Priorities

Throughout Matthew 10 and especially towards the close Jesus brings us face to face with what can be for some an unsettling reality, Jesus must come first. Those that would follow Him must pledge fully body and soul to Him and seek to honour Him with all they do in every aspect of life. There must be no area where He does not come first. We are to love Him more than any other person or object in the world and be willing to sacrifice all for Him and submit every whim, wish, and desire to His will.

He speaks of the one that might deny Him before the Father and He speaks of those that love their own father and mother more than He as not being worthy of Him. Naturally, many who have been raised to have an unyielding commitment to their families may recoil at this. How also, can one who speaks of love, grace, and compassion, speak so harshly about relationships with those whom we are closest? It is because that He is deity and fully God and just as we are reminded in the 10 Commandments that we can have no other god and Jesus admonishes us to love God with our full self, so must we give such priority to Jesus.

In practical terms this means that our will must be subordinated to that of Christ. Whatever He says do, we do, wherever He says go, we go and so forth. When we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves and it is explained that pretty much everyone is our neighbor, then we are to do it. No longer do things like race, creed, color, lifestyle, income, status, etc. matter. They are our neighbor and we are to love them. This does not mean we condone sin and ignore vice, for truly loving someone may require dealing with such things, but it does mean that we are not free to view them personally with contempt or beyond the reach of God’s love or grace. We are to live this out being Christ’s hands, feet, and mouth. This is what it is to be the body of Christ and nothing or no one is to stand in our way.

It is these very principals which may lead one to become offended by Christ (Matthew 11) as He makes startling demands on our lives and He fails to live up to our meager expectations. Far to often we try to make Christ (God) in our image when it is we who were created in His and are being transformed into the image of Christ. We prefer a god we can control, who has the same view of life as we, that doesn’t challenge us, but this is a little god of our own making that has no power at all. Christ cannot and will not be so contained. It is us who must be transformed and conformed to His image and His will. This is not an easy process and takes a lifetime. It requires the work of the Spirit and must be repeated daily. It starts with a conscious effort to put Christ first in all things and a simple prayer that the Spirit would lead us in making Christ our number 1 priority. I invite you to join me in pursuit of this lofty goal and I truly believe that in so doing we will accomplish far more than we ever could on our own.

Who is Worthy?

In Matthew 9 we see a lot of things happen. Jesus heals and claims to forgive sins and is held to be Blasphemous. He associates with the dregs of society and is considered immoral. He raises the dead and is said to be under the influence and power of Satan. Why does Jesus get all this push back for doing good? Simple. He is exposing people for who they really are. In offering grace to people who aren’t worthy he exposes the religious elite for their bigotry. We see this come to light at the end of Chapter 9 as Jesus looks with compassion on the people and sees “sheep without a shepherd.” It should have been the role of religious elite, the Pharisees and the Sadducee to help these people come closer to God. But where Jesus looked upon the people with compassion, the elite looked upon them with contempt.

As much as I enjoy focusing on what the Bible says and how it speaks to us, I do not live in a vacuum. While part of my job is to help people better understand the Bible and how through it they can better know God, another part is to show how the Bible speaks to us about what we are dealing with today. Sure its great to know what happened to whom and when, but it is much more helpful to know that even though we aren’t in the exact same situation, we can still learn valuable lessons, have our faith increased, and get closer to God. So what does this have to do with all the tumult going on in our world today? The question “who is worthy” must be asked and how you answer it will reveal a lot.

So who is worthy of love, of grace, of compassion, of forgiveness? Who is not worthy? Is there any who are or are there any who aren’t?. What makes someone worthy and another person not? Are they just a terrible person who goes around kicking puppies and stealing ice cream from kids? Have they committed horrible unspeakable crimes against humanity? Or on the other side, are they practically perfect in every way? Do they give all they have away to help the poor and needy, recycle everything correctly, and never do or say anything offensive to anyone? Is there anyone you look at with contempt and declare they are not worthy? If so what are you basing that on and what gives you the right to make such a statement?

