the four hearts


“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:
  • When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
  • As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
  • As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
  • As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” [Matthew 18:18-23 ESV]


I thought that it might be good to frame Jesus' explanation of the parable in a bulleted fashion. He explains to us that there are four different types of hearts. My thoughts about each type:
  • The Hard Heart: The seed never penetrates the soil because the path has been walked on and packed down. This speaks to me about how sometimes life experiences can harden a heart towards God and the religious experiences.
  • The Shallow Heart: The seed grows and quickly dies before emerging. I know of many that have fallen away when life gets hard. I think that if they would have looked past their pain things might have been different. Even so, I hope for healing for ones like these.
  • The Strangled Heart: The seed grows and emerges but bears no fruit. We choke out our spiritual life when our focus is on material things and worldly aspirations. Pride will always strangle our heart because it favors the brain over it.
  • The Persevering Heart: Fruit doesn’t come immediately but with time. Reminds me that Jesus tells us that following him involves denying our self and picking up our cross. Humility will cause us to persevere and trust God. Spiritual fruit will come as we wait.
When I think about a farm I think about the importance of plowing before we sow and weeding and watering after seed is planted. So it is with our hearts. We must allow God's Spirit to plow us, weed us and water us if we are to see the fruit of the spirit grow in our lives.


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

spiritual eyes and ears


Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. [Matthew 13:16-17 ESV]

This verse was one of my late wife Ellen's favorites.
In her early twenties she was blind for three years.
I can still remember that day when she got the news about her eyes.

I can still feel the devastation as we held each and cried uncontrollably.
Those years were so difficult - we were both blind in so many ways.
The joy that Ellen experienced as she got her sight, and her life, back was indescribable.

God healed her and our lives forever changed - I was never the same.
When I was born again it was like my eyes began to see for the very first time.
My life changed as I began to see and hear life through God's eyes.

It was like I had been blind to an inner reality for so many years.
My spiritual eyes were opened to mercy as I experienced God's forgiveness.
Sounds of joy rang in my spiritual ears as I discovered His grace.

My spiritual eyes and my ears are still blessed in so many ways.
Each day I wake to the voice of the Lord in my heart assuring me that I am not alone.
The Lord continues to reveal himself to me opening my senses to see the world differently.

Lord, please tune my inner senses helping me to see and hear like you.


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

hidden messages


Then his disciples approached Jesus and asked, “Why do you always speak to people in these hard-to-understand parables?” ... I teach the people using parables, because they think they’re looking for truth, yet because their hearts are unteachable, they never discover it. Although they will listen to me, they never fully perceive the message I speak. [Matthew 13:10,13-14 TPT]

Have you ever heard a joke and just didn't get it even when it was explained to you?
This was the state of the religious leaders who followed Jesus around trying to trip him up.
These stories were often about how leaders like the scribes and Pharisees rejected God.

These religious folks had a blinding lust for power and a predisposition to jealousy.
They simply did not get the messages contain in the parables.
Here is a part of the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes about them:
"this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed"
Thankfully, Jesus speaks something very different about those who follow him.
Unlike the religious folks, these have hearts that are not dull, ears to hear and eyes to see.
He says that people who follow him will have more and those who oppose him have less.

I can relate to having spiritual ears that did not hear and spiritual eyes that refused to see.
It took me a long time to repent of Pharisaical pride and arrogance.
It all began when I fully accepted the gospel that Jesus preached.

I began seeing the scriptures, and human beings, through the eyes of Christ.
I began to reject the theologies that captivated my mind in my youth.
I began to embrace the divine messages that seemed to be hidden in years past.

I believe in you Lord. Help me to reject the things that dull my heart, my eyes and ears.


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

spiritual seeds


A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. [Matthew 13:3-8 MSG

I love hearing a good story that is communicated orally, in writing or on video.
Stories have a way of drawing us in and teaching us in ways that nothing else can.
Jesus understood this and often taught in stories that are called parables.

He begins this passage in Matthew telling the first of six parables.
The story is so universal because everyone understands the idea of planting seeds.
Following are a few points that I think we can glean from this parable.

