Jesus said that the greatest of all commandments is to love God, and to do so with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. By his life choices, Jesus showed us what this meant.
To love God means to let him guide you in everything you do. Not just in some things – in everything.
To love God means to wait for God to show you the way, not to make plans first and then ask God to bless them.
To love God means to put your trust wholly in him, and him alone.
To love God means not having a mortgage.
To love God means not having insurance.
To love God means not having a pension plan.
To love God means not having any savings beyond what you need for the very very very short term.
To love God means not owning any property beyond a few things for your daily needs.
To love God means not striving to make the world a better place but telling the world about a better place.
To love God means to preach the Word always and in all ways.
To love God means to leave your job IMMEDIATELY when Jesus says “Follow me.”
To love God means to leave your loved ones (and your loved things) to follow Jesus.
To love God means to hold no grudges against anyone for any reason.
To love God means not to sue in court.
To love God means to speak the truth at whatever the cost. God’s Word is the truth.
To love God means to let people dislike you just because you love God.
To love God means that whatever and whoever you were before you loved God, you’re not that person anymore. Your personality is the same, your looks may be the same, but your values have changed 100%, and your life should reflect that.
To love God means to love him 24/7, all year long, not just on Sundays and at Bible class.
To love God means you’d rather die than not love him.
To love God means you’d rather be killed than kill.
To love God means to choose the opposite of what the world tells you is right and honorable.
To love God means to let the world think you’re wrong and dishonorable just because you love God.
In exchange for your love, God loves through you. There is no greater good and no greater pleasure and no greater ambition and no greater reward than to love God and to let him love through you.
This is what Jesus meant when he said that to love God was the greatest of all commandments.
To love God means to give him your all.
I spent the past couple of days reading through the four gospels again. Every once in a while, I do that: read them straight through. It’s easier to see the similarities and differences that way. Obviously, I don’t read the gospels just to see the similarities and differences, but there they are anyway. And things pop out at you that you hadn’t noticed before, like that one of the original 12 disciples was called “Lebbaeus” (how’d I miss that?) and that the sermon on the mount was preached just to the disciples, not to the multitudes. Jesus was actually trying to get away from the multitudes by going up the mountain, and the disciples went up the mountain after him. This is according to Matthew. And yet I’d always thought that the ‘sermon on the mount’ was preached to the multitudes. That’s usually how you see it in pictures – Jesus standing on the mountain, lording it over the adoring masses below. But that’s not how it was, according to Matthew. It was just Jesus sitting down and talking to the disciples. Funny how things get taken out of context, like a game of gossip; you say “tomato”, I say “cat food”.
Something else that jumped out at me is how Peter and Andrew and James and John IMMEDIATELY left their jobs to follow Jesus. Matthew, too, and a blind guy who’d been healed. “STRAIGHTWAY”, the King James Version puts it. There was no hesitation, no “let me think about it and get back to you”. They just dropped everything and followed Jesus. They weren’t fishermen and tax collectors by day, disciples by night. No. They were full-time disciples from the second they heard their names called. It was like someone had fired a starting pistol, and off they went. Jesus tells a parable about people who hear God’s call and don’t go, using every excuse in the book as to why they can’t. Don’t be those people. Things didn’t end well for them.
I love Jesus (not in a mushy way [he’s my brother, after all]), and I especially love how he kept it real. Here were all these puffed up, snobby, holier-than-thou Jewish powers-that-be, sashaying around in their little daycare groups, snubbing Jesus (the actual Messiah they’ve been waiting and praying for since Abraham’s day) just because he’s an average-looking guy from a modest background. They’re so wrapped up in their own importance, they can’t accept that this average-looking guy from a modest background is not only their king, but the king of kings, and the lord of all creation. He just doesn’t fit the image they had of who and what the Messiah should be. So they hound him, and then reject him, and then kill him, thinking he’s of no consequence. They were so ridiculously and profoundly blind and deaf from their pride, you almost (almost) feel sorry for them. The same proud types lord it over us today, demanding we bow down to them from cradle to grave.
