November 2011

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

When Jesus says to let the children come to him, he means let the beginners come to him, and “do not hinder them”. A disciple is simply a beginner, a new student in a new (to them) way of living. This “way”, of course, isn’t new to God. Jesus said all along that if we want to enter life, obey the commands.

What commands? Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. In his own words, Jesus says that these two simple instructions sum up everything. It isn’t complicated, but we do need further guidance on how to obey and why it’s good for us to do so.

Jesus also explained to the beginners that he is the way, the truth, and the life. But where is this “way” laid out? Where do beginners start to follow this new way of living? How do they learn to love themselves as well as neighbors (assuming they already love God)?

In the Sermon on the Mount. These instructions span three full chapters in Matthew: five, six, and seven. It’s one continuous address; and it’s sequential. Step by step. It starts with eliminating anger and contempt. This step alone will revolutionize a life! Imagine not being ticked off or annoyed all the time. Imagine not being dragged all over the map by other people’s incompetence or stupidity? Imagine what that alone would do to lessen inner agitation?

That puts us in a brand new position of freedom. And from that new position, we can progress through Jesus’ next five areas of soul-killing attitudes:

  • Adultery and divorce (obsession with others)
  • Swearing oaths and over-committing
  • Score-keeping and revenge
  • Outer appearance and image
  • Judgment and hypocrisy

In that specific order. If we try to do it randomly, we fail–not because we’re just no good, but because we’re using the wrong “system”. See, Jesus knows what makes us tick. He also knows what fouls us up and what will set us right. Disciples of his new way of living become increasingly free of what poisons their nature and prevents loving self and neighbor.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. The way I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)

It’s a new, but very old, command. And it isn’t complicated once we know where to find his instructions on how to begin carrying out the command.

Alphabet Soup Love

Image by basheertome via Flickr

God has a vision for mankind. He’d like us to have maximum happiness, peace, love, patience, and competent skill—what scripture refers to as blessedness—to share life with Him. Our part is to catch the vision and follow His plan, which Jesus laid out in the Sermon on the Mount and gave his life to secure for us. There, he details how to get rid of anger, ill will, judgment and other habits that poison human nature.

To love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind isn’t a demand; it’s a basic instruction, the first building block for mankind. Like a rock foundation, it supports the weight of everything else so we don’t have to carry all of life on our own backs.

It’s not as if God were stomping His foot, “Me first! Me first!” That’s prima donna faith. And He’s not Dirty Harry. “Better love me first—punk.” The greatest commandment isn’t for God’s sake, it’s for ours. So are the other nine commandments, which Jesus lumped into one: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. God’s motives are good and generous rather than self-serving.

We tend to think of the word “command” in the sense of domination, pressure, or obligation. But it also means bidding, direction, or instruction. That’s how Jesus used it. Thus, it’s not the Ten Demands, it’s really Ten Directions for optimal well-being and life—according to Jesus, anyway.

“If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17) Jesus and the New Testament apostles didn’t ban them, but rather, renewed and clarified them after Pharisees and experts had long perverted them. We have the same problem today, which turns following Jesus into a tedious chore to meet a divine demand.

Paradigm Shift

The discipleship life-style is easy to understand if we see Jesus’ two commands like flying lessons, musical scales, or the alphabet. A pilot can’t take off until he first learns to taxi. A musician can’t progress until he first learns the basics of scales. A child can’t read or write without learning and practicing his ABCs.

Jesus directs us to follow him the way a kindergarten teacher might say, “If anyone would come after me and learn to read, he must ‘deny’ himself and practice the alphabet every day. Anyone who doesn’t simply can’t learn from me, and isn’t ready yet for whole words.” This is what Jesus means by carrying our crosses and becoming child-like.

Like a child who didn’t learn the alphabet, and consequently crippled his reading/writing skill, so we remain crippled when we try to follow Jesus with misunderstood or contrived motives.


Sanada's Secret Passage

Image by jpellgen via Flickr

I don’t watch much TV, but I do occasionally watch Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. I’m simultaneously fascinated by their ingenuity, but haunted by my own inner question: Could I survive in the wild? I know I’d rather eat tree bark than a bug. But I can’t decide, if I had to choose only one, whether I’d rather have a knife, a pack of matches, a rope, or a container of water to survive.

When it comes to religion or Supreme Truth, it’s a jungle out there. In Christianity alone, there are so many theological debates that we’re often lost trying to navigate through many sets of God’s truths. We’re adrift on a sea of doctrines that seemingly don’t relate much to the life we’re living now on this earth.

So if I had to gel all of God’s truths and come away with only one, it would be the certainty that the power to change and improve our lives is available to us in partnership with God. You and I can become the optimized versions of ourselves that God designed.

The key word is partnership. Call it friendship, fellowship, union, or yoking with Jesus, the life of blessed well-being that God offers is accessible. That’s what entering the kingdom of heaven at hand, or “new life from above”, is about. Whether we live on Wall St. or Main St., on Easy St. or Skid Row, it’s about living a kingdom life that counts for something good in the here and now, and to carry that with us into the hereafter. Christian faith is the difference between full-on thriving and merely surviving. (more…)