The truth is none of us are worthy. Paul reminds us that we all fall short of the Glory of God. Go back through the sermon on the mount and see how many sins and transgressions you have committed and how far short you come to the standard that God has provided. If you read it honestly, you will come to the same conclusion I did. Without Christ I have no hope. I am so far in the hole I could never climb out. It is only because Christ looked upon the people with compassion that we have any hope at all. We are not worthy and have no basis to declare anyone else not worthy either. Sure we can talk about their sins or crimes and how their lifestyle doesn’t meet expectations, but neither does ours. Maybe I haven’t committed sins like Murder, but I have hated and felt a grudge so I am guilty. I have broken one law so I have broken them all.

I am a traitor to God and deserve death and eternal separation from Him. I am not worthy. But when He saw me He looked with compassion not contempt. As Christians we are called to do the same. So the next time you see that person you don’t agree with, the one who talks or acts differently, has a different lifestyle, has made different choices, don’t declare them unworthy just because they don’t meet your standard or anyone else’s standard. At the end of the day the only standard that matters is God’s and we all miss that one. We are called to love them and that means compassion and grace. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. Give grace as you have recieved it. This is a lesson we all have to work on.

So as you look around you…who is worthy?

True Faith

As chapter 8 of Matthew closes we see Jesus cross a storm tossed sea to heal two gentile demoniacs. While both of these narratives demonstrate Christ’s authority over the natural and supernatural world, for me the bigger message is about faith, as the crossing follows on discussions of discipleship and a lot of teaching and healing by Jesus. He must have fallen asleep almost as soon as they got in the boat. Crossing the Sea of Galilee wouldn’t have taken much more than an hour under normal conditions and they surely wouldn’t have set off knowing a storm was brewing. The fact that Jesus was asleep shows us his human side and the exhaustion of his work.

At some point in the crossing a massive storm comes up. The Greek used describes an earthquake and remember that several of the disciples were experienced sailors having been fishing that very sea for most of their lives. Panicked they cry out to Jesus to save them. He awakes, rebukes them for their lack of faith and then calms the storm. So what’s going on here? First, they had some faith as they decided to get Jesus to do something. Chances are they had tried hard to do what they could on their own before turning to Christ. Second they were full of fear and panic meaning that even then they weren’t convinced that Jesus could save them. Both show they had yet to fully understand who He was even though they had seen many miracles. Far too often we do the same thing. When storms come about what ought to be our first call is often our last. We mistakenly believe that in our power we can deal with the situation. Only when finding we are about to be swamped do we cry out to God for salvation. If we truly believed and had faith in God that He could and would do all He has promised us, we would cry out to Him first. The fact that we don’t betrays the fact we have yet to surrender all of ourselves to Him and recognize Him as He really is, just like the disciples. Also the storm that arises causes much fear and concern and again shows our limited faith in Christ. Its not that the storm is not terrible or dangerous as it can be. Our very lives may be taken by such storms. The fear of losing such does speak to our will to survive, but also our affection for this world over the world to come. Only through increasing faith can we be at ease with the idea that our time on this world is marked and will one day end and that is OK.

After the crossing to the other side Jesus and His band encounter two men possessed by demons. As an aside let me say if you believe and accept the idea of God and Jesus and Angels and even the devil, you must also accept the idea of demons. It is a natural conclusion from such belief in the supernatural. I do believe they were more active in the time of Christ as you send your solders to where the fighting is the hottest and with Christ on Earth, that is where the struggle was the most intense for the Enemy. The demon(s) recognize Jesus as deity, more so than the disciples had yet to do. Still this simple belief and understanding of who Jesus was did not save them. Later when writing his letter, James, the brother of Christ would say the demons believe and they shudder. He may have been recalling this event. What stands out here is that mere belief is not enough. One must give everything over to Christ, heart and soul. They must put their faith and trust in Him for EVERYTHING. This is not an easy task and it requires that we swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and recognize both our sinfulness and weakness. It means that we call upon Him first and do as He has bid, even going on dangerous missions to uncomfortable places and dealing with people we may not like.

So reader, where is your faith today? Is it as strong as it should be? Mine is not. I say this because I know there are areas I haven’t surrendered to Christ. This tells me I don’t fully trust Him yet. I am holding back. Either because of fear or pride I haven’t given over all yet, though it is His. I pray that through the power of The Holy Spirit I will surrender more and more to Him and my faith shall increase with every breath. I pray this for you as well. For when we have such faith, then we can have peace in the fiercest storm knowing that come what may God holds us in the hollow of His hand and nothing will cause him to let go. We as His children are dearly loved and dearly held.

