religious blindness

“Elijah does come and get everything ready. I’m telling you, Elijah has already come but they didn’t know him when they saw him. They treated him like dirt, the same way they are about to treat the Son of Man.” [Matthew 17:11-12 MSG]

The three disciples have just witnessed the appearing of Elijah on the mountain.
They are walking back to the others and have questions about what they just saw.
These ask about the prophet and the scripture in Malachi that says:
“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
Jesus points to John the Baptist indicating that he spoke in a prophetic manner.
He goes further and identifies the Baptist as a modern day Elijah.
Interesting how he alludes to the way that John was rejected and killed.

This is not how everyone thought that the prophet Elijah come.
I imagine all believed that Elijah would be received and acclaimed by the Jews.
No one thought that Elijah would be rejected by religious folks and murdered by a king.

Jesus says that he will receive a similar fate at the hands of religious people.
I wonder if this is a message that God wants us to consider?
The idea that a prophet would come and be rejected is a troubling thought.

Who amongst us could ever imagine that we ourselves might reject God in the flesh?
Maybe the message is about how a narrow religious view can obscure our spiritual eyesight?
Perhaps such a view blinds us to the voice and presence of God?

I cannot get past my own dogma Lord. Open my eyes to your appearing.

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

comfort in scary times

Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

All I can say when I read such accounts as this one is WOW!
I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be up on that mountain with Jesus.
All of a sudden Moses and Elijah shows up and Jesus speaks to them as one would with old friends.

Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

Peter is crazed and amazed. He begins to babble about tents.
God then speaks from a cloud speaking directly about his Son.
With a few words he removes any doubt concerning the origin and identity of Jesus.

When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

I would be terrified too - way too spectacular for this guy.
Yet Jesus comes and does what he always does, speaking comfort and peace to his friends.
In difficult and scary times his words bring comfort to me still.

One minute Jesus is speaking with men who have been dead for centuries.
And the next he is talking with his disciples.
I cannot imagine the awe that Peter, James and John must have experienced.

Hearing the very voice of God must have been so surreal.
Small wonder that Jesus touched and spoke to them the way that he did.
Even more the reason to seek rest and comfort in him when times are scary times.

I am in awe of you Lord. Touch me and take my fears away.

... verses from Matthew 17:1-8 MSG

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

the ecstacy of self-sacrifice

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? [Matthew 16:24-26 MSG]

I love this contemporary rendering of the ancient words of Jesus.
My friend Don often speaks of the battle we experience with the false self.
In these words Christ teaches us that we find our true self as we are following him.

I find the Lord's word to be so practical and realistic.
Instead of telling us to deny or reject suffering he instructs us to embrace it.
In doing so he elevates our painful experiences and helps us see them as teachers.

In truth, I struggle so much with this idea - nobody wants to embrace suffering.
Yet I think that it echoes those beautiful words of the serenity prayer.
Lord, help me to accept the things that I cannot change.

I think pain has the ability to transform us like nothing else.
In reality, self-sacrifice is all about the embracing of pain and suffering.
Our false-self wants self-help while our true self values self-sacrifice.

Like many, I have learned with age that you can lose yourself in fleshly dreams.
Like some, I have known the ecstacy of rising to the challenge of self-sacrifice.
I think that there is no higher call than the one to lay down our life for another.

In a world filled with self-centeredness and greed, self-sacrifice is counterintuitive.
Yet in the kingdom of heaven, the King demands that we love without condition.
The end of such love is losing everything only to find our true self.

Dear Lord. Help me to embrace my pain. Teach me live sacrificially.

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

eternal focus

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” {Matthew 16:20-23 EsV]

I wonder what it was in Peter that provoked him to rebuke the Lord.
Maybe a bit of religious pride entered in when God revealed Christ's identity to him?
It sounds like something I would have done for sure.

I think that it is a problem that many new believers face.
We get a bit of revelation then feel empowered to rebuke those who are older in the faith.
Jesus would have none of it and responded strongly to Peter.

