadership the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.
In contrast, humble servants usher in the peace and love of God in this world.

He us Lord to place ourselves in the company of servants.

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

when less is more

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [Matthew 11:11 ESV]

As the disciples of John the Baptist leave Jesus remembers and honors John.
He calls him more than a prophet and he identifies John a the forerunner of the Messiah.
In doing this Jesus identifies himself as that very Messiah.

When I think of John I remember that he said of Christ:
"I must decrease and he must increase"
John was a humble prophet and as such he prophetically pointed to Jesus.
He deflected attention away from himself and onto the Messiah.

Jesus then says something crazy.
He says that one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than a great prophet.
To me this speaks to the miracle of the new birth.

Spiritually born people have new hearts with God's laws emblazoned on them.
It reminds me that each reborn person is more than a prophet who proclaims God's message.
It speaks to me about how such people are God's living message.

John was the last prophet of the old covenant.
We who are born again are embodied by the Spirit of the new covenant.
Our lives are greater as they testify to the reality of heaven's kingdom.

Thank you Father that, by your grace, I have your laws written on my heart.

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

the offence of unanswered prayers

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Matthew 11:2-6 ESV]

John the Baptist is in a jail cell and he wonders.
Is Jesus really the one promised who will set the captives free.
He wants Jesus to set him free from prison.

This passage breaks my heart.
I can hear the sadness in John's voice as he speaks through his friends.
John has been expecting Jesus to rescue him and Jesus has not come.

His question to Jesus is a desperate cry for help.
Yet the Lord does not give any indication that he will free John.
His cry for help reminds me of how many of us pray and are disappointed.

Unanswered prayers are so difficult because of the pain we experience.
Sometimes that pain can be transformed into offence at the Lord.
We can be offended that He does not come to our rescue.

To John, and to us, Jesus offers advice when our prayers are unanswered.
He says that there is a blessing to be had when we are not offended.
In a sense, faith is all about our reactions to unanswered prayers.

We are blessed when we trust the Father when answers do not come.
We mature spiritually when we release our pain and offences to Jesus.
And we find healing when we allow the Holy Spirit to embrace us.

Life can be hard Lord. Help me to keep my heart free of offence.

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

divine apprenticeship

Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing. [Matthew 10:41-42 MSG]

I love the way that The Message uses the word apprentice instead of disciple.
Reminds me of the on-the-job training that so many receive in professional life.
In truth, God has called us into a divine apprentice experience.

Consider this explanation of the concept:
An apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study.
Have you ever considered that each generation trains a new one in the faith?
In his words here Jesus seems to indicate that this style of apprenticeship encompasses everything.
The smallest acts of love and kindness are not missed but acknowledged in the heavenly realms.

This is the divine apprenticeship that we are called to both share and receive.
And sometimes receiving help can be harder than giving it because it can be so humbling.
Perhaps the very nature of apprenticeship is to create an atmosphere of humility?

Being an apprentice is all about being able to humbly receive help and instruction.
Jesus told us that this kind of discipleship requires self denial and cross bearing.
In essence, this is the only way that the Kingdom of God grows on the earth.

Help me Lord to both receive and share your love as I walk with you in life.

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

agents of grace

Anyone who receives you receives me,
and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. [Matthew 10:40 NLT]

I wonder what Jesus saw on his disciples faces as he spoke to them?
How did they respond to his words about being persecuted and rejected?
What did they think about this mission that he was sending them on?

Perhaps he was, in this verse, assuring them that they were being sent out as ambassadors?
And that their kingdom mission was not only prophetic but helpful for those they touched.
Good words to think of when we remember that we are ambassadors of divine grace.

The Greek word for grace is χάρις or charis and for grace-gift it is xárisma or charisma.
In the scriptures grace is often portrayed as God working through his children.
I think that this is the normal way that the Lord dispenses grace into the world.

For sure there is an all encompassing grace that is directly bestowed in salvation.
Yet even in salvation, one normally hears of grace through a person's grace-gift.
Paul writes to the Romans of salvation coming through the grace-gift of preaching.

When I consider the word grace, I am more and more convinced of it's practicality.
When grace is needed, it normally comes through God working through a person.
It makes sense when one considers that spiritual gifts are given to be used to help others.

Consider the grace-gifts that Paul writes of in the twelfth chapter of Romans.
When I hear of the gift of healing I think of one person being used to heal another.
He writes of how a grace-gift can bring about the miraculous intervention of God.

Grace is something that we receive so that we can give it away.
The world, people, need the manifestation of grace and grace-gifts.
Our mission should be to be agents of divine grace to a lost and hurting world.

Thank you for grace Lord. Help me to be used as an instrument of your grace today.

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

phony godliness

Whoever knows Me here on earth, I will know him in heaven. And whoever proclaims faith in Me here on earth, I will proclaim faith in him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me here, I will disown before My Father in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33 VOICE]

It is often said that Christianity is more about a relationship than a belief system.
This verse seems to testify to that aspect of the faith.
Those who know God witness, by their words and actions, to a relationship with him.

In contrast, religious folks who do not know God seem to live differently.
The Pharisees, religious leaders of Jesus' day, are good examples of such people.
In a letter to Timothy Paul describes such people as having a form of godliness.

The apostle goes on to tell Timothy that such people deny the power of true godliness.
In essence, true godliness is best revealed by people who manifest the Spirit's fruit.
These folks reflect the love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, goodness and peace of God.

Jesus is the yardstick and plumb line by which all godliness is measured.
Our godliness should reflect the power of God that we see in his life and teachings.
If it does not, then we are living a phony and impotent form of godliness.

I repent of my phony godliness Lord. Open the eyes of my heart to real godliness.

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