Tag Archive: bible


We nourish our lives in many different ways. Without water and the five food groups, our bodies weaken, sicken, and die. Without science, math, history, or any other intellectual pursuit, our minds weaken, sicken, and die.

We feed our souls with patience.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

My “working definition” of the soul is this: the part of us that sees our connection to all things.

Without patience our souls weaken, sicken, and die. We must feed all of these aspects, as one connects to all, influencing everything we do, think, and feel.

We need a healthy soul, fed with lots of patience, in order to understand who we are, and to accept God’s will. When we refuse to be malnourished, and commit ourselves to a proper diet-feeding the body, mind, and soul-then we are born again.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”-Mark 12:30.

Jesus emphasized the importance of patience with this kingdom of heaven parable:

“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”-Matthew 13:33.

Leaven is a little piece of dough left over from a previous baking, which ferments over time. Fermentation takes time.

When the three angels visited Abraham, on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah….

“…Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”-Genesis 18:16.

If we’re in a hurry, we don’t have time for fermentation. Leaven takes time. Three measures feeds three, and, therefore, is enough for more than just ourselves. Our bread feeds others.

Perhaps the most well-known example of unleavened bread comes from the Exodus.

“And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.”-Exodus 12:39.

When we hurry, we eat dull, tasteless, unleavened bread. Anything worth having, and worth savoring, requires patience. Leavened bread takes time. While we wait, we savor life and learn patience.

Though the sand in our hour glass seems to be abundant, we lose one grain per second. Each moment exists uniquely, and will never come again. We must savor every grain.

“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. / For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”-Psalm 103:15, 16.

Just as forgiveness shows love, and love allows for forgiveness, patience shows faith, and faith allows for patience. Whichever of these four we do, we are able to do the other three; one carries the blueprint for all.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”-James 1:3.

Patience allows for forgiveness, because we aren’t in a rush to judge. Love thrives on faith, because we allow God’s will to be done. Back and forth, like a dance; we exchange partners: patience for love, forgiveness for faith.

Faith clothes our souls with the garments woven by our actions. We are what we do, and what we think. Just as the Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo, we utilize every thought and action; we discard nothing.

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”-James 2:22.

Therefore, everything we do, or don’t do, makes us who we are.

This means our whole life determines our whole life. Simple and obvious, isn’t it? But our souls require a lifetime for the whole to be leavened.

Our own personal bread balances and harmonizes with all the billions of others. The whole world must be leavened, which takes time, and therefore we need patience.

This brings us back to love and forgiveness: coexistent harmony.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”-Matthew 6:14, 15.

This is not only a moral, spiritual imperative, but a psychological one as well. Even if we believe that our hearts resist sentimentality, and we show no outward sign of caring for others, our souls feel and record our every thought and action.

We discard nothing. We knead all of it into the dough.

As God promised Abraham:

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee….”-Genesis 12:3.

So does Jesus instruct us:

“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”-Luke 6:28.

When we curse others, life curses us; when we bless, life blesses us. The leaven we mix into our lives includes all the leaven that everyone else kneads into their lives.

If we curse or hate someone, even if we think we’ve hardened our hearts and feel nothing, then that discord ruins the harmony of our lives. Even if we don’t show it on the outside, we feel it on the inside.

What we feed others, feeds us.

So we must be mindful. When we do something wrong, our perspective shields us with assurances that we behaved properly. So we teach ourselves, without realizing it, to see evil for good, and good for evil.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

Thus, the woman in Jesus’ parable hides the leaven, and it works invisibly, affecting our souls and psychological well-being. It is in our best interest to love one another.

Our bread feeds three people; and their bread feeds three more; and theirs, three more. And so on, until we leaven the world.

“For God so loved the world….”-John 3:16.

This is why Jesus warned his disciples about the Pharisees’ doctrine.

“…Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”-Luke 12:1.

Whatever we mix into our dough becomes our bread. And whatever we feed to others, becomes their bread, which we, in turn, consume and become.

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”-John 6:35.

To be born again, we must accept the bread of life: the Bible shorthand for which is love. And the truth is that love requires patience.

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”–John 8:31, 32.

Jesus offers to teach us patience. And when we understand his lessons, the truth frees us from slavery to sin, and the agony our souls endure because of it.

Though we attempt to hide our sins in the dough, and convince ourselves they are of no consequence, a part of us knows we did something wrong.

“For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”-Isaiah 47:10.

We think no one sees us, but we see ourselves. The soul isn’t persuaded by our lies, and knows the truth. While we repress this inner self, it suffers and eats away at us: until we are hollow, heartless, loveless, and perpetually angry.

Our resultant inner guilt ruins the harmony of our world, and embitters our bread. We cannot purge this self-inflicted poison, if we don’t acknowledge it. We break the addiction, and purge the poison with understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ word: This takes a lot of time, with many false starts.

Patience is hard. Not giving in to our base instincts, which demand an eye for an eye, seems impossible. We must have faith in our faith, and be patient with our patience.

“.…Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”-Revelation 12:12.

We rush because we know that our time is short. So, in a way, we already acknowledge the importance of each moment. But our impatience results in anger, and contempt.

This is natural. Everyone goes through this. But, in our haste, we sacrifice the beauty of our lives, and the harmony of our souls.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”-Psalm 23:2.

Since our time is short, we shouldn’t ruin it with hate and impatience. We are here to love the green pastures and still waters.

I know how hard it is to be patient. I feel important when I rush: as if I’m off to save a princess from a dragon. Impatience makes me feel like my life is important. And it is!

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Our lives are too important to waste time by rushing. We lose what we’re trying to preserve. Love, and appreciation of each other and the world, takes time. But this is life. Impatience robs us of life. Since we know how important our time is, we need to mix mindfulness into our dough, and enjoy baking our bread.

Like the woman in this parable, Jesus hides life in our bread.

“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”-John 12:40.

He blinds us so we can learn to see with new eyes. He hardens our hearts to give us the choice, and opportunity, to soften our hearts.

If we do these things, if we love without thought of getting something in return, if we love because we love, and that’s what we do, then we see.

“And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”-John 9:39.

We are born being able to see. To fit in and keep up with others, we blind ourselves with pride, ego, and impatience: all the lies we mix into our dough.

This is natural; everyone does it. And this is why Jesus came, why we have the Bible: to save us from the harm we unknowingly cause ourselves.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”-Luke 23:34.

This leaves us with the Bible’s primary lesson: how to mix our will with God’s will. The Bible teaches this in many different circumstances, with many different characters.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. / This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”-John 15:12.

The simplest way to understand God’s will is to follow Jesus’ commandment, because when we love one another, when we have the patience to do God’s will, we coexist in harmony with all things, with God. This is the good bread that feeds our souls.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”-John 6:51.

So impatience comes because we know our time is short. Patience allows us to savor every bite of our bread. And we gain patience through faith, forgiveness, and love: all of which are interchangeable, and learned from each other.

The tough thing about patience is that it never ends. No matter how faithful, loving, or forgiving we were yesterday, today requires even more.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”-Matthew 6:34.

When we feel impatient, then stop. Take a deep breath. Look around. Congratulate the world on its beauty. Remember how small we are. Our importance lies not in our vanity, but in how much we love. Love feeds not just our soul, but all souls. Love leavens the world.

Remember, we teach ourselves, and learn from others, without knowing it: The woman hid the leaven. We must mindfully reverse what we’ve thoughtlessly learned.

Inhale the world’s beauty, let it fill your soul. When you exhale, release your impatience. Inhale the love of all things. Exhale judgments, anger, whatever separates you from the world, and everything in it.

We must remember Jesus’ first commandment, and balance what we feed our bodies, minds, and souls; and with it comes the second commandment, which is really identical to the first.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”-Matthew 22:39.

We provide a healthy diet for the body, mind, and soul by loving one another. We love by forgiving. With patience, we forgive. With faith, we learn patience. And we feed our faith with love, as we feed our souls with patience.

Impatience thinks only of tomorrow. Love exists right now, and now is all we really have. If we waste this moment, then we ruin the harmony of our souls, and what we’re rushing for in the first place: which is to get the most out of life.

Patience takes practice. We store food before the famine. If we wait until we’re swept up in the heat of the moment, if we learn nothing before the test, then we fail.

Learn now. Practice during easy moments: while waiting for coffee, or the stoplight. Inhale the moment. Exhale impatience for the next moment; it will come, and when it does, inhale it deeply. Love now with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living….”-Mark 12:27.

God lives here…now…in you, and in me, the tree, the rock, your desk, my lamp, the sky, the clouds, every animal and person, every smell, taste, color, texture, all emotions, actions, and thoughts. Everything. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is here. We are born again right now.

Patience sets us free from worrying about tomorrow. Forgiveness exhales the past, releasing us from guilt, anger, and judgments. Love knocks on the door…right now. Hear it? Open the door. That’s all we have to do.

Jesus began his ministry with a call to action, and a promise: the standard covenant of Christian life.

“…Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”-Matthew 4:17.

John the Baptist heralded the Lord’s coming with this same message.

“…Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”-Matthew 3:2.

To state their message plainly: Forgive and gain peace.

Without forgiveness, our mind struggles perpetually to obscure our guilt. We fight ourselves, when we don’t forgive ourselves; we fight each other, when we don’t forgive each other. Always fighting, never living.

Remember the forgiveness equation: Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness. Understand why someone did something wrong. We don’t have to agree with what they (or we) did. We just have to walk in their moccasins, and then accept it. It’s real. It happened. Accept it.

We all have our own personal covenant. Specifics vary. But that’s the standard for our side of our agreement with life, with God.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace….”-John 16:33.

Just as God sent Moses to free his people from slavery to Egypt, God sent Jesus to free us from sin. Or, more precisely, Jesus’ teachings promise us that if we forgive, or show mercy, compassion, any form of love, then we gain all aspects of love.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”-John 14:20.

One small seed carries within itself the infinite tree of peace of mind. One part contains the blueprint for the whole.

Within that seed lies the kingdom of heaven.

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field.”-Matthew 13:31.

My next-door neighbor, a very kind, widowed, elderly woman, loves puzzles. Her favorites are of 500 pieces. She saves the most beautiful of them-a tabby cat sleeping on a colorful quilt, a waterfall surrounded by a verdant forest, a flower field stretching into the distance-and frames them.

I asked her how she put together something so complicated, requiring so much patience. Her answer, with a wise, mischievous twinkle: “One piece at a time.”

We understand love this way. God reveals His will this way. We realize our potential, our capacity for good, and are reborn, reaching the kingdom of heaven, this way.

The mustard seed grows, from a seemingly insignificant grain, to a three-feet wide, twelve-feet tall tree. One seed, one puzzle piece, one act of good will; one small display of affection, to someone who feels unworthy; one nudge toward hope, for someone teetering on the edge of hopelessness: The seed grows this way.

“Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”-Matthew 13:32.

All things start small: A great basketball player picks up a ball, and awkwardly dribbles it for the first time; a single blade of grass sprouts in a barren field, and heralds a sea of green; a future married couple meets and greets each other, and share a smile that becomes a lifetime; my neighbor chooses one puzzle piece, and places it on her table.

How do these things happen? Faith. Everything takes time. And as we wait, we must have faith.

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”-James 2:14.

As we wait, and exercise our patience, allowing our faith to guide us, our works determine the fruit of our seeds. The awkward dribbler becomes a great basketball player by learning the game, and practicing it; the single blade of grass becomes the Great Plains with rainfall and good soil; if the future married couple spend their first dates arguing and sneering at each other, they won’t fall in love.

We accomplish faith’s purpose, the miracle of patience, by our works: one dribble at a time, one blade of grass, one smile, one kind act, one puzzle piece at a time.

A watched pot never boils. Why? Because the water boils by God’s will, not ours. Let God’s work be done, but also, we must do what we can to show our love and patience, with understanding and reverence for all.

“For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.”-Luke 6:44.

The journey determines the destination. We might think it’s the other way around, that the destination limits how we get there. But since we don’t know the future, or have any idea where we’re going, and all we have is now, the successive series of now moments determines the result. The tree’s fruit depends on what we plant, and how we care for that which we sowed.

“And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”-Luke 17:6.

Faith works the miracle of mindfulness.

The child plays for the love of the game; the single blade of grass cannot control the growth of the field; we enjoy the first date by focusing on nothing else; my neighbor places the second puzzle piece on her table, not bothered that it is unconnected (at the moment) to the first.

Love every moment. That is life. Everything else derives from the nature of our love. In order for our seed to grow, we must allow for, and enable it to grow. The result is that everyone, all the birds of the air, feel our love and patience.

This parable reminds me of one of Daniel’s beautiful dreams.

“Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. / The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: / The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.”-Daniel 4:10-12.

With forgiveness, we plant the seed in a field made barren by our shame and anger. This is the beginning, which is rebirth, seeing with new eyes.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

Our forgiveness gives birth to our faith. With faith, our patience grows.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

With patience comes the first dribble, the first blade of grass, the first smile, the first puzzle piece. And with the first step, darkness gives way to light.

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”-John 1:4.

When we work with the soil, and the seasons (instead of against nature), accepting the rain, preparing for the famine, the seed sprouts.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”-James 2:26.

If we sit back and do nothing, our faith dies in its infancy. Only by forgiveness will our seed grow. This is our call to action, our side of the covenant.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”–Revelation 3:20.

With our love, we open the door, keeping our side of the agreement. The rest is glorious, miraculous. Our eyes see the coming of the Lord. Our tree grows. When the birds see how our tree offers sweet life, instead of bitter hatred, they nest in our branches.

When the animals see shade beneath our tree, instead of more heat, more hate, they rest with us. They lower their defenses, and learn to forgive by our example.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and [reverence].”-1 Peter 3:15.

Jesus is our shepherd. And as the sheep of his flock, we shepherd others. This is ministry. This is how we further our works, by showing others that they have the seed to plant their own tree. In this way, they create their covenant with God.

One seed grows more seeds. With each, the process renews itself; we are born again; they are reborn. With every revelation, a new genesis occurs. Another tree sprouts beside ours, and another, until the field no longer lies barren, but shines with the light of life.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away….”-Revelation 21:1.

Our trees grow exponentially until all are of one root, one canopy. This is the great tree Daniel dreamed of, what Jesus promised. This is God’s part of our covenant.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”-Revelation 21:4.

This is what born again means. And all it takes is one small seed.

Plant yours today. Forgive. Have faith. Spread the word through your actions. Keep your side of the bargain, and God will keep His.

(This one is a little long. For a speedy reading, start with part 1, part 2, and part 3. Peace be with you.)

Every day God tests us, and offers us the chance to be born again: If we fail, and yet repent, we get another test; if we pass, yet sin again, we get another test; if we pass, and stay true to Jesus’ teachings, then we gain access to more difficult tests-with every one of these, we are born again.

When we succeed, we enter the Promised Land. And with every success, we conquer another city, another weakness. When we fail, we wander in the wilderness, until we pass…over the Jordan river, into a land flowing with milk and honey.

Before we pass over, and see Heaven as Jesus described it, we must pause and acknowledge God’s glory: For Moses failed that test, and the Lord refused him access. We must learn from Moses, then we move forward.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

We are reborn, with a new purpose and perspective, when we seek to please God. But how can we know His will?

He placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the center of Eden (Genesis 3:3), where Adam and Eve couldn’t miss it. He made all creatures (Genesis 1:25), and so He made the serpent. He knows the future (Isaiah 45:11), and, therefore, knew they ate the fruit. Why punish them when He made them and their desires (Exodus 14:17)?

The Old Testament confronts us, again and again, with God’s inexplicable will.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”-Isaiah 55:8.

To understand, we must accept that we’re unable to understand.

Humility is paramount. Remember Moses and the burning bush.

“And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”-Exodus 3:5.

If we insist, persist in our self-important ways, then we fail to acknowledge everyone else: Life becomes (and has become) a pointless, endless battle of wills, wherein we insist that others believe as we do. Many paths exist to the right answer, but there is only one answer.

Love is the answer, and love is God’s will.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:35.

When we fail to receive and share love, then we sin: Party A shows love; party B chooses whether or not to acknowledge it. Round and round. Forever. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel failed in both receiving and sharing God’s will; taking this as an allegory, we are the Israelites. What happened to them is now happening to us.

“Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; / Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”-Numbers 14:22, 23.

Glorify God: Acknowledge His will, praise His love. When someone says, I love you, we say, I love you too. When we see the Lord’s glory, and witness miracles, when we’re saved from slavery to sin, deafness to mercy, or blindness to suffering, be thankful.

Ten lepers approached Jesus, and begged to be healed.

“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. / And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God.”-Luke 17:14, 15.

Only one of the cured, the saved acknowledged the miracle, thanking God.

Whatever happens, it is love: God’s will, a miracle. We misunderstand what miracles are. We misunderstand everything when we live by our own will. We think of miracles as being out of the ordinary, which is true, to an extent; they are beyond our capabilities.

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”-Luke 1:37.

His ways are not our ways. But if we start with love, and stay mindful of how to share and receive it, and understand that we do not understand, then our blind eyes see.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”-John 3:19

We don’t want to be healed, because healing requires work, and admitting we were wrong. We’d rather follow our own limited understanding, even if that means wandering in the wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land of milk and honey. This is our pride, which is a lie; humility is true wisdom.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

Pride blinds us and leads us astray. We are so turned around, and lost in the wilderness, we can no longer find our way. Like the Pharisees in the Gospels, we fail to recognize our savior.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”-John 1:11.

The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? / Jesus saith unto him, I am the way….”-John 14:5, 6.

When we fail the tests, and lose our sense of direction, we lose hope, which happened to the children of Israel.

“Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards…. // And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.”-Numbers 16:14; 20:5.

Patience isn’t waiting; it’s how we act while we wait.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

Patience is our faith in God, ourselves, and each other. Patience is our greatest test, because only when we suffer from fatigue and frustration do we see ourselves at our worst; and our best can only be known when we’re at our worst.

After they failed ten times, and God punished them by making them wander for 40 years, the Israelites failed again. Instead of correcting their weak points, as we do in school, they refused to study, and failed again.

We only get so many do-overs. Our tests are meant to prepare us for a greater trial: This is God’s mercy, and promise to not give us more than we can handle. But when we meet our ultimate test unprepared, because we didn’t study after flunking each daily quiz, the result is catastrophic. God doesn’t punish us so much as we punish ourselves. Jesus doesn’t condemn us, rather, we condemn ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

One ultimate trial leads to another, and another. If we fail to understand arithmetic, then we can’t do algebra. And if we don’t understand multiplication, then we can’t do trigonometry. Without algebra and trigonometry, we’re unable to understand calculus. Eventually, we flunk out of the math program.

Such a catastrophe came upon Moses and the Israelites.

“But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in the wilderness.”-Numbers 14:32.

They failed too many times, pushed God too far. Failures multiply, just as successes do.

Remember, God placed his power in Moses’ staff.

“And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.”-Exodus 4:17.

With that staff, Moses used God’s power to turn Egypt’s water into blood, part the Red Sea, and so on.

With the Israelites once again complaining, demanding water, even after God sentenced them to 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai (that is, Sin), Moses took his ultimate, final test; all others led to this one. Everything he saw, heard, and accomplished came down to one decisive moment.

And he failed.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”-Numbers 20:7, 8.

There is no nourishment in the valley of the shadow of death, except love.

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

Jesus is the living water, the miracle manna, the pillar of fire guiding us at night, and the cloud leading us by day.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”-Exodus 13:21.

Believing Jesus is the bread of life is not enough. Anyone can believe anything, or claim they do.

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”-Matthew 15:8.

I know, at the end of Mark, we’re told….

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”-Mark 16:16.

But Mark’s gospel is the only one to end with such a simplified summary of Jesus. In the others, Jesus tells his apostles, and us, to do as He did, to share and teach what He taught.

“…freely ye have received, freely give.”-Matthew 10:8.

So we can’t stop with Mark. After all, what does it mean to believe? How are we saved? By what means are we damned? If we follow our own interpretation, if we make up our own minds as to the definitions of these crucial concepts, then, even in our supposed piety, we’ve sinned-because we’ve followed our will, not God’s.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? / And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”-Matthew 7:22, 23.

Jesus warns us here about our beliefs: They mean nothing without love in our hearts, and the actions to share our love.

“And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”-Luke 8:21.

.This is how Moses failed his final test, and why God refused him access to the Promised Land. He failed in his actions. His pride conquered his humility.

The greatest of us fail to do God’s will, which is to love one another: Adam, who was the son of God (Luke 3:38) followed his own will, and Eve’s; King David sent a good, honest man on a suicide mission, killing him, to satisfy David’s adulterous lust for that man’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3, 15, 24); Sampson betrayed his Nazarite oath (Numbers 6:2-21; Judges 13:4, 5; 16:17); and Jacob, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), tricked his brother (Genesis 25:33) and father (Genesis 27:19); Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We don’t think too highly of Judas, of course, but he was one of the twelve.

Everything is God’s will; accept that, and, thereby, answer all your questions.

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”-Luke 12:2.

Solomon was born of the illicit union between David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon’s forbidden affair and marriage (Dueteronomy 7:1, 3) with an Ammorite Princess, Naamah, produced their son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21).

“And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, none shall open.”-Isaiah 22:22.

