A little yeast works its way through the whole lump. [Galatians 5:9 (NTE)]

CAMPFIREWhile baking banana bread, I decided to add in the last of the walnuts I found in the refrigerator. After pouring the dough into the prepared pans, I spotted a few walnut pieces that hadn’t made the mixing bowl and popped them in my mouth. One taste told me they were rancid! Not only are rancid nuts horrid tasting but, if enough are consumed, they can make you sick! Just as there’s no way to get a little bit of yeast out of a lump of dough, there was no way to get every last bit of nut nastiness out of the bread. A mere cup of nuts managed to turn more than eight cups of what should have been sweet and delicious into something bitter and sour. As I emptied the pans into the garbage, I recalled a sermon illustration about a thirteen-year-old girl.

The young teen tried to convince her mother that she should be allowed to see a certain R-rated movie. Explaining that there was only a little inappropriate material (such as casual sex, violence, bad language, nudity, and drugs) in the movie, she promised she’d take none of it to heart. Although the teen begged to be allowed to view it with her friends, her mother denied the request. Saying she couldn’t understand, the girl left in a snit to sulk in her room. Meanwhile, her mother set to work baking cookies in the kitchen. A wonderful aroma filled the house and, when the cookies were baked, the mother asked her daughter if she’d like to taste a special new recipe. Although they looked like regular chocolate chip cookies, her mother said something extra had been added. As the girl greedily reached for the tasty looking cookies, she asked about the new ingredient. Her mother explained that she added a small scoop of leavings from the cat’s litter box and mixed it into the batter. Since it was just a small scoop, it would hardly be noticeable and she was certain her daughter could ignore it while enjoying the rest of the cookie. It was then that the girl understood why her mother had prohibited the movie! Like the little bit of R in the movie, the incest in the Corinthian church, the false doctrine in Galatia, the rancid walnuts in my batter, and the cat poop in the cookies, even a little bit of sin is more than any of us should consume!

As adults, we consider ourselves wiser and more discerning than teenagers and, as Christ’s followers, we like to think we’re able to withstand the negative influences of today’s world. Let’s not fool ourselves. Temptation is all around us. While it may look as harmless as did that R-rated movie to the teen, we can’t step in the muck without getting a little dirty. When David, a “man after God’s heart,” snuck a quick look at the naked Bathsheba, he never intended it to grow into adultery and murder, but it did. Like David’s voyeurism, even a little bit of nastiness, corruption, vanity, revenge, arrogance, prejudice, spite, smut, hatred, deceit, or immorality has a tendency to produce something far worse.

Think of Solomon—supposedly the wisest man who ever lived. When he ignored the law by marrying Egyptian, Moabite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, the king probably thought himself impervious their pagan beliefs. After all, with 1,000 women in his harem, what was the harm of a handful who worshipped idols? Solomon, however, wasn’t as wise as he thought! In his old age, those women “turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God.” [1 Kings 11:4] The one who so wisely warned others to avoid the path of sin foolishly walked right onto it!

Sin is deceptive and, sometimes it looks as harmless and enticing as fresh-baked banana bread or chocolate chip cookies. But, like a little scoop of cat poop or some rancid nuts in a bowl of batter, no matter how small, every little bit of bad we allow to enter our lives affects us. Solomon warned that, when we play with fire, we should expect to get burned. Sadly, he didn’t heed his own words. Let’s not make the same mistake!

The temptation once yielded to gains power. The crack in the embankment which lets a drop or two ooze through is soon a hole which lets out a flood. [Alexander MacLaren]

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? [Proverbs 6:27-28 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.


The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Never abandon a friend—either yours or your father’s. When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away. [Proverbs 27:9-10 (NLT)]

Novelist Salman Rushdie said, “In the cookie of life, friends are the chocolate chips.” I agree. Granted, life can be as pleasant as a plain sugar cookie but, when you add chocolate chips to the batter or friends to the mix, it becomes something extra special.

Today happens to be National Chocolate Chip Day. (We can celebrate again on August 4—the official National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.) Although she didn’t invent friendship, Ruth Wakefield invented both chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies when she added pieces of a Nestlé chocolate bar to her “Butter Do Drop” cookie recipe in 1930. It wasn’t until 1939, however, that Nestlé actually started manufacturing those beautiful teardrop-shaped morsels.