Non-Violence

Disclaimer: I know this is a bit of a break from my normal content, but in light of current turmoil, I wanted to address the topic.

Daniel O’Connell became known in Ireland as “The Liberator” and their “uncrowned king.” Why? Because he was able to accomplish Catholic emancipation. During most of the period that Ireland was under the control of Britain, the Catholic majority was not allowed to vote. This meant that most of the population of Ireland had no voice in their rule, neither in the short-lived Irish Parliament, nor the English Parliament in London. They were heavily oppressed by the protestant minority in Ireland along with the British military with little to no redress. It was this oppression and lack of a voice that led to many unsuccessful Irish rebellions, the most notable being that of 1798. In the wake of such failed uprisings, in the early 1800’s, an Irish Catholic by the name of Daniel O’Connell rose to power by pushing for Catholic emancipation. Except for a duel that led to the death of the challenger, O’Connell rejected violence wholesale. He led mass rallies and meetings where thousands attended, but there was no violence. Even when the British military did all they could to instigate a fight, O’Connell dissuaded them. Because the Irish never responded with violence or aggression, no matter how provoked, the police and military were powerless to stop them. They won widespread public opinion across Britain, and because of this effort, Catholic emancipation was won. O’Connell was elected to Parliament, one of the first Catholics to do so. While this did not end Ireland’s troubles, it was a great victory achieved through non- violence.

In the early 1900’s, India was still under the control of the British Empire. India was considered the “Jewel of the Empire” under Queen Victoria in the 19th century. Still, the oppression of the people of India by the British was severe. While there had been several revolts, they had all been crushed. A British-educated man by the name of Gandhi began a non-violent movement. As with Daniel O’Connell and the Irish Catholics, Gandhi and the supporters of his movement committed no violent acts, so the British military / police were powerless against them. The antagonistic efforts of the British were seen as the oppression it was and public opinion was on Gandhi’s side. Because of his tireless devotion to non-violence, the independence of India was secured.

Following the example of both O’Connell and Gandhi, a young Dr. Martin Luther King used nonviolence during the Civil Rights struggles in the United States. While Dr. King preached Civil Disobedience, including sits-ins at establishments where African Americans were not allowed, it was understood that violent reprisals by whites and police were possible. The images of police using dogs, firehoses, and physical force against peaceful protestors shocked audiences who watched the horrific scenes unfold from their living room. This led to landmark civil rights legislation being signed into law.

In all three cases, groups were being held down by institutional violence and oppression. They were discriminated against because of their race, religion, and culture. They were held to be inferior, unintelligent, and incapable of being responsible for taking care of themselves. By using nonviolent means, they were able to erase any doubts as to who the real brutes were and undeniably revealed themselves as the victims of an unjust system. 

As groups continue to struggle with oppression and discrimination, they would be well-served to learn from these leaders. While they knew it would mean a longer struggle without the allure or excitement that mob rule and violence can often bring, they also knew that responding with violence and agitation would only play into their oppressors’ hands by confirming the false narrative of their own inability to be responsible and reasonable. In short, violence would only serve to further justify the use of force and the state’s legal powers against those being oppressed. Change is needed, but violence, looting, burning, and wanton destruction will only slow or prevent that change. These men were not perfect, and each had their own issues, but all three are remembered and famous today because of their achievements. They were able to attain success because they chose a different route. Rather than rise in rebellion or prove true the stereotypes of their oppressors, they challenged public perception and won the hearts and minds of millions by demonstrating with peace, respect, and responsibility. This is a sorely needed reminder in these tumultuous times.

Righteous Anger

In Matthew 21, a brief account of Jesus clearing the temple is recorded. While other gospels mention this event, the basics are the same. So what was going on and why did Jesus respond as he did? The normally calm and peaceful Christ responded with anger and violence. How does this relate to the world today and does it mean that it’s okay for me to respond with anger and violence? All are valid questions and worth examining.

