Join In Following My Example

In the 3rd Chapter of Philippians Paul tells the Philippians to Join together in following his example. And not only his but to keep our eyes on those who live as he does. This is a bit troubling. First of all because you never hear people in the church talk like this. The only example they ever use is Jesus. But on multiple occasions Paul tells people to imitate or follow his example. Why? Second, we are quick to say we are flawed, even if we don’t believe it, and discount our own witness; even though in Isaiah (43:10-12) G-d says it is our only purpose. So once again I have to ask, why? Why don’t we encourage others to follow our example? Why don’t we challenge others to live as we live?

Imagine what Paul is saying as he tells the churches of this fledgling sect of Judaism to follow his example. When most of us tell our children to, “do as I say, not as I do,” he is telling the whole community to do as he does. Think about the stage he is putting himself on and understand what would happen in these communities if he were to live less than what he was called to. What Chutzpah! In all honesty I can’t say I would want people to follow my example, especially in everything I do, but I want to live a life worthy of emulating. So how do I accomplish that?

I think that one of the reasons we don’t challenge others to live as we do is because we don’t want to live righteously. It’s too hard. It is so much easier to allow ourselves certain things in our lives that keep us from fully committing to a life devoted to G-d. G-d is great and all that, but am I so committed to it as truth that I am willing to give up everything else to pursue it? Interestingly enough in Philippians 3 Paul also answers that question saying he considers everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, and that all things are garbage in comparison. So why don’t we believe it?

I think this could be a clear indicator of just whether or not we do believe, it is also possible that so many who have come before us have watered the truth down until what we follow is unrecognizable as the Gospel we so dearly proclaim. If it is the latter and not the former, are we responsible for not checking the work of those words we so easily accept as fact? I would say we are. We have a responsibility to scrutinize the claims that are fed to us. As Paul again says, test everything and hold on to what is good. So why don’t we? Again, I think it’s because it’s easier not to.

It is so much easier to just take what is given to us, especially if it is already in line with what we believe, than it is to challenge ourselves to read, think, and test what makes our lives easier. We like to put the pressure on Jesus as the one people should look to, the problem is most of the world is looking to us to see what he was like. Just as in ancient times where the priests were the hands and feet of the god, so we too are the representatives of His justice, His mercy, His love. Do they reflect that which we find in the Text?

Another verse in Philippians strikes me, the one where he says many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I take this to mean not just people, but people within the church. I always assumed that people knew that they were enemies and they intentionally tried to lead people astray. But if you couple this with the verse in Matthew that says many will say to me on that day L-rd did we not Prophecy in your name? but I will say I never knew you. It appears that these are people who are faithfully following something, something they believe to be right, but isn’t. This is a troubling thought. What if I am one of those? I want to pause right here to make something clear, this is why if you are trusting in anything but Jesus for salvation you run this risk. The Grace of G-d through Jesus Christ is the only thing that can cover all that we don’t know.
One thing remains, what about our example? Does my witness matter? I believe it does> not because G-d is incapable, but because he decided to involve us in his plan. So now we must ask ourselves, will we do our part? Will we become the examples that are worthy to be followed? How do we do that without our own examples? How did the Israelites do it after they left 400 years of slavery with little understanding of what it meant to be G-ds people? We are G-ds people and what’s more we are a kingdom of priest and a holy nation. Maybe its time we acted like it.

The Comfort of Community

Recently I was at a funeral where my wife uncle told a story that seems pertinent to every Christian’s life.
Little Johnny was late getting riding his bike home from school. His mother asked him, “Why are you late little Johnny?” Johnny replied, “On my way home I saw little Billy on the side of the road. His bike was broken.” His mother said, “But Johnny, you don’t know how to fix a bike.” “I didn’t stop to help him fix his bike Momma,” little Johnny said, “I stopped to help him cry.”
There are often times when we come across people who are hurting in ways we can’t fix. Maybe we don’t understand, or maybe we just don’t have any answers that will help. Sometimes all we can do is help them cry.
Life is full of questions; questions that sometimes are beyond our ability to reason. It is during these times when we must learn to trust in Him who is for us. Time to believe His words. Time to find comfort in knowing that He is bigger than we can understand. How do we bring into harmony, all the broken pieces? By helping others laugh. By helping others cry. By helping others sing? By helping others dance. By helping others love. By helping others hope. We do not called to give that which we don’t not have; but only to offer what we do… ourselves.