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, descended from Rehoboam (Matthew 1:7, 16). So if David and Solomon had not defied God’s will, then we would be without Jesus. If Jacob had not been so sneaky, crafty, and full of deceit, then we would be without the twelve tribes of Israel, and, again, without Jesus.

How can the ultimate good come from lies, murder, and adultery? All we can do is look to the Bible.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

God is so much more than all of us, throughout all time, have ever dreamed.

“…he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”-Matthew 5:45.

God created evil: We can’t blame it on “the Devil.” What’s more, God loves evil people, and good people.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”-John 10:10.

Jesus came for all of us, but especially for the lost sheep. His love for us is God’s love, which exists for all: the whole world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”-John 3:16.

Nevertheless, Judgment Day comes. We judge and condemn ourselves by our actions, that is, whether or not we share and acknowledge love.

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? / And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”-Numbers 20:10, 11.

Did you catch it? Did you see Moses’ mistake? Read it again.

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

He made a joke; that’s all. He never did anything wrong. He angered God a little, at the beginning, by the burning bush.

Like Jonah, Moses didn’t want to accept his calling.

What if you heard a voice from a burning bush, which wasn’t consumed by the flame, telling you to rescue an entire nation from (at the time) the greatest military power on earth? He kept saying, I can’t do it; it won’t work; I can’t even talk right.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well….”-Exodus 4:14.

But, afterwards, he did every crazy thing God wanted him to do.

God loved Moses.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”-Exodus 33:11.

Face to face! No other prophet could claim such a thing. Moses is the ultimate hero of the Jews and the Old Testament. So what went wrong?

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”-Numbers 20:12.

Did you catch it? Did you understand what God said, and what Moses did wrong?

The truth is very simple, once we accept it. And acceptance is essential to being born again, because, with it, we love what we don’t understand.

Acceptance comes from humility, without which we’d be unable to enter the Promised Land, and follow God’s will by loving one another.

Remember the ten lepers.

Why do we say, I love you too, when someone says they love us?

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, and plague Egypt?

“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”-Exodus 9:16.

Why did Jesus wait two days, after hearing that Lazarus was sick and dying? Indeed, Jesus waited until Lazarus died, before saving him. Why?

“…This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”-John 11:4

And why did Jesus come at all?

“…If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”-John 14:23.

He came to teach us to accept and share love, to praise God, and acknowledge that His will was done, which is Bible shorthand for us sharing love.

Having love in our hearts means nothing, if we don’t share it. Believing in Jesus means nothing, if we don’t follow his teachings. Saying, Thy will be done, means very little if we don’t also stop and see His miracles, accept His will, and understand it is good.

“.…and God saw that it was good.”-Genesis 1:10.

We acknowledge God’s will by doing God’s will. And we do God’s will by loving every one and every thing.

Therefore, if we hate each other, or we’re indifferent, unmoved by suffering, then we aren’t returning the love that God gives freely.

If we take credit for what God did, which was Moses’ big mistake, then we have not only failed to acknowledge the Lord, but have failed to witness and minister that supreme love to others.

The Father gave this work to His Son.

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”-John 17:4.

Like the children of Israel, Jesus’ story is an allegory for our lives.

“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

If the Israelites are an allegory for us, and Jesus is our model, our example of how to live with and love one another….

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”-John 13:15.

…Then we are God’s firstborn. Or, perhaps, rather, He loves us that much. And what is God, but everything, the entire universe? When everything says they love us, how do we respond? I love you, too.

This response is praise, glorification, acceptance, and humility, in knowing that the vast, mind-bogglingly huge universe loves us; and all It requires is that we don’t praise ourselves, but return love to It, by sharing love with everything.

Like the Pharisee (in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican), Moses praised himself, and Aaron-who was also denied entrance into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:24). Since Jesus, Moses, and the Israelites are all meant to be our examples, the work that the Father gave the Son is the work that Jesus gives to us.

Every day God tests us with more work to do. He does this out of love, to prepare us, strengthen us for our greater trials. Think of them as “pop quizzes.”

“Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”-Luke 12:40.

Our best is only as good as our worst. Fatigue and frustration often accompany Judgment Day. And at such times, we are at our worst. When we are tired, we tend to be more honest, even brutally so. Our defenses collapse, our well-meaning intentions vanish, and what’s left is not what we wish to be, or what we’re supposed to be, but what we truly are.

Not a pretty picture. But Jesus loves the truth. I am the truth, He said. God loves us for who we are. He loves the thief and the murderer, the publican, prostitutes, Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, Buddhists, black, brown, yellow, white, and so on: everything.

He loves us when we are born again, and when we’re not ready. Perhaps, the reason why we’re unable to understand God’s will is because we can’t comprehend, or act on, such all-embracing love.

“ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”-Matthew 5:48.

Jesus said we could understand such love, eventually. But it takes a lot of work. We possess a natural, instinctual love. If we refuse to work on it, if we ignore it, then the “talent” remains in its infant stage.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”-Matthew 13:12.

But if we use that talent, it grows.

So here is the challenge, the key to the door, the narrow path that leads to Paradise, being born again, the Kingdom of Heaven:

When God says, I love you: Stop, feel that love all the way down to your soul; know that love sometimes plagues us, like with Pharaoh in Egypt, but it is still love, which is the greatest gift-because we receive love by sharing it. So stop, and say, I love you, too.

And sing along with King David:

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”-Psalm 40:8.

We must learn from our mistakes, accept our sin, even if it means we never get to pass over the Jordan. Learn from Moses:

“I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.”-Deuteronomy 3:25.

The best of us sin; and our greatest repent. Repentance is the key that opens the door.

“Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.”-John 10:7.

God forgave Moses, and granted his last request. He led Moses to the top of a mountain.

“And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.”-Deuteronomy 34:4.

Old, frail, exhausted, traumatized, on the line between wilderness and paradise, Moses gazed at what he’d given his life for, so that others could be born again.

What did he see?

He saw a mustard seed grow into a huge tree, in which everyone, all the birds of the air, nested and made their abodes.

He saw leaven, which no one else could see, ferment and work its way through dough: invisible, inexorable.

He saw hidden treasure in an abandoned field, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy the field and gain the treasure.

He saw the largest, most luxurious pearl, shining, gleaming, a sun unto itself, and a man who sold everything he owned, to buy that pearl.

He saw a massive wheat field, with weeds intermingled, attempting to choke the life out of the wheat; and the harvesters separated the wheat from the chaff, tossing the weeds into the furnace.

He saw a great net, pulled through the waters, through the milk and honey, gathering good fish and bad fish; the fishermen kept the useful, and threw the useless back into the deep, the wilderness of waters.

He saw a great feast, to which everyone who’d been invited, refused to attend. And so the poor were brought in, the maimed, the sinners, publicans, prostitutes, murderers, all who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, but whom, to the human eye, were lost and hopeless.

He saw the owner of a vineyard leave his garden to workers, sending messengers to collect what was owed; and the workers stoned one, tossed another off a cliff; and then the owner sent his son, but the workers crucified him, seeking to gain the inheritance for themselves.

He saw “…the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”-Mark 13:26.

He saw the Kingdom of Heaven. And so will you. Amen.

(This is the second part of a larger essay. If you missed part 1 go here. Or if you want the complete version, go here.)

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”-Numbers 20:7, 8.

There is no nourishment in the valley of the shadow of death, except love.

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

Jesus is the living water, the miracle manna, the pillar of fire guiding us at night, and the cloud leading us by day.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”-Exodus 13:21.

Believing Jesus is the bread of life is not enough. Anyone can believe anything, or claim they do.

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”-Matthew 15:8.

I know, at the end of Mark, we’re told….

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”-Mark 16:16.

But Mark’s gospel is the only one to end with such a simplified summary of Jesus. In the others, Jesus tells his apostles, and us, to do as He did, to share and teach what He taught.

“…freely ye have received, freely give.”-Matthew 10:8.

So we can’t stop with Mark. After all, what does it mean to believe? How are we saved? By what means are we damned? If we follow our own interpretation, if we make up our own minds as to the definitions of these crucial concepts, then, even in our supposed piety, we’ve sinned-because we’ve followed our will, not God’s.

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? / And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”-Matthew 7:22, 23.

Jesus warns us here about our beliefs: They mean nothing without love in our hearts, and the actions to share our love.

“And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”-Luke 8:21.

.This is how Moses failed his final test, and why God refused him access to the Promised Land. He failed in his actions. His pride conquered his humility.

The greatest of us fail to do God’s will, which is to love one another: Adam, who was the son of God (Luke 3:38) followed his own will, and Eve’s; King David sent a good, honest man on a suicide mission, killing him, to satisfy David’s adulterous lust for that man’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3, 15, 24); Sampson betrayed his Nazarite oath (Numbers 6:2-21; Judges 13:4, 5; 16:17); and Jacob, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), tricked his brother (Genesis 25:33) and father (Genesis 27:19); Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We don’t think too highly of Judas, of course, but he was one of the twelve.

Everything is God’s will; accept that, and, thereby, answer all your questions.

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”-Luke 12:2.

Solomon was born of the illicit union between David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon’s forbidden affair and marriage (Dueteronomy 7:1, 3) with an Ammorite Princess, Naamah, produced their son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21).

“And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, none shall open.”-Isaiah 22:22.

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, descended from Rehoboam (Matthew 1:7, 16). So if David and Solomon had not defied God’s will, then we would be without Jesus. If Jacob had not been so sneaky, crafty, and full of deceit, then we would be without the twelve tribes of Israel, and, again, without Jesus.

How can the ultimate good come from lies, murder, and adultery? All we can do is look to the Bible.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

God is so much more than all of us, throughout all time, have ever dreamed.

“…he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”-Matthew 5:45.

God created evil: We can’t blame it on “the Devil.” What’s more, God loves evil people, and good people.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”-John 10:10.

Jesus came for all of us, but especially for the lost sheep. His love for us is God’s love, which exists for all: the whole world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”-John 3:16.

Nevertheless, Judgment Day comes. We judge and condemn ourselves by our actions, that is, whether or not we share and acknowledge love.

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? / And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”-Numbers 20:10, 11.

Did you catch it? Did you see Moses’ mistake? Read it again.

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

He made a joke; that’s all. He never did anything wrong. He angered God a little, at the beginning, by the burning bush.

Like Jonah, Moses didn’t want to accept his calling.

What if you heard a voice from a burning bush, which wasn’t consumed by the flame, telling you to rescue an entire nation from (at the time) the greatest military power on earth? He kept saying, I can’t do it; it won’t work; I can’t even talk right.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well….”-Exodus 4:14.

But, afterwards, he did every crazy thing God wanted him to do.

God loved Moses.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”-Exodus 33:11.

Face to face! No other prophet could claim such a thing. Moses is the ultimate hero of the Jews and the Old Testament. So what went wrong?

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”-Numbers 20:12.

Did you catch it? Did you understand what God said, and what Moses did wrong?

