tenacious faith

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. [Matthew 15:28 NLT]

A Gentile woman has come to Jesus to asking for mercy that he might heal her daughter.
He rebuffs her saying: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

This account can be a troubling one if it is generalized to say something it does not mean.
If one tries to teach that salvation is exclusive to the Jews they miss the point.
I believe that the message is mean to teach us about the nature of faith.

I am so inspired when I read of a gentile woman coming to Jesus in behalf of her daughter.
It inspires me to press in and pray when answers seem so far away.
This woman would not settle for a rebuff from the Lord - she would not accept no.

This gentile woman was fearless and bold as she fought tenaciously for her daughter.
Jesus calls her faith great because of the persistence and tenacity of it.
To me she is a model of how one might intercede for one that they love so much.

God help to be bold, fearless, persistent and tenacious when I pray.

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

healing tears

Jesus called his disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, otherwise they might collapse on the way.” [Matthew 15:32 CSB]

What image do you see when the disciples report about the compassion of Christ?
Do you read words "moved by compassion" and wonder how they knew he was being moved?
Ever think about a Jesus who walked around being confronted by devastation?

How is he moved as he heals "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others"?
Do you see him weeping as people who are in such pain are laid at his feet?
Can you envision the healing tears of the son of God? Can you see the compassion of the Lord?

In Hebrews we read about a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
The eternal compassion of Jesus astounds and touches me deeply.
When I pray I picture him right there with me helping and interceding on my behalf.

As I walk through life I imagine him cheering me on to greater things.
When I hurt I know that He hurts with me feels everything that I feel.
His compassion is great and without comparison - for me and people in the world.

I am in awe of his compassion for on the crowds and on me.
And with those crowds I glorify God for the gift of His son in my life.
I do not know where I would be without the compassion of my friend Jesus.

I am unworthy of your compassion Lord. I thank you and give glory to your name.

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

the wisdom of ignoring leaders

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” [Matthew 15:12-14 NLT]

Jesus has offended the religious leaders by comparing them to vain people.
He calls them people who honor God with their lips but have hearts alienated from Him.
He further compares them to blind guides who are leading their followers astray.

The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees seems to increase as the story continues.
In these verses He indicates that these fundamentalists are not ordained by the Father.
His instructions to ignore them is a compelling one for people like me.

I wonder when I should stop conversations with people who embrace different views.
I have a hard time doing that - especially online with people who have egos like mine. ツ
Maybe I need to learn to ignore those with pharisaical attitudes alone?

That seems to be the heart of why Jesus advises us to ignore leaders like this.
For years I was manipulated by a fundamentalist leader who brought out the worst in me.
I would have been wise to ignore much of the teaching that I once embraced.

Lord help me to avoid useless religious conversations.

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

spiritual defilement

Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. [Matthew 15:10-11 ESV]”

Religious people sometimes seem to be all about the things that we do.
They focus on food we eat, drinks we imbibe, music we listen to and movies we watch.
Such were the religious leaders that confronted Jesus about eating with unwashed hands.

Their preoccupation was with the externals of the law than the heart of it.
Religious folks often focus on the externals of faith rather than the essentials of it.
And often, the judgmental and unkind things that these speak defile them.

Consider Jesus' explanation of the parable:
“Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
This verbiage is similar to what the Lord taught in the sermon on the mount.
Jesus reminds us in that message that sin is an issue of the heart.
The real issue of Christian life is not about the things we do but why we do them.

I think that the issue may be one of transformation.
A transformed heart is one that is free from the sins that Jesus speaks about.
And we are not defiled when we speak from the heart.

Lord help me to focus on the internals, rather than the externals, of life.

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

hypocritical rules

You hypocrites! How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! ‘These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach human rules as though they were my laws!’” [Matthew 15:7-9 GNT]

I can relate a bit to the way that Jesus reacts here to these religious leaders.
I sometimes bristle when I hear various doctrines and theologies presented as fact.
Often religious people elevate their own rules to the level of scripture.

When someone does not agree with these they become like the Pharisees.
These reject anything that disagrees with their entrenched dogma and tradition.
And often they respond by pitifully exerting a phony kind of authority.

Jesus identifies the issue as one of hypocrisy.
He presents a definition of hypocrisy that is a bit different.
He calls them hypocrites because their religious rules are all external.

Their focus is on the letter of their rules rather than the spirit of the law.
Their doctrines come from their heads rather than the heart of God.
They worship God in vain because their obedience is to the rules instead of the Lord.

Lord, help me to not lean on my own understanding of the scriptures.

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


And when they had climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. The others sat there, awestruck. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. [Matthew 14:32-33 TLB]

How do you react to something amazing that you cannot understand?
I have never seen anyone walk on water but I have been awestruck at times.
Really, it is crazy to think that there is an explanation for everything that happens.

I think that it is interesting to note that, before this, these guys had seen miracles.
They had seen miracles of healing, provision and deliverance.
Yet there was something different about seeing their rabbi walkin on water.

Perhaps these disciples needed this to shake them out of familiarity?
For months they saw miracles every day and they had become accustomed to them.
When they saw Jesus walking towards them, on water, they had a reset.

I have had also had resets in my life - things that have caused me to be in awe.
With each reset I joined these disciples in worshiping Messiah Jesus.
I love how God surprises us in life with events that leave us awestruck.

Lord Jesus. I once again affirm that You really are the Son of God!

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

uncomfort zones

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. [Matthew 14:30-31 MSG]

Jesus has come to the disciples' boat walking on the water.
Their initial reaction was one of great fear - who would not be afraid.
Jesus calls out to them and tries to calm them down.