Never bow down to anyone except God and Jesus.
Another thing I noticed when I was reading through the gospels the other day was how Jesus seemed to be creating a new role for women in his kingdom. Out with the Martha types, and in with the Mary Magdalenes. He didn’t see women as simply supporting players in the kingdom, but as equals, and he was constantly correcting the males who were trying to keep them down. He did this as a way to teach men that it was time to give up their traditional spiritual “man-spreading” and make room for women spiritually. It was the women, after all, who were the first to know of Jesus’ resurrection and to believe it, whereas the men scoffed at them and said they were ‘telling tales’. Mary Magdalene in particular held a special position in Jesus’ hierarchy of followers. No, they weren’t married, and no, they weren’t lovers, but I’m pretty sure that Mary was closer to Jesus than any of the other disciples. She listened to him, she loved him, and she understood him better (I’m betting) than even John. All of her actions directly ministered to Jesus, which in turn helped him do his job better. Martha, on the other hand, represented the old order, where women bustled around the household and were ‘careful in many things’ but not in the things that really mattered (learning about the kingdom and living in it). Most men don’t like it when I talk like this, and you’d be surprised at how many women don’t like it, either. I’m not talking about women supplanting men in God’s kingdom; I’m talking about women having equal authority with men in God’s kingdom. That’s what Jesus was showing us in his constant and consistent defense of Mary Magdalene and other women like her. It’s up to you whether or not you want to see that.
The last thing I’ll mention is about the crucifixion scenes. I hate that part of the gospels, where the power of darkness briefly triumphs, but we have to pay attention to it (even with half-shielded eyes) because we’re all going to have to go through it someday. Jesus was teaching us how to do it, ministering to us right up to his last agonized breath. He showed us by quoting from the Bible, by forgiving his tormentors, and by praying to God. This is how we’ll get through what’s coming for us. Jesus said those who endure to the end will be saved. The key here is “endure”, and the way to do it is through God, by choosing God’s way and God’s words. Jesus wasn’t relying on his own strength; he was relying 100% on God’s strength, and God didn’t let him down. Jesus always relied 100% on God. That’s what made him so powerful and his teaching so authoritative: It was God’s power and God’s teachings.
If we look hard, we can see ourselves in the gospels. On the day I was converted and read the New Testament for the first time, God told me that what had happened to me was like when Mary Magdalene had seven devils driven out of her (only God mentioned by-the-by that I had a lot more than seven, and then we laughed). I think each one of us can find our own conversion story somewhere in the Bible. In John (17:20-22), Jesus asks his Dad to help us. He mentions us specifically as the ones who’ll believe in him through the work of the disciples:
Neither pray I for these [the disciples] alone,
but for them [that’s us!]
also which shall believe on me
through their word;
that they [that’s us again!] all may be one;
as thou, Father, art in me,
and I in thee,
that they [he’s talking about us here again too!]
also may be one in us:
that the world may believe
that thou hast sent me.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool that we get a mention in the gospels. Jesus knew we’d be reading about him some day, and he wanted to include us in his story. It was his shout-out to us down the ages, letting us know we’re part of the family and that he loves us and he’s thinking about us. Of course, we know and love him now like a big brother, and we don’t need a book to tell us that he loves us, but still… it’s nice to see us get a mention there in print as part of the family tree. We get a few other mentions, too, in both the Old and New Testaments.
We’re in there, we’re out here, and we’re living the promise, just like Jesus prayed we would.
God is no mystery. Obviously, we’ll never know everything about him (any more than we’ll ever know everything about any person, ourselves included), but we can know everything we need to know. God is not trying to hide from us or trying to make us figure him out, like some elusive femme fatale. He’s just God. He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything, but he’s no mystery. Not if you love him.
God works on a ‘need to know’ basis. Like everything God does, his system is perfect. He explained it to us years ago already, back in the Garden of Eden. He lets us know what we need to know on any given day and at any given hour. More we don’t need to know; it will just get us into trouble.
