spiritual impotence

Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. ... Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. [Matthew 26:31-35 ESV]

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to hear those words from Jesus.
Put yourself in the setting and try to imagine yourself as one of the disciples.
Perhaps you would be thinking thoughts like these as Jesus and Peter exchanged words:
What is going on? The mood was sweet - we had just sung a hymn. Why was Jesus saying that we would all fall away? I hear Peter speak about staying true to our Lord and I am in agreement with everything he says. I will never deny Jesus.
How could any of them know what was coming in just a few short hours?
How could Peter know that Jesus would not allow him to use a sword when the enemy came?
They were all ready to fight but did not understand the terms of engagement.

And such is the state of many to this day.
We all fall back to fleshly weaponry.
Sometimes we sadly prove to be spiritually impotent.

Following God has never been about fleshly power.
It has never been about fleshly weapons.
Following God has always been about unseen power and weaponry.

And those who don't understand this risk falling away.
People who have not prepared spiritually may not be ready when trials come.
Yet, consider what the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
And maybe that is the message in our gospel passage today.
We will always fail when we try to fight spiritual battles with our own power.
But if we walk according to the Spirit we will be found faithful when the rooster crows.

Give me spiritual eyes to see Lord. Help me to prepare for spiritual battle.

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

an intimate table

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” [Matthew 26:26-29 ESV]

This is one of the most amazing statements in all of human history.
Jesus proclaims that his body and his blood signified the covenant that God had made with man.
I think that it is so easy to miss this idea when we get caught up in the logistics of communion.

Here are a few things we should consider when we come to communion:
  • It is the Lord's table. It is his body and blood. We are merely participants together. We all are equals at his table. We all come with empty hands.
  • It is a table of forgiveness. It is in his blood that we hope. We are merely the recipients of that forgiveness. We all come needing a touch from the Lord.
  • It is a table of intimacy. It was one of Jesus' last desires to spend an intimate meal with his friends. We are joined together by his body, his blood and his forgiveness. 
Jesus ends this passage with a promise that he will once again eat this meal with us.
His heart for intimacy seems to transcend space and time.
Because of that we hope and look forward with hearts filled with faith.

Draw us close together around your table Lord.

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

the dark path of disappointment

Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. ... When it was evening, Jesus reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [Matthew 26:14-16,20-21 ESV]

A modern day theory purports that Judas was merely forcing Jesus' hand.
The idea is that he wanted Jesus to overthrow the reign of Rome over the Jews.
The theory seems palatable until you read about Judas taking money for the betrayal.

When someone is paid to betray a friend they prove themselves to be no friend at all.
And their motives do not seem noble at all - in fact their intentions seem a bit sleazy.
I think that Judas must have been sleeping when Jesus was teaching.

I wonder what it would have been like to hear that a betrayer was seated at the table?
None of the disciples, save one, had a clue what that betrayal would look like.
I imagine most of them felt that the betrayal meant that they would commit a sin.

No one could imagine that one of their own would betray Jesus to the religious elders.
No one, except a disappointed man with bad intentions - a man disappointed with God.
Speaks to me of how disappointment can lead us down a dark path.

Lord, I sometimes get disappointed with life. Teach me to stay off the dark path.

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

extravagant giving

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” ... In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. [Matthew 26:6-9,12 ESV]

This passage is one of Jesus' great teaching on generosity.
He uses a woman's extravagant act to illustrate how we are to give to the Lord.
A few points that I think frame the passage.
  • Firstly, he was gathered with his disciples at the home of a one time outcast leper. 
  • Secondly, they were seated around the dinner table enjoying a meal together. So everyone was surprised when a woman suddenly poured this expensive perfume on the Lord. 
  • Lastly, only one person got it right - only one focused on the Lord.
The contrast between the action of the woman and the reactions of the disciples is so telling.
The woman, who probably owned the expensive perfume, could only think of ministering to the Lord.
All the disciples could think of was using money for 'ministry'.

I think that they missed out because their focus was not on the Lord.
Neither the woman or the men understood the profound significance of this extravagant act.
Perhaps that is always true when we give without ulterior motives?

Maybe love is all about ministering to Jesus without knowing the consequences?

Lord, help me to be an extravagant giver and not be concerned about money.

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

spiritual darkness

“As you know, the Passover celebration begins in two days, and I shall be betrayed and crucified.” At that very moment the chief priests and other Jewish officials were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas the high priest, to discuss ways of capturing Jesus quietly and killing him. [Matthew 26:2-4 TLB]

The contrast in these verses of scripture is so stark.
On one hand we see a picture of light and life - Jesus knew what was going on.
On the other hand religious leaders were operating in absolute spiritual darkness.

These leaders did not have a clue about what was really going on.
The differences are so glaring - the darkness of so blinding.
Such was the environment that Jesus lived in back then.

I think that the lessons in this passage are so teachable for us today.
When we operate in darkness we foster an environment where really bad things can happen.
And bad things were afoot as folks hid behind physical, and spiritual, closed doors.

Even so, God has a way of exposing this kind of darkness in our lives.
Over time this kind of scheming, both personal and corporate, always backfires.
God sees it all and eventually causes our dark deeds to be exposed in his light.

Shine your light on me Lord. Examine me and purge all darkness from me.

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


‘Don’t you know? When you refused to help one of the least important among these my little ones, my true brothers and sisters, you refused to help and honor me.’ [Matthew 25:45 TPT]

The way we treat people is so important to God.
When we shut up compassion in our hearts we experience consequences.
It does beg the question of why some let compassion flow freely while others damn it up?

To answer I give you two Greek words that speak a bit to the human condition:
  • hamartanō :: to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), to err, especially (morally) to sin. [see Romans 3:23 for context] 
  • parabasis :: violation, breaking, transgression. [see Romans 4:15 for context]
These two words represent two aspects of a phenomenon that the bible describes as sin.

The first (hamartanō) is one that is somewhat representative of our human nature.
It speaks to the idea that people who have good intentions often make mistakes and err in judgment.
The second word (parabasis) speaks of people with bad intentions who seek to do harm.

And it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two.

I believe that Jesus, in this passage, speaks to those who live lives of bad intentions.
Folks who have suppressed compassion in their hearts for so long.
These no longer understand what it means to be truly human.

These are those who do not simply miss the mark.
Jesus' words condemn them as he speaks about their hard and selfish hearts.
Hearts that reject pleas for food, clothing and compassion.

To these he speaks words of rebuke.

Help me Lord to remember how you suffer with the poor, the sick and imprisoned.

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

my religious ego

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ [Matthew 25:34-40 ESV]

The first thing that strikes me about this passage is the ignorance of those who Jesus calls blessed.
These who were doing charitable works seemed unaware that they were ministering to Jesus.
Perhaps this sort of ignorance is the hallmark of divine love and compassion?