Who are our teachers and what does one who teaches do?

What is a teacher? What do those who teach do? What are the criterion by which teaching is measured and defined. Once I believed that I would impart to students all the wisdom I had gathered so that they would have it as well. I would bring the knowledge I had gained so that others might share in its power and be enlightened by it’s mystery revealed. I wondered why not only my students were, in the end, unfulfilled by what I had given them; but also why did I also feel as though there was something missing? It had almost always seemed as though “knowledge” left much to be desired. So I tried to think of the times that my own teachers had given me the experience I had craved. I realize they had revealed more than knowing, they had helped me to become part of knowledge.
Teaching is not about informing, it is about discovering. A teacher is not one who imparts their own knowledge to others as much as someone who helps others discover knowledge on their own. We should not measure teachers by how they can dictate to students, but by how their students can unveil what is inside of them. We should not define teaching by such small ideas as the memorization of facts and dates. Teachers have become educators and teaching has become an education. Where have all the questions gone? Where is the mystery? Where is the wonder that is involved in wisdom?
It is not what I can give to you but what I can guide you to discover. Not the answers I can teach you but the questions that we cannot answer that will challenge us to become more. A teacher should inspire their students to create and imagine. To go beyond what we think we know to reveal what may be possible. Teaching is about exploring and teachers should act as the guides of exploration. When you are in the wilds of wisdom you never know what you will encounter or what mysteries you may unlock. Knowledge is infinite, so how can it be defined? Some say knowledge is power, but knowledge is understanding. Understanding of a world far greater than our own minds, of a Creator far bigger than the universe we see.
Imagine a classroom where the goal was not to learn. Not to sit and hear what I have to say. It was not a place where students were destined to hear the same things, but a place where they found their destiny. Imagine a classroom that was a place where students discovered how to wonder; where questions were pondered before answers were given. Imagine a classroom where there were no limits to what can be or what one might find. Can we inspire our youth to find the potential within themselves or must they settle for what we desire for them?
If teaching is about what I know, then we are all in for real disappointment. I don’t have enough to fill a book. A children’s book maybe, but even then I might need some filler. What I do have is a mind for adventure, a heart for exploration. I would rather be filled with wonder than information, with amazement instead of details, awe before data. I would rather have questions than answers. Awe inspires, amazement energizes, and wonder leads to inquiry.
Answers can be good, unless, when we arrive at them we no longer feel the need to search. Even the best answer is only as good as the information available to create it. The question, however, still remains. How deep is the ocean? Seems simple enough, but what if the depth of the ocean could not be contained in feet or fathoms, but was measured in the mysteries contained within? How much depth would we find within the treacherous waters? How much would we marvel at the mysteries beneath? We have answers; answers we have forgotten the questions for. Most people can rattle off the number pi, but can they tell you why it was discovered? What was the question that revealed it’s insight. Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Insecurity of Freedom said that we should give tests with all the answers, and students should have to come up with the questions. Where have all the questions gone? Return us our questions and return us our freedom. Freedom to think, freedom to try, freedom to go beyond the things set for us and find the things we have not yet dreamt of obtaining. You don’t not have to own people to make them your slave. All one must do is take away their desire to explore, to grow, to create. To remove wonder removes hope, to subdue awe extinguishes the desire to become. If we don’t become then we cease to be. When hope fades life withers.
How do we return the life to our classrooms? How can we give hope to our education and inspire those we seek to educate? By exploring that which drives us to create. We must return the questions and not be afraid of what we might not know. The totality of what I don’t know is staggering, but the willingness I have to learn is far more powerful. If I lived my life by what I had not learned or was incapable of learning I would never accomplish anything. We must live life with what could be possible and strive to find answers to mysteries thought lost and forgotten by most.
I am not suggesting that we have classes where we ask students what they want to learn. I am suggesting classes that create questions in the minds of the students that drive them to probe the possibilities of learning. What can I discover? How far can I explore? What can I do with it? How can I give to others the invigorating experience that is uncovering the wisdom hidden before us? I cannot teach beyond my abilities, so if your abilities are greater than mine, how do I teach you? By teaching you the ability to question. Once you have your questions you must wrestle with the possibilities that could fulfill them. We all can question and we can all wrestle, therefore we could all teach. Yet so many who call themselves teachers have forgotten how to do either. We are only worried about giving answers. It’s become about what I know, not what I could learn. Am I willing to be wrong? Am I willing to fail? We learn far more from our failures than we do our successes, and yet we still look down on it.
Some things are hard answers, like 2+2= 4. While others are not so clear, like what is love and how do I show it to others? We define them as relative, but maybe they just encompass more than we can fathom. Maybe love is bigger than we believe. Maybe hope is stronger than we give it credit for being. How we define learning will define how we are remembered in history. Why is learning valuable? Why should we do it at all? Will it matter to my children and grandchildren? Will it matter beyond the future I can envisage?
Ask. Explore. Encourage.
Create. Delve. Discover.
Hope. Question. Imagine.
Live. Learn. Love.