First, what was going on? By the first century, Jerusalem had become a cosmopolitan city and as a result of the Jewish Diaspora, many would come from all over the ancient world to both worship in the temple and pay the temple tax. The temple tax could only be paid in one form and thus the need for money changers, who would exchange whatever currency was brought them for the proper form for a fee. Thus, they were profiting off pilgrims who were simply trying to meet the basics of their faith. In truth, this is something that should have been done as a courtesy rather than a business model. Secondly, a sacrifice had to be performed using the right animal without blemish. A priest had to certify that the animal was correct and without blemish. In this same area, stalls were set up with animals that had been “pre-certified” by the priest. Just in case your animal didn’t meet the cut or you hadn’t brought one (especially after traveling a long distance), you could exchange / purchase such an animal again for a marked up fee. The issue was the same people were being taken advantage of and prevented from worship. Thirdly, this was taking place in the outer court. This was the only place Gentiles could come and “worship” if they chose, and all others had to pass through. This meant there was a constant din of noise as money was exchanged and animals crowded the stalls. So Jesus, who is also fully God, became indignant as these people were profiting off the crowds and impeding their ability to worship. He turned over tables, fashioned a whip, and drove out the money changers. This was one of the actions that led the High Priest, Pharisees, and Sadducee to decide something must be done to this troublemaker.

Jesus responded with what we might call “Righteous Anger.” It was born out of people who were supposed to be encouraging and assisting in worship actively preventing and profiting off it. It was other-centered and not self-centered. While Jesus did have harsh words at times for religious leaders such as the Priest and Pharisees, this is the only time when violence was recorded. Notice he would also around this same time encourage people to pay their taxes to the Roman Empire. Jesus was no anarchist, nor even a socialist. In fact, when confronted with arrest (for which he had committed no crime), a sham trial, and even a chance to plead mercy from the Roman Governor, what did Jesus do? Nothing. He was for the most part silent. He didn’t rail against the system or the Romans. He took his beating quite literally, all the insults, and died on a cross. With his last breath (a very prescient thought in this moment) he called for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Later, Stephen would emulate Christ when he was stoned by an angry mob.

So what do we learn from this and how do we apply it to our lives today? First, anger is an okay emotion and response to injustice. Remember though, Jesus’ anger was directed at the perpetrators and not an entire class or group of people. He took them as individuals, not as collectives. It was also not in response to a personal affront, but on injury to others. While at times a level of violence may be warranted, again it must be limited and proportional. Jesus flipped over tables and used a whip to drive people out. He didn’t take any of the money or the animals. So wholesale violence against a collective of people, wanton destruction, and theft are not on the table.

In most instances, our Anger is never as righteous as that of Jesus. Why? Because we are usually at least in part motivated by selfish urges or personal affronts. We often seek revenge, and remember that is the province of God, not us. By launching wholesale assaults on groups or society and seeking to disrupt everything, we sow more chaos, breed anger and resentment instead of calls for peace and justice. Unlike God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive, we are quick to anger and slow to forgive. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be upset when we see injustice before us. Become upset, or even angry at times. This is indeed an okay response. But check yourself first. Were you attacked, assaulted, or injured or was it someone else who is otherwise defenseless? Are you seeking justice or vengeance? Are you getting, or planning to get, something out of your response? Are you directing your anger toward a group as a whole, or only those who have acted inappropriately?

As protests fill our land, it is good and right that we let the powers that be know we are not happy, that we are upset and will not long suffer such injustice or indignity toward our neighbors. It is good to let them know they are not alone in their moment of difficulty and offer aide and comfort toward them. At the same time, we must not let anger and hate so fill our hearts that there is no room for love and forgiveness. Violence is not the answer to set an example and impact change. Jesus had many opportunities to use force and power to demonstrate who he was and to bring about the change for which he came. At every turn he rejected this and used love instead. If one is looking for an example of Christ to follow, perhaps the myriad of times he forgave and loved even the most unloving would be better than the one time he responded with anger and violence.

In short, yes there are times when such a response is warranted, but those instances are few. Jesus was almost killed by the people in his hometown; he ignored them. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded; Jesus did not attempt to free him nor lead any real response to the act. James and John wanted to bring down fire upon the Samaritans for spurning Christ; he rejected this. I already mentioned his arrest, scourging, trial, and execution. In fact, the closest one reads of a riot in the New Testament is when the people of Ephesus rose up because Paul’s message was hurting the trade of the silversmiths. Remember God is a God of love and order. If what you are seeing is not of Love and full of disorder and chaos, then chances are it is not from God, but rather from the Enemy. Bear this in mind when as you choose whom to support and whom to denounce.