Fortunately, God didn’t wait until 1939 to invent friends! Knowing it wasn’t good for “man to be alone,” He created us for connection and gave us friends. He blessed Adam with Eve, Lot with Abraham, Moses with Aaron, and Joshua with Caleb.

When Satan took away Job’s family, wealth, and health, Job’s friends remained. Even though their theology was flawed, they kept Job company and tried to comfort him in his pain and sorrow. When Joseph was imprisoned, he was blessed by friendships with the warden and Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker. David was blessed by good friends like Jonathon, Nathan, and even the loyal Philistine Ittai. Naomi was blessed by Ruth’s friendship as was Elijah by Elisha’s. During the Babylonian exile, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were united in their friendship and faith. Matthew invited his friends for dinner with Jesus and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus welcomed their friend Jesus into their home. Even though they didn’t always agree, Paul’s good friends included Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Priscilla, and Aquila.

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold,” goes the old song. Indeed, old friends are as precious as gold and, next week, we hope to spend a little time with some golden ones. We met 45 years ago while skiing in Michigan and continued our friendship on the mountains of Colorado. Although 2,000 miles separate us and we no longer ski, our friendship remains. Love, laughter, faith, and a heap of great memories connect us. We’ll treasure our brief reunion as we thank God for the chocolate chips He scattered through our lives.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the people who befriended us—the ones who taught and inspired us, encouraged and challenged us, laughed and cried with us, and taught us how to laugh at ourselves and life’s uncertainties. Thank you for the friends who daily provide examples of how life should be lived and for the friends who answer our questions and question our answers. Thank you for those who sought us when we were lost, provided directions, and welcomed us back when we finally returned. Thank you for those who recognized what was wrong in our lives (even when we didn’t) and gently opened our eyes to what we needed to see. Thank you for blessing us with friends who have openly shared their lives and who, in turn, have listened and loved and prayed for us. Thank you for the friends who continue to walk with us, steady us when we stumble, lift us when we fall, and carry us when we think we can go no further. Thank you, Lord, for the best friend you have given each and every one of us: your son Jesus Christ.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. [Marcel Proust]

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. [John 15:12-14 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BEWARE THE YEAST (Yeast – Part 2)

“Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:11-12 (NLT)]

oleanderFor a single-cell microorganism member of the fungus family, yeast is mighty powerful. When added to water and flour, it starts to grow and multiply as it ferments the sugars in the flour, releases carbon dioxide, and causes the dough to rise. Moreover, once added to something, yeast can’t be removed. When a small amount of old fermented dough called a starter or seor is kneaded into flour and water, it permeates the dough and makes it rise. Some of the newly leavened dough can be saved to become the starter for the next batch of bread and so on.

In the right conditions, yeast seems nearly immortal. San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery uses a sourdough starter originating in 1849.  Scientists even revived yeast microbes from 4,500 years ago to make a loaf of bread! Indeed, the longevity, growth potential, and pervasiveness of yeast makes it a powerful substance.

The way yeast permeates and affects the dough with which it is mixed certainly makes it a good metaphor for the influence of one thing on another. Even though the Hebrew Scriptures never equated leavening with sin or evil, leaven and corruption had become almost synonymous with one another by the 1st century. Although Jesus used yeast’s power in a positive way as a metaphor for the growth and spread of the Messianic Kingdom, He also used yeast in a negative way; just as good can influence the world around it, so can bad.

At various times, Jesus used yeast as a metaphor for the power of evil to spread. He warned the disciples about the yeast of skepticism and unbelief found in the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod. In spite of the bountiful evidence of Jesus’ true identity seen in His miracles, the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded yet another “sign from heaven” to prove His authority. When Jesus appeared before Herod, the king wanted to see the proof of His miracles, as well. Not wanting His followers to be infected with such distrust or thinking of His miracles as entertainment for unbelievers, Jesus made this warning several times. Taking Him literally at first, the disciples thought Jesus was speaking of bread until they finally understood His meaning.

