Parables about the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

     There’s enough material in these five parables that you could write ten sermons. It took me four chapters to explain different ways you might interpret them in my newest ebook, In Living Color: Heaven. Here are some exerpts:

Mustard SeedFrom Chp. 6 – Like a Weed

…In second-century Jewish Palestine, mustard was the stepbrother to kudzu in our age. It was forbidden to plant mustard seed in a garden because of its disruptive impact on the orderliness of the garden. It would spread and invade every part of the planted area.

Today mustard is beneficial in small quantities, and there’s some evidence it’s good for your health. But it grows wild. It’s not a farm crop. Once it’s sown, you can hardly get rid of it. Like a weed, mustard seeds grow quickly and can take over an area.

That’s why it seems odd that Jesus compared the kingdom of the heavens to a mustard seed. Why didn’t he pick a tulip or a rose—something beautiful and aromatic that matches our visions of the afterlife? Rarely would anyone think of heaven as a nuisance plant.

A popular religion writer today says the mustard plant is a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover qualities. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it.”

Why would anyone think the kingdom of God needs to be kept under control?

Because some people believe power, recognition, and material possessions are more desirable than bringing unity and joy to all people. The kingdom of the heavens is the movement toward the harmonious working of all things, visible and invisible, in the atmosphere and on earth.

Institutionalized religion evolved from a small garden in the backyard into a fifty-thousand-acre commercial farm. Like institutionalized agriculture, institutionalized religion feeds and cares for many people. It’s orderly and beautiful. Perfectly spaced rows of rules, rituals, and systematic theologies line the fields. Traditional concepts are planted in our minds, nurtured and protected from invasion by noxious weeds and disease. It’s a valiant effort to try to keep us safe. Bless them.

Yet to express an opinion different than the prevailing notion is not received well by those who defend the institution. The name of one popular weed-killer is “Heresy-Be-Gone”…

From Chp. 7 – Leaven

…To improve a mixture of flour and water, to expand and sweeten the flavor of the loaf, you need a living agent added to the mix. A Christian might say this agent is the “gospel,” or the “good news of a loving God.” An employee might suggest it is words that breathe a spirit of love, goodness, or unity throughout the organization. A teenager might respond to compliments and encouragement. Positive words lift and add flavor.

One-time affirmations do little when they are overwhelmed by regulation and criticism. They also need to be born of compassion and honesty. If you don’t believe your child or employee has potential, they’ll see right through the façade. Your words—no matter if they are good or critical—are like yeast. They will influence, positively or negatively, the dough into which you pound them. Your child, your spouse, your organization will become what you infuse into them.

What you want is for the aroma of leavened bread to surround you and your group—an aroma that draws people toward unity and harmonious working together like bees to a rose blossom or policemen to a Krispy Kreme donut shop…

From Chp. 8 – Hidden Treasure

…There’s a part of this parable that used to bother me. Once he found the treasure, the man buried it again so no one else would discover it. It sounded like the man had deceived the land owner. I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of duping someone out of the kingdom by deception. Shouldn’t the man have let the owner of the field know what he had found there?

Ten years after I risked everything to possess the treasure of operating my own business, I no longer viewed the “treasure” in the same way. The business had become burdensome to me. Yet someone with new hopes and a vision for new life recognized the value that remained in that business. One man’s burden became another man’s treasure. I knew what I was giving up when I sold my business. The man who sold the field in Jesus’s parable probably knew what he was selling, too…

Chp. 9 – Spring Cleaning cast net

  … cleaning my desk drawer reminded me of Jesus’s parable about the net that is cast into the sea as told in Matthew 13. The kingdom of the heavens (or the rising of unity in any place) is like a drawer in my desk that collects all kinds of things throughout the years. At the end of an age, it needs to be cleaned out and simplified. Items that were useful at one time but are no longer beneficial need to be removed. When the work of reorganizing has taken place, you feel a sense of newness—you feel organized and like everything is back together the way it should be.

We don’t do enough of this kind of spring cleaning in the church. If we did, we might see the creative, driving force toward harmony and working together of all things break through more often…

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Copyright © 2014 by Paul W. Meier. Published by Malcolm Creek Publishing, Benton, KY

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     The kingdom of the heavens is at hand. It’s within your grasp right now. Jesus said it and explained it in his parables, as well as in many other teachings. His messages take on new meanings when the kingdom of the heavens is understood as the unity and harmony God desires for the world today.