Wanting to know what you don’t need to know or what won’t serve your or anyone else’s benefit is not an admirable trait. It’s not wise. God doesn’t hide anything from you that you’re not ready to know. If you’re not ready to know something (in other words, if you can’t handle it as it should be handled, so that your knowing it won’t hurt yourself or others), then it’s simply better for you (and for others) that you don’t know what you want to know, even if you want to know it really, really badly.
That is wisdom.
But we don’t live in a wise age; we live in an age where folly and gluttony are not only admired but pursued. The gluttony is an insatiable lust for knowledge at all costs, without bounds or limits. If the words sound familiar that’s because it’s the same story that was played out in the Garden of Eden years ago; the same story that’s been repeating itself over and over and over again since then.
People like to say “knowledge is power”, and then look at you as if they’ve said something profound. But knowledge is not power. Knowledge is just accumulated facts. And accumulated facts applied without wisdom can give results that range from banal to dangerous to destructive, but there is no wisdom in any of it, and therefore no real value, let alone power.
Wisdom is power. There is power in wisdom because wisdom comes from God. Wisdom is flashes of insight from God’s mind. Wisdom is God’s mind speaking directly to yours.
God is no mystery. He lays himself out like an open book for those who love him. And the more we love him, the more pages are added to that book.
Being skilled at accumulating facts might make you wealthy or admired or respected or even feared, but it will never make you wise. No amount of accumulated facts will ever bring you anything of any value, even if your knowledge gives you enough money to wallpaper your house with $1000 bills and pave your driveway with gold.
In the same way, just knowing about God – that is, accumulating facts about him – will not make you wise. Loving God will make you wise.
The more you love God, the wiser you become. Even a child can be wise, if he loves God, just as an old man can be profoundly unwise, though neck-deep in accumulated facts and wealth.
A wise person is happy; an unwise one, unhappy.
God is no mystery. He opens himself like a book to those who love him. To some, he’s like a picture book with just a few words; to others, he’s like an encyclopedia. God wrote the book just for you. It never ends, and once you start reading it, you never want to put it down.
People who are hurting hurt people.
Happy people don’t hurt people. Happy people want to help people, not hurt them.
We need to remember this when people are mean or rude or cruel to us.
Jesus said that it’s the sick who need help, not those who are well.
Scratch the surface of anyone who is mean or cruel or hurtful in any way, and you’ll find a painful festering sore below.
The greater the pain gets, the more people deflect it to other people and blame other people.
People who are in pain will growl and bite you if you get too close, the way animals will growl and bite you when you reach to help them.
People in pain need prayers, not curses. They need a gentle presence (from a safe distance, if necessary).
Those people who treat you like dirt – PRAY FOR THEM. Don’t tell them you’re praying for them, just PRAY FOR THEM.
And choose to forgive them.
Don’t dwell on their cruelty; dwell on how miserable they must be, not to know God’s love.
That’s a horrible cold dark wretched place to live, where God isn’t welcome.
We are blessed to know God’s love, to live in his brightness and joy and warmth. Each of us who is born again has enough of God’s love to share with all the world and still have love to spare, just like Jesus had enough loaves and fishes to feed the hungry masses and still have leftovers. Each of us has that much love – enough for every human in the world, and then some – if we let go of any lingering resentment, and let God love fully through us.
That’s your job, as a born-again, to love like God loves, to love like Jesus loved, fully and without reserve.
Only people who are hurting hurt people.
Don’t make their pain worse: help them.
Of the original disciples, Peter was the one Jesus relied on the most. And yet it was Peter who was outed as being the second biggest traitor (after Judas) when Jesus was arrested.
What happened to Peter? What made him hide who he really was?
Talk is cheap. Anyone can say anything until put to the test. Peter said he’d rather die than deny he was with Jesus (as did all the disciples). Then the test came just a few hours later, and Peter did exactly what he said he wouldn’t do – deny he knew Jesus, so as not to get killed.