You Are My Witnesses

Here are some of the standing stones at Gezer. You are only seeing what is sticking out of the ground. The real tragedy is that this is all there is, no voices, no words.... no witness. What will our lives say? What story do they tell? Whose Glory do they reveal?

Many Christians feel as though we are called to hand out tracts and convince people on the street that Jesus is the way to heaven. While I agree that the only way to eternal life is by the blood of Jesus, I am not sure we understand evangelism very well. It seems to me that we have once again relegated a way of living into the minute terms of something we occasionally share. It seems as though we want to feel like we have fulfilled the obligation without submitting ourselves to a life of obedience to G-d. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we become evangelical ambassadors of Him and the life He lived. It is who we are.
Isaiah 43 offers insight into the roles played by both G-d and us. It says, “‘I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God.'” Who is the savior? Who reveals, saves and proclaims? What role does that leave for us? What does it mean to be a witness to something? Is it enough just to watch an act to be called a witness, or does it require something more? What is required of one who witnesses to become a witness?
There is an ancient tel in Israel outside the city of Tel Aviv; it is what remains of the ancient city of Gezer, gifted to Solomon by the pharaoh of Egypt. Most of it seems un-excavated, but on the top inside the city walls are large stones standing upright. They vary in size and height and have been weathered by centuries of rain. The white limestone stands in contrast to the dusty surroundings. This was the sight of something amazing! In ancient times stones of this kind were used to mark the sites of monumental events such as in Joshua 4:
“When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.’ So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’ So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.”
Archeological discoveries have revealed that this practice was fairly common and not limited to the Israelites alone. The interesting thing about the standing stones at Gezer is what they don’t say. You don’t erect stones of that magnitude without a reason worth remembering. These stones are there so people will ask what they mean, then the witnesses respond. So when asked what the stones in Gezer say, my response is the same as everyone else’s, “no clue.” No one knows why they are there—they have lost the ability to be the witness they were created to be. Now they are just rocks. We too are “living stones” called to witness, but what have we become—what story do we tell?
Witnessing, however, is not just what we say. If we look in the Scriptures we find that G-d tells us to do things so that people will know that He is L-rd. “‘Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ ” (Leviticus 23:41-43). “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”(Psalm 43:10). The reason for this action is in itself a witness, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Leviticus 20:26).
G-d called the Israelites to live lives set apart as an example to the nations that He is G-d. When we accept Jesus we are called to live a life “worthy of the calling we have received,” not just because it’s a better life, but as representatives of the One whose name we bear. It is imperative that we display the sanctification in our lives through our actions. The reason evangelism isn’t working is because although people may hear a difference in our words, they don’t see it manifest in our lives. Our words and actions don’t align. So when they look at our lives they don’t see anything different or better than their own. We lack one of the significant principles of being Christians, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).
To follow in the steps of Jesus, to live as his disciples, is to have devoted love for one another. When you wonder why people do not recognize us as Jesus’ disciples, understand that it is because they do not see this love residing among us. How can people recognize Jesus as Messiah while the fundamentally profound love he spoke of and exampled is without representation in those who claim to follow Him?
We are His witnesses, we are his standing stones, we are the vessels through which his message reaches the world. What will that message be? The greatest means with which we have to evangelize is the love that we have for G-d, for one another, and those who find themselves lost.
Let me leave you with a verse that positions the power of witnessing back into the only hands where it can effectively be performed, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8) The power of the Holy Sp-rit truly is an exceptionally transcendent force unmatched in all that is. A power that can move through us and must if we intend to endure the test and stand victorious. When we allow the Sp-rit to live in us and display love for each other in our lives, we are no longer confined to explain the gospel through our words, instead our lives stand as witness to the amazing exponent of Christ and his indescribable ability to radically transform death to life.