The truth is very simple, once we accept it. And acceptance is essential to being born again, because, with it, we love what we don’t understand.

(To be continued in part 3.)

(This is the third part of a larger essay. For Part 1, go here; Part 2, here. For the complete version, go here.)

When the wind is boisterous, and we’re distracted by thunder and lightning, we fail the test of faith; we fail each other, ourselves, and all life.

But faith allows us, even if for just a moment, to do what only God can do: to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and walk on water.

If we stay mindful, strong in the face of utter ruin, then we can call out, as Peter did: Lord, save me!

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught [Peter], and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”-Matthew 14:31.

Here, Jesus states plainly the opposite nature of faith and doubt. Since faith leads to God (which is everything), then doubt leads to selfishness (which denies everything).

Keep in mind, there is worthwhile doubt, and there is foolish doubt. Remember Solomon’s wisdom.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Doubt is necessary to increase wisdom and knowledge. Without it, we’d live only with the “common sense” of our early childhood. We waste the day, when we don’t challenge our faith. Challenge brings growth; complacency dooms us to stagnation.

We need faith for what we don’t know, what we’re unable to know. Once something is provable, then we no longer require faith. But when something is infinite, when history, common sense, and the scientific method provide only shallow answers, then we’re on our own. Then, we remember what Jesus told Jairus, whose daughter had just died.

“…Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.”-Luke 8:50.

When the storm thrashes our small boat, and our weakness and mortality becomes evident, then we cry out as Peter did.

Lord, save me!

Know when to doubt, and when to have faith. We need faith when we know the present nature of something, but when we don’t know the future of it.

Faith is ignorance of the future, when that future might harm us.

Our ignorance of how or why we might suffer causes anxiety, depression, anger, and hopelessness. This is another reason for Christianity. Only God knows the future.

“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”-Isaiah 42:9.

Faith reconciles us with the unknown. We still don’t know when we’ll sink beneath the frothing waves, but we have faith in what we know of Jesus. We have faith that God is only absent if we exclude Him.

We know the thunder and lightning will come; we will be crucified upside down; and we’ll drive nails into helping hands. Our only salvation is the willingness to seek, or else we’ll never find; we must have the humility to ask for love, or else it cannot be granted. All we have to do is knock, and Jesus opens the door.

His miracles require faith.

“And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”-Matthew 13:58.

Every single miracle that he accomplished was possible only because of the person’s faith.

“And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”-Mark 10:52.

Peter walked on water because of his faith, and he sank because of his doubt. This is the lesson he passed down to us.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”-Matthew 21:21.

Faith works miracles. We have faith when we are without doubt, and without fear.

We have faith in some one or some thing. We must know that in which we have faith. What we don’t know is the future.

Peter didn’t know what would happen when he stepped out of that boat. His common sense told him he would sink. But he had faith in Jesus, because he knew Jesus.

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? / And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. / And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. / And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”-Matthew 16:15-18.

Faith builds faith. And hate builds hate. Whatever we practice, we become. Peter’s faith began as a seed. It grew every time he used it, and it continued to grow because he never stopped using it.

This is how we quiet the storm: by allowing love into our boat.

“And when [Peter and Jesus] were come into the ship, the wind ceased.”-Matthew 14:32.

Love doesn’t spare us from suffering, since we need it to learn humility, but it does help us to endure our tribulations. We calm the inner storm, pacify our demons, when we accept God’s will.

Much is out of our hands, beyond our control, or even understanding. Without understanding, we stumble through our few, scant decades of life, never finding home or peace.

We can’t know ourselves unless we know our surroundings. But we can’t know the entirety of it all, anymore than a toenail knows its body.

Anxiety is the inevitable result of such astounding ignorance. Thus, we are never at peace. Our constant state of fight or flight frazzles our common sense, and logic, our ability to love and be loved.

The only answer comes to us in Peter’s three small words: Lord, save me! We can’t overcome the world, but Jesus can; he already has. So give to God what is God’s: fear, judgment, fate. And God will give to us what is ours: love and peace of mind.

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”-Matthew 14:33.

The story ends where it began. After all the apostles went through, they saw only Jesus controlling the weather, which must mean he’s the Son of God.

“…And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”-Luke 8:25.

The Jews believed their Messiah would be a warrior and conqueror, like King David.

“For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”-Psalm 122:5.

Enslaved many times, they gave up on saving themselves. God must burst into history, and destroy their enemies.

They called this “The Day of the Lord.” It was the Jewish apocalypse, a time of great upheaval between the sinful age of man, and the paradise that would follow.

“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! / For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”-Ezekiel 30:2, 3.

They believed this.

Interpretation is everything. Sometimes we must simplify what the Bible says, break it down to its basic components. God destroys the old world (and person), to make way for the new. This is how we are born again.

But what was the Psalmist saying? What did Ezekiel mean? We can’t possibly know, only interpret. “Satan” tempts us, tests our faith, by telling us we don’t need to just interpret, we must believe.

When we believe, we make up our own minds. And when we make up our own minds, we follow our will, not God’s. There is no faith when we follow our own will. Therefore, faith differs from belief.

We must know something about the object of our faith, and be ignorant only of its future ramifications. But to believe, we accept as true what we can’t possibly know. We know that we can’t know it, but kid ourselves into thinking that, if we exert our will, then we gain control. But we can’t gain control, any more than the toenail controls its body.

We can’t know the infinite ways of God. We can’t know who or what Jesus is, exactly. But it’s okay, because that’s not what faith is about.

What, then, do we know of Jesus?

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

And what do we know of God?

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”-1 John 4:8.

So what is the only thing we can know? The answer is love. The rest is faith. And when we accept that, we are born again.

(This is the second part of a larger essay. For Part 1, go here. For the complete version, go here.)

“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”-Matthew 14:27.

Jesus reminds us how fear destroys faith; likewise, therefore, faith destroys fear: They cannot exist simultaneously.

Fear and doubt usurp our will, invade our sovereign castle. When the battering ram crashes through our door, who cannot help but to shrink in terror? But, when or if we do, we lose our city, sacrifice ourselves.

Good cheer defends our gates. Happiness requires practice, forethought, preparation: all of which builds faith.

Learn from Noah. When did he build the ark? Before the rain.

“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”-Matthew 24:43.

We must prepare and watch for the storm. We know it will come, but we don’t know when. So, while the sun shines, gather your animals, and your family. Love your life; love the world and everything in it. This love is your ark.

We build faith, stockpile it, learn where it comes from, and how to summon it when fear and doubt threatens everything we’ve worked for.

“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”-Matthew 14:28.

Every tribulation presents a T-intersection, in which we must choose: left or right, do or do not, stand or fall, fear or faith, love or hate. We are so caught up in the moment, enraptured with our lives on the line, that we can’t control what we decide. This is purposeful, as the spur of the moment reveals our hearts.

Our decision occurs naturally, automatically: not so much a deliberate choice, but an honest reaction. Soldiers don’t know if they have courage, until the bullets fly. At that moment, the brave might flee, and the meek stand tall.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

“…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

If we don’t humble ourselves, God humbles us. He throws us in the furnace of affliction so we’ll know our worth, what’s in our hearts; so we know the truth. If we fake our happiness and courage, then our bravado abandons us at the first sign of trouble. But if we accept our weaknesses, then they become our strengths.

Exhausted and frightened, Peter reached out to his friend. When we choose love, we pass every test; but choose fear, and fail.

“And [Jesus] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”-Matthew 14:29.

“Come”: That was how Jesus called all the apostles.

“And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

Love invites us, but we choose to embrace it or not.

“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. / And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”-John 1:45, 46.

Our friends comfort us, but we choose to ask for their help, or not.

“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 without money and without price.”-Isaiah 55:1.

Sometimes our needs inconvenience people. I’ve been called “needy” and “high-maintenance.” We forget the hand that helped us, when our time comes to help. But it is never so with Jesus.

John the Baptist’s mother, Elisabeth, was the cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Luke 1:36). John and Jesus were family. When John died, Jesus not only mourned a family member, but was stricken with grief and horror, because Herod beheaded John.

Even so, after he prayed:

“…Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.”-Matthew 14:14.

And then he fed all 5,000 of them. Then he prayed all night, and walked on water, calling to Peter during the fourth watch. Jesus was (and is) never too tired or inconvenienced; he always has, and he always will, help and comfort.

As he quoted from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”-Luke 4:19.

This is the foundation of our faith in him.

I didn’t talk earlier about how Jesus walked on water. I wanted to postpone that discussion, until we got to Peter. Not since Moses parted the Red Sea, and the prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan river, has a human being performed a miracle; and these all had to do with water.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2.

Water is life: It composes about 60% of our bodies, and covers, roughly, 70% of the planet. And whatever is life, is God.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

That which makes us can also break us. Peter could drown, while answering the Lord’s call. So can we.

But without the tribulation of the cross, there is no resurrection of faith from sin; no guts, no glory.

The Roman Emperor, Nero, crucified Peter upside down. But, 300 years later, Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Without those events, it’s unlikely we would have Christianity today.

“[God] alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”-Job 9:8.

Love and forgiveness requires faith. And faith depends on our strength and courage. By stepping onto the water, Peter dared to go where only God had been before. He did this so we could know that walking in the Lord’s footsteps is possible.

I sometimes wonder if we mislabel Jesus’ “miracles.” With him being the Son of God, or God, then what he did was not out of the ordinary, i.e., not miraculous. Therefore, by walking on water, Peter performed the only miracle in the New Testament.

At least, for a moment….

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”-Matthew 14:30.

When we come to Jesus, when we reach out to others in the name of love, we risk everything. The rewards for feeling and sharing love are bountiful beyond imagination; but Christianity is not for the timid.

Humility makes us vulnerable. When someone needs love, chances are they aren’t feeling love; rather, they are angry, defensive, and weak. They deny their weakness by projecting that quality onto people who love them, and see their vulnerability as reason to attack and devour anyone who’d help them.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves….”-Matthew 10:16.

By attempting to save someone who is drowning, we risk being pulled down with them. That’s why there’s so much hate in the hearts of humanity today. That’s why the priest and the Levite passed by the man who’d been beaten and robbed: Only the bold and loving Samaritan risks everything for someone else.

Fortune favors the bold. But we must have courage and faith, knowing we could drown, be crucified upside down, beaten and robbed, left for dead, devoured by ravenous wolves.

Will you? Can you risk security and contentment for paradise?

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 10:27.

Christianity is not just a religion. It allows us to see what our own sight could never perceive, to hear what we don’t wish to hear, to look beyond ourselves to the world, and all the great infinity we call God, to accomplish the most wonderful miracle: loving everyone and everything.

But there is always doubt: faith’s adversary. The Hebrew word for adversary is “satan.” Peter’s doubt caused him to sink. Satan caused Judas to betray Jesus, and tempted Jesus in the wilderness, to abandon his ministry, and live only for his own desires.