Remember it is never okay to be mean, violent, cruel, or nasty for Jesus, or act as such in His name.

Build on the Rock

As Jesus brings his message to an end (Matthew 7-24), he again brings the audience to a moment of decision. This one, like the one about the two paths, is about choosing whether or not to adopt what Jesus has taught. He proceeds this moment with images of false teachers who have the outward appearance of righteousness, but who are inwardly evil. He speaks of fruit that outwardly looks appealing, but is inwardly empty. There are those people who act like they are serving him, but are only serving themselves. So how do all these images fit together?

First, the emphasis is on doing something and being active. Two times he alludes to the people that hear the Father’s will and do it and those that have heard his teachings and do or act upon them.  The similarities should not be missed. Secondly, the emphasis is not on the externals, but the internals. The external appearance, or even act, is not nearly as important as the internal motivation. Now at first it may appear that these two points contradict. It seems to be saying that the person needs to do something, but what they do is not important. This is because people like to have that list they can check off. If the rule says I need to “X,” then I can do “X” and feel good about myself. That is something I can objectively measure, not my progress, and adjust accordingly. This is what the pharisees had been doing. There would hundreds, if not thousands, of rules and they tried to follow all of them to show how pious and righteous they were. Remember, our righteousness must surpass theirs.

All throughout the sermon Jesus kept reminding the audience that the standard was not on externals, but internals. It’s not good enough to not kill; one must avoid anger or even holding a grudge. One must surrender their rights and think of the other person first. One must give over their entire being to God and care for their neighbor as they would themselves. They must do unto others, not just “not” do. All of this requires a sea change of the heart and mind. This is because people can fake the externals. They can give away money and help people but do it for the wrong reason. The fruit Jesus speaks of are things like love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, grace, and forgiveness. These come only from the spirit, and while one may play at them, they cannot have them without the Spirit.  Remember if your motivation in following Jesus is to save your own neck, you are doing it wrong. One must be willing to lose their life if they would save it. It is at moments like these that all these seemingly contradictory sayings come colliding together.

Jesus gives us one last image of the wise and foolish builder. The wise who acts on Jesus words takes the long view. They know that just because it looks like a good site it may not be. They dig deeper and get to the foundation. Why? Because they know it does not matter what they do, if the storm comes and there is not a strong foundation all their effort will fall flat. It must be built on something permanent. In our world, there is no institution created by man which is perfect or permanent. Our current situation shows us this fact. There is no one or nothing of this world that I can put my full faith and trust in, not even myself. Myself least of all because as broken as I am, I know I cannot trust me. I also know I am in control of little. I cannot even completely control myself so how can I build anything permanent?

The fool only sees today. Sure, it looks fine now so that is good enough. Let us not consider what may happen when the storms come, just go with it as-is. Let me focus on what makes me feel good right now and what seems right, right now. The moving standards of the world along with the fallen and brokenness of society leave one nothing to build on there but the shifting sands. So, I urge you to take the long view. Build on something solid. Build on the rock. Build on Christ, and Christ alone.

This is not about adopting some of his sayings or adding him to your life like a mantra or talisman. No, this is about surrendering yourself to him fully and totally. You are not adding Jesus to your life, but you are giving your life to him. This is his call and the standard, and nothing less than total commitment will do. It is not easy. It was not meant to be. But it is the way of the wise. Are you ready for the next storm? What are you standing on? You own two feet? Society? Modern culture? Monuments of man which will be destroyed by time? Or have you dug down to the rock and stand firmly on Him?

Honor Thy Mother

This past Sunday (May 10th) was Mother’s Day in the U.S. Barring the side note of how the woman who helped created Mother’s Day spent most of her life trying to end it due to commercialization, it is a day worth spending time with nonetheless. So as we do, there are a few passages that we should be familiar with. First is in Genesis 1 where God said he created man and woman in His image. Second is the ten commandments in Exodus where we are told to Honor our fathers AND our mothers. Third is Proverbs 31 where we are given an idealized view of a woman… who is also a mother. Forth and finally is 2 Timothy 1 where Paul recounts the faith he saw in Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Besides the fact that looking all these up will give one good Bible time during this time of semi-forced isolation, it also demonstrates the Bible’s position on women and Motherhood.