The sower cast seed on places he knew that the seed would not grow.
When I think about that I consider how needlessly careful I am when I speak about God.
Perhaps it is better to speak truth in love and let the seed fall where it may.

The sower had no control over the condition of the soil.
The sower is not responsible to weed, water or plow - his role is to cast seed.
I think that it is good when we know what our role is and what it is not.

The sower did not know what results his sowing would produce.
We really do not know what results our words and actions will have.
All we can know are the motives and attitudes that we speak and live.

We have no control over how a person will hear what we say.
Our responsibility is limited as we do not know how our words will be received.
We in turn need to trust the Lord as we cast our spiritual seeds in the world.

Lord, help me to have the confidence to cast your seed in the world.


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

spiritual family


“Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother! [Matthew 12:24 NLT]

One of the first songs I remember singing as a new believer had a refrain that went:
"I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God"
I loved, and still love, the idea of having a spiritual family.
Yet, with time, I understood that spiritual family did not always translate to church family.

When someone left for another church the idea of family sadly took on the persona of a divorce.
Yet I rejoice knowing that some who I churched with 30 years ago are still my friends.
In reflection, I understand that the connection Jesus speaks of is spiritual not religious.

I think that there is a universal familial phenomenon of people who are marked by love.
In reality, we who love often have more in common with people outside of our faith traditions.
Our spiritual family seems to be far greater than the people we see on Sunday morning.

I love how Jesus calls us family members, identifying us as something more than servants.
When he compares us to his actual family members he is speaking to spiritual relationships.
So amazing that this eternal familyhood will outlast all temporal family relationships.

Lord, thank you that I have the privilege of calling you Father.


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

worse than the first


“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” [Matthew 12:46-50 ESV]


There is a tendency by some to read these verses literally.
Some use these to try to explain the interactions of demons with human beings.
I once approached them that way.

When we focus on that aspect we really miss the greater message of it.
We miss that Jesus is speaking of a generation of unbelieving people.
A generation that embraces some sort of faith for a season and then falls away.

It reminds me of these chilling verses in Hebrews:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
I am really not a fire and brimstone kind of guy.
In my life I have found that love, and not fear, brings me closer to God.
Yet these verses and others like them must be included in a complete theology.

They speak to me of temporal and eternal consequences.
When a person continually rejects the Holy Spirit they harden their heart towards Him.
These continual actions cause the last state of that person to be worse than the first.

Lord, I lift to you those with hard hearts. Help them to simply say yes to you.


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

seeking proof


Jesus said, “You’re looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you’re going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. [Matthew 12:39 MSG]

I love how Jesus responds to the religious leaders request for a sign.
A common thread throughout history is the way that people chase after God for signs.
Many still require proof that God hears their prayers and the cries of their hearts.

Sometimes it is about farmers needing rain for crops or hurting people simply wanting relief.
Don't get me wrong, I have many needs and want to see miraculous signs.
But I have learned that seeking signs and seeking God are polar opposites.

I remember that night in April 1976 when I first prayed.
My heart broke as I saw my young wife go forward for healing prayer.
I closed my eyes and told God that I would give my life to him if he healed her.

As soon as I prayed that prayer I knew that it was wrong ...
Prayers with strings attached are not offered in faith ...
So I responded by giving my life to Him with not strings attached.

Interesting how the religious leaders in this passage now want a sign.
A few verses ago they quarreled with Jesus when he gave them signs on the Sabbath.
Their request for a sign comes across as a bit preposterous.

Yet to them, and to us, Jesus speaks of the sign given to all peoples of all times.
The Jonah-evidence is an allusion to the resurrection of Christ.
In truth no other sign is needed. No other proof need be offered.

Help me Lord to be one who seeks you for who you are and not what you do.


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

evil hearts


Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Matthew 12:24 ESV]

The Pharisees have accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.
Jesus responds the way that John the Baptist did and calls them a brood of vipers.
He says that their words are representative of people who have evil hearts.

Many people bristle at the idea that some have evil hearts.
These think that all people are basically good.
It reminds me of our need for spiritual rebirth and inner transformation.

Here is the promise from the prophet Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
The truth is that we all need a new heart that is neither evil or desperately wicked.
The promise is that God will give us that new heart when we respond to him.
And our mouths will speak good things from that new heart.

Thank you Lord for your transforming power. Thank you for my new heart.


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

spiritual slander


Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [Matthew 12:30-31 ESV]

Jesus has responded to accusations by the Pharisees that concern the source of his power.
He then says something very chilling about the words that they uttered.
He says that there is a sin that will not be forgiven.

Blasphémia (βλασφημία) is a Greek word that can be rendered as 'slander'.
It signifies a switching of right for wrong and wrong for right.
The Pharisees were certainly guilty of this in the gospels.

Much has been written about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The context here indicates that this sins involves being against the Messiah.
This is basically the sin of continually rejecting the convicting the Holy Spirit.

Given that, it is understandable why this sin cannot be forgiven.
For if one confuses right with wrong, they will continue to slander what is right.
The progressive entrenchment of such behavior will make it impossible for repentance.

This is where some are at today when the Holy Spirit begins to convict them.
Like the Pharisees they will, at every turn, reject God's influence in their life.
In doing so they present themselves as people who are against Jesus the Messiah.

Breakdown the hardness of hearts today Lord. That each might respond to your Spirit.


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

religious divisions


Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste,
and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [Matthew 12:25 ESV]


Once again Jesus is confronted by pejorative religious unbelief.
A man is miraculously healed by him and the means of the man's healing is questioned.
Sadly everyone was amazed by this miracle except the religious leaders.

How could the hearts of these leaders be so hard and lacking compassion?
It seems that jealousy has taken hold of them and blinded them.
In this state of jealousy they begin to rationalize that Jesus is in league with Satan.

Jesus mocks their logic and says that only one stronger than Satan could cast him out.
He then confronts their opposition saying that they should be with him and not he with them.
This is where I fear many are at today in their faith.

Many today do not understand how God may be working in the world today.
As such, they find themselves mocking things that they do not understand.
In the end they choose to divide instead of finding common ground.

So heartbreaking the way that believers in God argue with each other.
These see people, who think differently, as their enemies.
In reality, these will never cast out demons or heal the sick.

Religious divisions embrace an unhealthy inward focus that ignores hurting people.
Instead of uniting Christ's body to do the work of the kingdom, they separate it.
In contrast, healing can come when we see past our differences and find common ground.

Come Holy Spirit. We need you. Unite us in the love of Christ.


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

callous indifference


When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him. [Matthew 12:10 MSG]

Can you imagine coming to an emergency room and finding it closed because it is Sunday?
That would make no more sense than the hypocritical legalism of these religious folks.
What kind of a person would deny a cure to a hurting person in the name of religion?

Jesus then compares the man to one of the their sheep who fell into a ditch on the Sabbath.
He knows, and they know too, that these would certainly lift their sheep from the ditch.
His teaching exposes a callous indifference to the suffering of this hurting man.

The scene transitions to the miraculous as Jesus brings heaven to earth.
The words “stretch out your hand” are so understated.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been that man?

Jesus didn't touch him but merely spoke a few words to him.
His withered hand becomes like his healthy one as he stretches it in faith.
This passage, and others like it, are some of the most chilling ones in the gospels.

In reading these verses we are reminded that God is not limited by religious rules.
He will meet us in times when everyone has given up on us.
Such is the very nature and character of the one who call us to “stretch out your hand”.

I am in awe of your compassion and power Lord Jesus. You are God the Son!


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

the Lord of the Law


I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. [Matthew 12:6-8 ESV

The context of this passage is a condemnation by the Pharisees.
They accused the disciples of "doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath".
Jesus' rebuke to these religious leaders points to a truth that transcends written law.

In these few sentences Jesus seems to redefine the whole concept of Sabbath.
When he says that He is the lord of the Sabbath he points us to something greater than a day.
In essence he asks: "Why follow the Law when you can follow the Lord of the Law?"