In contrast, I must admit that I was very aware of why I ministered in prisons.
I did so because I felt commanded to go during the six years that I visited prisons and jails.
In reality, this passage was the only reason I did it.

As I ponder these verses I wonder about about those years and my motives.
Was it all about my religious ego or a concern for hurting inmates.
In hindsight, I think that it was a mix of the two.

When I think about the people described in this passage I think about Jesus.
The gospels report that Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw hurting people.
In like manner these, who Jesus call blessed, also seem to be moved by compassion.

These sorts of people help strangers who are hungry, thirsty, sick and behind bars.
Often ministering to such people engages a part of us that has so little to do with compassion.
Yet sometimes compassion arises in us and we touch hurting people.

In doing so we minister to Jesus.

Examine me Lord. Drive ungodly motives from me and fill my heart with compassion.

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

from a throne of splendor

When the Son of Man appears in his majestic glory, with all his angels by his side, he will take his seat on his throne of splendor, and all the nations will be gathered together before him. And like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats, he will separate all the people. [Matthew 25:31-32 TPT]

This is the prelude to the famous illustration of the separation of the sheep and the goats.
Before jumping into the judgment scene I thought that it would be helpful to make a few observations.
  • The words glory and splendor sets the scene. When I read those words I remember that I have no context, no timeframe and no words to understand this passage.
  • When I read the word "all" I am overwhelmed. All the angels will be there. All peoples of all times will be there. I cannot get my head around that number.
  • Humankind will be separated. It leaves me speechless. I want this to be a time when peoples are reunited not a time when they are divided.
I am comforted by the idea that a shepherd will separate the sheep and the goats.
It reminds me of how Jesus speaks of the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
Such is the qualification to sit on this throne of splendor.

He who laid down his life now sits in judgment.

Lord, you are my Shepherd. Help me to follow you like a lamb.

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

spiritual investing

Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to his ability ... After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. [Matthew 25:14-15,19 NCV]

Jesus speaks of three different ways that people deal with life and money.

To the first servant who doubled the master's investment he says:
‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’ 
To the second servant who also doubled the master's investment he says:
‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’
To the last servant who buried the masters money he says:
‘You bad and lazy servant!’ ... you should have deposited my money in the bank, and I would have received it all back with interest when I returned.
I sometimes think that faithfulness is the currency of the kingdom.
We grow spiritually when we are faithful with the things God has invested in us.
This parable indicates that, today and in our last hour, this quality is so very important.

When I think about abilities I remember how unique each one of us is.
Interesting that the master invested commensurate with each servants ability.
It speaks to me of how God considers our ability when he invests in us.

I find it compelling that Jesus equates faithfulness to hard work.
The first two servants doubled what they were given because of their their work ethic.
In reality, the last one was really not a servant because he was lazy.

The response of the Master to his servants when he returns is so telling and instructive.
It reminds me that what we do in this life is important - to God and to us.
And it speaks of how we are accountable to him and to each other.

Thank you for the spiritual investments that you have made in me Lord.
Forgive me for the many times I have squandered those gifts.
Help me to be faithful with the things that you have entrusted me with.

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

always be ready

So always be ready [stay awake; be alert; keep watch], because you don’t know the day or the hour [the Son of Man will come]. [Matthew 25:13 EXB]

Jesus was a storytellers' storyteller - he always used stories to teach.
In this passage he taught that we should live as people who are ready.
Ready to die. Ready to live. Ready to love. Ready for God.

He speaks of ten who are ready and ten who are unprepared.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Don't you love these kinds of stories and the lessons they teach?
They seem to speak of ideas that are true today and in the future.
This story reminds me that life is all about preparation.

The Lord teaches us in this story that living in wisdom is how we prepare ourselves.
I think that being wise is not about our intellect or even our biblical smarts.
Being wise is a heart condition that reveals itself in humility before God and man.

Such are the people who are prepared, and preparing, for his coming.

I am arrogant Lord. Teach me humility that I might be ready to serve you.

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

serving from the heart

A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. [Matthew 24:45 NLT]

Interesting how Jesus categorizes his servants as faithful and sensible.
Love how he defines good leaders as servants who serve other servants.
Perhaps these are one who understand that they serve a master who serves?

This verse speaks to me of the heavenly kingdom where everyone is a servant.
In such a structure the heart of each person is geared to love and care.
People in this realm are rewarded on the basis of their faithfulness to serve,

In calling leaders servants, Jesus seems to targets our motives.
In truth, we are leading best when we are serving from the heart.
I think that great servants are those who make heart connections.

Lord, please help me to be faithful and wise as I serve you and connect with your children.

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

an unexpected hour

No one knows when that day and hour will come—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows. The coming of the Son of Man will be like what happened in the time of Noah. ... Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come. [Matthew 24:36,37,42 GNT]

At the end of the last century there were many predictions of rapture and judgment day.
Many responded then with this passage saying that no one knows the day.
Even so, I think that the greater message is how we may meet God when we least expect it.

In referencing the times of Noah our Lord speaks to the condition of humanity.
In Genesis we read that humans had grieved him to his heart.
The message to me is that God is affected by our actions.

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and was saved from the floodwaters.
He was prepared because he paid attention to the voice of the Spirit.
The Ark he built speaks volumes to me about being prepared when I meet God.

I think that Jesus' message in this passage is all about staying awake spiritually.
His central message is that any day could be our last - we may die sooner than we think.
In light of this we must purpose to live in ways that are pleasing to God.

I confess that I am weak Lord. Help me to be ready and to honor you in everything I do.

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

eternal words

Remember that all these things will happen before the people now living have all died. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. [Matthew 24-35 GNT]

"These things" that Jesus speaks of include troubling signs in the sky.
He speaks of a day that he will appear with angels to receive his own.
The Lord tells his listeners that it would happen in their own lifetime.

When I consider the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD I think of:
  • the terror that people experienced as their homes were destroyed;
  • the harsh brutality of the Roman forces as they attacked the city;
  • how God was as work in the suffering and hardships.
That last phrase is such an important one for us to remember.
So often it seems that evil has gained control of all that surrounds us.
In such times is it is good to remember that God is working in the chaos.

I have found words to carry such power in my life.
There are impotent words that will fall to the ground and be no more.
Yet there seems to be words that carry the timeless weight of heaven.

The words that Jesus spoke are timeless, powerful and of great importance.
His words speak of things that transcend time and space.
These have the power to change our lives and impact our world.

I think that these are the words that only God can speak.
In saying that words will never pass away, Jesus tells us of his deity.
The words that he speaks are eternal because he himself is eternal.

Teach me Lord to treasure your words in my heart.