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A Transliteration of the Parable – Weeds Growing with Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43      

     Feeling a little bit like Eugene Peterson who wrote The Message, I did a transliteration of the text as a follow-up to my previous blog post. Obviously I used my understanding that the kingdom of the heavens is the development of unity among all creation as I explain in In Living Color: Heaven.

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     Jesus told the crowd another parable, “The development of unity is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, a hostile man came and sowed poisonous weeds among the wheat and left. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the weeds also appeared. So the servants of the owner asked, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Why does it have poisonous weeds?’ He said to them, ‘A hostile man has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, for fear that while you gather up the poisonous weeds you also uproot the wheat. Let both grow together until the harvest, At the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the poisonous weeds. Bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

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Jesus told several additional parables about the kingdom.

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     Then he sent the crowd away and went into a house. His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He said to them: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the teachings of the kingdom of unity and harmony, but the poisonous weeds are teachings that cause labors, sorrow, troubles. The hostile man who sowed them is a false accuser, the harvest is the end of a period of time, and the reapers are messengers of Unity. Therefore just as the poisonous weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this period of time. The Son of Man will send out his messengers, and they will gather all teachings out of his kingdom that are stumbling blocks and cause people to live without virtue and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be loud expressions of displeasure and anger. Then the acceptable teachings will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father (the Son of Man who brought them into being). He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

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Keep the Good, and Destroy the Bad

Matthew 13: 24-30, 30-37

     It’s time for all the wheat and tares of the pre- and post-Jesus tradition to be sorted through by current day messengers/angels  of God. The wheat should be stored in a place where people can pull it out and use it to nourish their minds. The tares should be cast into the fire so they can never be used to hurt people again.

     As I read the description and suggested focus of my denomination’s liturgical guide for Sundays, I saw that we, like many faithful Christian traditions, continue to perpetuate a  16th century (albeit C.E.) understanding of this parable.

     I devoted chapter five in my newest book, In Living Color: Heaven, to explaining this parable.

 Wisconsin field    In a nutshell, when Jesus told parables about the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God), he was NOT explaining who will be going to paradise when they die and who will burn forever.

     Does going to a barn to be stored so someone can pull you out and feed you to the livestock or to the family sound like an image of paradise? Have you invited anyone to a feast in your barn?

The only time Jesus talked about life-after-death was on the cross. He called that special place “paradise.”

     This parable, and many others, makes a lot more sense when you understand the “kingdom of the heavens” (which is always plural in the Greek) as the way God intended and wants us to be living and progressing in our lives today.

     I give a full explanation of my conclusions in the book to show that the kingdom of the heavens is the development or maturing of unity and harmony among and within every component of the creation.

     So how is the development of unity like wheat and weeds growing together?

     The wheat represents teachings  and commands that promote peace, unity, and harmony among people. The weeds represent teachings and commands that get in the way of unity. Some teachings (similar to tares) are poisonous, highly destructive of unity, harmony, and peace.

     The Old Testament is a collection of wheat and weeds. There are many wise and fruitful teachings that help people live in harmony. But there are some really bad teachings and commands that have been used to harm and destroy people’s lives. They have long caused division and hatred. You can probably list a few right off the top of your head.

     Why did Jesus say, “Let them keep growing together”? Sometimes it’s not easy to tell which teachings and commands are good and which are bad when they are first put into play. You have to wait and see if they produce peace, love, harmony, joy, and unity. The fruit of a law or a teaching will tell you what you keep and what you throw into the fire. Fire is needed to permanently destroy them so they can never be pulled out and used to stop the development of unity among us again.

     Martin Luther explained his position very clearly that bad laws and commands needed to be eliminated. He said, “Love is to be the filter for the law.” If a law serves love, keep it. If it does not serve love, throw it out – no matter if an angel from heaven had delivered it in person. You can see some of his quotes about letting love be the law here.

     But we should not stop with the Old Testament. There are some commands people are using in the New Testament to hurt and tear down people as well. It has some guidelines based in culture and tradition that do not serve to unite people as one. Yet people keep pulling them out and bearing poisonous actions with them.