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that Jesus knew that he was God Incarnate?
When he speaks of being lord of the Sabbath he attests to that.
He shocked them all when he said that he was greater than the temple of God's presence.

Jesus implies that he is greater than King David and priests who minister in the temple.
In saying these things he acknowledges the kingly and priestly nature of the Messiah.
Jesus absolutely knew who he was and left no doubt about that.

So when he says ‘I desire mercy’ he is speaking the the nature of divine law.
He is communicating to them, and to us, about the timeless will of God.
And he is offering us a challenge to act differently.

Jesus, I confess you as Lord. Help me to show mercy today and every day.


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

the root of peace


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [Matthew 11:28-30 ESV]

There is no verse that speaks so well to the heart of Christ as this one.
Jesus speaks to that deep part of us that is weary and in need of encouragement.
When I think of the rest that I need I go directly to how I need peace in my life.

Life can be so stressful and peace can be so hard to find.
Yet Jesus' invitation is so clear. And so compelling.
His words are a call to a different sort of life.

When Jesus speaks of himself he gives us a peek into what peace looks like.
He identifies as being gentle and lowly in heart.
In saying this he calls humility to come forth in our lives.

The truth is that we will never have peace if we are not humble.
Pride will always bring stress to our lives because it demands that we control.
Peace will accompany an attitude of humility because it calls us to release control.

The image of a yoke speaks deeply to me about how Jesus wants to walk beside us.
I love this image of a leadership that walks with us and not before or behind us.
This to me is the difference between humble and arrogant leadership.

In John's gospel Jesus says that he will send the Holy Spirit when he leaves the earth.
He uses the Greek word paraklētos to describe the Spirit.
The word is descriptive of one who is called alongside of us to help.

Jesus' invitation is not for us to simply come, but to come and walk with him.
His assurance is that he will bear our burden and the load we carry will lighten.
His pledge is that we will find peaceful rest when we come to him.

Lord, I come.


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

spiritual children


Jesus said, “I praise you, Father. You are Lord of heaven and earth. You have hidden these things from wise and educated people. But you have shown them to little children. [Matthew 11:25 NIRV]

There is a spiritual knowledge that can only be received by spiritual children.
These have not learned to rely on their heads for direction and leadership.
In contrast, I can relate to leading a religious life where my head trumped my heart.

This verse in Proverbs 3 changed that aspect of my life when I began to fully embrace it:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
The religious side of me bristles at the idea that following God is not about following rules.
I love rules and principles because I can blindly use them to follow God.
Of course that is exactly the way that the Pharisees lived their lives.

In reality, following God, and understanding spiritual truth, is not about religious rules.
When I think about children I first consider how much these little ones love.
The way that innocent children accept what their parents say as truth is beautiful.

Children are believing because they have not been taught to be unbelieving.
They have not learned to rely on their own understanding.
They know what it is to trust with ALL of their heart.

Lord, I give you all of my adult religious filters. Give me the heart of a child.


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

positive repentance


Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had taken place, because they didn’t repent. [Matthew 11:20 ISV

Repentance is a word that is sometimes associated with a negative style of preaching.
I think that is unfortunate and a gross misunderstanding of the word.
I find repentance to be one of the most positive and life-giving words in the dictionary.

In essence, repentance is a turning from disbelief to belief.
It is not so much what you turn from but Who you turn to.
Spiritual life is about turning our hearts towards Jesus and trusting in him.

Jesus' indictment of people who will not repent is one of the most serious in scripture.
He says that people would be judged not for what they did not see but for what they did.
And so it is for we who have, in some way, tasted of the goodness of God.

The Apostle Paul's teaching was that the goodness of God leads people to repentance.
He seemed to understand that repenting was not about fear but about faith.
In reality, fearing God or hell or punishment does not create lasting change in us.

Yet embracing the goodness and love of God has the potential to change us forever.
This is why repentance is such a positive part of the spiritual life.
When we repent we, like the prodigal, find God running to embrace us.

Your goodness leads me to repentance Lord. Help me to see your goodness today.


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