Our Response to Grace

We have talked about grace, now what is our response? How do we deal with the scriptures of works? How do we reconcile grace and obedience. It seems that I only hear people teach on one or the other; harmonizing the two is relegated to the anticlimax of the sermon as though it is an annoying itch. Though, we try to ignore it eventually it has to be addressed. As followers of Jesus we must make a commitment to addressing hard questions. We must be willing to engaging in the difficult understandings of our faith with others; and be ok with saying “we don’t know, but we can search together.”
There are many things I don’t fully understand about G-d—free will and predestination, prayer and worship, and G-d’s love for us for instance. I can’t help but think that if I could fathom all the mysteries of G-d, would he really be G-d? How could a god as small as my understanding create the earth, the heavens, and all that there is? He is bigger than we could ever imagine, so it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that I cannot answer all the questions I am asked about Him. If fact these unanswerable questions are some of my favorite questions.
So how do we answer the question about the seeming contradiction of grace and works. We all know that faith without works is dead. Our faith is only as good as the mitzvot (acts or deeds) that flow out of our belief in G-d. Certainly, this can have the feel of works righteousness. I see how people can misconstrue the meaning of the Text and seek justification through their own devices. We should, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Phillipians 1:27) We must live worthy lives but not in order to merit salvation. When the glory of grace is revealed to us and our eyes are opened, we have no choice but to allow G-d’s love to pour out of us into others. We already have our salvation through grace, we don’t need to earn it, instead we respond out of it.
Schalom Ben-Chorin records a story in his book, Brother Jesus, from a Haggadah, of ‘Elisha’ Ben-‘Avuya, the heretic. A heavenly voice announces that, “‘All creatures are forgiven except for ‘Elisha’ Ben-Avuya.’ thereupon Rabbi Akiva answers, “Blessed art thou, Ben-‘Avuya’. All creatures serve for reward; you, however, can now serve out of love.'” Similar to a story I once heard about a rabbi who is asked by a couple to pray that they may have a child. He tells them that by this time next year they will have a son. G-d comes to him and says it was not his will that they have a child, but since the rabbi promised it G-d would grant it. The penalty was that the rabbi loses his salvation. The rabbi begins to dance. G-d asks him why he is dancing and he says, “I have always served you for what you could give me, but now I get to serve you simply for who you are.” Both these stories illustrate the desire of ancient rabbis to serve G-d out of love, not out of the hope of earning salvation.
One of the truly inspiring concepts of Christianity is that we get to serve G-d—not out of what he can do for us, but simply for love of who he is. It is not for reward or benefit, not out of obligation or to earn his favor, but out of love and admiration that we serve. We are free to live an abundant life without the constraints of the enslavement of sin. We are free to choose, so choose well we must. Choose life, choose obedience, choose to worship G-d through our actions and beliefs. We must stop cheapening grace by trying to repay it. We must stop sinning as though it doesn’t matter.
Many of us think we know what a manger is—you know the wooden thing filled with hay Jesus was laid in upon his birth. When I saw my first one in Israel, however, it was quite different than I imagined. It was not made of wood and it was not used for food. A manger is a carved out stone that is used to hold water for animals.
Mangers also have another use—they are put just inside the city gates. The first one I saw was in a Tell of the ancient city of Gezer, just inside the city gate. These are not for animals to drink from, but to collect taxes from the people. In the ancient world, you laid your taxes in the manger and when invaders came you were permitted refuge into the city. If you hadn’t paid your tax you were left outside without protection for you or your family. This is the place where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. The place outside the gate was where they put the refuse of the city. It’s where dead animals were burned, waste was washed out to, and where the leper colonies formed. The name of this place of desolation was Gehenna; the name we translate into hell.
Now follow the picture of a savior being born. He is laid in the manger as payment for the debt of those who believe so that we may enter into the kingdom and not be left in Gehenna. We, however, are like gate keepers; sitting in the honored places with the keys to getting into the kingdom. The question is; are we more concerned with keeping people out, or helping them gain entry? Since we have not paid our own debt, why are we so concerned with the worthiness of others? Praise G-d for his transcending grace, without it I would never have even known heaven existed. Now it is time to extend that grace to all whose paths ours cross.
What if judging others is not about judging their worthiness of grace, while still taking a stand against wrong actions? Christians should always be distressed by injustice and willing to advocate on behalf of those in need, while understanding that it is out of brokenness that people act in injurious ways. A poignant story that illustrates this reality is that of the the rich man who calls Jesus good; Jesus replies with keen insight of the text from Psalm 14:3, “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” If none of us are good then who can decide which of us is deserving of grace? That is for G-d alone to measure.
I am reminded of my inability to redeem myself in the text of Micah, “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”(Micah 6:6-8). How can I stand justly before G-d? How many animal sacrifices would it take to cover the numerous transgressions I have accumulated? What do I have to offer? Nothing, but what can I give, I can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our G-d.
G-d has given us redemption through his unimaginable grace, it is time we allowed obedience to be our song of thankful praise.

