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'√©·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.