     The point is that we need to judge a law, a plant, a tree, a teaching – by its fruit. Does it serve love? Does it bring peace or joy? Does it build unity and harmony?

     The church should regularly sort through its rituals, teachings, and laws to make sure they are all serving love, promoting respect, and unity among the creation.

     It’s long past time to get rid of laws and commands that harm people and allow unity to be disrupted. We should store the ones that have proven to bring peace, love, joy, and unity in easily found places where they can be shared with those who are deficient in these areas.

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Spiritual Maturity

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

     In my first year of teaching, I was assigned to teach Physical Science to a class of freshman. I found those freshmen to be quite diverse, a lot like the four types of soil to which Jesus was referring in his parable of the Sower. In some ways, it was a factor of maturity that separated the soil types.

cliff jumping2     First, there was the group that was clueless to the fact that teaching was going on. They knew they had to be there, but it wasn’t for learning. They couldn’t pay attention. They were still children in bigger bodies. They didn’t understand the basics of physical science and didn’t care to understand it. When they saw the cliffs above a body of water like at Party Cove on KY Lake, they were the first to climb and jump off. I will mention that these were primarily male students. Females tended to mature more quickly than males at that age.

     The second group representing the stony ground was made up of students who didn’t understand how or why things in the natural world interact together, like how gravity is a force to be reckoned with if you’re standing on a twenty-five foot cliff. They couldn’t calculate how fast they were travelling when they hit the water but common sense made them hesitant. Yet when their peers put the heat on them and called them names for being afraid of jumping, they jumped.

     The third group consisted of those students who were receptive to hearing the teaching. Pushing the laws of energy, matter, and space beyond their limits could do more damage than it was worth made perfect sense to them, but they were quickly influenced by the thorns, the pressing conditions of their environment. They stood in the back row when others were testing the limits, but when wanting to be accepted by the group increased, or they wanted to impress the new girl who moved in from out of town, they joined in.

     The fourth group was mostly the girls, and a few self-assured males who had other things they were trying accomplish – like being on an athletic team and not wanting to get hurt. They were the ones who stayed on the shoreline, ready to help if someone needed a life preserver thrown to them, or to be dragged into a boat, or needed a cut on their leg wrapped up. They understood that people can’t defy the laws of nature without doing harm to themselves. The fruit they bore was being the responsible members of the group who were present to help those who hurt themselves.

     Sometimes our receptivity to important teachings is received in direct proportion to our level of maturity. A person’s receptivity to Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of heaven is received in direct proportion to his/her spiritual maturity.

     As I explained in my ebook about the kingdom of heaven which is on sale for 99¢ (today through July 15, a 75% reduction) — it’s the movement toward unity and harmony, the working together of all things as one in the present day and age. Most of Jesus’s parables make more sense when we understand that this is what he was talking about.

     So, where do you stand in promoting the development of unity and harmony in the world?

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4 Reactions to the Word of the Kingdom

Matthew 13

How receptive are you to the word of the kingdom that Jesus spread in the world in his parable about the Sower and the Seed? And what was the “word of the kingdom” that Jesus was sowing?

The teaching about the kingdom was the first thing John the Baptist and Jesus came proclaiming: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In Living Color: HeavenI wrote a whole book about a new way of understanding the kingdom of heaven – In Living Color: Heaven – which the ebook is being offered on Amazon for reduced price of 99¢ from July 9 through July 15.

I don’t have time here to go into the details like I do in the book, but here is a different way to understand John and Jesus’s proclamation: “Change the way you think, for the development of unity and harmony is within your grasp!”

I’m going to get more specific. Remember where Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you”? That means the development of unity and harmony needs to develop within your heart and mind before you will find the peace, joy, hope, and love that God wants for you in your life today.

How do you develop unity, harmony, and oneness within yourself? You step out of the world. You step out of the busy-ness and distraction of all the things that demand your attention and convince you they are more important than discovering your true self. You do this by meditating. You practice centering prayer. You read and study the wisdom of the ages.

How receptive are you to this as “the seed of the kingdom” that Jesus proclaimed?

1) Some people will say, “Get out of here you New Age hippy freak.”

2) Others will say, “I can see some value in that…I’ll listen.” But it’s too far out of their comfort zones and ways of doing things that they don’t make any changes in their lives.