Along with the Pharisee’s skepticism, Jesus didn’t want his disciples influenced by their addition of the Talmud’s oral traditions to God’s final word in the Hebrew Bible or their hypocrisy in meticulously following the letter of the law while ignoring the most important commandment—that of loving God and their neighbor. Jesus also didn’t want His disciples affected by the Sadducees’ deceptive teachings. More concerned with their ritual purity than people’s welfare and politics than religion, the Sadducees denied things like angels, heaven, hell, and the resurrection while believing that people’s souls died with their bodies. As for Herod’s evil influence—Jesus didn’t want His disciples influenced by the actions of this immoral and self-indulgent man.

In letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians, the Apostle Paul also used yeast as a metaphor for the powerful influence of erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. When the Corinthian church ignored the flagrant immorality of one of its members, Paul warned them to remove him from the congregation lest such immorality spread through the entire congregation (as yeast does when added to fresh dough). In the same way, Paul warned the Galatians about the danger of accepting the perverted gospels of both the Judaizers (who insisted Gentiles had to adhere to Jewish laws like circumcision) and the Legalists (who preached a doctrine of salvation by works). Such false teaching was dangerous because, like yeast, it spreads out and affects everything with which it comes into contact.

Be it even a little false doctrine or immorality (whether sexual sin or things like abuse of power, financial fraud, deception, decadence, hate, hypocrisy, or gossip), when such evil is tolerated by the Church, it is like yeast. It’s evil works invisibly and will permeate and influence all that it touches. Just as a little leaven leavens the whole lump, a little sin can destroy the individual as well as the Church—the body of Christ. Let us beware!

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. [1 Corinthians 5:6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.


Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” [Matthew 13:33 (NLT)]

Immediately after the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the yeast a woman added to “three measures of flour” when making bread. While “measures” seems vague, the original word used wasn’t. It was seah (about a peck and a half of flour) and three seahs were over 167 cups (nearly 50 pounds) of flour. This was an enormous amount of flour for just “a little yeast” and, as He did in the previous parable, Jesus used hyperbole to emphasize the power of something very small. The question in this parable is whether the yeast is a metaphor for a bad or a good thing.

This is the first mention of leavening in the New Testament but, by the 1st century, yeast had come to represent sin. Sticking to yeast’s traditional symbolism, some commentators liken the story’s yeast to false doctrine that can sneak into the Kingdom and see this parable as a warning about the dangerous power of false teaching in the Church. Enekrupsen is the Greek word used to describe the woman’s action in adding the yeast and this is its only use in Scripture. From egkruptó, which literally meant to bury within, enekrupsen has been translated with different meanings. Some translate it as hid or concealed (which implies she did something sneaky and devious in adding yeast) while others merely translate it as put, blended, or mixed in. Since enekrupsen is used both ways in other Greek literature, we can’t be sure which correctly communicates Jesus’ meaning. Considering that bread was being made, it seems that burying yeast in the dough would be expected rather than sneaky.

I find it hard to interpret this parable in a way that associates anything sinful or evil with the Kingdom of Heaven. Although His listeners may have expected yeast’s power to represent something bad, Jesus’ parables rarely fit his listeners’ expectations. When they anticipated one thing, He usually gave them another! That a Levite and priest had failed their fellow Jew while a hated Samaritan was the hero of one parable was as surprising as a beggar ending up in Abraham’s bosom at a heavenly banquet when the rich man ended up tormented in Hades. Jesus threw society’s expectations out the window when telling of a father who’d been offended and hurt by his wastrel son. Upon the boy’s return, rather than rejecting him as the law required, the father ran to welcome him home, restored him to the family, and even had a festive celebration in the boy’s honor. Equally unexpected was the story of vineyard workers getting the same pay regardless of how long they worked and the prayers of a tax collector being heard when the Pharisee’s were not.