“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”-Matthew 4:10.

Stay mindful. When you feel doubt, which often disguises itself as self-preservation, pray to the Lord to take that evil from you. In fear’s intoxication, doubt promises to save us. We’ll drown otherwise! Or so “Satan” tells us.

But if we surrender not to love, but to fear, then we lose our city. We think to defend ourselves, but our only defense is faith. And faith is understanding that love is the only way.

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me….”-Isaiah 45:5.

(To be continued in Part 3.)

(This is a big one. I suggest reading it in installments. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2, here; and Part 3, here. You can always return later, to the Contents link at the top of the page, and access each part by clicking on the main title, “Rock on Water.” May the Lord bless and keep you.)

Faith leads to God; without it we understand nothing. And without understanding, we cannot be born again. But, just as the love of the Lord is infinite, so are the possible paths to the kingdom of heaven: one for every one of us.

Many paths lead to the right answer, as my old math teacher told me, but there is only one right answer. The answer is love.

These essays are my personal covenant, written to help you understand yours. I learned this one from the apostle Peter, whose path illuminated my own, as I hope it will teach you the infinite nature of faith.

After he learned of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus went off by himself to pray. When he rejoined his apostles, he found a crowd of 5,000 hungry people waiting, starving for nourishment of the body and soul.

Jesus told his apostles to feed them, but they claimed they didn’t have enough, only a couple fish, and a few small loaves of bread. We also tend to think we don’t have enough faith, or patience, or strength to share our love.

But with such a meager amount, Jesus fed everyone. We can too.

For this miracle, the crowd wanted to make him king, the conquering warrior/Messiah, Son of David, and Son of Man whom the Jews always thought would come to rescue them from themselves.

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.”-Matthew 14:22.

He sent his apostles away in the boat, to spare them from this destructive influence. We can’t make Jesus into what we want; rather, he makes us into what he wants.

The children of Israel thought their savior, “God’s anointed”-the Greek word for which is Christ, and in Hebrew is Messiah-would come to conquer all other nations, and destroy the Gentiles. And so they didn’t recognize Jesus.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”-John 1:11.

The apostles’ journey across the Sea of Galilee was meant to teach them (and us) to remain open, so that we learn God’s will. This is the beginning of faith: the path to love.

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”-Matthew 14:23.

(Note that our story begins as the sun descended, and evening came.)

We learn God’s will through prayer. Here, Jesus teaches us to pray in between our dealings with others.

We minister in every interaction; whether we mean to or not, we teach others about the world, and humanity, and show them what to expect, or fear, or hope for. We drag them down, or pull them up. And they do the same for us.

We are all shepherds.

When we pray, we connect with God, humble ourselves to the universe. So, after prayer, we carry humility and good will to others.

“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”-James 5:15.

When others hurt us, we carry that pain to God. Like a mother kissing her child’s skinned knee, the Lord makes everything better. And when others uplift us, we share that joy and thankfulness in prayer.

God is all things: every drop of water, whether it soothes or drowns; every color and shape, pleasing and offensive; every person and animal, good and bad; light and darkness; violence and peace; Alpha and Omega.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

Everything, including pain, is a sign of God’s presence, which is synonymous with love. The mightiest, most destructive storm signifies the Lord: even if, like the apostles, we don’t realize it at the time.

“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”-Matthew 14:24.

This story foreshadows the apostles’ future, and ours. One-by-one, they would all be martyred, except for John, who (legend has it) escaped, or was exiled, to the Greek island of Patmos-where he wrote his Gospel and the Revelation.

We possess the Gospels because of their hardships. Without the bad, good would have no reason to exist. Faith allows us to understand this, by means of acceptance.

“And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. // And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”-Matthew 10:18, 22.

Love is not popular with sinful people, who see Jesus as a condemnation, an interruption, a threat. We are so focused on our own desires, that we deny others theirs. This creates tribulation.

However painful God’s lessons may be, they prepare us for harder times, and teach us endurance. He rewards our patience with a call for greater patience, and our endurance with a call for greater endurance.

“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”-Mark 4:25.

The more we learn, the more we’re capable of learning. And when we cease to learn, then we forget what we once knew.

The same is true of faith. Practice makes perfect.

We often wonder why bad things happen to good people: These are tests, meant to hone our natural strength, patience, and endurance.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”-Romans 5:3.

Hard times are not the absence of God, who is everything. The Lord knows that we will face greater and deadlier storms, and will not give us more than we can handle, without training us first: hence, tribulation.

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”-Isaiah 48:10.

Hard times aren’t an accident; nor are they punishment, or our guardian angels asleep at the wheel. We learn strength and patience through tribulation; and we specifically need those qualities to follow God’s will.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

The storm helps us weather future cataclysmic events. Rejoice, but be warned; as contrary as those winds are, they are penny ante compared to what’s coming.

“Fear thou not; For I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”-Isaiah 41:10.

Just as the Lord brought the test, and guided us through temptation, so will His love nurture us through our own personal Judgment Day.

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.”-Matthew 14:25.

The Romans occupied Israel during Jesus’ time. They divided the night into four watches of three hours each, from 6 pm until 6 am. The fourth watch was from 3 am until 6 am.

This storm was no 5-minute cloud burst. The apostles entered the boat in the early evening, when Jesus prayed alone on the mountain. So they persevered through harsh winds and rain all night.

Perseverance builds faith.

We must note that, at the end of the fourth watch, the cock crows. This story foreshadows Peter’s great faith in following Jesus after his arrest, when all the other apostles ran away; and it also shows how Peter’s faith collapsed, when he denied Jesus.

“…And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. / And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”-Luke 22:61, 62.

Sometimes we fail, even when the Lord prepares us: when we’re given the answers to the test, so to speak. Keep in mind, the tests never end. The point isn’t whether we pass or fail, but that we grow stronger, learn patience, and thereby, increase our faith.

“And the Lord said, [Peter], behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: / But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”-Luke 22:31, 32.

Though Peter failed these tests, through the practice of faith, his humiliation strengthened him. And with that strength and humility, he led the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion, restoring their hearts and courage.

We learn God’s will, when we accept it, and submit ourselves to it. But that is no easy task. First, we must be brought low as a result of our own will, and totally defeated, so we learn humility.

Only when we are at our worst does our best manifest itself. Only when we accept our humanity, can we worship the true Lord of all things.

That is why Paul wrote, “we glory in tribulations.” That is why bad things happen to good people. Peter knew how depressed and terrified the apostles were after Jesus’ crucifixion, because he, too, had tasted defeat.

“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.”-Matthew 14:26.

Tribulation causes doubt and fear. These, in turn, challenge and destroy our faith. Just when we need love the most, when the wind is contrary, when we can confirm or deny God, we lose faith. We get caught up in the moment, and forget all our best intentions.

Christianity reminds us of human nature. Jesus knew Peter would deny him, and Judas would betray him. He didn’t pray against human weakness, but with it in mind. He asked God to strengthen Peter, help him recover.

If not for Peter’s conversion, the strength of which came from his failures of faith, we would not have Christianity today. He not only led the apostles, but the early church, as well. And, like Jesus, he teaches us still.

“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”-Matthew 14:27.

Jesus reminds us how fear destroys faith; likewise, therefore, faith destroys fear: They cannot exist simultaneously.

Fear and doubt usurp our will, invade our sovereign castle. When the battering ram crashes through our door, who cannot help but to shrink in terror? But, when or if we do, we lose our city, sacrifice ourselves.

Good cheer defends our gates. Happiness requires practice, forethought, preparation: all of which builds faith.

Learn from Noah. When did he build the ark? Before the rain.

“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”-Matthew 24:43.

We must prepare and watch for the storm. We know it will come, but we don’t know when. So, while the sun shines, gather your animals, and your family. Love your life; love the world and everything in it. This love is your ark.

We build faith, stockpile it, learn where it comes from, and how to summon it when fear and doubt threatens everything we’ve worked for.

“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”-Matthew 14:28.

Every tribulation presents a T-intersection, in which we must choose: left or right, do or do not, stand or fall, fear or faith, love or hate. We are so caught up in the moment, enraptured with our lives on the line, that we can’t control what we decide. This is purposeful, as the spur of the moment reveals our hearts.

Our decision occurs naturally, automatically: not so much a deliberate choice, but an honest reaction. Soldiers don’t know if they have courage, until the bullets fly. At that moment, the brave might flee, and the meek stand tall.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

“…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

If we don’t humble ourselves, God humbles us. He throws us in the furnace of affliction so we’ll know our worth, what’s in our hearts; so we know the truth. If we fake our happiness and courage, then our bravado abandons us at the first sign of trouble. But if we accept our weaknesses, then they become our strengths.

Exhausted and frightened, Peter reached out to his friend. When we choose love, we pass every test; but choose fear, and fail.

“And [Jesus] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”-Matthew 14:29.

“Come”: That was how Jesus called all the apostles.

“And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

Love invites us, but we choose to embrace it or not.

“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. / And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”-John 1:45, 46.

Our friends comfort us, but we choose to ask for their help, or not.

“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 without money and without price.”-Isaiah 55:1.

Sometimes our needs inconvenience people. I’ve been called “needy” and “high-maintenance.” We forget the hand that helped us, when our time comes to help. But it is never so with Jesus.

John the Baptist’s mother, Elisabeth, was the cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Luke 1:36). John and Jesus were family. When John died, Jesus not only mourned a family member, but was stricken with grief and horror, because Herod beheaded John.

Even so, after he prayed:

“…Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.”-Matthew 14:14.

And then he fed all 5,000 of them. Then he prayed all night, and walked on water, calling to Peter during the fourth watch. Jesus was (and is) never too tired or inconvenienced; he always has, and he always will, help and comfort.

As he quoted from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”-Luke 4:19.

This is the foundation of our faith in him.

I didn’t talk earlier about how Jesus walked on water. I wanted to postpone that discussion, until we got to Peter. Not since Moses parted the Red Sea, and the prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan river, has a human being performed a miracle; and these all had to do with water.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2.

Water is life: It composes about 60% of our bodies, and covers, roughly, 70% of the planet. And whatever is life, is God.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

That which makes us can also break us. Peter could drown, while answering the Lord’s call. So can we.

But without the tribulation of the cross, there is no resurrection of faith from sin; no guts, no glory.

The Roman Emperor, Nero, crucified Peter upside down. But, 300 years later, Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Without those events, it’s unlikely we would have Christianity today.

“[God] alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”-Job 9:8.

Love and forgiveness requires faith. And faith depends on our strength and courage. By stepping onto the water, Peter dared to go where only God had been before. He did this so we could know that walking in the Lord’s footsteps is possible.