And he did it not once, but three times.
Jesus told him beforehand that he’d betray him, but Peter refused to believe it. Jesus said: Before the cock crows, you’ll deny me thrice.
Peter said: No way!
Jesus said: Way.
Peter said: NO WAY!
Jesus said: Way.
And Jesus was right.
We all have a bit of Peter in us. Some of us have a lot of Peter in us. We talk a good talk, but when the test comes, who do we obey – God’s voice, or the voice of fear?
(The spirit is willing; the flesh is weak.)
Some of us are even that version of Peter stuck in a time-warp, denying over and over and over again that we know Jesus. To ourselves, oh yes, we’re Christians, but to the world – no way.
That’s how we deny Jesus like Peter did.
Jesus warned us about that. He said that if we deny knowing him, he’ll deny knowing us. That’s a pretty straight-forward warning. And if Jesus denies knowing us, we can kiss heaven good-bye.
Peter knew that if he admitted to being with Jesus, he would be signing his own death warrant. He didn’t want to die. It was as simple as that.
Outing ourselves as followers of Jesus can be uncomfortable. People stop liking us. People talk down to us. People accuse us of being bigots, racists, homophobes, relics of the ‘dark ages’. People start watching us like a hawk, and at our slightest slip-up, they triumphantly point their finger as us and shout “That’s not very CHRISTIAN of you!”
Sometimes, given the world’s response to us when we say we’re Christians, it’s easier just to say nothing. Sometimes it’s easier just to ‘go along to get along’, to hide that we believe in God and follow Jesus. But when we do that, we’re right back in the courtyard with Peter, warming our hands by the fire and sipping a latte while Jesus is out back getting beat up.
Jesus knew Peter would deny him, and later, after his resurrection, Jesus gave Peter another chance. He gave them all another chance, but first he bawled them out for being so hard-headed and cowardly, for having so little faith and for not paying attention to what he’d told them before his crucifixion.
Jesus has told us and shown us everything we need to know to make it to heaven. He beat down the path for us, but we still have to follow closely behind him on that path. Those who try to sneak into heaven another way are kicked out.
It’s not enough to say “I’m a good person” or “I try to be nice to people”. That’s not enough. We’re to go out in the world and preach the Good News, not the watered-down inter-faith version that the world accepts. The name of Jesus features prominently in the Good News. The Good News is all about Jesus. We, as his followers, should be all about Jesus.
Everyone who knows you should know you’re a Christian.
If they don’t, it’s not too late to let them know.
But some day – cock-a-doodle-doo – it will be too late.
“If you loved me, you’d be happy for me, for I go to the Father.” Jesus said this to his followers during the Passover meal he shared with them the night before he was murdered. Some of his followers were crying. All of them were sad.
But imagine, if instead of being sad, they did what Jesus suggested and were happy for him? Imagine if, instead of standing at a distance and weeping for him, they cheered him on the way a marathon runner is cheered on in the final agonizing stretch of the race? Imagine how those cheers would have encouraged Jesus to “hang in there!” and “keep going!”
Imagine what the crowd would have thought if Jesus’ followers started shouting “Hang in there, Jesus! We know you can do it! Keep going! We’re praying for you! We love you! You’re almost there! You’re almost home! You’re Number 1! GO, JESUS!!!” Imagine what the crowd would have thought if Jesus’ followers had shown up at the crucifixion wearing paper crowns and holding up the first-century version of the foam finger while chanting Jesus’ name over and over and over again.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Their cheers might even have drowned out the jeers of the unbelievers. Imagine the good this rambunctious support would have done Jesus in his dying moments. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of crowd cheers knows how invigorating those cheers can be. There’s a reason why the proverbial “hometown advantage” is proverbial.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Yes, his supporters might have been arrested for “outing” themselves, but let’s imagine for a moment that they wouldn’t have been. Let’s imagine that, instead of weeping and praying silently, they clapped and cheered and hooted and hollered and shouted their love and encouragement to Jesus as his mission on Earth reached its glorious climax and the Sin of Ages was wiped away.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Imagine how much easier it might have been for Jesus if he’d heard cries of love instead of howls of hate. Imagine how different his death scene might have been.
