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.