Surpassing Grace

Sometimes G-d's grace is not as apparent as we would like it to be. It does not always shine like the stars in the sky. Sometimes G-d's grace can be subtle and easily missed, like this wadi that disappears into the desert unless you are looking at it straight on, but it is there and it gives life to those who find themselves in the shelter of its wings.

Grace appears to be one of the hardest things to define and to understand. What does it mean? Can people have it or just receive it? I would like to steal Robert Frost’s definition where he says it’s, “God’s ability.” This is why it seems so hard to to explain. How do you explain G-d’s ability? How do we diminish G-d’s immense power into a sentence so that we can have an answer for people when they ask? So in order to bring permanence and wonder back into the mysteries of G-d, I will leave the definition of grace as G-d’s surpassing ability.
I often hear people say, “have a little grace.” The only way I see this as being possible is if the Holy Sp-rit does it through them. It is not something they could ever do on their own. People do not have grace for one another; we have mercy, but G-d does have grace for us. Grace is not just the mercy to forgive, but the authority to redeem. This authority is a key to salvation we do not possess. We may let go of crimes committed against us, but only G-d has the power wash them white as snow.
The Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) This is one of the most magnificently impressive verses in the Text. Most religions require so much of their followers in order to achieve salvation. What is so appealing about these religions is that they play to our self-centeredness; by putting us at the center of the religion. Who doesn’t want to be the center of their own religion? I can tell you no one wants to be in that religion if its mine. G-d has chosen to put himself in the center of this relationship. He is the one who reveals, saves, and proclaims. He is not like foreign gods; he is the living G-d, the G-d of grace.
Many times we want to change it around. We want to interject our efforts as though they garner the favor necessary for for us to merit the grace we have received; but the whole point of grace is that it is unmerited. When we try to earn it we cheapen it; we take an invaluable gift and reduce it to something we can purchase with our deficient acts of righteousness. I am not sure which is worse, denying the gift altogether or accepting it and then spending our time trying to repay that which can never be repaid. Both show our own narcissistic inability to fathom the grandeur of G-d’s incomprehensible love for us, his children. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Let me see if I can explain it another way. A man comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus replies, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Then they have a discussion about which ones. Which apparently, and we have no reason to doubt it, the man has kept. But he still lacks something. Jesus tells him to sell all he owns and give to the poor, then come and follow him. The man leaves, sad? I find it hard to believe that keeping the commandments is easier than giving away your possessions.
It evidently also perplexes the disciples because Jesus tells them, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of G-d.” Their next question shows they don’t fully understand the kingdom of G-d, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replies with an unending truth, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus is not saying that this man lacked the ability to give up his possession and therefore isn’t saved; Jesus is telling us that for humans it is impossible to be saved of their own accord, but with G-d all things are possible. We lack the ability necessary for salvation because it’s G-d’s ability, not ours.
Why is it so hard to accept grace? Why do we need to feel as though we deserve it? Why do we feel the need to vindicate our sinful misconducts. When will we accept that G-d knows everything there is to know about us and he has been merciful anyways? It’s not that he doesn’t care; our behavior is of the utmost importance to him but he “desires mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6). G-d is not looking to punish those who do wrong; he is searching for those with the humility to throw themselves at the feet of grace and trust in his provision. His heart longs to be reunited with his lost sheep. First the sheep must admit that it’s lost. It can be a problematic endeavor to admit our shortcomings to say the least.
The gift of grace is unsurpassed in the realm of gift giving. There has never been, nor ever will there be, a more magnificently mystifying endowing of humanity. Who can understand the debt? Who can empathize with the cost? Who could abide the shame and guilt of so many sins? How could we presume to repay that which we do not deserve? When will we, through trembling tears of sorrow, relief, and joy; lower our heads and lift up our hearts and welcome the liberation of redemption. We are loved; we have been ransomed and we are free.