3) Some people will say, “That sounds great —I’m in…when do we meet?” And they meditate for several days, a couple of weeks even, but then they are pulled away by the demands of work, children, materialism, Dancing with the Stars, etc. And it turns into one of those “that was nice while it lasted” experiences of life.

4) Then there are others who will say, “This is what I’ve been sensing, seeking, and needing. I’m ready. I’m willing to change and make this a priority.” They meditate. They pray. They stay with it. And they find the true Self who dwells within. And the fruits of the Spirit are produced: peace, joy, love, hope, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, self-control…some a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty. Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

The word of the kingdom is oneness within yourself. Seek it first and everything else will be added to you.

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Miracles Abound

Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30 

I posted one idea on this text for Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30, but I had another thought about it today as I researched some of the Greek words again. I now think it has to do with belief in miracles.

Edgar Cayce was born in Christian County, KY, on in 1877, and raised in Hopkinsville. He’s been called “The Sleeping Prophet” and there is an Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach. VA. Cayce is believed to be America’s greatest 20th century psychic, often compared to Nostradamus.

In his lifetime he gave more than 14,000 psychic readings while in hypnotic trances. He’s considered the father of holistic medicine, and most of Cayce’s readings were for diagnosing illnesses in people and suggesting natural remedies. He never wanted to exploit his gift for money because he didn’t want to abuse this unusual gift he believed God gave him. He was a devout, Bible-reading Christian.

Even though he helped thousands of people to get well, you can imagine how he was received in the medical community. Doctors wrote him off as a quack. They weren’t interested in the fact that he was healing patients. They were insulted that he couldn’t scientifically explain how he did it.

Religious scholars didn’t give any credibility to Cayce’s readings about the early Essene community until after his death. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they verified Cayce’s reports.

The experts didn’t want to learn from him. They considered him a threat to their beliefs. He couldn’t get the wise and the learned of medicine or religion to support his work. After all, he hadn’t gone to school to learn how to heal. He just had this “gift” handed to him. He couldn’t be for real. And we all know that if science or religion can’t explain something, there can’t be anything good to it.

Crowd Watches As Jesus Helps Person Lying On GroundIn Christianity, only Jesus is acknowledged to have been able to do things that are not explainable. Credit is given to the power of God. However, Jesus said his disciples would do more wonderful things than he had done. Yet the experts of today don’t listen to Jesus if it isn’t something they want to follow. Reason and logic rules for the learned scientific and religious communities. Miracles are for the unintelligent and foolish.

It works that way too with teachings that are hard to explain logically but I talked about that in my last post.

I do have a confession to make. For a long time, I didn’t really believe in miracles. I have a logical, scientific mind and background. Everything has a logical reason why it happens. I was taught that anything psychic or paranormal was not to be fooled around with for fear of being pulled over to the Dark Side.

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     Now that I’ve seen a few miracles – or unexplainable events – and as a Reiki master practitioner, performed a couple of them myself, I know that miracles abound. And that’s what I think Jesus was trying to say to the religious leaders of his day.

Unfortunately, the lectionary this week has left out the beef in today’s gospel lesson (verses 20-24) and this explains that Jesus was talking about the acceptance of his miracles.

Jesus began telling the crowds that this generation was acting like children. They couldn’t ever agree about anything. They couldn’t support each other in anything that needed to be done. It was just like politics and religious denominations today where liberals and conservatives are always in opposition with each other. No one is able to work together to get anything done.

Jesus then gave an example – John the Baptist came – a complete teetotaler – eating and drinking nothing bad, and they said he had a demon. The son of man came eating and drinking whatever he wanted, and they called him a glutton and a wino, friendly to tax collectors and sinners. No wino can heal anyone. If one’s agenda isn’t supported, they write people off. What they say and do carries no weight. Opposition is an attitude rather than a position you take. Still, wisdom is recognized in what it produces…wisdom’s children, in this case, is miraculous healing.

Jesus healed multitudes. Edgar Cayce healed thousands of people. People just like you and me are healing people through practices and procedures that cannot be scientifically explained or proven. Wonderful works of healing—and many of us acknowledge and give God the credit. We are simply conduits for God’s grace and love.

People/cities who refused to accept miracles will be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment. Logic and reason dominate the minds of many and they cannot see the miracles of God.