So from the beginning and throughout, the Bible has pointed to the fact that women are important in society, highly valued, and have the same intrinsic self-worth as men. It also highlights that while fathers and mothers have different roles in the family, they, too, are to be equally valued and respected. There is nothing to suggest that women are to be regarded as being inferior, less than, or other than. In fact, of all God’s creation, only woman, a special creation just like man, was suitable to match with man. Of these, the passages on woman being an image bearer of God and the call to honor Father and Mother are most telling. They point out that they are in many ways to be viewed equally and given the same respect, courtesy, dignity, and regard. For many, this does not fit well with a mistaken understanding some have of a Christian / Biblical view on women, but those are usually formed from taking things out of context or instilling their own view on a situation, and there are those who would accuse me of doing the same thing.

The idea of the Biblical woman really gets pushed by Proverbs 31. Here we see a woman who is well-to-do, married, with children, and living on an estate. Given all of that you may think she is stuck at home, keeping house, watching the kids, and enjoying the good life. Not even close. She isn’t keeping house, but managing the estate from the food, to the clothing, to the servants and their duties. She is bringing in income through her own work and business and providing supplies from her own work. She is also making deals over land and trade. She is strong, dignified, industrious, has a head for figures and business, is respectable and respected, faithful to her family and most importantly to God. This is a very modern image from something written about 3,000 years ago. This just highlights the important role that women were expected to play in their family and society and how they were to be regarded, not as second class appendages of their husbands, but workers in their own right. No Victorian ideas of finance being too much for a woman to handle, she is making determinations on agricultural land, investments, finance, and doing all this independently of her husband. This adds further proof that women are important and to be valued and are extremely capable in their own right.

Lastly in Timothy, we see the role of the mother as a spiritual guide. It was their faith for which Eunice and Lois were remembered. These women, early on, valued what Jesus meant and passed that along to Timothy. Apparently his father was a Greek and never converted, but Timothy was surrounded by it and would become a leader in the early Church. Not only were women and mothers to be people of faith, but they have a duty and obligation to pass that along. There was none of this foolishness about letting the child decide on their own. I mean really, what other major life choices do you let a child make? I get that after a certain age they will do what they will, but the influence of early years is crucial. Just like teaching manners, hygiene, and healthy habits are important for development, so, too, is faith a crucial endeavor and should not be left to chance. Read the Bible with them and to them. Tell them Bible stories, carry them to church, and demonstrate through your own actions that faith is important and what it means for you. This is where many a child gets their first exposure to Christ and who he is. It is this legacy of faith they will cherish long after the pains of physical death separate parent from child.

So make sure to take time to honor your mother, or mothers, as is may be. Some are blessed to have a biological mom and others have teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbors, or grandparents who fill that role or add to. Others have step moms or even single dads. Whatever the case may be, be sure to honor them not only on Mother’s Day but every day by giving them the respect and dignity they deserve and cherish their legacy in your daily life. Mothers, make sure you are passing along that legacy, especially of faith and love. God Bless

Which Path?

In Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” he speaks of two paths, one which was obviously well-trodden and the other equally obviously not. While literary scholars may debate his intent behind this poem, the line about which one made all the difference, and whether or not that should somehow be prescriptive for our own lives, in Matthew 7, Jesus presents his audience with two paths and gates. This comes as Jesus is concluding what we deem the Sermon on The Mount and Jesus is bringing the hearers to a moment of decision. Essentially, after all they have heard about the demands of righteousness to right with, which path will they take? Will they be like most people and take the broad and easy path where there is plenty of room to move about, or will they choose, instead, the narrow gate and path with obstacles and difficulty?