I agree with the commentators who take this parable at face value. Believing Jesus simply is speaking of the pervasiveness and power of yeast, they see this analogy as a continuation of the lesson in the mustard seed parable. Rather than a corrupting influence, the leaven, like the mustard seed, illustrates that great things can come from small beginnings. Yeast is even smaller than the tiny mustard seed and yet both are powerful enough to expand and effect change. While both parables illustrate the extensive growth of the Kingdom, the second parable emphasizes the Kingdom’s transformative power. Just as yeast changes dough, the Kingdom will transform the world! In both parables, the message is clear—the Messianic Kingdom comes from small beginnings, operates quietly, but has the power to accomplish great things! That God’s Kingdom would start from small and humble beginnings to grow and change a much larger entity (the world) would have been reassuring news to Jesus’ small band of disciples.

Like the Kingdom of Heaven, yeast is a living organism. Like the Holy Spirit, yeast is invisible once in the dough and yet its effect, like that of the Spirit, becomes obvious as it permeates the mixture. Just as leavened dough grows from inside out, the Kingdom moves from our hearts into our actions and from our actions into the world. Yeast transforms what it mixes with and, as we are transformed, we transform those with whom we interact. Just as yeast needs certain conditions to grow, so does the Kingdom and, just as there are 1,500 different kinds of yeast, God’s Kingdom is made up of a wide assortment of people. Yeast is found everywhere—from the bottom of the ocean to the Arctic and from flower nectar to the lining of our stomachs—and God’s Kingdom should be as pervasive! Indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven is alive, it’s everywhere, it takes attention and patience to grow, and it transforms all it touches.

What Jesus’ listeners probably didn’t understand was that the Kingdom already had arrived. But, like a tiny mustard seed, a bit of yeast, or a baby in a manger, it entered the world quietly without fanfare. Like a small yellow flower, a lump of dough, or an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, the Kingdom didn’t look that impressive at first. Appearances, however, can be misleading. Like a mustard seed that grows 1,440 times its original size or the more than fifty loaves of bread leavened by that bit of yeast, the Kingdom will increase and prevail. In the end, when Christ returns as a conquering king, no one will be able to miss its arrival. Until then, like a small amount of yeast, God’s Kingdom will transform the hearts and lives of all it touches! May we always remember that little things become great when God is at work!

When the dough is leavened, then to the oven with it; trials and afflictions commonly attend this change; but thus saints are fitted to be bread for our Master’s table. [Matthew Henry]

I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. [Matthew 16:18 (NLT)]


black mustard - Brassica nigra
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches. [Matthew 13:31-32 (NLT)]

Following the Parable of the Four Soils and the Parable of the Weeds, Jesus told a third parable of growth by comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed. I know little about farming and soil but I’m familiar with black mustard, (Brassica nigra), the kind of mustard grown in Palestine in Jesus’ day. Its clusters of bright yellow flowers are a common sight in the meadows, thickets, vacant lots, and fallow fields in my home state of Illinois.

Both times Jesus mentioned the mustard seed, He referred to its small size. When comparing the size of our faith to that of a mustard seed, He told us even if our faith were as small as a mustard seed that, “Nothing would be impossible.” When comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, He called it the “smallest of all seeds.” Having admired the mustard seed charm my sister had on her bracelet, I questioned His statement. While it was small, I knew other seeds are even smaller. Surely the One who was there at creation’s beginning knew that the almost dust-like seeds of orchids and begonias are smaller. Additionally, while the mustard plant can grow as tall as 10 to 12 feet, it’s not a tree!

Jesus, however, wasn’t teaching botany, He was telling a parable and hyperbole (an exaggerated statement not taken literally that’s used to emphasize a point) was a common technique in rabbinic teaching. Jesus used it when speaking of recognizing a speck in our neighbor’s eye but not seeing the log in ours, Pharisees straining the gnats out of their water while drinking a camel, and trying to put a camel through a needle. When we look at the original Greek, however, we find less exaggeration. Jesus refers to the mustard seed as the smallest seed which a man sows in his field. While not the smallest seed in existence, mustard was the smallest seed that would have been sown in a Palestinian field. Jesus says it grows larger than a lachanōn (a garden herb or vegetable) and, indeed, black mustard does seem like a tree when compared to most herbs! That a seed measuring less than a tenth of an inch can grow 1,440 times its original size into a 12-foot plant in just one season is impressive and that was His point!