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

like swift lightning

If anyone tries to flag you down, calling out, ‘Here’s the Messiah!’ or points, ‘There he is!’ don’t fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. ... The Arrival of the Son of Man isn’t something you go to see. He comes like swift lightning to you! [Matthew 24:23-27 MSG]

I have run across a few messianic figures in my life.
Charismatic people who win you over with their dogmatic certainty.
These lead followers to depend on them rather than on God.

In this passage Jesus indicates that he will come in a way quite unlike his first coming.
He tells his disciples, and us, to not pay attention to fleshly messianic figures.
When he comes to us again it will be spiritually - we will see him with inner eyes.

Over the years my views on the second coming of Christ have gradually changed.
I once thought that it was one cataclysmic future event - and it may be?
But these days I think more of a future day when I will meet Jesus.

The last sentence of this passage really engages my imagination.
It speaks to me of a day when I will shed my body and be with the Lord.
That time will come with power greater than lightning and will surpass everything I know.

Can you imagine that day when the Son of God comes again?
Can you visualize that day when he comes to transform this corpse of humanity?
The thought of that day brings hope to every part of me.

I long for the day of your coming Lord. My hope is in that day. Hallelujah!

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

for our sake

But be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration set up in the Temple sanctuary. ... This is going to be trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen, or will see again. If these days of trouble were left to run their course, nobody would make it. But on account of God’s chosen people, the trouble will be cut short. [Matthew 24:21-22 MSG]

I have to admit that these words seem so preposterous to me.
Think I would blow them off if Jesus had not spoken them.
The question for me is whether he is speaking in hyperbole.

The context may be the end of the age but might reference the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Jesus' description of a cataclysmic tribulation is a sobering and very serious message.
Hard to read these words and just blow them off.

Thankfully the Lord offers a beacon of hope in midst of all this darkness.
He tells of how God will cut those days short for the sake of the faithful.
I find much encouragement in that sentiment.

Reminds me that God is sovereign and reigns even in the darkest of times.
It shouts loudly of how God considers his children in world events.
For our sake the world is a different place and suffering is cut short.

I am thankful that you are sovereign Lord. Help me to trust you.

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

the end will come

All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. [Matthew 24:8-14 ESV]

In these few words Jesus tells us what the last days of Jerusalem will look like.
Previously he spoke of birth pains - now he speaks of the delivery stage.
He indicates that these times, and ages to follow, will be categorized by:
  • Persecution and Hatred: Followers of Christ will be singled out from others. Reminiscent of attitudes in totalitarian countries where the gospel is not tolerated.
  • False Prophets: Also reminiscent of countries where the gospel is banned. People will arise with a message that perverts the image of God and his message.
  • Lawlessness will increase and Love will grow cold: As God is removed from the culture the influence of the Holy Spirit will be diminished. Consequentially immoral acts will arise while acts of love and charity ebb right up until the last day.
  • Perseverance: Those who endure persecution and do not capitulate to false prophets will see the salvation of God on that last day.
Jesus ends by speaking of a day when the whole earth will hear the gospel of the kingdom.
On that day the end will come. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.

Lord, you are sovereign over all events - now and in the last days. Help me to trust in you.

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

birth pains

Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. ... “Tell us, when will these things be ...” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ ... And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. [Matthew 24:2-8 ESV]

Eschatology is the study of the events associated with end times and the coming age.
As far back as the first century many have believed that they were living in the last days.
Forty years ago, when I was in bible college, my favorite book of the bible was Revelation.

I so remember those wonderful debates around the rapture and the last days.
As the new millennium dawned my fixation with eschatology ebbed.
Even so, the predictions of modern days 'prophets' have revived the interest in the topic.

Interesting how Jesus begins his end times dissertation with a warning about deception.
It is so easy to get distracted by eschatology and predictions of future events.
Especially when we consider that Jesus was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem's temple.

There is good reason to think that the things he spoke of have already happened.
Even so, he points to observable events saying that they are but the beginning of birth pains.
It reminds me of what Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Hope, not fear, is the message of the days when new life is birthed in hard times.
When we hear of wars, famines and earthquakes our hearts go out to those who suffer.
Yet in the midst of these trying times we do well to embrace the hope of redemption.

I await your redemption today Lord. Help me to look up when things around me look bleak.

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

temporal captivations

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples came along and wanted to take him on a tour of the various Temple buildings. But he told them, “All these buildings will be knocked down, with not one stone left on top of another!” [Matthew 24:1-2 ESV]

In my life I have had a lot of creature comforts - nice houses, cars, clothes and other stuff.
Interesting that all of those houses and cars have given way to newer models.
Speaks to me of how temporal physical things are in our lives.

And churches? Oh my, I have been a part of six church building campaigns.
One of those buildings eventually had to be sold at a two million dollar loss.
What is it about stuff that so captivates us and garners our attention?

We all know that "the stuff" is temporary. Such is the message in today's reading.
The disciples were fixated on the beauty and majesty of temple buildings.
They could not even imagine their destruction in their lifetimes.

Jesus jars them with a message that we all need to hear.
The stuff is not important - all things will eventually be replaced because they are temporal.
Yet there are things that are eternal and will survive our passing.

These are the things that should captivate us.

Open my eyes Lord to see the eternal things. Help me to give my attention to such things.

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

the invitation to bow

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [Matthew 23:37-39 ESV]

I think that this is an odd thing for a person to say - odd unless they are God incarnate.
In likening Jews to be his children Jesus speaks of his pre-human existence.
His lament over Jerusalem gives us a peek into God's heart of compassion towards Israel.

So often when we read the Old Testament and miss that aspect of God.
Too often we fail to read between those lines and see a Heavenly Father inviting us to bow.
It causes me to see Israeli history through the compassionate eyes of Jesus.

I think that this divine attitude of gracious compassion prevails yet today.
This merciful and loving invitation is open for everyone who will bow in humility.
God longs to gather us under his wings. He longs to bless us.

Sadly, as in the case of Israel, our pride rises up and we often refuse to bow.
Jesus speaks of a day to come when the Lamb of God is unveiled as the King of kings.
On that day every knee will bow and everyone confess Jesus is Lord.

I repent of my stubborn pride Lord. Please forgive me and help me to bow each new day.

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

hypocrites and heretics

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ... You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape ... I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute ... [Matthew 23:29,33,34 ESV]

In this, the last of the seven woes, Jesus wraps up his condemnation of the leaders.
As he decries their heinous acts he ties them to those of past religious leaders.
And he also alludes to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.

Interesting how he uses the phrase "brood of vipers".
This was the name that John the Baptist used to describe these religious leaders.
He most certainly had John on his mind and the way that they rejected his message.

Reminds me of how the messages of a Martin Luther were once rejected.
And in America, Martin Luther King Jr was celebrated by som only after he died.
Prophets are generally not accepted because they challenge the status quo.