Unlike Frost’s poem, this is more than just a thought exercise or for one to ponder reflectively on their own path through life. This really is a momentous decision with one way leading toward God and, thus, life, and the other leading away from God and, thus, destruction. Jesus offers no rose-colored glasses here and makes the case plainly that the one that will ultimately be better for us will be the more difficult and it is precisely that reason, the inherent difficulty that causes so many not to go that way. Why? Because people are much like water and will, when given the option, take the path of least resistance. Sure, in times of difficulty and great stress, not unlike we are in now, some will rise to the occasion and present the “best” of humanity, but most are perfectly happy to simply bob along through life hoping for as much comfort and as little complaint as possible. Perhaps a throwback to the fact we were designed to live in a garden with every need freely supplied in ample abundance rather than toil for our existence. Still the choice remains.

This is precisely what Jesus does anytime we encounter him – he makes us decide. There is no middle path; there is no having it both ways; there is no fence-sitting here. Either you are one road or the other, and, just so you know, the broad road is the default setting. If you haven’t decided to follow Jesus, then you are on that road. You have to decide not to be on it and decide to enter the narrow gate. The gate does in fact represent Jesus. The obstacles that would prevent our access to him are mainly pride, fear, and doubt. Our pride tells us that we don’t really need him and we can do it ourselves. Again, our present world situation ought to let us know that even really tiny things can destroy us and leave us weak, vulnerable, and powerless. Our fear tells us that God would sooner blot us out of existence than forgive us. Our doubt tells us that there is no way this Jewish man from 2000 years ago could be the Son of God or have risen from the Grave. We must overcome all of these, humbling ourselves and trusting in God and trusting in Christ. The road beyond will be difficult. Again I’m reminded by another Frost poem, “Stopping by a Snowy Woods,” where he gives the refrain “miles to go before I sleep.” Often it will seem like that on this road, with miles to go before we sleep. But sleep, or rest rather, we will and have it in spades once the journey is finished.

It is not just the rigors of God’s righteousness which make the road so difficult; it is more the opposition of the world that we are even on that path. Never forget that the world is opposed to God and Christ, and will at all times seek to deter the traveler who would seek to follow them. Jesus says there is one way; the world says there are many. Jesus says love everyone and hate no one, always seek to help and serve others. The world says take care of yourself first and foremost. Jesus says don’t build up treasure here, while the world says be materialistic and your worth is determined by your bank account, zip code, and appearance. So how with so much difficulty does anyone make this trek? Simple. They do not walk alone. They walk with Christ and the Holy Spirit leading the way and they walk with the immense family of God.

Lastly, understand that while God has a high standard, he knows we can’t live up to it. In fact, while he wants us to try and avoid sin, he knows we will at times stumble. If we could live a sinless life, why would Christ have come and died? So the reward of Heaven is granted as soon as we come to Christ. After that moment, it’s not about proving how moral we are, how many gold stars we can get, or how righteous we can be. That stuff only leads to false pride or anxiety. No, the journey from then on is about getting to know God better and him working to change us from the fallen and broken creature we are to being like Jesus. So, yes, there are miles to go before we sleep, but the choice remains. Which path will you take?

Do Unto Others

These three words begin what is perhaps on of the most well known statements of Jesus known by countless people around the world, what has become known as the Golden Rule. The full line, for those who may not know is simply, “Do Unto Others what you would have them Do Unto You.” With this simple statement, Jesus calls upon his disciples to move beyond the passive faith of their ancestors to a proactive faith of action and engagement. While there are those that would contend that Jesus statement is nothing but a slight re-working of an ancient principal found in several faiths, which is the negative version of this rule which basically says, “do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”

On the surface, these two statements may seem to be saying the same thing, but on closer examination, they are clearly not. The second statement is much more “legal” in its construction and application. Basically, all one has to do to follow it is NOT do something. While some people find it difficult not to do something, it is easier in most cases than doing something. For instance, the person following this would say I wouldn’t like a person being mean to me, so I won’t be mean to that person and that’s the end of the requirement. There is no call to be nice, to be kind, to be helpful, just don’t be mean. You can be short yet civil, and still be in perfect compliance. In short, there is no requirement to DO anything, nor to give but so much consideration to the other person beyond that first thought. For a more extreme example, someone deciding not to attack someone is following this rule, even if they never had any desire to attack someone. By the simple act of not acting, they are following it. So it basically requires a simple acceptance to normal civil behavior we expect from everyone, but nothing more.