I think that the Lord reveals to us a bit about the nature of the Adversary.
He tells us that Satan hinders God's work by causing us to focus our attention on the temporal.
In focusing on the visible we lose sight of things eternal and invisible.

It is humbling to know that Jesus knew of his fate in Jerusalem and went there anyway.
In doing this he modeled for us what it is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow God.
We emulate Christ when we embrace an eternal focus over a temporal one.

Lord, help me to embrace my cross. Open my eyes to eternal things.

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

on this bedrock

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18-19 ESV]

These two verses have separated Roman Catholics and Protestants for many years.
Some see the rock to be Peter and some view the rock as something else.
I once thought the rock was, as Jesus indicated, the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah.

Yet these days I understand that rock to be Jesus himself.
He is the Head of the church and its bedrock foundation.
It is odd to think that the Lord was referring to Peter as its foundation.

Many get confused by the next verse trying to discern what binding and loosing is all about.
To me the simple explanation is that the keys to the kingdom is prayer.
When we pray we affect matters pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.

When we pray things are bound and loosed - locked and unlocked.
In truth, prayer changes the world and transform us in deep ways.
This speaks to me of the importance of prayer and of our need to be faithful to pray.

You are my rock Jesus. Help me to be faithful to pray.

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

messianic revelation

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 16:13-17 NCV]

Jesus Christ, the most controversial person who ever lived.
The issue of his identity has been debated for thousands of years.
Most people admire him and call him a great teacher.

Some, like his disciples indicate here, consider him to be a great teacher or prophet.
And some, like Peter, have received a revelation from God concerning Jesus' true identity.
In Mere Christianity CS Lewis frames this tension like this:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."
I think that their is a missing element in Lewis' trilemma.
One cannot come to the conclusion that Jesus is divine using logic.
Like Peter we need a revelation from heaven to understand who He is.

Lord, reveal yourself to me today.

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

religious influencers

“O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:8-12 ESV]

I can really relate to the disciples. So often my troubles seem so large.
So often the minutiae of forgotten bread obscures my thinking and makes me forget.
About the miracles of His provision and how He always meets my needs.

When I find myself worrying about forgotten bread I am reminded about my need to trust.
The Lord instructs me to trust Him with my heart and not lean on my own understanding.
Worry is an issue of the head but trust is a heart thing.

Jesus calls the teaching of the religious leaders leaven because of it's influence.
I sat under the teaching of a fundamentalist pastor for 16 years.
His teaching influenced me to embrace the scriptures in a literal and legalistic fashion.

His teaching fed a dark part of me and caused me to act judgmentally.
Such is why Jesus told his disciples to be on the alert when Pharisees and Sadducees taught.
It is why we must watch and beware of who we allow to influence our lives.

Lord, help me to discern when I am being influenced by false teaching.

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

divine fingerprints

The proud religious law-keepers and a religious group of people who believe no one will be raised from the dead came to Jesus. They asked Him to show something special from heaven. They wanted to trap Jesus. ... The sinful people of this day go after something special to see. There will be nothing special for them to see but the early preacher Jonah. [Matthew 16:1,4 MSG]

So often Jesus speaks with veiled speech seemingly teaching in innuendo.
It is easy for us, two millennia later, to understand what Jesus' teachings.
Jesus had already spoke about Jonah (possibly to another group of people) saying:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Yet even that had to confuse the ones who intently listened to his words.
The Pharisees heard things literally and the Sadducees rejected raising folks from the dead.
Who amongst them could have imagined Christ's resurrection or related such an event to Jonah?

Do you ever think about our preoccupation with the signs of the sky?
Many embrace astrology and look to the stars for guidance.
I sometimes seem addicted to the predictions of weather forecasters.

And all the while so many of us miss all of the signs that are evident in creation.
When I look around around I see the fingerprints of God in every beautiful tree.
In every sunrise and sunset. In the face of a newborn child. I see evidence of God.

Signs of God's presence are all around us if we choose to see such things that way.

Lord, please open my eyes to the signs of your presence all around me.

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