the Way, the Truth, the Life…

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." These words would have rang clear to the first century Jewish disciples who had seen Roman cities. Paved with broad roads and entered through elaborate gates; they offered a life very different to that of the Scriptures. It was a life devoted to the gratification of self-indulgence; a life seeking only pleasure and prosperity. The roads of Israel were much different; they were little more than paths often being less than three feet wide. The smaller, ancient paths, were the same paths that their ancestors had walked; reminding them of the life they should be living and pointing them to a relationship with G-d. Which path looks more like the one we choose?

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6. Jesus also says,”I am the resurrection and the life.” So what does it mean for Jesus to be the life? Recently I heard a man preach how this meant that we need to live in relationship to Jesus in order to have that life. I am not really sure that this is a comprehensive understanding of what it means. I believe that Jesus is saying much more. Jesus is telling us that in order to have the life that he speaks of, we must live as He lived. We must walk as he walked; we must not only believe in Him, we must believe as He does. We don’t do this in order to earn our salvation, but rather to find an abundant life here on earth.
Jesus is the only way and to get to heaven you must trust in his provision. It is only through his sacrifice that our reconciliation is possible, only through the covering of his blood can we be redeemed. He is the truth, the correct and full interpretation of the law. He does not come to take it away, but to reveal its perfect understanding. In him we discover how to choose that which is better. He is also the life, the way one should live in order to reap the full blessings of G-d. This is the part we so often neglect. Either we cling to grace while defending our behavior, or we cloak our sins with excuses of our humanity. Whenever we fall short we should throw ourselves onto His grace, but this does not relieve us from the consequences of our failings. G-d’s forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we will not suffer, just that when we stand before him we will be blameless in his eyes.
What does it mean to, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness?” Matthew 6:33. What does it mean to seek his kingdom? What is this kingdom we seek? And his righteousness, how do we find it? If we just try to do our best, if we try to be good people then we will go to heaven? How could this be? We have already established that to go to heaven it is only by grace, which means nothing we do effects it. It seems to be one of the greatest disgraces to try to repay G-d for the free gift that is his son. For what could we possibly have or do that could erase even one of our sins? So it is not about being good to go to heaven. Then what is his kingdom?
When we seek his kingdom; we seek to establish the reign of G-d on earth. A community in which he is recognized as King and his people live according to his desires. Where mercy is greater than sacrifice, where forgiveness outweighs retribution, and where love of others surpasses the desires we have for ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is a place where we see G-d’s power, we proclaim him as L-rd, and we do what he says. It is the rightful essence of emunah, faith. Faithfulness is the marrow of our faith; devotion to the joy of obedience to bring about G-d’s reign in our lives and communities.
His righteousness is being fully and willfully submitted to his grace. I think this can be summed up in a short sentence: love G-d, love others and serve the world. What could be more righteous than love? What could be more pleasing than to behold your children expressing their love for one another. Can we put G-d first? Can we let go of our desires so that the needs of the suffering of the world can be fulfilled? What pleasures are we willing to sacrifice to reconcile the impoverishment of the destitute? How will we help? What role will we play?
The verse also promises that if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, “all these things will be added to us as well.” we assume this asserts that if we seek his kingdom then he will bless us with all the stuff that we want. I would like to propose an alternative to the idea of prosperity gospel, at least in the sense that we understand it. I believe that if we should seek to live in a community like the Acts 2 church; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47. In this community you will always have that which you need. Even if you sold all that you owned; if a need ever arose someone would be there to provide it for you. It is a community where wealth is shared and all are valued.
A community where deprivation disappears and disadvantage is exchanged for repose; where the freedom of living is unobstructed by the skewed vantage of an enslaved world. A kingdom where you are accepted for who you are; where you are know by His Name and not by your defeats. It is a place where you are without worry; not because you do not face trials, but because you do not face them alone. A place where you are encouraged, where you matter, where you are loved; this is the Kingdom of G-d, and the way to abundant life.