Then Peter says: “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
A pretty amazing pivot from fear to faith - maybe helped out by a bit testosterone?
Sometimes I think that the Lord simply wants us to leave our comfort zones.

I believe that the story gives us a pathway out of our comfort zone:
  • Recognize where God is. Peter left the boat because Jesus was on the water.
  • Ask God if he wants you to join him where he is.
  • Trust the Lord by taking one step of faith into the unknown waters.
  • Continue to walk in faith keeping your spiritual eyes on God.
  • Know that others, like Peter, have doubted when the waves are choppy.
  • Call out to the Lord when you feel afraid.
  • God will rescue you and you learn from the experience.
Help me Lord to walk to you even when you are outside of my comfort zone.

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

the fourth watch

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14:22-27 ESV]

Ever wonder why Jesus sent his friends off and chose to be alone?
I think he needed to process his deep feelings of grief over the death of John the Baptist.
I wonder what his prayers looked like up on that mountain.

When my first wife died my prayers became a spiritual lifeline.
Mostly I prayed for strength for me and my kids.
I imagine that Jesus prayed similar prayers.

Somewhere between 3am and 6am Jesus comes to his disciples walking on water.
These had been struggling against the waves and the wind for some time.
Interesting that he could have come earlier but chose to let the disciples struggle.

Perhaps that is a sermon in miniature about the way that God works.
Maybe we have to exhaust all of our options before God shows up?
I wonder if Jesus would have prayed all night long if his friends did not need him.

The reactions of his friends are pretty predictable.
I too would have cried out in fear at the sight of someone walking towards me on the water.
Perhaps God is often unrecognizable in the way that he comes when we need him?

I love Jesus' compassionate reaction to their fear.
He doesn't chastise them for a lack of faith like he did on another occasion.
He simply comforts them telling them to take heart and not be afraid.

Help me to persevere in faith Lord knowing that the fourth watch is coming.

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

compassion, miracles and grief

On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone. ... When Jesus landed he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd. Matthew 14:13-14 TPT

Jesus has just heard the news about the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist.
He responds to this devastating news by withdrawing to a quiet place.
I cannot imagine the sadness that the news must have brought to him.

People handle grief differently.
Some want to be alone and some want to be surrounded by friends.
Jesus wanted to be alone but his fame would not allow an extended time of grieving alone.

This is the context of his compassion.
From the depths of his grief Jesus heals hurting people and then he does an amazing miracle.
Still reeling from sad news, he takes five barley loaves and two fish and feeds over 5,000.

Interesting how Jesus works the miracle of the fishes and the loaves.
For everyone to eat a few people had to give Jesus all of their food.
The disciples wanted to send the crowds away - they only had enough food for themselves.

Yet Jesus wanted them to let go of the safety of their food.
Perhaps miracles and compassion can be released in the midst of grief only when we let go?
Maybe God wants us to leave our comfort zones by giving him all of our fishes and loaves

Lord, help me to let go of my fishes and loaves.

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

spiritual familiarity

So the people were very unhappy because of what he was doing. But Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their own family.” And because the people did not have any faith, Jesus did not work many miracles there. [Matt 13:57-58 CEV]

Familiarity is something that many of us deal with.
The word itself seems to have it's root in the word "family".
Consider this saying:"Familiarity breeds contempt".

It is sometimes difficult for some to honor a person they have known all of their lives.
Consider Jacob's son Joseph who was sold into slavery by his older brothers.
These listened to him speak of his dreams of leading them and contempt grew in them.

On the flip-side it is often so difficult for children raised in the religious families.
Sometimes these develop a contempt for their religious environment, leaders and family.
Especially when they see (or even smell out) a bit of hypocrisy.

The sad thing about familiarity, in adults or children, is how it cuts us off from faith.
Familiarity with people and organizations can sometimes obscure the image of God.
Sometimes it can skew our impressions of Him and his ways.

Many times if takes an unfamiliar face to bring faith to the surface.
Such was the journey of Jesus when he travelled outside of his own hometown.
These believed in Jesus the man because they were not familiar with him as a boy.

Lord, help me to be an unfamiliar face for someone today.

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

spiritual understanding

“Do you understand all these things? “Yes,” they said, “we do.” Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” [Matthew 13:51-52 NLT

As he shared with his disciples Jesus would often say to them "He who has ears, let him hear."
He now turns to them and asks them if they actually heard and understood when he was saying.
And like many of us would have done they all answered in the affirmative.

I am sure they might have understood his words with their heads.
But, like us, I doubt that they had a real understanding of them in their hearts.
With our heads we understand literally but it takes our hearts to really understand.

Jesus uses the word scribe to describe those who understand his teachings.
Here are a few words describing the vocation of scribes:
Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition, active from the 5th century b.c. to the 1st century a.d., who transcribed, edited, and interpreted the scriptures.
Jesus says that we, like the scribes, are entrusted to understand and interpret the scriptures.
He sees us developing a mastery that brings treasure from the old testament through his teaching.
This I believe is how we can bring real insight to the words of Moses and the Prophets.

It is only by understanding God's true character that we can clearly see the ancient writings.
Believing that Jesus accurately represented God changes the way that we read the Old Testament.
When we read about Abraham, Isaac and Israel we can do so with new inner eyes.

We can read these scriptures with an understanding that they inform us about ourselves.
Our eyes are opened to God's love, mercy and grace giving us new tools to provide interpretation.
In time Zeus-like wrathful deity disappears as we embrace the One who is called Love.

Help me to hear your voice afresh Lord that I might embrace the scriptures afresh.

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