Now for what Jesus said. Jesus changes this because instead of just instructing people to maintain the basics of civil society, he structs them to go further. Don’t just “not” do something, but actually do something. Don’t think about how you DON’T want to be treated but think about how you DO want to be treated. This moves someone from being passive to being active, and from thinking primarily about themselves and to think about the other person. Using the other example, saying I won’t be mean because I don’t want the person to be mean is pretty straightforward and requires little of me. But for me to say, now I am going to actually do something and be kind requires me to consider what is the kind thing and what is the kind thing for that person. I have to put effort into what I do, what I say and so forth. Not only will I not attack the other person, but I will help them if they are attacked. This is the radical difference and this is faith in action.

Now that I am going to attempt an active faith I have to be well…active. I am called on to do something, to be kind, compassionate, helpful, friendly, gracious, compassionate and so forth. Now the next part gets a bit harder. Not only am I called on to DO these things, I am called to do them regardless of the actions or behaviors of the other person. This fits in perfectly with Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I must choose to do the things based on my intention to do it and act and behave that way, not because the other person is really nice, or I like them, or I am hoping to get something, but simply because it’s what I am supposed to do. It is the right thing and just as Jesus was gracious and merciful to me when I didn’t deserve such treatment, so, too, must I be that way toward others… well at least if I want to follow Jesus anyway.

In a time when much of the world is in chaos, let us find ways where we can put this into practice. What are ways we can be caring and compassionate toward others? How can we think of others and make choices that not only benefit ourselves, but others as well? What if we made choices that actually put the other person first and I was willing to sacrifice something I have so another may be better off? These are the very thoughts and actions this commandment should drive us to, and hopefully those thoughts will turn into actions as we submit to the Holy Spirit and grow in faith and closeness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Lifestyle of Prayer

In Matthew 7 Jesus again speaks on the subject of prayer. Where as before he gave a model prayer, here he tells us not only that we should be praying, but what kind of God it is to whom we are praying. This is actually very important as it impacts what we pray, how we pray, and when we pray. If we thought we were praying only to some vindictive God, we may be too formal in our approach, or if God was as fickle and prone to whims as people are, we may be reluctant to pray at all. But instead, Jesus assures us that God is like a good father who only gives his children good gifts.

What a blessing and reassurance this is to know that when we pray to God, he not only hears us, but responds with what is in our best interest and for our ultimate good. Now we may not see that in the moment, for just like children when they don’t have their way, we are apt to misjudge our Father when he doesn’t give us what we want either. Sadly this passage has to often been misinterpreted to mean that, “If we have enough faith and if we ask God for something, whatever it is, he will grant that request.” This reduces God to little more than a cosmic Santa Claus or Aladdin’s genie and would seem to grant us some level of power and control over God and what He does. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus’ injunction upon us to ask, seek, and knock has to do more with persistence than anything. We are to be continually asking, continually seeking, continually knocking. We can maintain this persistence because we know that God not only hears us, but he will respond, and just like a good earthly father, when he does, it will be for our benefit. Now all this about asking, seeking, knocking can seem a bit abstract, so let’s provide a concrete example of what we are talking about. On that night Jesus was arrested, after the “Last Supper,” he went out to the garden to pray. He was seeking the Father because he had something to ask. For the next three hours or so, Jesus poured himself out asking, seeking, and knocking on the doors of heaven (more like pounding) with one request. He did not want to be crucified. He didn’t want to have to deal with the pain, the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulder, and that momentary “separation” from God when the Father would not be able to look upon him because of the sin. This moment was perhaps Jesus at his most human. I encourage you to read the account of this scene and see how it unfolded. In the end, Jesus was essentially told No. After all the asking, seeking, and knocking Jesus request was denied. Why? Because for Jesus the cross, while excruciating beyond belief, was ultimately the best way and really, the only way for God’s will to be done. This Jesus accepted, and aren’t we glad he did.

I know this is an exceedingly difficult time for so many in the world, so I encourage all of you to ask for help and guidance from the Father. Seek his face and seek out his word, spending time in the scriptures and studying that you may learn and grow; and when you find a door seemingly closed to the Father, knock upon it. It may be awhile before you get a response and you may not get the answer you “wanted,” but rest assured that your Father will only give you what is best.