That’s why Jesus said, “I give up. I acknowledge God (most texts say “thank” but I think that’s not the greatest translation of the Greek word), the Lord of the heavens and earth (the One who is the power behind miracles). You have hidden miracles from the wise and intellectual and have revealed them to those who have no power to speak (and be heard). I accept that this is how God wants it to be.

Very few intellectuals, medical and religious alike, acknowledge that God works miracles through people today. It’s usually the common folks who have no voice who see miracles and give God the glory.

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My Yoke Is Easy

Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30

     Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

sheep-yoke-holding-head-steady     The yoke of Jesus is love. To some, love is work and a burden. A yoke is something that constrains you and guides you to do it whether you like it or not. Just do it and you’ll get used to it. Except the yoke Jesus spoke of was not the image of a farm implement draped over a sheep’s shoulders. Have you ever seen a yoke on a sheep?

     Jesus was talking about a different kind of yoke. The yoke of a rabbi was his specific teaching. It was his interpretation and how he understood the law, also known as the Torah, the body of instruction given to the children of Israel. If you think everyone understood the Law one way in the first century, you’d be wrong. Agreement in religious matters is as likely as agreement in politics.

     Grossly exaggerated, there were as many interpretations of what Scripture meant as there were rabbis. A Jewish rabbi taught one of my classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School. He said they have identified at least 23 different Jewish sects (denominations) that existed in Israel at the time of Jesus. That’s not too different from 21st century Protestantism.

     I looked up the Greek words for the verse and found meanings that make more sense to me. It sounds like this, “For my teaching (yoke) is more useful (easy) and my obligations (burdens) are easy to bear (light).”

     Jesus’ teachings are “more useful.” 

     Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

     “Don’t resist evil.”

     “If someone takes your coat, give up your shirt also.

     “Do not judgetake log out of your own eye.

     If you repay evil with good, it slows and stops the cycle of never-ending revenge. When you act in the best interests of your enemies, it shows him/her that you’re not a threat to them. You’re a help to them. You disprove all the negative and untrue things that were taught about you. To spend time trying to improve yourself is a far more useful way to make an improvement in the world than in imagining you can change someone else’s actions.

     The burden that Jesus lays on us is to be concerned for the good of others. The burden or obligation Jesus placed on us is love. It’s not easy, but it’s far more useful and effective. Jesus didn’t obligate us to follow all the laws of Moses.

     St. Paul confirms this in his letter to the Ephesians (2:15), “He [Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” And in Romans (10:4), “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

     In Romans 12:20 we read “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Some say that by blessing our enemies they will come under a conviction that will feel like burning coals on their heads.

     Yet “in that day and time, the expression ‘pouring coals’ on someone’s head offered a visual of something everyday people in ancient times faced on some occasion. Sometimes the household fire would go out, especially if the family went away for a while. To remedy this, a family member or household servant was sent to a neighbor with a receptacle on his/her head and requested that the neighbor pour some hot coals into the receptacle to bring back and start a new fire in the family’s hearth. It did not mean that coals would literally be poured directly on the hair and skin of the head, but into a receptacle carried on the head. 

     “Fire was to the ancient world what electricity is to the modern world. It gave light, warmth, cooked food, etc. It was a comfort and greatly needed and appreciated. To give another coals for a new fire was to give him all the things fire provided as well. Fire was a blessing, a valuable gift to be freely given.”[1]

     In Jesus’s words - love your enemies.

     As far as I’m concerned, Moses’s yoke is easier to follow than Jesus’s yoke. Moses’s teaching is more like human nature. But Jesus’ teaching leads to restoration and peace rather than violence and escalating conflict. Maybe that’s why Jesus complained, “When the son of man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” Will anyone believe Jesus’s teachings enough to put them into practice?

     Jesus’s teachings lead to the abundant life. That’s why we should follow Jesus’s example. It’s to our greatest benefit. Jesus’s teachings lead to a life of harmony and peace and hope for everyone.

[1]http://tovahsez.blogspot.com/2010/01/gift-of-burning-coals.html

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4 Targets to Aim for in Christianity

Romans 5:12-21 /  Matt. 10:40-42

     As children, my brother and I were always throwing or shooting at targets of some kind. First, we had a cheap, string bows and arrows. We would set up a bale of hay in the yard and shoot our arrows at paper bulls-eye targets. 