While most of America’s farmers consider this pervasive plant a noxious weed, it’s been cultivated as a crop for thousands of years in the Holy Land. Its seeds were powdered or made into a paste for medicinal and culinary purposes. Unlike most of us, Jesus’ listeners were familiar with mustard’s characteristics. As I describe those qualities, consider how they might apply to God’s Kingdom here on earth.

With its narrow clusters of small yellow flowers, mustard isn’t a showy flower—one might even call it a humble little thing. Nevertheless, a golden field of mustard is a thing of beauty. For a variety of scientific reasons, black mustard has a competitive advantage over most other plants. It’s one of the first plants to spring up after a fire and can out-compete anything else growing in the same field. It produces thousands of seeds every season and mustard’s long-lasting seeds can survive underground for as long as 50 years. An annual, while it dies at the end of a season, it regenerates at the next rainy season.

Although mustard was welcome as a cash crop in Palestine, because of its characteristics, black mustard is considered invasive in 44 of the 48 contiguous states. Nevertheless, in spite of the Midwest’s farmers’ persistent efforts to eradicate it, black mustard returns every year. Nature Collective describes it as “an ornery guest that refuses to take the hint.” In spite of persecution from Jewish leaders and Rome, the early church was just as defiant, determined, and persistent as black mustard!

Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar with the plant’s beauty and ability to self-seed, lay down a deep root system, and grow almost anywhere, along with mustard’s knack of surviving and thriving in less-than-ideal conditions. Jesus’ point was that from small and humble beginnings, the Kingdom of Heaven—Jesus’ domain as Messiah—would gradually grow into a large and beautiful entity. Once seeded, nothing seems to stop mustard and the same goes for the Kingdom!

May our faith be as persistent, hardy, determined, steadfast, and as difficult to destroy as the mustard seed!

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” [Matthew 17:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.


Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! [Matthew 13:40-43 (NLT)]

thistleFollowing the Parable of the Sower and the Soils, Jesus told another parable about the coming of the Kingdom. In the Parable of the Weeds, after the farmer plants wheat, his enemy sows weeds in the same field. Jesus’ hearers would have known the weed likely was darnel. Called wheat’s “evil twin,” it looks and behaves much like wheat. When wheat is consumed it gives life but, when darnel is consumed, this inedible look-alike causes nausea and even death. Sowing weeds in a field was an act of sabotage and Roman law specifically prohibited doing so with darnel. When nations went to war, agricultural vandalism was a common practice. Olive trees were cut down, grape vines destroyed, and fields were salted so nothing would grow.

When the farmer’s workers ask to pull out the weeds, they are told to wait. Because both the weeds and wheat are deeply rooted, pulling up the weeds would uproot the wheat, as well. Not wanting to destroy the good by removing the bad, the farmer decides to wait until harvest time when the weeds can be better identified and separated without damaging the wheat. At that time, the wheat will be put in the barn but the weeds will be burned.

While the farmer in the Parable of the Soils represents those who share the gospel, the farmer in this parable is Jesus. The field is the world and the enemy is Satan, whose strategy is to invade, infiltrate, penetrate, and take control of the field. Even though he knows he’s lost the war, Satan wants to inflict as much damage as possible until his final defeat. Christ’s followers are the wheat and, even though they look much like wheat, the weeds are unbelievers. The harvest comes near the end of the age when the angels will come with their sickles and winnowing forks to bring in the harvest. While the righteous will come into the Kingdom, the sons of the evil one will be punished and thrown into the fires of hell.

Focusing on the final judgment, the parable tells us that what seems uncertain now will be unmistakable at the end of the age and God’s enemies will be removed! This parable repeats the good news of the Parable of the Soils: in spite of opposition and interference from its enemy, God’s Kingdom will prevail! If there is any doubt in your mind, just read the book of Revelation. Sickness, famine, war, hatred, pestilence, hypocrisy, natural disaster, genocide, abuse, violence, idolatry, deception, calamity, and even noxious weeds do not have the last word—Jesus Christ does!

I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right. [Billy Graham]

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”… And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” [Revelation 21:3-4,6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2023 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.