I sometimes wonder if we mislabel Jesus’ “miracles.” With him being the Son of God, or God, then what he did was not out of the ordinary, i.e., not miraculous. Therefore, by walking on water, Peter performed the only miracle in the New Testament.

At least, for a moment….

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”-Matthew 14:30.

When we come to Jesus, when we reach out to others in the name of love, we risk everything. The rewards for feeling and sharing love are bountiful beyond imagination; but Christianity is not for the timid.

Humility makes us vulnerable. When someone needs love, chances are they aren’t feeling love; rather, they are angry, defensive, and weak. They deny their weakness by projecting that quality onto people who love them, and see their vulnerability as reason to attack and devour anyone who’d help them.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves….”-Matthew 10:16.

By attempting to save someone who is drowning, we risk being pulled down with them. That’s why there’s so much hate in the hearts of humanity today. That’s why the priest and the Levite passed by the man who’d been beaten and robbed: Only the bold and loving Samaritan risks everything for someone else.

Fortune favors the bold. But we must have courage and faith, knowing we could drown, be crucified upside down, beaten and robbed, left for dead, devoured by ravenous wolves.

Will you? Can you risk security and contentment for paradise?

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 10:27.

Christianity is not just a religion. It allows us to see what our own sight could never perceive, to hear what we don’t wish to hear, to look beyond ourselves to the world, and all the great infinity we call God, to accomplish the most wonderful miracle: loving everyone and everything.

But there is always doubt: faith’s adversary. The Hebrew word for adversary is “satan.” Peter’s doubt caused him to sink. Satan caused Judas to betray Jesus, and tempted Jesus in the wilderness, to abandon his ministry, and live only for his own desires.

“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”-Matthew 4:10.

Stay mindful. When you feel doubt, which often disguises itself as self-preservation, pray to the Lord to take that evil from you. In fear’s intoxication, doubt promises to save us. We’ll drown otherwise! Or so “Satan” tells us.

But if we surrender not to love, but to fear, then we lose our city. We think to defend ourselves, but our only defense is faith. And faith is understanding that love is the only way.

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me….”-Isaiah 45:5.

When the wind is boisterous, and we’re distracted by thunder and lightning, we fail the test of faith; we fail each other, ourselves, and all life.

But faith allows us, even if for just a moment, to do what only God can do: to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and walk on water.

If we stay mindful, strong in the face of utter ruin, then we can call out, as Peter did: Lord, save me!

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught [Peter], and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”-Matthew 14:31.

Here, Jesus states plainly the opposite nature of faith and doubt. Since faith leads to God (which is everything), then doubt leads to selfishness (which denies everything).

Keep in mind, there is worthwhile doubt, and there is foolish doubt. Remember Solomon’s wisdom.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Doubt is necessary to increase wisdom and knowledge. Without it, we’d live only with the “common sense” of our early childhood. We waste the day, when we don’t challenge our faith. Challenge brings growth; complacency dooms us to stagnation.

We need faith for what we don’t know, what we’re unable to know. Once something is provable, then we no longer require faith. But when something is infinite, when history, common sense, and the scientific method provide only shallow answers, then we’re on our own. Then, we remember what Jesus told Jairus, whose daughter had just died.

“…Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.”-Luke 8:50.

When the storm thrashes our small boat, and our weakness and mortality becomes evident, then we cry out as Peter did.

Lord, save me!

Know when to doubt, and when to have faith. We need faith when we know the present nature of something, but when we don’t know the future of it.

Faith is ignorance of the future, when that future might harm us.

Our ignorance of how or why we might suffer causes anxiety, depression, anger, and hopelessness. This is another reason for Christianity. Only God knows the future.

“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”-Isaiah 42:9.

Faith reconciles us with the unknown. We still don’t know when we’ll sink beneath the frothing waves, but we have faith in what we know of Jesus. We have faith that God is only absent if we exclude Him.

We know the thunder and lightning will come; we will be crucified upside down; and we’ll drive nails into helping hands. Our only salvation is the willingness to seek, or else we’ll never find; we must have the humility to ask for love, or else it cannot be granted. All we have to do is knock, and Jesus opens the door.

His miracles require faith.

“And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”-Matthew 13:58.

Every single miracle that he accomplished was possible only because of the person’s faith.

“And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”-Mark 10:52.

Peter walked on water because of his faith, and he sank because of his doubt. This is the lesson he passed down to us.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”-Matthew 21:21.

Faith works miracles. We have faith when we are without doubt, and without fear.

We have faith in some one or some thing. We must know that in which we have faith. What we don’t know is the future.

Peter didn’t know what would happen when he stepped out of that boat. His common sense told him he would sink. But he had faith in Jesus, because he knew Jesus.

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? / And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. / And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. / And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”-Matthew 16:15-18.

Faith builds faith. And hate builds hate. Whatever we practice, we become. Peter’s faith began as a seed. It grew every time he used it, and it continued to grow because he never stopped using it.

This is how we quiet the storm: by allowing love into our boat.

“And when [Peter and Jesus] were come into the ship, the wind ceased.”-Matthew 14:32.

Love doesn’t spare us from suffering, since we need it to learn humility, but it does help us to endure our tribulations. We calm the inner storm, pacify our demons, when we accept God’s will.

Much is out of our hands, beyond our control, or even understanding. Without understanding, we stumble through our few, scant decades of life, never finding home or peace.

We can’t know ourselves unless we know our surroundings. But we can’t know the entirety of it all, anymore than a toenail knows its body.

Anxiety is the inevitable result of such astounding ignorance. Thus, we are never at peace. Our constant state of fight or flight frazzles our common sense, and logic, our ability to love and be loved.

The only answer comes to us in Peter’s three small words: Lord, save me! We can’t overcome the world, but Jesus can; he already has. So give to God what is God’s: fear, judgment, fate. And God will give to us what is ours: love and peace of mind.

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”-Matthew 14:33.

The story ends where it began. After all the apostles went through, they saw only Jesus controlling the weather, which must mean he’s the Son of God.

“…And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”-Luke 8:25.

The Jews believed their Messiah would be a warrior and conqueror, like King David.

“For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”-Psalm 122:5.

Enslaved many times, they gave up on saving themselves. God must burst into history, and destroy their enemies.

They called this “The Day of the Lord.” It was the Jewish apocalypse, a time of great upheaval between the sinful age of man, and the paradise that would follow.

“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! / For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”-Ezekiel 30:2, 3.

They believed this.

Interpretation is everything. Sometimes we must simplify what the Bible says, break it down to its basic components. God destroys the old world (and person), to make way for the new. This is how we are born again.

But what was the Psalmist saying? What did Ezekiel mean? We can’t possibly know, only interpret. “Satan” tempts us, tests our faith, by telling us we don’t need to just interpret, we must believe.

When we believe, we make up our own minds. And when we make up our own minds, we follow our will, not God’s. There is no faith when we follow our own will. Therefore, faith differs from belief.

We must know something about the object of our faith, and be ignorant only of its future ramifications. But to believe, we accept as true what we can’t possibly know. We know that we can’t know it, but kid ourselves into thinking that, if we exert our will, then we gain control. But we can’t gain control, any more than the toenail controls its body.

We can’t know the infinite ways of God. We can’t know who or what Jesus is, exactly. But it’s okay, because that’s not what faith is about.

What, then, do we know of Jesus?

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

And what do we know of God?

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”-1 John 4:8.

So what is the only thing we can know? The answer is love. The rest is faith. And when we accept that, we are born again.

The most important (and most difficult) part of being born again is staying that way. We enter the kingdom of heaven when we love one another. But we will always be tested, tempted to hate-which is what sin really is.

We lump sin with mistakes, accidents, unforeseeable circumstances: We slip, trip, spill, crash, fall. We’re unable to prevent mistakes, because we can’t see the future. But sin doesn’t work that way. We might get caught up in a moment of passionate anger; or judge someone without thinking that we shouldn’t; we curse others who do us wrong, hate those who disagree with our opinion. But, in the end, we’re responsible.

We choose to sin.

It happens so quickly, violently, as if an outside force possesses us. Since the dawn of Judaism and Christianity, we blamed devils, or the Devil; we claimed that God hardened our hearts, or that Adam’s initial, original sin compelled us.

Still, we ask God to forgive us. Why? If we aren’t responsible for our sins-if the Devil is, or Adam, or other people-then how, or why, should we be held accountable?

We must accept that we hate because we want to. We’re addicted to it; we feel entitled, that those who did us wrong had it coming.

Darkness cannot defeat darkness; only light can do that. Evil perpetuates itself; only love can defeat it. We have a way out of this quicksand, if we’re prepared to accept the truth.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? / Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”-John 14:5, 6.

If we choose to sin, then we can choose to not sin.

I know this seems impossible, perhaps even blasphemous. We must have faith, and leap into the unknown, using God’s love for a parachute.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 19:26.

The way lies in these mindfulness essays. I didn’t realize while writing them that they formed a step-by-step method to build awareness of God’s will. Regret lingers in the past; anxiety threatens us from the future; but love lives in the present.

God lives here with us, right now.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living….”-Mark 12:27.

So let us review.

Step 1: Silently, while breathing deeply, say the Lord’s Prayer. Focus on the meaning of every word. This is the prayer that Jesus taught. The purpose here is to relax the mind and body enough to experience God’s presence. We don’t need to ask God to come to us. We need to realize that God is already here.

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. / After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”-Matthew 6:8, 9.

Step 2: While continuing to practice Step 1, move forward. Forgive every sin as it happens. Pay attention. Focus. Be mindful of hate, how we feel about it, and how those feelings contaminate us. This formula will help: Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness. Understand why someone did something wrong. We don’t have to agree, but we must accept it. Also, we must remember to forgive ourselves, for judging others.

“But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”-Mark 11:26.

Step 3: Continue the first two steps, but now, instead of just forgiving, bless others. We don’t need to be priests or rabbis to bless people. Start simply by blessing children. Don’t make a show of it; better that they don’t even know. Pray for them as you see them. Stay in the moment. God is with the children. We acknowledge that holy presence, that hallowed ground by thinking kind thoughts.

Over time, bless others as well: the elderly, animals, workers, married couples. Make each blessing specific to each one: Bless the birds and their flock; pray for God to grant patience to parents and their crying children; bless the elderly couple with strength, as they struggle with every step.

God is with them all. Just as we don’t need to pray for God to come to us, but rather open our hearts to feel His presence, so our blessings are actually meant to help us see that God is already with everyone.

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”-Matthew 25:40.

Step 4: We are getting more advanced now. Each step includes all those that came previously. We see and forgive. We love and bless. We stop and know that God is everything we perceive: all colors, tastes, sounds, smells, everything we touch.

There is nothing but God. All is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.-1 John 4:8.

Further, a whole universe exists outside of our perceptions. God is all that, and more. Be humble. Take your time: one step, then another. When pain, sorrow, or regret overwhelms you, surrender them to God. He can handle it.

This is step 5: When anger comes, or anxiety, or depression-anything that prevents us from loving ourselves and others-pray, “God, take this evil from me.”

This is a version of what Jesus did, when confronted with something that sought to distract him from God’s will.

“…Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”-Mark 8:33.

Love all; hate nothing. Breathe deeply. Accept God’s will. The acceptance formula is Love + Humility = Acceptance. We must humble ourselves and love everything to see God’s will.

These mindfulness exercises keep us aware of God. If, and when, we remain aware of the hallowed ground on which we walk, a miracle occurs.

“…[Jesus] said unto [the woman caught in adultery], Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? / She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”-John 8:10, 11.

In Mosaic Law, adultery warranted the death penalty. Thou shalt not commit adultery was the seventh commandment God gave to Moses. The sixth? Thou shalt not commit murder. On Mount Sinai, God indicated no punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments. But, in Leviticus, God demanded capital punishment for anyone who broke his laws.

What happened? How could the Israelites be told to not kill, and yet to kill? Eventually, wouldn’t they all be murdered by the enforcers of the laws in Leviticus?

What if they misunderstood, assumed that they knew God’s will? (As we all do.) How can the finite know the infinite? The only way we can even come close to approximating God’s will is through love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, not murder or judgments.

Since we’re on a roll, one more question. What if we have misunderstood the nature of sin? Jesus told the adulteress that he didn’t condemn her.

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”-John 5:22.

Jesus is our judge. And if he didn’t condemn that woman, but told her to sin no more, we are left with a startling possibility, a revolutionary way of thinking: We do not have to sin. We can sin no more!

Jesus told us how he accomplished the amazing, seemingly impossible feat of always following God’s will.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

We please God by doing His will. So if we always do what pleases Him, then we are without sin. All that remains is for us to continue living in God’s presence. That is what these mindfulness essays teach.

In Jerusalem, at the pool of Bethesda, there was a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Legend had it that, now and then, an angel descended to the pool. And when that angel disturbed the waters, the first person to reach the pool was healed. But this man was crippled, and someone always got to the pool first.

So Jesus healed him. Patience always wins, in the end.

“Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”-John 8:14.

We take for granted that sin is inevitable, due to our inherent weakness, and unavoidable mistakes. That’s not what Jesus taught. If we’re always looking to the past, and the future, then we will trip and fall. But if we stay in the moment, and please God, then we can be perfect. This requires mindfulness on an epic scale. Practice these steps. Turn from hate the moment it comes. Surrender sin to God.

Have faith. If Jesus saved the adulterous woman, and cured the man crippled by sin for most of his life, then he can heal us. Jesus passes our way, and we open our hearts for a brief moment.

The heart is a door whose handle is only on the inside. We must open it. No one can do it for us. But when we do, when we seize our moment, when we are mindful of love and faith, Jesus is there. He waits with the cure for sin: love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and the strength to accept God’s will.

But it’s like our door is stuck, and we open it a little with every push. For every moment that we allow ourselves to feel love, we open the door a little more.

Finally, the light shines through, and we are reborn.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

 

Revealed Unto Babes

To be born again, we can choose from three primary paths. Each one corresponds to what comes more naturally to you.

The first path is to love your neighbor, treat your fellows the way you want to be treated. “The Good Samaritan” illustrates what loving your neighbor means.

A priest and a Levite pass by a stripped, beaten, half-dead man, not wanting to get involved; and a Samaritan (despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day) shows mercy and compassion.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? / And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”-Luke 10:36, 37.

The second is to forgive yourself, people who wronged you, everyone. “The Prodigal Son” shows us how forgiveness works. Like The Good Samaritan, this parable reveals how to follow Jesus’ lessons, while also giving us a counter example.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”-Luke 15:31, 32.

Regardless of the loyalty to his father, a responsible older son doesn’t forgive his wayward brother, who’s willing to humble himself, by admitting his mistakes.

Jesus included these opposite views for a reason.

“And he said unto [the Pharisees], Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”-Luke 16:15.

Love can’t exist without forgiveness; or forgiveness, without love. But if we forgive, then we have shown love; and if we love, then we can forgive.

So if you find it hard to love your enemies, then try forgiving them. Recall my forgiveness equation (Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness); understand the person who wronged you, even if you don’t agree with them: See their perspective, and accept it.

We have to put ourselves aside to do this, deny ourselves, humble ourselves to that which is beyond our control.

These two parables explain love and forgiveness. Now we come to the third path, humility.

Without humility, there is no love or forgiveness.

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”-James 4:6.

When we remember that God is love, we see that love resists pride. To love one another, we must be humble; to forgive one another, we must be humble. However, there is nothing more difficult than to put others before ourselves. Considering others to be our equals is hard enough.

But stop and think. Do you sometimes, even often, put your spouse’s needs above your own, or your child’s, or your friend’s? We’re more humble than we think. What we do for the people who are most important to us, we can also do for everyone else. We behaved that way in childhood.

As children, everyone was our friend. To keep us safe, our parents taught us to not trust strangers. But now that we are older, and able to take care of ourselves, we must return to that trust, faith, and acceptance of strangers we had as children.

“And [Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3.

To become as little children, we must be born again; and to be born again, we must become as little children. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

The two previous quotes from Matthew and John combine in this, the most important and revealing passage in the Gospels.

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:4.

By humbling ourselves, we not only enter the kingdom of heaven, but we become the greatest therein. So this is it; the answer we’ve been looking for, the key to being born again: To be perfect, we must humble ourselves and have faith, like little children.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”-Matthew 11:25.

Jesus isn’t speaking against wisdom and prudence, rather, against people like the Pharisees, who believe they are wise, and despise others for not being as smart as they are.

People who are truly wise admit their ignorance, since that is how we learn. But if we believe that we know everything already, then we won’t bother to learn.

It is with all these things in mind, that Jesus tells a parable about humility.

“And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. / Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.”-Luke 18:9, 10.

Hands up, how many of us have thought that other people are stupid? Even fools despise others for their stupidity. We all have gifts that we should treasure, instead of belittling people who don’t share our unique knowledge and experience.

Pharisees memorized what would, in modern print, be over 6,200 pages of Scribal Law. They were much smarter than the simple fishermen of Galilee. Instead of using their intelligence to help the less fortunate, they succumbed to pride.

But everyone saw the Pharisees as examples of devout faith.

The other player in this drama is a publican, or tax-collector. They were called “publicans” because they dealt with public money and public funds. Israelites hated them, because they worked for the Romans, during their occupation of Israel, and so were collaborators.

There weren’t any newspapers, television, or internet; no one really knew how much in taxes they ought to pay. And there were so many taxes!

People paid to travel on main roads, bridges, or to enter the market places, or towns, or harbors. They paid taxes on their pack animals, on the wheels and axles of their carts.

The publicans charged whatever they liked, and kept for themselves what the Romans didn’t collect.

So Pharisees were supposedly good, and publicans were ostensibly bad.

“…the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”-1 Samuel 16:7.

We think seeing is believing. But that is our pride showing. If we humble ourselves, and admit that we don’t know everything at first sight, that we’re unable to see or understand the past, present, and future of another person, then we would leave judgment to God.

However, perhaps to hide our ignorance and limitations, we act as if we’re such hot stuff, like the Pharisee in the temple.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. / I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”-Luke 18:11, 12.

Here Jesus shows us the opposite of what we should be, what’s analogous to the priest and Levite in The Good Samaritan, and the older brother in The Prodigal Son.

Note how he “prayed with himself.” Sure, he addressed God, but he thought only of how awesome he was, not how awesome God is. He judged others, about whom he knew nothing.

We judge people based on what we see and know about them, both of which are limited. Our pride tempts us to believe that we know the big picture, that the unjust person has always been, and will always be, unjust.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:8.

The proud follow their own will, not God’s. By doing so, they put themselves above God.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”-Exodus 20:3.

The proud are their own god. This is why God resists them, and causes them to fall. But the humble admit their human weaknesses, and worship God not only out of love, but necessity.

“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”-1 Corinthians 1:19.

The wise and prudent are tempted to also be prideful. When we know what some others do not, like the Pharisees, then it’s difficult to be humble. However, if we keep in mind that our greater knowledge is relative, then we realize that there are still others who know more than we do.

There’s always a larger, stronger, more intelligent, more talented person. And so our pride comes to nothing. Our own accumulated knowledge is paltry. To be truly wise, knowledge must be tempered with love and humility.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”-1 Peter 5:6.

God made everything, and exists as everything. Therefore, God is not only equal to the entire universe, but is greater even than that. Pride convinces us that we are greater than that which is greater than the universe.

I think Peter borrowed the previous quote from Jesus (who borrowed it from Proverbs 25:6, 7).

“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shall thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”-Luke 14:10.

Pride is a gamble. We hope to gain respect with our confidant growl. But when someone (or something) calls our bluff, then we’re back to being naked and ashamed.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”-Genesis 3:10.

But now the other player knows we have a bad hand, that we’re scared, weak, and vulnerable. Best to not bluff, be honest, with love in your heart. Because, then, the respect is real, and we will have earned it.

Pride is pure delusion, and if we practice self-deception, then all we see and think will be wrong. We’ll imagine good to be evil; and evil, good.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”-Luke 18:13.

You ever beat yourself up for doing something wrong and stupid? That’s what the publican did when he smote his chest, but literally.

The publican knew he was a collaborator, and had overcharged, and extorted money from his own conquered countrymen. He knew that everyone hated him, that he was counted among the lowest of the low.

“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”-Proverbs 11:2.

This is the heart of the matter.

We’ve already seen that to be prideful is to think of ourselves as greater than God. We’ve seen that pride is a lie, and our bluff can be called; and we know that when it’s called, we’re headed for destruction.

We are proud when we celebrate our own will.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”-John 6:38.

Humility is important because that’s how we follow God’s will. If we’re prideful, we won’t surrender. If we’re selfish, then we’re living a lie. Pride is like using the wrong set of directions, a map to New York when we want to go to California.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

The publican denied himself by admitting he’d done wrong, followed his own will, his own greed. The Pharisee denied God, by thinking himself better than others, and by listing the qualities that made him better than God. Remember, God is everything, everyone.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”-John 1:3.

Whatever we do to others, we do to God. Whatever we think of others, we think of God. And since you and I are a part of God, as we occupy this universe, then whatever we do to others, we also do to ourselves. We can beat ourselves up only for so long, until we’re weakened from the exertion, and bruised from the abuse.

The publican reached that stage, as he begged for mercy. We must reach that stage, to be born again, to see the truth that is revealed only to babes.

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”-John 8:31, 32.

Only everything knows everything.

That’s why we should follow God’s will, because we don’t know everything. But what is God’s will? We’ll discuss that in the next essay. But here’s the simple truth of it.

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”-Matthew 11:27.

We learn God’s will by looking at Jesus, what he taught, how he acted. Jesus is our example.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”–John 13:14, 15.

Besides honoring God, and our place in the universe, the main reason for humility is that we honor each other. When the prideful put themselves above God, they also put themselves above their fellows. This is dangerous, as it leads to the devaluing of all life besides their own.

We not only need God, but also each other. Washing feet symbolizes our caring for each other, but especially for the sick, starving, homeless, and poor.

“I tell you, [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the [Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

The publican saved his soul that day, as he got down on his knees, and begged for mercy. He recognized not only his faults, his sins, but also just how small he was, how weak, how low.

“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.”-Psalm 138:6.

We act proudly, because everyone else does. We fear that we won’t get a promotion, or charm a romantic interest, that others will see us as weak, and take advantage of us, rob us, even kill us.

These fears are not unfounded. That’s the sad truth. That’s why what we think is great is abomination in the sight of God.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

Being a real Christian (following Jesus’ example) is hard. Make no mistake. If it was easy to love one another, everyone would do it. We all take the path of least resistance. We see the results of that choice all around us.

Jesus made no bones about it.

“…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

He said plainly that following God’s will, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, was like carrying a cross to our own crucifixion. But, and here’s where it all comes into balance, accepting our cross means the granting of inner peace, which we will never get from all the people we’re trying to impress with our pride.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

So choose your path; there are many, and we lose our way easily. Will you follow your own will, be your own guide, not knowing of what lies ahead?

That is the Pharisees’ way, where you ignore the anguish of your fellows, by walking on the other side of the road. You’ll feel hatred and jealousy, instead of joy.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”-Matthew 7:13.

You won’t be alone. All the other selfish people will admire your choice to join them. They will also fight you, pit their will against yours. You will never know peace.

Or you can choose God as your guide. His will allows for three convenient entrances: love, forgiveness, or humility; any one of which accomplishes the other two.

That is the publican’s way, where you show mercy, and feel love for everyone, forgive everyone. You will know the truth, and see everything as it exists.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matthew 7:14.

Upon this revelation, we will beg God for mercy, seeing how small and weak we are. But then God will guide us, through the wilderness, through temptation, into the Promised Land, where we will be born again.

Nativity

In my ongoing study of what born again means, and how to achieve it, we look now at the event, itself.

It begins with a sign.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14.

Pronounced im-maw-noo-ale’, this Hebrew name means “with us is God.” In my mindfulness essays, I outlined several methods to help us stay with God; this is the first step to being born again: Stay in the moment, and see beauty and love everywhere, in everyone.

When we do this, a miracle happens, something as improbable as a virgin birth.

The sign shows us the way, how we’ve been going in the wrong direction; it shows us the truth, that are our own will is insufficient to overcome the world. It’s up to us to recognize God’s hand, offering to pull us out of the mess we’ve made of our lives.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”-Isaiah 9:6.

For thousands of years, prophets reiterated the promise of what we could be. We don’t have to hate each other, compete with each other, like street gangs fighting for our little piece of turf.

Admitting we were wrong is the hardest thing; it takes a miracle to even entertain the thought. Because, if we repent, then we have to leave the familiar, and pass through the wilderness, to a promised land that we might never see.

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.”-Genesis 12:1.

We each have our own covenant with God. Our own personal Promised Land requires our own personal journey. When it comes to being born again, our pilgrimage happens whether we want it to, or not. What matters is how we choose to interpret the journey.

Will we see the land as beautiful, and accept with love the people we meet? Or will we be bitter, full of hate and doubt?

The journey begins with events of the everyday world.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”-Luke 2:1.

At this point, Mary and Joseph had both received their signs. Their baby was coming; a new life was imminent. But this new life would still be in this world. Love is not a single island, but all the world.

“…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”-Matthew 22:21.

In order for a new dawn to come, the New Jerusalem prophesied in the Revelation, we must be reborn. This means interacting with people who receive our newborn love with hatred and enmity.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem is a long journey. The roads are dangerous: robbers, storms, desert heat, and a very pregnant wife to protect. You’ll be safer if you travel by caravan.

Though there are some who resist your loving kindness, there are others whose lives will be changed, because you changed yours.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, / Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”-Matthew 2:1, 2.

There are as many interpretations as there are people. Since only God knows everything, then, as far as we know, everyone is right; and no one is wrong. It is all God’s will. The Wise Men celebrated when they saw a new star, knowing that it meant a new, different kind of King. For Herod, that same star led him to murder children.

“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”-Matthew 2:3.

Envy exacts a terrible cost, not only for the jealous person, but for everyone around them. All of Jerusalem was troubled, because Herod was worried and envious of anyone who might usurp his power. We seek power for comfort and security. But, then, to lose power means to surrender our comfort and security.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”-Matthew 6:19.

Nothing comes the way we think it will: not comfort, love, power, treasures, or the Messiah. True power doesn’t need to boast. It comes naturally, with great humility, in a way that few can foresee.

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”-Micah 5:2.

The last step of one journey is the first of another. And the first steps are always the most difficult, like giving birth, or being reborn.

“And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”-Luke 2:7.

Since we’re told about the inn, we can assume that it was the only one. Bethlehem was a small town; so there was only one inn. Caesar’s census brought back everyone who was born there: a family reunion, of sorts. Even before his birth, Jesus was rejected–not by hatred, like Herod, but by indifference. That is our true adversary. Who can turn away a person in need, a pregnant woman? This wasn’t done out of unkindness; there simply weren’t any rooms left.

I just work here!

A manger is a food trough, out of which cattle and horses eat. Here, Jesus was identified with food, life-sustaining nourishment.

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”-John 4:34.

As we are born again, we must remember that, whether we want to or not, we minister to others by example. Our faith, kindness, and mercy becomes their food. We are what we eat. Everyone who is fed from this manger, must turn around and feed others.

We influence people whether we’re conscious of it or not. Without being mindful, we can cause great damage to the lives around us. When we are seen as being thoughtless and cruel, then others reside themselves to being likewise.

However, if we bring light and kindness to a people who have become indifferent, a miracle occurs.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. / And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”-Luke 2:8, 9.

Kindness is the glory of the Lord. Love might be too strong a word for us, too nebulous a concept, too much to ask. We think of love as being only for our family, significant others, pets, favorite foods or colors. But kindness allows us to keep a safe distance, not too intimate; it is a good beginning, a way to test the waters.

Certain examples aside (like David and Moses), shepherds weren’t thought of too highly. Orthodoxy considered them unclean. They were the lowlifes of their day: poor, dirty, uneducated.

While God is for everyone, we must remember that Jesus was a working-class carpenter, born in a manger with the animals; and the first people to witness him were filthy, smelly shepherds.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”-John 10:11.

The shepherds among us spend their lives caring for others: being kind, watchful, and helpful. When we are born again, we become shepherds, following Jesus’ example. Even, or especially, in the darkest times, we watch over the flock.

We must never turn our eyes from their suffering, even if we can’t abate it. If we cease to be aware of suffering, if we succumb to the depreciation of humanity-due to our flooding of the market-then we are on our way to indifference, to evil.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”-Luke 2:10.

Most every other English translation says that the great joy will be only to those whom God favors. Many people want to think of God as their property, that they hold the keys to the kingdom. But that is the Pharisee’s path.

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”-Matthew 23:13.

To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again, means being kind to everyone: regardless of race, gender, economic or educational standing. Jesus loved sinners; his love healed them. Thus, he entered heaven, and allowed others to enter as well.

Heaven is a state of mind, a way of living.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”-Luke 20:38.

Heaven is not some afterlife from which a person can ban you because they judged you to be a sinner. That is the Pharisee’s way, not God’s way. God is for all people. The great joy, the good news, the gospel is that we can all participate in this love and kindness.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

Jesus came to save the whole world, all of us.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. / And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:11, 12.

Bethlehem was David’s hometown. Joseph was David’s descendant. I like to think of their whole line, from Abraham through David, all those patriarchs and heroes, as preparation for Joseph. Jesus’ earthly father accepted Mary’s mysterious, suspicious, unorthodox pregnancy; protected her and baby Jesus, to and from Bethlehem, and taught Jesus…what? Just imagine.

Jesus was not the son of David; Joseph was. But through his earthly father, Jesus received the teachings and lessons passed down from they whom interacted with God.

“And when [the wise men] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”-Matthew 2:11.

It’s the first Christmas morning: time for presents! From my childhood, and on through ‘til today, Christmas eve and morning have always been magical. If we concentrate, we can feel God’s presence.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. / And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:15, 16.

Whatever frenzied anxiety the holidays bring, when the stores close, it’s too late for haste. What’s done is done. And when we can no longer worry, a miracle happens: We are at peace. With peace comes faith-faith that we have enough food, enough presents, plenty of whatever we need.

When we are living on faith, then all the energy that is normally spent worrying is free for whatever is at hand: family. Thus, the absence of fear makes way for the presence of love. This is the meaning of Christmas, the lesson we all need to learn, if we are to be reborn.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

We’re so focused on God and the devil, Heaven and Hell, angels and talking snakes, believing this and not believing that, that we miss the message. As the Wise Men brought Jesus presents, the wise writers of the Bible gift us with the truth of human suffering.

Our focus on hate, jealousy, judgments, and our time spent covering up lies, pretending to be in control, when we’re one of billions of small, fragile creatures…zaps our energy, to the point that we can’t think straight.

“But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. / There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”-Isaiah 57:20, 21.

There is only one way to overcome the world.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”-John 14:6.

And it’s not through the one-upmanship of constant competition, which brings, at most, a temporary victory. There’s always a bigger fish. No, the answer is to love one another: be kind, patient, merciful. We think that we can’t, but that’s only because our energy is tied up in pointless hatred and vengeance.

We can’t overcome the world: It’s as if we’re unarmed, and trying to stand alone against an army. We can’t win that way; we’ll only make things worse.

Still, we’re dumb enough to think, I will win, because I am the King.

“…[Herod] was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under….”-Matthew 2:16.

Herod’s fear and hatred, and the slaughter of the innocents: It was all for nothing. Before the soldiers arrived, the Wise Men and Shepherds had left, and Joseph had taken his family to safety.

Where hatred is stagnation, loving kindness is growth. And as roots burst through concrete, as tectonic plates thrust up mountains, and rain drops carve rocks, so does love grow: slowly, inexorably, like the birth of a child. We can’t stop the kingdom of heaven; it is coming.

No, heaven is already here. Like Jesus, we have already been born again, from heaven to earth, and back to heaven; we just have to see it, and accept it.

We are lowly shepherds, hypocritical Pharisees, hopeful husbands and wives, and simple animals who bear witness to the greatest birth of all: your rebirth.