     Then when I got a BB gun, everything became a target – cans, leaves, fence posts. I never shot at people. I knew that if I ever misused a BB gun in that way, my dad would take it away from me and I’d never see it again.  But just about everything else was fair game for my efforts to improve my aim and to hit what I was aiming at. 

     The Greek word for “sin” does not mean you broke a rule found in the Bible. “Sin” means ‘to miss the mark” or “ to miss the target.”  It also means to fail – to not hit what you are aiming for.

     So what is the target for followers of Jesus? Is it merely the Ten Commandments? No. Paul told the Christians in Rome that sin was in the world before Moses was given the Law. If people sinned before the Ten Commandments – then sinning must be more than breaking some Commandments. 

     targetJesus and Paul boiled down the bulls-eye to one word – love. The center of every action we strive for as followers of Jesus is love.

     Based on Jesus’s teaching in Matt. 10:40-42, these are the targets we should be aiming at in Christianity:

1. Be kind to those who follow Jesus.

     Jesus said those who follow in his steps will be called terrible names (Matt. 10:25). Why? Because they point to the goodness of God rather than the penal justice of God, and they stand up for the poor and outcasts. Today there’s an online article about Dick Cheney criticizing President Obama for sacrificing defense money in order to pay for food stamps. Wow. Money should go to weapons instead of feeding the hungry poor. Which one is walking in the steps of Jesus?

     Yesterday, the state of Indiana was the latest to be told that their law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Those who stand up for the right of two people to live in committed relationships to each other will be blasted and called ugly names by those who consider themselves the religious right.

     Be kind to those who stick out their necks and fight for the rights of the unwelcome. Give them a cup of cold water. You will be strengthened in your conviction to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. Maybe one day you’ll actually be the one walking in the steps of Jesus himself. When you do, just remember that you’ll become a target for those who deny Jesus’s message of hope for the poor and outcast.

     How many terrible names have you been called because you walk like Jesus? It’s something to ponder.

2. Be kind to prophets—those who speak what God speaks into their hearts.

     Some Christians think God has only spoken English for all of eternity. They believe the English words are the final truth. Other people think the printed words in the Bible are word-for-word what God said and meant.

     Yet Martin Luther suggested in one of his sermons that “God” or the Holy Spirit speaks from the white on the pages – from the spaces in-between the words. You’ll see from Luther’s quote on John 14:23-31 that he believed it was the Holy Spirit who taught him it was okay to get rid of bad laws in the Bible. The laws you get rid of are those that do not show love for your neighbors, your enemies, or each other.

     Support and encourage those who are brave enough to say the Bible is not the final word – love is the final word.

3. Be kind to those who do the right things, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

     The righteous are those who do the right things because they are mature enough to realize there is more to a person than the damages they’ve caused. We live in a society that glorifies payback and equal justice more than it seeks to understand and repair the core problem. I speak about this in my book In Living Color: The Beatitudes (Ch. 4 The Dept. of Righteousness). An Old Testament kind of justice prevails in the world rather than a New Testament kind.

     When someone sins against you, i.e., gets into your garage and steals from you, what rule did Jesus suggest? “If your brother takes your coat, give him your shirt as well.” Most people steal to survive. They don’t steal if their basic needs are being met. Do you want to reduce crime in your hometown? Make sure people have a way to work and pay for their food, clothing, and shelter. It’s not rocket science.

     Give a cup of cold water to those who are more focused on restoring those who are harmed and rehabilitation of the perpetrator than on utilitarian or avenging justice.

4. Be kind to those who bear a cross and love (work for the good of) the unloved in spite of the odds.

     To bear the cross is to accept the pain others give without returning it. It’s what Jesus did on the cross. He didn’t return evil with evil. He accepted evil and returned it with forgiveness. He accepted the lack of development of the human race and let go of the need for avenging justice. To bear the cross stops the eternal cycle of evil in the world. On the third day, he moved on to a new life.

     In a nutshell, there are many targets to be found in Christianity, but at the heart of them all is the bulls-eye of love. Listen to the word of God spoken into your heart. Stand up for the poor and disadvantaged no matter what any institution or book says. Learn to absorb someone else’s pain and not give it back. Do the right things because they are the right things to do.

     And if you don’t hit the target, devote more time to practice so you can improve your aim.

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Finding and Losing Your Life

Matthew 10:24-39

      He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life because of me will find it. As you might guess, I have a few changes to this biblical translation after looking at the Greek and Aramaic options.

     This is what I came up with: “He who gives energy to his driving-passion will go astray, and he who surrenders his driving-passion because of me will give energy to it.”

     Here’s a story that supports the idea: James L. Kraft, the founder of Kraft Foods, decided as a young man that he wanted to be the most famous manufacturer and salesman of cheese in the world. He planned on becoming rich and famous doing it.

     After making his cheese, he would load his wagon, hitch his pony to it and walk down the streets of Chicago to sell the cheese. After months of long hours and hard work, he got worried because he was not making any money.

     One day, talking to his pony, he said, “There’s something wrong. We’re not doing it right. We have things turned around and our priorities are not where they ought to be. Maybe we ought to serve God and place him first in our lives.”Kraft then made a covenant that for the rest of his life he would first serve God, listen for God’s guidance, and then work as God directed. The rest is history.[1] Who hasn’t eaten cheese or many other products manufactured by Kraft Foods?

     Kraft didn’t become a starving Christian just because he gave up his life to serve God. He still achieved his driving ambition. The difference was that he surrendered control of how it would happen and set as a higher priority, a commitment to serve God.

     I don’t think he worked less hard. I think Kraft adjusted his attitude in making this covenant. He set aside time to rest from his work—which tends to remind a person of the good things in life beyond materialistic success. He became superintendent of the Sunday school. This gave him another line of thought and diverted him from working with blinders on. And he let go of the belief that nothing would happen the way it should unless he controlled every little detail.

     When you think you are controlling the process, you put ALL your energy into your goal to the exclusion of your health, your family, your spiritual development. When you put little energy into the best things of life itself, you end up losing the things that matter most, and your life-passion ends up destroying you in the end.

     On the other hand, if you lose your life, if you give up thinking you must control every little detail and let God direct it in God’s timing, then you will find your life…you will add energy to the purpose for which you were created.

     I started my work career as a teacher. I didn’t understand how it was my life-passion or purpose. At the time, it was just better than being a preacher like my father and my grandfathers. In high school, I had decided preaching wasn’t what I wanted to do.

     I went through several careers and learning events that helped me clarify that my life-purpose seemed to revolve around speaking in front of groups of people and helping people.

     For eight years, I taught high school students. For fourteen years I built my own business, working one-on-one with people who had walking limitations. And then after I sold my business in Nashville, God introduced another plan to me which would again place me in front of groups of people in a teaching role. That plan was the ministry.

     Even as I started following this new plan, I envisioned a different kind of ministry. I insisted things go the way I wanted, and that put me through some experiences I hadn’t planned on and some might call “the fires of consequences.”

     But it’s taught me to let go of the reigns and follow the paths that open up for me. If I’d have insisted on controlling every detail along the way, even in the parish ministry, it might have ruined me. Frustration would have set in because things we’re going as I wanted.

writer-hemingway     Where it stands now, I’ve learned a whole lot. I’ve enjoyed so much of the process of growth and development you’ve been a big part of my growth. I’ve had to learn to submit to what is, to do my best, and trust God for what will come next.

     And the process continues. In forty days, I’ll walk through another door that is opening. Some call it “retirement.” I call it “a new beginning.” The list of things to do is long (and only one of them is fishing).

     God prepares all of us to walk through doors as they open up for us toward our life-purposes. We just need to make sure we give up thinking we are in control of the outcome, and focus on doing what we do well right now, putting God first and listening for his guidance.

     God will help you accomplish the very desires God has planted in your heart. Surrender to it…for in doing so, you will give energy to it.

[1] Sermons.com illustration for this text.

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Overwhelm Them

Matt. 28:16-20

     The Great Commission is a little bit like football. It’s about passion, learning, and immersion in the game.

student of the game     Peyton Manning will go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the National Football League. That’s because he has always been a student of the game. He’s not a student simply because he shows up for class and does his homework well enough to advance to the next grade level. He’s a student because he’s passionate about the subject matter and he’s always trying to learn more and trying to improve his skills.

     Peyton is a disciple of the game of football. (Here’s a good article about Peyton Manning’s Five Leadership Lessons that could be developed into a sermon.)

     Jesus told his disciples that they were to go out to all peoples/nations and “make disciples.” How do you “make” a Peyton Manning? How can you make someone passionate about a particular subject?

     Actually, it’s fairly easy. There’s a story about a young salesman who was disappointed about losing a big sale, and he was complaining to his sales manager, saying, “I did everything perfectly. I did it by the book, the way it’s supposed to be done. I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

     The manager answered, “Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”[1]

     Our job as Christians is to make the nations crave what we have to offer.

     Isn’t that what advertising on television and radio is all about? Getting people to thirst for what you have in your possession. Poor salesmanship demands that people must buy into what you are offering under threat of eternal punishment. Discipleship is showing them the benefits of being a student of Jesus and making them thirsty to have it for themselves.

     What do we have to offer that people are thirsting for? Peace, love, joy, hope, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, self-control. We are secure. We know a God who is good ALL the time. And after all, that is the true name of God. Jesus said, “Only God is good.”

     In bible times, a person was known by his/her name, which was a reference to his/her nature or character. The name of God we know in Christ is love. The name of God is goodness. Or as I described in my book about Heaven, the name of God is unity, oneness, and harmony.

     But it seems like the vendors of religion always concretize and ritualize the commands of Jesus. Jesus said, “Make students of all nations, baptizing them…” There are many churches in my area that promote how many people they saved by baptizing them. They immerse them in water in the name of the Trinity and think they have fulfilled the Great Commission.

     Yet “baptize” can mean more than a ritualistic immersion in water in this setting. If you look it up in the Greek concordance, to baptize can be understood metaphorically as “to overwhelm.” That’s why I think the Great Commission could be rephrased in this way:

     “Go, therefore and make passionate students of all people, overwhelming them in the goodness of the Creator (Father) and the one who is the image of the Creator (the Son) and the Holy Spirit.”

     Overwhelm them in the goodness of God. Not in preaching but in practice. Overwhelm them in the love of God. Overwhelm them in the harmony/unity that is God.

     I think this understanding follows the practice of the early church – a practice that the church rarely follows today (because people fear giving up their stuff). Let’s look at three words – disciple, baptize, and name.

     It’s not easy to BE a disciple of Jesus, much less to try to convince others to be his disciple. Let’s look at the qualifications for be a student: (Luke 14:26-27, 33)

26“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

33“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

     The early church understood “giving up all your possessions” to mean calling nothing your own, not actually giving away everything so that you’re without possessions. All your possessions must be turned over to Christ and available for the use of his Gospel, his people, and the poor.[2]

     Early writers talked about this repeatedly. A tract called “The Way of Light and the Way of Darkness” made its way into The Letter of Barnabasand The Didache, both early 2nd century documents: “You shall share in all things with your neighbor; you shall not call anything your own.”

     Justin Martyr’s First Apology 14, c. 155: “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common treasury and share with everyone in need.”

     Tertullian’s Apology 39, c. 210: “The family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly possessions with one another. We have all things in common except our wives.”[3]

     How many of you still want to be “disciples”? And do you think you can convince anyone else to be a disciple by the standards of Luke and the early church? Not by preaching.

     This is how we are going to “make disciples.” By overwhelming them in the goodness of the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Oneness of the Trinity is the image of oneness in the church. We share what we have with others, and they share with us.

     People will be overwhelmed with our unity, with our harmony.

     Justin Martyr’s First Apology, written in A.D. 155 or so mentions some ways that Romans were converted to Christ. Note the three examples he gives (from ch. 16):

 They were] overcome …

“by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbors’ lives.”

“by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow travelers when defrauded.”

“by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business.”[4]

     None of these things mention preaching or the Great Commission at all. Apparently, the majority of those converted in the 2nd century were converted by the lives of the Christians, not by doctrinal preaching.

     Amazing. They will know we are Christians by our love, love that is great enough to let go of our excesses to supply the shortages of others.

     The new Great Commission: Make of the nations, students who are passionate about unity by overwhelming them in the goodness of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit……We won’t have enough seats in our sanctuaries to house them.

*  *  *

[1] Illustrations, Sermons.com

[2] Paul F. Pavao, http://www.christian-history.org/the-great-commission.html

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

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