possessive possessions

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” ... Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. [Matthew 19:16,21-22 ESV]

The relationship of faith to wealth, possessions and materialism is a tenuous one.
I wonder if this man who came to Jesus was known for his wealth and possessions?
Or maybe Jesus discerned this as he spoke with him?

Interesting how the man came to Jesus with a question about eternal life.
Seemed to think eternal life was earned by doing instead of believing.
Such is the thinking of many who want faith to be about good deeds.

I know people like this man - I often act like him.
People who seem to keep the ten commandments.
People who appear very moral but are very materialistic.

I think that many of us often have a strange attachment to our things.
We find that our possessions are possessing us instead of us them.
If we desire to be perfect or mature we must let go of our 'things'.

Lord, help me to let go of the things that draw my attention away from you.

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

childlike hearts

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. [Matthew 19:13-15 NLT]

I love these kind of scenes from the gospels!
They show such a tender side of our Lord as he makes room and time for children.
Can't you see them climbing up on his lap and embracing him.

Children seem to know how to love like no others can love.
Their hearts are so tender and their love so genuine.
I think that these kids caused Jesus to smile as he held and blessed them.

Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to such as these naive kids.
It cause me to wonder about how I, unlike children, often think and act.
I sometimes choose to take such an analytical approach to spiritual life.

My focus and approach to life is so often so very 'adult'.
Instead of trusting God like a child I lean on my own understanding.
I think that it is a good reminder to live life as a child:
believing the best about others;
laughing and interacting with friends;
and loving God and others with all of our hearts.
Hard to imagine a better way to live.

Help me Lord to be more childlike in the way that I live.

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

growing into the largeness of marriage

Jesus said, “Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hard heartedness, but it is not part of God’s original plan. I’m holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery.” [Matthew 19:8-9 MSG]

Listen to how Jesus' disciples responded to his words about divorce:
“If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus tells them that marriage is basically for life and it makes them uncomfortable.
Even so, I do find the candid response of the disciples to be a bit refreshing.
Sadly some today enter marriage with this mindset but are not so candid about their attitude.

In verses following Jesus tells them:
“Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. ... But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”
I think mental duplicity is always tested by trials like sickness and poverty.
It is why our vows often include staying faithful to each other in such times.
To men who find it difficult to commit to such marital vows Jesus says don't do it.

I love how The Message uses the phrase "growing into the largeness of marriage".
Being married forced me to grow up fast and become more than I dreamed I could be.
Dealing with the sufferings of my wives has forced me to becomes a larger person.

My sensitivity grew when wife Ellen went blind nine months after we married.
My heart grew even more when my wife Ann was disabled in 2007.
Marriage provides us with opportunities for growth like nothing else.

I think that marriage can be bring out the best in us and make us better people.
It can change the way that we love from self centered to other centered,
And, in the end, it can make us more like Jesus.

Thank you for my wife Lord. Help my life to be an encouraging force in her life.

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

divine concessions

“Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. [Matthew 19:7-8 NLT]

Have you ever had a conversation like this one?
Often people use Old Testament law saying that God has spoken and has settled a matter.
Such is the place that Jesus finds himself in this passage.

Religious leaders are defending a man's right to divorce his wife.
Interesting to note that a woman did not have this right.
Jesus points them back to the garden and the way that marriage is meant to be.

Does this passage cause you to wonder?
Are there other things were allowed because of the hardness of people's hearts?
Perhaps many things in life are merely divine concessions similar to divorce?

Jesus describes this idea in more detail in the sermon on the mount.
There he speaks of hard hearts that hate, lust and covet.
In that sermon, and here, Jesus appeals to the heart of issues.

God is always in the heart of an issue and not all that interested in the legality of it.
The heart seems to be the real issue when it dealing with difficult life issues.
So why not overcome a concession than merely live into it?

Help me Lord to keep my heart soft and tender.

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

seventy times seven

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [Matthew 18:21-22 ESV]

Following his answer to Peter, Jesus tells a story that illustrates his point.
The story is about a man who is forgiven a great debt by the king.
The man then refuses to forgive a man who owes him a smaller debt.

Jesus concludes the story with these words from the king:
‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
The heart of forgiveness is mercy - God's unconditional mercy that always forgives.
One who keeps an account of forgiveness does not understand the heart of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not about "seventy times seven" but really about forgiving every time.

Jesus wraps up the story with this lesson from it:
And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
I think that there is no greater spiritual bondage than that of unforgiveness.
When we refuse to forgive we imprison our soul in a dark dungeon of bitterness.
Such is the reason that Jesus tells us to forgive others from our heart even when they do not.

Lord, I forgive all that have offended me. Wash me clean of any bitterness.

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

the heart of reconciliation

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 18:15-17 ESV]

I love the way that God's ways are so different than our ways.
Sadly, each of us can relate to the idea of complaining or gossiping when we are offended.
Going to the source of our disappointment and heartbreak can be so hard to do.

Sometimes the people we are called to confront can be difficult to talk to.
Often we have to summon every bit of courage just to talk to them.
Perhaps this kind of reconciliation is the only way that healing really comes to us?

The passage is not so much a process to follow but a glimpse into the mind of God.
The words speak to us not so much of discipline but about healed relationships.
In these few sentences Jesus presents an image of what reconciliation really looks like.

When he says:
go alone, he speaks to the sensitivity that is needed to restore a relationship.
take one or two, Jesus is stressing our need for accountability.
tell it to the church, he is telling us about the importance of reconciliation.
The focus is about God's concern about the interpersonal relationships of his children.

Lord, forgive me when I gossip about my pain. Give me a heart of reconciliation.

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