Also notable is the way that many in our day are spoken ill of and treated as heretics.
These are labelled that way simply because they do not pass certain tests of orthodoxy.
Sometimes I think that all that has changed is what is lawful to do with 'heretics'.

Open up my ears and eyes Lord so that I do not reject the messages of your prophets.

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

the spiritual dead

You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! ... Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. [Matthew 23:25,27 NLT]

Jesus continues his rebuke of religious leaders and what he means when he says 'hypocrisy'.
In both illustrations he compares the things that are unseen to those that are seen.
In graphic language Jesus says that these leaders are spiritually dead.

I cannot think of a harsher condemnation of a religious leader.
Their hypocrisy is that they do 'spiritual' things but have no spiritual life on the inside.
Their words and actions do not come from within but from without.

Sadly, such ways did not die out in the first century.
Still today we hear reports of religious leaders doing despicable things.
Words and actions that evidence the absence of inner spiritual life.

These all appear to be legitimate religious leaders on the surface.
But on the inside they are filled with greed and self-indulgence.
They personify hypocrisy and project a faith that is bereft of spiritual life.

Lord, help my life to reflect the beautiful new heart you have formed in me.

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

on tithing and tipping

You hypocrites! You tithe from your luxuries and your spices, giving away a tenth of your mint, your dill, and your cumin. But you have ignored the essentials of the law: justice, mercy, faithfulness. It is practice of the latter that makes sense of the former. [Matthew 23:13 VOICE]

When I think about this passage I am reminded of a night out with Christian friends.
Six of us shared dinner at a restaurant where they automatically charged an 18% gratuity.
One of the guys in our group was very upset about the extra 3% tip and complained over dinner.

Like the Pharisees he was zeroed in on technicalities and was neglecting weightier matters.
He was focused on the legal percentages instead of blessing our waiter.
Such is the path of those who are more concerned with the letter, than the spirit, of a matter.

A fixation on religious legalities will cause a person to miss the point of faith.
If faith does not cause you to be more just ... more merciful ... more faithful ... and more loving ... then then there is something wrong with your faith.
Genuine faith causes one go past what they owe God.
Authentic spirituality leads one to live a more generous life.
Real faith is not focused on tipping or tithing percentages.

Take my eyes off the percentages Lord and help me to lead a life of generosity today.

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

our word should be sacred

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? [Matthew 23:16-19 ESV]

Here is the way that The Message presents a part of this passage:
What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
Such is the strange logic of those caught up in the religious legalities.
These delineate behaviors that take place inside of church from those out in the world.
One of my friends used to complain about how different some Christians act in business.

Sadly these seem to have embraced a mentality that divorces sacred and secular behavior.
Sometimes folks like these are known as Sunday morning Christians.
Folks who say all the right things but do not walk the talk.

Jesus cuts through the religious wranglings with just a few words.
He focuses on why our word or promise is sacred.
Not because of value of the gold backing it but because of God's presence when we promise.

This is true of everything we do - God is ever present in our lives.
Our behavior should reflect that consistency - our word should be our bond.
Our character should reflect that of Christ - our word should be sacred.

Keep me from rash promises Lord. Help me to know when to say yes and when to say no.

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

open to interpretation

Woe to you, you teachers of the law and Pharisees. There is such a gulf between what you say and what you do. ... You steal the homes from under the widows while you pretend to pray for them. ... You traverse hills and mountains and seas to make one convert, and then when he does convert, you make him much more a son of hell than you are. [Matthew 23:13-15 VOICE]

These are the first of the seven woes that Jesus speaks to hypocritical religious leaders.
These are some of the harshest condemnations that Jesus issues to spiritual leaders.
In his words here Jesus describes them as people who are:
  • ignorant of the true nature of the kingdom of God;
  • only concerned with gathering followers for themselves;
  • keeping people from experiencing authentic spiritual life.
The Pharisees were all about living by the law of Moses.
Really. More specifically living by their legalistic interpretations of the law.
This phenomena remains to this day and still causes damage.

Author Rob Bell speaks of people being influenced by interpretations of the scriptures.
He says that folks have been taught exactly how the Bible is to be interpreted.
Folks who disagree with those interpretations are told they do not believe the bible.

Spiritual life is often robbed from many by legalistic religious leaders.
These modern day Pharisees are still making rules about food, movies and television.
Sadly they teach a reliance on one specific method of biblical interpretation.

Instead of helping people to discern the scriptures they teach dogma instead.
These see the bible as a closed book rather than an unfolding mystery.
In this sense they remain closed to discovery and not open to interpretation.

Open my eyes Lord to new ways of seeing the scriptures.

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

be content to be yourself

There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. [Matthew 23:11-13 MSG]

In the context of the bad examples that religious leaders set, Jesus switches gears.
He instructs his followers to serve in the context of humility.
I love how The Message interprets humility as being content to be yourself.

Much has been made in recent years about being a "servant leader".
Interesting to note that Jesus does not tell them to be leaders at all.
He tells them to be content by simply being servants.

Wanting to be a leader can sometimes cause you to be the exact opposite of a servant.
And when you serve to become 'something' you become more like a Pharisee than a servant.
Better to serve with no motive other than just being yourself.

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that the path to leadership is humility.
Being a servant is all about humility - simply being yourself.
Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, is reported to have once once said this:
Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?
I think that the words 'common business' speak a bit to what it means to be humble.
Many of us want our works to be special and extraordinary.
Lawrence says that our work is special and extraordinary when it is done unto the Lord.

Help me Lord to be me. Help me to serve in a way that reflects You in me.

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

call no one pastor

They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. [Matthew 23:7-8 NLT]

Liturgical church traditions often address their ministers as “Father”.
Evangelical churches address their ministers as Pastor (with a capital ‘P’).
I have often said that the Evangelical translation of Pope is "Senior Pastor".

When I worked on the pastoral staff of a church people sometimes called me Pastor Bob.
When folks did that it kind of creeped me out and made me wonder why they did it.
Yet, sadly, I did get a bit of a religious buzz (another word for pride?) when they did it.

I guess the religious buzz is a part of the problem.
The focus on titles, be they religious or secular, is a bit of a dark flavor of pride.
Years ago a person disagreed with me on this and said that titles are simply a sign of respect.

Here is how I responded to her comment:
Regarding titles, I guess I'm just a little less formal than you are. I think that titles such as doctor or judge (i.e. your honor) may be appropriate in the hospital or courtroom but in a friendly discussion among friends it gets pretty weird. Likewise in a church setting it may be appropriate to address a person in a formal way but in a non-professional setting it is a bit weird to me. First names are much warmer and friendlier ... and can be communicated with absolutely no disrespect.
For me the issue gets to the heart of what Jesus is teaching in the above passage.
It goes back to motives - both in those who have titles and those who talk to them.
We are all equal as brothers and sisters. So just call me Brother Bob.

Lord help us to know how to be respectful and not feed the pride in others.

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

inconspicuous ministry

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. [Matthew 23:2-5 NLT]

"Practice what you preach" and "Do as I say, not as I do" have their roots in this passage.
Expounds a bit on what Jesus means when he often calls these religious leaders hypocrites.
For example, it is hypocritical for a religious leader to instruct their followers to give sacrificially and then live lavish lives that seem to fly in the face of what they say.
Causes one to wonder why these broken leaders do the things that they do.

I think that this sort of behavior has its roots in the dark motives of a few leaders.
They do things that attract attention to themselves - they want to be seen by others.
Such is the darkness that seduces some who are drawn to public ministry.

Sadly, folks are often drawn to public ministry not to ease the burdens of hurting people.
The motivation for these is to stand in pulpits and to be seen by others.
Much of their schedules are filled with activities that draw attention to themselves.

Jesus warns his listeners, and us, to not do what they do.
Instead find ways to silently and inconspicuously minister in our day-to-day lives.
In doing so we may help to ease the burdens of the people in our lives.

Help me Lord to be invisible and to not do things to be seen by others.

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

all encompassing and all consuming

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40 NLT]

Court is in session and the Son of God is on trial.
Lawyers from one religious sect have unsuccessfully cross examined Jesus.
Now another barrister comes forth hoping to trip Jesus up.

I wonder what answer this lawyer expected to hear?

I imagine that the first part of Jesus' answer did not surprise him.
Maybe he thought Jesus would stop at loving God?
Yet Jesus did not stop there but made it clear that loving God is not enough.

To follow the teaching of the ten commandments one must love people as well.

Interesting how Jesus describes love in this passage.
Quoting from Deuteronomy he speaks of a love that's all encompassing and all consuming.
The nature of this love is sacrificial and selfless.

It is not enough to love with just a part of us.
It is not enough to love God or people when things are going well.
He requires all of our love all of the time.

And he requires that we love all of his human creation - beginning with ourselves.

We are made in his image and we must love those whom he loves.
It is what we were created to do.
All of the bible is based on this kind of love.

Thank you Father that I was created to love! Help me to express love today.

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

theological assumptions

You know neither God’s Scriptures nor God’s power—and so your assumptions are all wrong. At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. They will be like the messengers of heaven. [Matthew 22:29-30 VOICE]

Jesus is responding to a nonsensical question about the state of a marriage after death.
It involved a woman who had multiple husbands in this life.
The Sadducees, who didn't believe in resurrection, wondered who would be her husband in heaven.

Their theological assumptions blinded them to what the scriptures said about the resurrection.
In like manner I have also been blinded to biblical truth because of theological assumptions.
In most of those assumptions I favored my dogmatic brain over my compassionate heart.

It is interesting how Jesus speaks of knowing the scriptures and knowing God's power.
In context he seems to be speaking of resurrection power - the transformation of death to life.
Perhaps people who have been spiritually transformed become messengers of heaven?

I like the idea that heavenly messengers are usually transformed people.
It makes sense when one thinks about how God gives his people spiritual fruit and gifts.
It makes me want to be one of those heavenly messengers today.

Help me Lord to get past my assumptions and become one of your messengers.

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

few are chosen

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” [Matthew 22 ESV]

When we read parables like this we sometimes forget that these are stories that are given to teach us about the Kingdom of God. A few teaching points that I think are worth mentioning:
  • Two groups of people are called and invited to be a part of God's kingdom. This is an obvious reference to Jews and Gentiles.
  • No one from the first group came to the feast. Throughout the Old Testament we read that the Jews were God's Chosen people. Even so, these rejected God's call to kingdom life when they rejected His Son.
  • Some from the second group were rejected because they were not prepared. Even though they were called to kingdom living they were not clothed with Christ.
  • There is a mixture in the groups. Not all Jews rejected Jesus and many Gentiles rejected Him. The focus in the story is those who had hearts clothed with Christ.
I so wish that Jesus said 'many' instead of 'few'. I want many to be prepared. It is a sober teaching about the Kingdom of God. It is an admonition to be clothed with Christ.

I have nothing but ragged clothes to offer Lord. Thank you for clothing me in Christ. 

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

eternal consequences

In the parable, I told you the weeds would be pulled up and burned—well, that is how it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send His messengers out into the world, and they will root out from His kingdom everything that is poisonous, ugly, and malicious, and everyone who does evil. They will throw all that wickedness into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. And the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. [Matthew 13:40-43 VOICE]

Many read these words and do not pass go, but go directly to Hell.
And for sure, that is one interpretation of Jesus' explanation.
In making that leap, I think that some might miss the heart of the message.

In this explanation of the parable Jesus indicates that:
  1. Judgment is determined by the Son of God himself.
  2. Consequences are different for people of faith.
  3. Those who have been spiritually transformed shine.
Interesting how Jesus speaks about the end of the age and of a fiery furnace.
The furnace appears to be a metaphor for the judgment of phony believers.
The end of the age can either represent the end of Jerusalem or the end of the world.

Personally, I lean to the idea that Jesus was not referencing the end of the world.
I think that he was probably speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem.
And his indictment seems to be against the religious leaders of his day/

I think that the teaching of different consequences is a very important one.
In either interpretation, decisions and actions have lasting consequences.
And, in the end, things that seem temporal may have eternal consequences.

Help me Lord to live in a way that results in positive consequences.

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

taking on immortality

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” [Matthew 16:24-26 ESV]

Soul is a word that conjures up all sorts of mystical imagery.
In this passage the words 'life' and 'soul' are the same word in the original text.
The transliterated word psuché is the origin of our word psyche.

So. To me. The word is not mystical but descriptive of human essence.
In that sense the soul is not any more immortal than the flesh that it lives in.
Yet Jesus speaks of a way that a mortal soul can take on immortality.

He teaches us that those who lose their souls for him will find true life.
In denying ourselves, and our ways, for Christ, we find salvation.
A salvation that is eternal and where our souls become immortal.

To be sure, Jesus is not speaking of a life filled with fleshly works and service.
He is not teaching a works based salvation or righteousness.
In contrast he is saying that those who have been born from above act differently.

In reality, following Jesus is difficult because love is difficult.
Love causes us to deny our preeminence and put others' needs before ours.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I think that it is true. We find our essence when we lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.
Following Jesus. Denying my selfishness. Taking up his example. This is the essence of life.
Such things evidence the fact that our lives we have taken on immortality

I need you today Lord. Help me to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow you.

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

humble presence

“Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. ... This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”. [Matthew 21:2,4-5 ESV]

A few things strike me about this passage that we often read on Palm Sunday.
Firstly, the disciples were instructed to fetch a donkey and a colt.
I had not seen that before. Here is the way that theologian John Gill explains it:
Very probably, Christ rode; first on one, and then on the other, as the prophecy hereby fulfilled seems to require, and as the sequel of the account shows. The ancient allegorical sense of the ass and colt is not to be despised: that the ass may signify the Jews, who had been used to bear the burdensome rites and ceremonies of the law; and the colt, the wild and untamed Gentiles, and the coming of Christ, first to the one, and then to the other.
Fascinating how deliberate and intentional the events played out.
Can you see Jesus dismounting one animal to ride the other as people shouted praises?
I believe that there was something significant about this.

Secondly, the passage reminds me that Jesus was a king who came in absolute humility.
The animals he rode were not a mere acquiescent adherence to the prophecy.
I think of it as a picture of how God comes to each of us.

He comes to live with us in meekness, patience and humility.
He does not shout in our face and blow us away with his power.
He whispers to us and invites us to follow him.

And our response should be like those who watched him that day.
Those who welcomed his entrance worshiped him and celebrated his coming.
Such is the way that we should react to his humble presence in our lives.

Hosanna to the King! All praise to you Messiah Jesus! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

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

a personal resurrection

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb ... she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. ... Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). [John 20:11,14,16 ESV]

What a scene! Movie writers could not have painted a more dramatic picture.
What would it have been like to have witnessed the crucifixion?
And in what reality could anyone imagine something like the resurrection?

I wonder. What would it have been like to:
  • find yourself so engulfed in grief that you did not recognize Jesus? 
  • to hear the Lord speak your name? 
  • to fall down and embrace the feet of Christ?
These things are simply surreal and hard to get our heads around!
I think that I would have, like Mary, wanted to stay and talk with him.
Jesus offers this response to Mary and to us:
"Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers ..."
In a sense, the Christian life is all about letting go and embracing new plans.
We do not know how long Mary hung on to Jesus' feet.
Even so, it is suffice to say that she wanted to linger longer.

But Jesus had great plans for Mary - transformation was taking place.
A new season was beginning - everything would be different.
Her story was radically changing - her future was taking shape.

Mary would be the very first to preach the good news of the resurrection.
The resurrection that she witnessed was taking hold of her life.
In a sense, the resurrection she witnessed began a personal resurrection.

Lord, help me to let go of the past and embrace the plans that you have for me.

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

the source of fear

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:29-31 ESV]

The fear that Jesus speaks to is real for those who he is sending out.
The disciples eventually were put to death for proclaiming the good news.
These risked all to proclaim Jesus' message.

To these, and us, Jesus speaks about trusting God with our very lives.
A tough message when persecution is at hand or when things seem out of control.
There is much to fear in life, yet Jesus tells us to "fear not".

To these disciples, and to us, Jesus speaks to how much we are loved and valued by God.
He tells us that God really knows us and even numbers our hair follicles.
God knows our capacity to believe when we are faced with fear laden circumstances.

Jesus indicates that when we stand up to fear we acknowledge God's presence in our lives.
When we give in to fear we lean into our heads rather than our hearts.
In reality, our fears evidence a trust in things seen rather than things unseen.

I think that fear is all about trusting our finite brains.
So often I find myself thinking about things that might happen.
In doing so I forget to trust the One who numbers the hairs on my head.

Fears of things that present imminent danger are rational and appropriate.
Yet fears become irrational when we trust the imaginations of our brains.
These fears seem to be sourced in thinking rather than trusting.

Lord, give me grace to trust you and not be afraid.

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

in the midst of wolves

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake ... When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ... the one who endures to the end will be saved. [Matthew 10:16-18,20,22 ESV]

The imagery of being a sheep in the midst of wolves is a very scary one.
Wolves eat sheep - ungodly leaders persecute and kill heavenly ambassadors.
The stakes are serious and Jesus instructs them (and us) to:
  • be wise - use our heads and embrace the wisdom of our hearts;
  • be innocent - live from our heart and have pure motives;
  • beware men - be on the alert in our dealing with men of ill-will;
  • not be anxious about what to say - rather trust the Holy Spirit to give the words;
  • endure - so needed when trials and persecution come our way.
Sometimes life is a bit scary - things sometimes seem so out of control.
It is in times like these that we need to remember Jesus' instructions to his disciples.
Our lives may be different than theirs but Jesus words are no less effective when we heed them.

I need you Lord. Bless me with grace to be wise, innocent, alert, trusting and enduring.

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

the ministry of amateurs

Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment. ... If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city. [Matthew 10:5-8,14-15 CEB]

Jesus has just given his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal every disease they encounter. Now he sends them out on their first mission trip. A few reflections:
  • The focus was the lost people of Israel. Jesus was not eliminating gentiles
    in general but just in this specific mission.
  • When the kingdom is near, the miraculous is possible.
    In this we get a picture of what heaven might be like.
  • The ministry of the kingdom is without charge but the workers should
    have their needs met by those who welcome their ministry.
  • Ministers need to be received. Too often religious people have an
    ungodly cynicism when it comes to pastors and ministers.
  • There is a blessing when we receive ministers, drop our guard and
    open up to the Holy Spirit's work through them.
  • There is a consequence to rejecting the gospel and the minister of the gospel.
    It is a serious thing to reject the Holy Spirit.
  • Ministers of the gospel are usually amateurs sent by the Lord.
Some pentecostal folks imagine this passage, along with the command to heal the sick and work miracles, to be a template for mission trips today. In doing this I think that they miss the idea that this mission was specific and the disciples had specific instructions from Jesus.

On the flip-side others sometimes discount the Holy Spirit's working through others and miss out on the blessing that comes through the ongoing ministry of amateurs.

Lord, help me to be open to your working through me and through others.

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

things illogical and invisible

That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. ... As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. ... We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. ... Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. ... Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. [Luke 24:13,15,21,27 NLT]

Jesus is miraculously alive and he chooses to walk a few miles with two of his disciples.
Now doesn't that sound like our Lord?
And isn't the dialog so revealing about the disciples' mindset?

They have resigned themselves to the idea that Jesus is dead.
And they have rejected angelic reports of his resurrection.
They have given themselves over to all that is logical and visible.

Such is the place that many find themselves today.
What would Jesus say to many of us if he walked that stretch with us?
Would our words reveal our trust in the visible and the logical?

Would Jesus have to explain the scriptures to us?
Would he speak to us of things illogical and invisible?
Would we be slow to believe if his words disagreed with our ideology and theology?

Or would our hearts be open to the things that he would share with us?

I am often foolish Lord. I often rely on my senses instead of trusting you with all of my heart. Help me. Open my eyes and my ears. I do not want to be slow to believe.

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

a taxing perspective

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” [Matthew 22:15-17 ESV]

Often questions tell us quite a bit about the one who is asking them.
Such is the case in this passage where the question is preceded by patronization.
The Pharisees really did not believe what they were saying about Jesus.

And their question was not aimed at the answer but the supposed lack of one.
But Jesus would not play their game and called out their malicious hypocrisy.
And his answer? Oh my! Small wonder that they marveled at it.
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
I think that there will always be a real mistrust of the government.
Whether it be a harsh dictatorship, as in Jesus' day, or a representative democracy.
There are people who simply do not want to support governmental activities by paying taxes.

Even so Jesus did not give his listeners, or us, an excuse for tax evasion.
By saying "render to Caesar" he validated lawful taxation.
By telling them to 'render to God' he put the paying of taxes in perspective.

I ask you to help the leaders in our governments Lord. Give them grace to acknowledge you in their lives. Give them wisdom to understand how to lead cities, states and nations.

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

loving the unlovable

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. [Matthew 21:31-32 ESV]

Can you imagine the reactions of the religious leaders?
Jesus speaks to them of hated tax collectors and prostitutes.
And says that they would go into the kingdom of God before them.

In the parable he likens them to people who merely give lip service to God.
And the 'sinners' as those who have a change of mind and repent.
In doing so he reveals the heart of God toward the hearts of men.

Jesus chides them for having hard hearts toward those repenting in baptism.
In truth their hearts should have been softened at the sight of repentance.
He speaks to them, and to us, about going past lip service and loving the unlovable.

And such is the challenge before us today.
Loving hurting souls who appear so unlovable.
Caring for those who have been abused and mistreated.

Embracing people who are so different than we are.
The opportunity is before us to either be like Jesus or religious leaders.
The challenge is to be the embodiment of a different sort of person.

A person whose heart breaks when others suffer.
A person who, with the angels, rejoice when people repent.
A person who goes past mere lip service and compassionately does the will of our Father.

Open my eyes to those who are hurting Lord. Help me to pray for and encourage them.

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

the authority of love

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” [Matthew 21:23-25 ESV]

That phrase, "From heaven or from man?", hits at the heart of the issue of authority.
And, to be sure, the authority Jesus is speaking of is not merely religious authority.
Although the religious leaders of his day wanted to frame the discussion in that light.

Their challenge to Jesus basically asked the question:
"Why did you not get our permission to do these things?"
Their issues were all earthly. Their concerns were fleshly. They feared losing their authority.

In contrast Jesus magnificently showed them, and us, what heavenly authority looks like.
His authority was a blend of spiritual power, wisdom and love.
The power was displayed in miracles and demonic exorcism.

Wisdom emanated from his teachings.
He was moved by compassion when He healed or performed a miracle.
Unlike the religious elders His authority had a basis in love.

And so it is with us - our authority is heavenly when we love.
If you want to influence anyone simply love and care for them.
And you will have more authority than you'll ever want.

Forgive me for not loving Lord. Help me to love.

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

an evidence of faith

“How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” [Matthew 21:20-22 ESV]

This is certainly one of the oddest passages in the gospels.
It is hard to explain why Jesus spoke to the fig tree and it died.
Even so, the Lord uses this act to speak to the disciples about faith.

Speaking in hyperbolic language he tells them of how faith can move mountains.
Some misunderstand these verses and interpret them literally.
These imply that faith is all about 'speaking' to the mountains in our lives.

Jesus clarifies the mountain moving passage and puts it in the context of prayer.
Interesting how he connects faith, doubt and prayer.
I often think that prayer itself is an evidence of faith.

I think that it takes faith to reach out when we are hurting.
It takes a belief in someone greater than ourselves to pray.
Perhaps the act of praying evidences faith like nothing else?

I lay down my cares, fears and worries Lord. I hope in you. Help my heart to believe.

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

they were angry

People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and legal experts saw the amazing things he was doing and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry.” {Matthew 21:14-15 CEB]

The narrative of the gospels present us with a stark contrast between darkness and light.
The light is shining - Jesus is healing and doing miraculous things.
Even the youngest in the crowd is singing praises to the Son of God.

Yet the darkness is angrily sniping at the heels of the healer.
How blind must a person be to not see divinity in a worker of miracles?
How hard and callous must a heart be to reject compassion.

A darkness sometimes enters when a child transitions into adulthood.
Sometimes the darkness resembles bitterness - it is often it is angry.
I can relate to that transitional experience.

When I was around twenty I rejected the hypocrisy that I saw in the church.
I began to see things that caused me to be angry.
I was unknowingly embracing bitterness, darkness and cynicism.

Yet in my mid-twenties the light broke through my darkness.
I was confronted by the compassion and goodness of God.
With childlike faith I embraced the healer and sang praises to him.

Hosanna to the Son of David! Lord, help me to praise like a child.

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

a hangout for thieves

Upon entering Jerusalem Jesus went directly into the temple area and drove away all the merchants who were buying and selling their goods. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the stands of those selling doves. And he said to them, “My dwelling place will be known as a house of prayer, but you have made it into a hangout for thieves!” [Matthew 21-12-13 TPT]

The Psalmist once wrote: "Zeal for your house consumes me."
That sentiment gives us a peek into what motivated Jesus to act the way that he did.
He saw people making money from those who had come to seek the Lord and it angered him.

I wonder if people like this still anger the Lord.
Most of us are aware of modern day money-changers who focus on profit and hinder seekers.
I suspect the Lord would react with a similar zeal if he was here today.

Perhaps He would start with those who preach a give to get theology?

When I think of a house of prayer my mind does goes to the seeking kind of prayer.
It is why I believe that it is good to gather for worship with other believers.
Something happens to us when we gather together to seek the Lord.

Many times I have walked into settings like this and came away transformed.

I think that is why Jesus calls this "my dwelling place".
A place where those can come to not only seek him but find him as well.
A house that one can enter with heavy burdens and leave refreshed.

Draw us together to seek you in prayer Lord.

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

an invitation into our pain

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people went wild with excitement—the entire city was thrown into an uproar! Some asked, “Who is this man?” And the crowds shouted back, “This is Jesus! He’s the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee!” [Matthew 21:10-11 TPT]

The procession of the palms was concluding and Jesus was entering Jerusalem.
The crowds were shouting: "Bring the victory, Lord, Son of David!"
There was a palpable expectation that regime change was eminent.

The Jews had been oppressed by Rome for a very long time.
People wanted to be free from the rule and domination of their oppressors.
Such an atmosphere is ripe for revolution and coup d'é·tat.

I can relate to wanting to be physically free - especially from pain.
Pain can cause us to embrace false hopes of physical deliverance from pain.
My prayers sometimes take on an almost magical persona.

Pain often leads us to pray in way that begs for physical release.
In contrast I think that God is wanting us to invite Him into our pain.
Interesting how Jesus, in a sense, entered into that place of pain.

So perhaps it might be good to find ways to invite Jesus into our pain?
Instead of begging for release, maybe we can invite him into our pain?
And perhaps, in the midst of our pain, we will find release from it.

Come into my pain Lord Jesus.

... pray this prayer with me if you are dealing with pain.

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

blindness, desperateness and healing

The blind men screamed out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, show us mercy, Lord!” So Jesus stopped and had them brought to him. He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Lord, we want to see! Heal us!” Jesus was deeply moved with compassion toward them. So he touched their eyes, and instantly they could see! Jesus said to them, “Your faith has healed you.” ... And the two men became his followers from that day onward. [Matthew 20:31-34 TPT]

Whenever I read about blindness I am transported back in time to April 1972.
In my parents home in New Jersey, my wife Ellen told me that she had gone to the eye doctor.
The doctor told her that she was going blind and would shortly be sightless.

For the next three years I watched my beautiful wife suffer in the darkness.
I became intimately acquainted with the desperation voiced by the two blind men in this story.
I helplessly watched as my wife descended into physical and emotional darkness.

Such is the setting for two desperate men sitting beside a dusty road crying for mercy.
Can you imagine the reaction of those two when Jesus stopped and touched their eyes.
I can imagine it because I experienced something just as awesome.

In August 1975 I came home again to news concerning my wife and her eyesight.
My wife had been to church with neighbors and Jesus touched her left eye [read about it here].
And a week later this healing began to take root in my heart.

I was shocked when Ellen passed the eye test and got her driver's license.
Like the two in the story our lives had been turned upside down.
And like them we began to follow Jesus.

Lord, have mercy on me, Son of David!

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

the seduction of power

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” ... And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:20-21,24-28 ESV]

The desire for power and authority can be a dark force in our lives.
For many years my ambition for such position created such a dissatisfaction in my life.
And in the end, when I had such authority I found that I was really not suited for it.

I remember coming to grips with that and thinking about how much energy I wasted.
So sad that I wanted a position that I was really not good at.
Such is the seduction of power, position and authority in our lives.

We long to have it and the money or celebrity that comes with it.
In the end we find that we are not happy when we get it.
In seeking such power our pride is exposed and on display for all to see.

Jesus speaks to this desire and tells us of the difference between earthly and heavenly power.
When we look at his life we see a gentle authority that has its roots in compassion.
We see in Jesus a humility beyond comprehension and a power rooted in heaven.

The night before his death Jesus tries to drive home the idea of servant leadership.
At the Last Supper he stoops down and washes filthy feet.
In his life and actions we get a clear picture of what it is like to lead.

And on the cross we understand the cost of such leadership.

I again repent of my desire for earthly power. Give me the heart of a servant.

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

a witness to spiritual influence

They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. [Acts 5-8 ESV]

Can you imagine the shock on the disciples' faces as they watched Jesus disappear.
This final miracle totally took them by surprise.
They were expecting Jesus to restore the Kingdom to Israel.

Their minds were on earthly answers and physical kingdoms.
The dreams of a restored Israel disappeared with Jesus in the clouds.
To these Jesus spoke of a heavenly kingdom and of spiritual power.

He spoke to them about being his witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
Even so, some folks think of the word 'witness' as a verb rather than a noun.
These think it is something you do rather than the person who you are.

In truth our lives witness to the influence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives.
When his influence is weak, we witness a life of worry and fear.
When it is strong, we witness to something else - something greater.

I need you Lord. Help my life witness to the power of the Holy Spirit.

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

spiritual baptism

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4-5 NIV]

The word 'baptism' has been a hotly disputed term in church circles for many years.
Some dogmatically adhere to an immersion only formula.
Others ascribe to a pouring or sprinkling methodology.

It seems to me that those who do that miss the heart of the idea.
The idea that a new soul has responded to Christ's invitation.
One who was spiritually dead is now alive and wanting others to know.

Baptism reminds me of the many who came with repentant hearts to John in the Jordan River.
In this response the Baptist symbolized God's forgiveness with an act of cleansing with water.
That said, I think that, in this passage, Jesus speaks of an invisible baptism.

The idea of being baptized with the Holy Spirit seems different but similar to water baptism.
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples and those who had already been baptized with water.
In speaking this promise Jesus tells us two things:
  1. Christians have an ongoing need for forgiveness and spiritual empowering;
  2. God is present to respond to those needs.
What seems odd however is how some feel that such a baptism is a one-time ecstatic event.
The focus of this event is often the impartation of a permanent spiritual gift.
I think of it more as a needed and an ongoing process of spiritual cleansing and filling.

I repent Lord. Baptism me afresh in your Spirit. Fill me Lord. I so need you.

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

divine discipleship

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Interesting how Jesus includes heaven in his declaration.
It is a reminder to all of us of the timeless divinity and sovereignty of Christ.
Also noteworthy is the mention that some worshiped but some doubted.

I just love Matthew's honesty in this passage.
He wanted us to know that even some who saw Jesus after the resurrection doubted.
Believing in Jesus is not a matter of intellectual logic but one of a humble heart.

In the context of "all authority" Jesus commissions those then, and we now, to make disciples.
Most of his own mission on earth was spent discipling uneducated people.
The Lord was basically saying to "do what I did":
  • reach out to the poor - he was always seeking them out;
  • go to the harlots - he welcomed one who anointed his feet;
  • invite tax collectors - he made one of them an apostle;
  • baptize them and watch their lives change as you share my teachings with them.
And he tells them that they will not "go" alone.
The Holy Spirit will go with them giving them lessons to share.
In that sense he was with them, and is with us, to death and beyond.

Lord, give me a heart for people and fill my mouth words as we cross paths.

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

where you do not want to go

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” ... And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them ... When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” [John 21:18-22 ESV]

It is so easy when you hurt so bad, or hear something you do not like, to look at others.
And ask 'why' questions like:
  • Why do others, like John, seem to have easier journeys.
  • Why is my journey so often a painful one?
  • Why aren't my prayers answered?
Jesus answers our 'why' questions with another question: "what is that to you?"
I think that the 'why' questions are unfruitful ones that cause us to obsess.
And wallow in our pain rather than process it and move through it.

Jesus ends by telling Peter "You follow Me!"
He makes no apology and offers no excuse.
In fact he emphasizes it by saying it twice.

Even in difficult places, "where you do not want to go", following Jesus is essential.
In such places our focus and our motivation must not be on:
  • our pain - hurt and sorrow can blind us;
  • our circumstances - discontentment often robs us of wisdom;
  • other people - jealousy will impair us.
Following Jesus requires us to look up and not look around.
It requires us to trust him for today and tomorrow.
And it demands to let go of our fear of going where we don't want to go.

Help me Lord to follow you and not worry about where that takes me.

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