It’s too late now to do this for Jesus, but we can do it for each other.
Imagine people cheering us on as we die. Because this is what they should be doing, encouraging us to “hold fast” not to life on Earth but to our commitment to God as we approach our final test. As born-agains, we should be happy when it’s our time to die, because, as Jesus told us, we’re going home. It’s what we’ve prayed and prepared for all our born-again lives.
Imagine how joyous our deathbed scene would be if Jesus’ words were adhered to. Imagine tears and whispered condolences being replaced with shouts of “Good for you! You’re almost there!” and “I’m SO jealous!” Imagine people surrounding us with boisterous encouragement, chanting our name as we round the final bend and come in view of our earthly finish line. This is the kind of jubilant death scene we should be having as born-agains, not tears and regrets and tubing and machines and pleas from relatives to ‘hang on’ to this life as long as we can.
Heaven is so far above and beyond anything that Earth can offer, it only makes sense to be happy for whoever’s going there.
At our funeral, it should be our death that is celebrated, not our life. And instead of a cross with “R.I.P.”, our tombstone should be a big stone foam finger emblazoned with “JEEE-SUS!” and “THANK GOD I’M OUTTA HERE!”
“If you loved me, you’d be happy for me.” Remember this when it’s your time to go home.
People say that you can’t live without money, but it’s God that you can’t live without.
Money you can definitely live without. God you can’t.
Yet, even knowing this, how many of you still spend the lion’s share your days doing things for the sole purpose of getting something that you can live without (money)?
You don’t need to answer that.
You’re reading this, so I already know the answer.
When will you have your “Matthew moment”? When will you just get up and walk away from whatever it is you do to make money, whatever it is you waste your precious time doing, day in and day out, just to make money?
Matthew walked away, and he never looked back. He didn’t give two weeks’ notice, either. He just upped and walked.
Jesus had no money. People gave him money, but Jesus gave it to Judas Iscariot to hold and disperse to the poor as he saw fit. Judas was a bank and a charitable organization all rolled into one. And, like all banks and most charitable organizations, he cheated, lied and stole. That’s why Jesus put him in charge of the money – because it was of no value to him. Someone who cheats, lies and steals is the best person to put in charge of something that has no value to you.
In a corrupt world, which is what we live in, held captive by a corrupt monetary system, which is what we’re held captive by, the only way to escape it is to reject the corrupt values and refuse to participate.
That’s what Jesus did.
Instead of spending his final few years toiling as a carpenter, earning the roof over his head and the food in his mouth by the sweat of wasted labour, he went to work for God full-time. And all his earnings he invested in the Bank of God. He got paid daily, but asked for only enough to keep body and soul together, while the rest of his earnings he let God disperse as he saw fit.
This is how Jesus lived – working full-time for his Father, and trusting his Father to take care of him.
Jesus had no money. He didn’t need any. Money had no value to him. If he needed a place to stay, God found him one. If he needed food, God arranged for someone to invite him for dinner or took him to a field with corn that was ripe for the plucking. If he was ordered to pay an unexpected tax, God sent him a fish with a gold coin in its mouth.
This is how God works, when you work for God. Just as the wild animals have their needs looked after, so too do God’s labourers have their needs looked after, as long as they put in an honest day’s work in God’s kingdom.
When will YOU have your Matthew moment? When will YOU walk away from money, like Jesus did?
Money you can live without, even in this corrupt world.
God you cannot live without.
Ho, every one that thirsteth,
come ye to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
come ye, buy, and eat;
yea, come, buy wine and milk
and without price.
Wherefore do ye spend money
for that which is not bread?
and your labour
for that which satisfieth not?
Hearken diligently unto me,
and eat ye that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself