Tag Archive: born again


God is everything, everyone, everywhere. So, whatever we do, we are a part of the kingdom of heaven, and not apart from it.

Nebuchadnezzar enslaved the Jews, taking them into captivity for 70 years. Still, he was God’s servant.

“And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant….”-Jeremiah 27:6.

King Cyrus, who freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity, was not just God’s servant, but his anointed king: the Greek word for which is “Christ.”

“Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden….”-Isaiah 45:1.

Jacob was God’s servant (Ez. 37:25), as well as Moses (Joshua 1:2), and David (2 Sam. 7:8). We all work for God. In the kingdom, no work or person ranks higher than any other. What we call good or evil, meaningful or meaningless, doesn’t matter, except to us and our need to judge.

God loves all of us, and needs everyone and everything.

Jesus emphasized this point with a parable about a vineyard. Unlike my other interpretations, this time I want to start with the moral, the conclusion, and then work our way from the beginning.

“So the last shall be first, and first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”-Matthew 20:16.

Jesus loves riddles. He wants us to pray and meditate on his wordplay. How can the last be first? What’s the difference between being called and chosen? Our answers determine our unique, personal covenant with God. There is no wrong answer. There are as many answers as there are people.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”-2 Peter 1:20.

My interpretation requires the insertion of a few key words: “So the last shall be [equal to the] first, and first [equal to the] last: for many be called [to follow God’s will], but few [have] chosen [to follow it mindfully].”

Do we know, and accept, that whether or not we choose to follow God’s will, we already do?

Now we can backtrack, develop our understanding of equality, and dismiss our judgmental ideas of separating Alpha and Omega.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:1.

The Bible writers left out one important detail, assuming, no doubt, that their readers recognized the time of year when extra workers were needed: the harvest. The rainy season followed the harvest. If extra laborers weren’t hired, the rain ruined the crop.

Last time, in the parable of the Wheat and Tares, we learned that the harvest symbolized Judgment Day, the humbling Day of the Lord, preceding rebirth, which is the kingdom of heaven.

“…in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares…to burn them: but gather [last] the wheat into my barn.”-Matthew 13:30.

Jesus told us the reapers symbolized the angels; and the harvest, the end of the world. But we reasoned, in the previous essay, that we judge ourselves; we choose to enter heaven, or remain without love. So we are the angels, in that parable; and, in this one, we are the laborers.

“And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.”-Matthew 20:2.

I love the King James version, because it usually gives literal translations of the original text. But sometimes it doesn’t. The standard payment for a day’s work, at this time, in Palestine, was a “denarius.” We lose nothing in the given translation, but it’s nice to know.

The laborers made a covenant with the householder. These workers hired themselves out on a daily basis. Without that payment, they and their families didn’t eat.

“And [the householder] went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. / And said unto them: Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.”-Matthew 20:3, 4.

The first hour of the day was 6 am. Instead of the time of day, let us think of this as the ages of humanity, or the morning, afternoon, and evening of our lives. In the beginning, God made a covenant with Noah; later, with Abraham (Noah’s descendant), then with Abraham’s descendants (Isaac and Jacob); still later, with Moses, and finally with the Israelites as a whole.

The renewing of the covenant ended or, rather, transformed, with Jesus: the personification of the Promised Land, whose teaching and example of love allows for our own personal covenants. While the Israelites made a national agreement, for a set wage, Jesus gives the rest of us “whatsoever is right.”

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”-Revelation 20:12.

Here in the vineyard, God pays us according to our works, what we do, think, and say. The last equals the first: God is Alpha and Omega. It doesn’t matter how long we labor, or how highly our task ranks.

Still, we tend to think that way, defining as important the number of hours on our time sheet, and whether we’re a supervisor, or newly hired.

“…Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and the great ones exercise authority upon them. / But so shall it not be among you…. / …whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”-Mark 10:42-44.

We must guard against the assumption that God thinks as we do. The closest we get to understanding the Lord is when we know that God loves us all.

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

The householder doesn’t promise a set wage for those hired in the third hour, or the others who come later. Only the first know what they’ll receive for their work. If the householder pays them, who’re recently hired, less than a denarius, they won’t be able to feed their families. Yet, they work anyway, not knowing what they’ll be paid.

They live on faith, and survive on grace.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”-Ephesians 2:8.

We can’t understand, and shouldn’t try to interpret an isolated passage from the Bible, like this one. If we did, we’d assume that we can do whatever we want; and God will forgive us. Whether or not that’s what Paul meant, we see the idea in a new light, when we are born again.

No matter how long we work for God, beginning in childhood or old age, we still accomplish the Word, and shine light in darkness. Even if we comfort only one person, feed one animal, water one plant, by grace the Lord rewards us for doing the work given to us.

“Again [the householder] went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.”-Matthew 20:5.

With the twelve-hour day half, and three quarters, done, the householder hires more workers. He calls as many as possible, to gather the harvest before the rain comes. He needs these last, just as much as the first.

This parable teaches the reality of equality. Since God is everything and everyone, no one is more (or less) a part of God than anyone else.

“…The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”-Luke 10:2.

The Bible reminds us of what we tend to forget. We overlook our natural tendencies for jealousy. We want to show strength, when we feel weak. We put ourselves above others, not by raising ourselves, but by lowering others.

We do this because others do it. We turn everything into a contest of wills and pride. But pride is a lie; humility is the truth.

As our example, Jesus showed us what it means to be humble.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”-John 13:14.

The harvesters are all equal, because we all do God’s will: whether a little or a lot, for years or minutes, hundreds of times or once.

“And about the eleventh hour [the householder] went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?”-Matthew 20:16.

Even in the 11th hour, God needs all of us to finish the work in time. Is dinner any less important because it’s not breakfast? Is that good friend we meet, when we’re elderly, any less loved because we weren’t childhood friends?

Everything has a time, place, and purpose; each of us accomplishes what no one else can do. This uniqueness equalizes everything. We fill in the gaps, and do the work, that no one else can.

“[The laborers] say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.”-Matthew 20:27.

When we’re mindful of God’s will, and our participation in the planting, growth, and harvest of the world, we’re always on the clock, always on the move, never slowing, or ceasing in our work, spreading the Word with our example: go, go, go!

But when we aren’t mindful, and, therefore, in denial of our mortality, and frail limitations, then we ignore the ticking of our time clock.

There is a day, hour, minute, and place with my name on it. When my shift is over, then I will work no more, forever.

We must love every moment, every one, and every thing: That’s what the Bible means when it tells us to love God. If we waste any time, standing idle, by not loving whatever work the Lord gives us, then we risk not eating at the end of the day. Without love’s nourishment, not only will we die, but we’ll take others with us.

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

At the end of our shift, our only “day” on this world, how soothing it would be, to know that we finished our task, our reason for being here in the first place. Maybe we never knew what work we needed to do, what, precisely, God had in mind for us. But God knows.

Even though I don’t know how I fit into the boss’ grand plan, when born again, I answer the call; I choose to love whatever and whomever finds their way into my life.

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

And so, in the words of my favorite song: “My heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest.”

No matter what we do, or know, whether we stand idle, or keep moving, the end of the work day comes. The harvesters gather the last of the wheat and tares. The vines collapse beneath the torrential rain. The Lamb breaks the seventh seal, and opens the Book of Life.

“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.”-Matthew 20:8.

Pay day! Judgment day; the Day of the Lord; the end of days: Everything we did and worked for comes down to this. We can’t add a cubit to our stature, or an hour to our time card. What we did is what we have to show for ourselves. What we did is who we are.

What will you have to show, when you lie awake in bed, or when your loved one passes away? Will you be left with the eternal lake of fire of your regret, wailing and gnashing your teeth? Or will you know that you did your best? There can be no doubt, as that’s pointless. What you did, and who you are is, simply, what you did, and who you are.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.”-John 15:1.

If we love everyone, all during our work day, and repent when we stumble and stand idle, then we’ve harvested the love we learned from the vine, we accomplished the gardener’s job (which is God’s will), and there can be no doubt, fear, or regret.

The fun (and often confusing) part of Bible interpretation is that God is all characters, and so are we. God is the householder, lord of the vineyard, the steward, and laborers, the vineyard as a whole, and the singular vine.

God is everything, and more. Infinity is always larger than the biggest number.

“That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.”-Isaiah 45:6.

And since God made us, and directs our path, we are of God.

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”-Jeremiah 1:5.

We judge and reward ourselves, based on what we choose to do. We harvest what we plant, reap what we sow; and if we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind.

No matter how much we lie to ourselves, we cannot escape the truth in our hearts. We know what’s written in the book of our lives: We write it, seal it, and open it. We are Judgment Day! Likewise, so is God.

God is the truth in our hearts, the works that we do, the lake of fire, and eternal peace of mind.

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

We are God’s prophets, the Word, the light of Jesus that shows the way; and we create evil. We are God’s work.

So when we, the stewards, and Jesus (who is also the steward), call ourselves, as he calls us, we reward ourselves, as God pays us, “whatsoever is right.”

“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?”-John 10:34.

We are gods, when we do God’s work. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say it this way: We are God’s. We are the least important, because ours is one small life among countless billions, and the most important, because we are unique: You are the only you there ever was, or will be.

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. / I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”-Revelation 22:12, 13.

So the lord of the vineyard tells his steward to give “whatsoever is right” to the workers; the steward pays the last, first; and the first, last.

“And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny [a denarius]. / But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more, and they likewise received every man a penny.”-Matthew 20:9, 10.

How hard it is for us to be satisfied. Even if we’re rich, and have everything we want, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for us to be born again, and enter the kingdom of truth, the love of God.

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”-Proverbs 27:20.

Our jealous eye sees that others have more, or worse yet, others have what we have, when they didn’t work as much as we did.

Remember the Prodigal Son’s older brother?

“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: / But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”-Luke 15:29, 30.

The older brother was, of course, the first born. He always obeyed his father, and lived a good life because of this.

God made a covenant with the Israelites. The Lord called them his first-born son.

“…Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”-Exodus 4:22.

To them and their beliefs, everyone else was a Gentile, who would all be destroyed in the Day of the Lord. The Israelites came first; likewise, the older brother, and the laborers who worked all day.

We all see ourselves as privileged, above the common rabble, while we also complain that we don’t get enough, and deserve more. How can we be better than everyone, but evidently lower too, since they have the same, or more, as we do?

Am I a prince, or am I a pauper?

“And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house. / Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”-Matthew 20:11, 12.

For the rest of my life, when I see the word murmur, I will think of the Israelites and Moses. Right after they complained to him that there was no food, in the wilderness, and God gave them manna, then they murmured about not having any water.

“…and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? / And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.”-Exodus 17:3, 4.

Gratitude, friends and neighbors: the older brother lacked it; the first-born Israelites refused to learn it; and the first-hired laborers didn’t express it either. The father gave the older brother a good life, in exchange for his loyalty; God saved the Israelites from slavery; and the lord of the vineyard paid his workers what he had promised, enabling them to feed themselves and their families.

“…to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”-Luke 7:47.

It is God’s will that I be a pauper, so that I know love when repentance makes me a prince. I must go through the wilderness, so that I love the Promised Land. God tests our hearts with affliction, and forgives our weakness, because, no matter how many fiery flying serpents devour us (poor Israelites, see Numbers 21:6), or how many blessings we refuse and crucify, out of pride and ignorance, we endure through forgiveness and love.

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”-Revelation 2:10.

Therefore, with all due respect to Mark Twain, I am the Prince and the Pauper: just not all at once. Taken in its entirety, as seen in the book of my life, I have been first and last, the beginning and the end. Wretched as I am, when I suffer tribulation, and endure by loving God’s work, the King of kings crowns me with amazing grace.

“But [the householder] answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?”-Matthew 20:13.

The standard Christian covenant calls us to action, and, in return, promises to give us our daily bread, forgives us when we forgive others, and strengthens our endurance. We agree to this arrangement, because it saves us from the Egyptian whip, and starvation in the wilderness. This love, which results from our love, feeds us, our families, and everyone else.

Where there is nothing, and we are without hope, God fills our granaries, so that we survive the famine. Though we have no water, now our cup runneth over.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

We are born again when we put God first; and since God is everyone and everything, the blessings of the kingdom of heaven equalizes everyone.

We have no true ranks of importance, only equality. We achieve this equal footing by humbling ourselves, and showing gratitude, when, in the wilderness, God’s love nourishes us.

“Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. / Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”-Matthew 20:14, 15.

God calls all of us to action. We all live and work in the vineyard. But, unless we choose God, unless we live with love and gratitude as our guides, then we see only through the evil veil in our hearts. We project onto others, what we know and feel exists within us.

This happens even without our being aware of it. We sin because we aren’t mindful.

“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.”-Job 30:26.

We judge others by what we see, and refuse to acknowledge, in ourselves. If we are light, then we see light; if we are darkness, then we see darkness.

Those first-hired laborers saw the householder as dealing unjustly with them, because they were greedy, jealous, judgmental, and unjust. If we aren’t mindful, then we fall back into our mindless ways. Being born again gives us new eyes, if we choose to accept gratefully “whatsoever is right.”

“The light of the body is the eye…. / But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness….”-Matthew 6:22, 23.

If we lie to ourselves, by insisting that we are better or worse than everyone else, or that we don’t have to be grateful, because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, then everything we see is a lie. Truth begets truth, and lies beget lies.

Our hearts know the truth. So when we lie, we conquer and confuse ourselves.

“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.

We turn everything around, and blind ourselves, losing our way to the very happiness that we lied for in the first place. All that ends on Judgment Day, when the Lamb within opens the book of our lives, and sees truthfully what we sealed.

At the end of the harvest, when the rains come, we rest within the ark, or gnash our teeth, as our flood of lies and confusion covers our heads. But, in the end, there is no difference between these two: They are both God’s will, and God’s love.

We humble ourselves, when we love everyone, making their needs equal to ours, loving them as we would have them love us. Humility is the truth. So when we bring judgment upon ourselves, in a moment of honesty, we open our hearts.

If we refuse to bow our knees, God drives us to our knees. If we denounce humility, our own pride drowns us, and humbles us.

“For the day of the LORD is near….as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”-Obadiah 1:15.

At the end of that day, we begin to realize the truth, and love fills our eyes with light, so that we finally see the way: The last equals the first, and the first equals the last. We answer the call when we choose to, when Alpha and Omega knows we’re ready to enter the Promised Land, and be born again.

And on that day, we cry out the single Greek word, as Jesus did on the cross, with a mighty shout: Tetelestai! (te-TEL-es-ti.)

It is finished!

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We search for the ingredients of our leaven, to bake our bread, which we feed to others; and they feed this same back to us. Thus we plant the mustard seed that becomes our lives.

But what do we search for? Better yet, what do we find when we search? And how do we use what we find?

Every step of our journey determines what we’ll discover. God tests us with every choice we make.

Jesus illustrated this point with a parable about fishing.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.”-Matthew 13:47.

As Jesus told Nicodemus, we enter the kingdom of heaven by being born again. So we choose to undertake our second infancy; we embark on this voluntary search, because we made a mess of our lives: We don’t forgive, so we’re angry all the time, or regretful, holding a grudge that will never be satisfied.

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”-Proverbs 27:20.

And we lack patience, so every step leads us to frustration.

Where did we go wrong? We fix things this second time around by being mindful, living in the present. We messed up not when we were babies: we were too young to know right from wrong. Nor did we ruin things at the end of the journey: by then we’d become Sodom.

No, we made mistakes along the way, during our search.

The first verse of this parable sets the scene, reducing our years to one sentence. Here, before we choose, before we judge, we learn faith.

We gather of every kind. We can’t help what goes into our net, what we experience. Everything we sense and imagine resides forevermore in our consciousness, our soul.

So what do we find? Everything: God.

“Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”-Matthew 13:48.

Jesus invites us to consider this lesson now, because, in the heat of the moment, we don’t have time to think. Here, we teeter on the edge of judgment, summoning our strength for a leap of faith. Before we leap or fall, we must remember the basic truths of Christianity, which, if we understand and follow, causes us to be born again.

All that we interpret in the Bible and life, we must first run it through these three axioms: (1) God is everything, and God is love, (2) so love one another, and (3) by love Jesus means, at the bare minimum:

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”-Luke 6:37.

This goes back to the Bible’s first lesson, what we call “the original sin.” Adam and Eve ate the fruit that gave them knowledge of good and evil. Judgment began there. This is the knowledge of opposites, our basis for judging others as good or evil, pretty or ugly, brave or cowardly.

If we judge, then we fall. In order to properly judge someone, we must know everything about them: past, present, future, not to mention their thoughts, dreams, fears, aspirations, the causes by which they act, and all the resultant effects. No one of us can know these things.

Throughout his book, Job claims to know all there is about God, and the Lord’s will. Then, in four marvelous chapters (38-41), God calls him out.

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. // Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; / To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man.”–Job 38:4, 25, 26.

When faced with the truth of his small place in the universe, and the overwhelming majesty of all that exists besides him….

“Then Job answered the Lord, and said, / I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. // I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. / Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”-Job 42:1, 2, 5, 6.

We sin by judging, not just because we condemn incorrectly, but because we exalt ourselves to God’s position, by believing we know what only the Lord can know.

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

This includes ourselves. If we put ourselves above God, we fall. We are a part of the universe, not the entire thing.

Job teaches not only patience, but repentance. If we search for patience, we find faith; if we search for repentance, we find forgiveness.

So, in this parable, when we separate the good fish from the bad, we doom our entire journey. We cannot distinguish between good and bad, and, if we do, we love one and hate the other. We can’t know everything; only everything knows everything.

The best person can do the worst things, and the worst can do the best; a coward rises to heroism, and a hero crumbles into cowardice; the ugly duckling becomes beautiful, and the beautiful person turns ugly.

What is, is not always what was, or what will be.

Who distinguishes between good and bad, if we don’t?

“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.”-Matthew 13:49.

Every so often, Jesus reveals the meaning of his parables. Quite a few of these kingdom of heaven parables center around Judgment Day, what the Jews call the Day of the Lord. At first glance, this complicates matters for us, as we attempt to interpret scripture.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”-Matthew 24:36.

Jesus tells us plainly that we cannot understand, predict, or knowingly prepare for his Second Coming. Like D-Day, it remains a secret until it occurs.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”-Mark 13:33.

Jesus cautions us to prepare, while also warning us that we don’t know what will be on our ultimate test.

Over the years, many people attempted to interpret what day Jesus would come, and failed. We must accept our limitations; that is how we learn patience, and strengthen our faith.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

So far we’ve seen, by Jesus’ explanation, that the good fish are the “just” people; and the bad fish are the “wicked” people. We cannot judge these qualities, or the lack thereof, but we can (and do) commit good and wicked deeds.

Noah’s story introduces us to these basic definitions.

“…Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”-Genesis 6:9.

The just person (the good fish) walks (or swims) with God.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”-Genesis 6:5.

The wicked person (the bad fish) thinks and/or does evil.

Only in rare examples are people good or bad all the time. King David committed adultery; Jacob betrayed Esau: But Jesus descended from Jacob and David.

Since we all sin, there’s no such thing as a good person.

“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”-Ecclesiastes 7:20.

On the cross beside Jesus, the thief repented; in the whale’s belly, Jonah repented.

Since we can repent, there’s no such thing as an evil person.

“This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”-Psalm 118:24.

God made everything, and continues to live as everything: the opportunity to sin, the sin itself, all that we call evil, and what we call good.

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

Fill in the blank with whatever you choose: The is the ____ which the Lord hath made. Everything fits into that.

If we choose to not lie to ourselves, believing that we can differentiate good from bad, then we learn faith. And if we search for faith, we find patience; likewise, if we search for forgiveness, we find repentance.

The opposite of judging is accepting. We love what we accept. And we rejoice in what and whom we love. So we must not judge, because we’re only alienating ourselves from love.

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

We don’t separate the good from the bad, the angels do.

To behave justly, We walk with God, as Noah did; and to walk with God, we follow Jesus.

“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.

So our search is not really a search, but a parade: the love parade. Jesus leads us through his lessons. He teaches us to accept everything as being part of God, made by divine love.

And when he revealed the two most important commandments, he also hinted that they were really one and the same.

“…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and great commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”-Matthew 22:37-39.

Therefore, when we behave justly, we love everyone and everything with all our heart, soul, and mind. Remember, we refer to behavior, as no one is good or wicked all the time.

In our lifetime, we search for the ingredients of our leaven, accepting all, good and bad, because there is no good and bad, only God.

“…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”-Matthew 5:44.

When we behave wickedly, we do not rejoice in love, or in the acceptance and respect of all we encounter. This hurts us, as we deny ourselves the love that comes from loving others, and the blessing that comes from blessing others. Instead, by cursing others, we curse ourselves.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”-Genesis 12:3.

Wickedness is not just a lack of morality, it is psychologically self-inflicted torture.

“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.

We attempt to hurt others, by not loving them. We want to pay them back, an eye for an eye, for not loving us. With their corrupt leaven, they made their wicked bread, which they fed to us; our fishing net scooped up their bad fish.

This brings us to the final question we must face in our search for patience and repentance, our parade toward the kingdom of heaven, and the peace we find and share when we are born again.

What do with do with what we find?

“And [the angels] shall cast [the wicked] into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 13:50.

At last we reach the summit (one of them, at least), the heart of the matter. In our studies of the kingdom of heaven parables, we’ll see plenty more talk of this furnace, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. So we can’t cover everything now, but we can attempt to establish a working understanding: not necessarily of the heavenly meaning, which is beyond us, but of the earthly meaning.

And it is this: In Jesus’ lessons, uselessness invites disaster; by being useful, we are born again.

“.…every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”-Matthew 3:10.

So if the tree doesn’t bear good fruit, what kind of fruit do we get?

“.…every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”-Matthew 7:17.

This is all the same teaching, phrased differently, and elaborated upon each time.

When we don’t judge, our indiscriminate fishing net takes in everything it comes across. The fish represent various behaviors (good and bad).

These fish are the fruits of our trees, the results of our works: whether we follow our own will, obeying ourselves, or if we follow God’s will, obeying God.

“And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”-Matthew 21:19.

Our judgment appears to inform us of what is good, which we keep, and what is bad, which we burn like dead leaves. But our judgment deceives us.

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

We lack the qualities of God needed to accurately judge. Sometimes we must decide: turn right or left, eat or starve, repent or not. Other judgments seem just as obvious to us, like whether a tree has borne fruit, or only leaves.

We can’t see the future. We don’t know whether or not the coward will heroically save the day tomorrow; perhaps they would, if only we hadn’t dismissed them, branding them as weak and worthless.

“And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be….”-Mark 13:7.

Tribulation occurs necessarily before the Second Coming, before we are born again. Only when hardship exhausts us, can we know the truth of our hearts. Only when God chooses us from the furnace of affliction do we know if our tree bears useful fruit, or useless leaves.

Useful fruit accepts love, and shares it with others. Corrupt fruit surrenders to base instincts: fighting for territory, tearing down what should be allowed to grow.

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”-Matthew 16:27.

If we love, Jesus rewards us with love. Therefore, by loving everyone and everything, we include ourselves, feeding ourselves with the good fish, the good fruit.

If we don’t love, we receive the absence of love, which is hate, corruption, and a hard, lonely heart. By hating and seeking to destroy everyone and everything, we include ourselves, destroying ourselves with the bad fish, the evil fruit, dooming our journey, resulting in Sodom.

Without love, we wail, and cry, and gnash our teeth. Our evil fruits torment us day and night, until we repent, by forgiving ourselves and others.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth….”-Luke 15:7.

Among the few things we must choose, forgiveness determines what we find in our search, and what we do with what we find, if we have the patience to not judge.

We believe that we must be in control, and suffer deep anxiety when tribulation smites our lives, and hurls all we’ve worked for into the abyss, which we can’t reach, let alone control. But, as usual, we are wrong.

When life is out of our control, it lies beyond our will, and rests in God’s hands. When this happens, rejoice! What is impossible to us is possible with God. The Lord reaches into the abyss, and returns our lives to love, when we practice patience, faith, and forgiveness.

We do what we can. We wait; we search; we worry. We love when we can, and hate when we’re too exhausted, when the wolves have overrun the sheep. We leap for forgiveness, judging others and falling into the furnace, wailing and gnashing our teeth.

Finally, like Peter, when the storm overwhelms us, when we’ve tried and failed to walk on water, when our lives sink with Jonah’s whale, with no other recourse, we finally learn the lesson of humility, like Job. And we cry, Lord, save me!

Then we discover that our search is really a parade. God was with us all along: waiting for us to allow Jesus to cure our blindness, so that we see the rejuvenation of repentance; our deafness, so that we listen to the love in our hearts, and forgive the thief on the cross; and our inability to walk in His path, His way, which is really our way, if we only have the faith to accept the truth.

With this revelation, we are born again, accepting the good and bad fish, allowing God to do with us whatever the world needs to realize its rightful place as the kingdom of heaven.

Previously, in our study of the Kingdom of Heaven parables, Jesus taught how we mix leaven, the contents of our lives-thoughts, actions, emotions, what we love, or hate-into the dough, which we use to make our bread, the sustenance of our souls. We share this bread with others, and they share theirs with us. Our bread becomes their leaven, and vice versa.

Therefore, we must remain aware of what we do, think, and share. Leaven starts a chain reaction. Jesus described it as planting a mustard seed. The smallest seed, a seemingly insignificant grain (a word or an action) results in what kind of tree all the birds of the air call home.

To plant the seed, we spend our lives searching for and gathering the ingredients, what we’ll mix into our dough. So our search determines not only the destination and quality of our lives, but the whole tree: everyone, everything, what/whom we call God, life.

How we search, and what we seek, becomes who we are, and who we will be. Jesus compared this to treasure hunting.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field.”-Matthew 13:44.

He immediately followed this parable with another, which is so similar that we can look at both together. By noticing their similarities (and dissimilarities), we see the message behind them.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. / Who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”-Matthew 13:45, 46.

Jesus began with the word again. Not only do each of these two parables repeat the message of the other, they also restate what all the Kingdom of Heaven parables declare, and bring to mind that all of Jesus’ teachings, and, indeed, everything in the Bible has but one message.

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”-Jeremiah 29:13.

We find what we want and need, when we admit what we want and need. God wants us to know what’s in our hearts, to be honest with ourselves, each other, and Him. When we combine unconditional, nonjudmental love with honesty and humility, then we search with all our heart.

Again, not only one message, but all the lessons of the Bible have one goal.

“…Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts….”–Malachi 3:7.

There are as many paths to God as there are people. Each lesson potentially appeals to one person. What makes you love without judgment? What inspires you to put aside childish tribalism, the us-versus-them mentality, and pursue an us-equals-them spirituality?

Return to love, and love will return to you. Whatever we turn to, it turns to us; whatever we seek and find, finds us: That’s the spiritual version of Newton’s law of motion for equal and opposite forces.

So if we turn to hate, then hate turns to us. We can’t control how others treat us, only how we treat them in return.

The single moral in all the Bible’s lessons (what it teaches again and again) is that we act without thinking. We lack mindfulness: We eat the forbidden fruit because it looks good; we crucify the unconditional love we’ve been waiting for, because we feel guilty for not practicing it.

Whatever path we take to loving one another, we must first be mindful. Mindful of what? That’s up to you. That’s your path. Whatever it takes for you to open the door, leave behind thoughtless judgment, and be born again.

…the kingdom of heaven is like unto….

Jesus never told us what God is, or what Heaven is, exactly, literally. He rarely spoke of God, instead referring to “Father.”

“As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”-John 6:57.

In Gethsemane, he called God “Abba” (an Aramaic term used by Jewish children when talking with their father, like daddy for us).

“And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”-Mark 14:36.

So the Lord is our Father, and we are his little children.

And Jesus gave reasons for these similes and parables.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

Instead of telling us what heaven is, Jesus teaches us what heaven is like, because it is here, on earth (with our mothers and fathers, and with each other) that we choose to search for war or peace, hate or love. It’s here, in our mortal lives that the irresistible force of a soft heart, and a firm mind, meets the immovable object of a hard heart.

We find this treasure, and reach this heavenly state of being reborn by accepting that we are mortal, short-lived, and ignorant of the infinite.

“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”-Psalm 39:4.

God limits our time to search. We wither like grass, come and go like ripples in a stream. But our waves undulate into, and combine with others; our roots intertwine; birds fashion homes in our branches. We live forever, when we give love and life to others. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

After their opening lines, these two parables diverge.

…like unto treasure hid in a field….

…like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls.

The first one focuses on what the person seeks, while the second looks at the seeker. Both are important and equal. We are what we seek, and we seek what we are: equal and opposite.

What do you treasure? We answer this by being mindful of what we spend most of our time doing, feeling, and thinking.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”-Luke 12:34.

On the one hand:

The first parable tells us that God hides our treasure. We must search for it: honestly, unconditionally, and without judgment, accepting what we find.

The second one relates our occupation (and preoccupation) to our desire. We are what we do, and we do according to what we are.

“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”-Matthew 12:34.

On the other hand:

Since the first parable speaks from the perspective of the treasure, and Jesus tells us how the Kingdom of Heaven is like the treasure, then as we search for it, it waits for us: equal and opposite.

It’s important to note that, when interpreting, we are potentially every character in the Bible. We are the Pharisees and the Apostles, Judas and Peter, the advocate and the adversary.

From the Gnostic text, “The Thunder, Perfect Mind”:

For I am the first and the last.

I am the honored one and the scorned one.

I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.

So as the treasure waits for us, we wait for it; and as we seek the goodly pearl, it seeks us.

Also, Jesus cautioned us: We get one master, one foremost love, one primary desire: one God.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”-Luke 16:13.

We can only search for one thing at a time. We can put no other gods before our one God. This is practical. If we multitask, we do nothing well; our mind strays from what we’re doing, to what we’re not doing.

So, what/whom do you love? Does your treasure, or the search for it, make you happy? Is your quest and devotion worthwhile?

We all have fingerprints; we have that in common. But all fingerprints are unique. This search is your unique fingerprint, your own personal covenant. Only you can know the answer.

Notice, I wrote can. It isn’t a given that we know what we’re doing. Actually, the reverse is usually true.

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

This is the moral of the whole Bible, as stated earlier.

The Bible reminds us to deliberately fix what we’ve mindlessly botched.

“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”-Isaiah 55:2.

We are what we seek, and we seek what we are: We are treasure hunters because we hunt treasure; we are the goodly pearl because that’s what we spend our lives searching for.

So when our lives seem out of whack, if we’re angry, depressed, suffering from ailments no doctor can accurately diagnose, like the sick woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and was healed….

“And [she] had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.”-Mark 5:26.

…Then we have occupied ourselves with what doesn’t satisfy us. One engine powers your car. What is your engine?

…the [treasure] when a man hath found…..

…Who, when he found one pearl of great price….

Since we can only do one thing well, we must choose wisely. We sacrifice everything else for whatever we love most. The Bible’s moral warns us that we love without thinking.

“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”-John 16:2.

We love what we do, and we do what we love, even if we don’t know we’re doing it, or recognize that we love it.

If we search deliberately, mindfully, if we know what we’re seeking, what we treasure, and we are aware of what we love, then we find it.

And the treasure finds us.

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”-Luke 11:9.

The single thing we love can be a group. If we love football, we love everything about it: passing, kicking, blocking, running. If we love listening to music, we love everything about it: harmony, disharmony, standard and nonstandard instruments, rhythm and poly-rhythm. If we love our family, then we love everything about it: children, spouse, parents and grandparents.

But if we love football, we don’t love baseball as much. If we love our family, then we don’t love strangers as much. If we love to sit and listen to music, then we don’t love dancing as much.

Whatever we love, we neglect everything else, to some degree: This is the first commandment.

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

Ask yourself, if I had to choose between football and baseball, listening to music or dancing, family or a stranger, which would you choose? Whatever the answer, that’s what you love. There can be no other gods before the one you love.

There’s only one thing that, if we love it, then we love all things: God.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”-Matthew 6:33.

When we seek God, we love everything; and when we love everything, we find God. In this way, we love family and stranger.

…and for joy thereof [the treasure hunter] goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field.

…[the pearl merchant] went and sold all that he had, and bought [the pearl].

Since we sacrifice everything for the one pearl we love, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the one thing we love, and the absence of love from all other things. So if we don’t love everything, all the time, then hate becomes part of our search.

Hate destroys the soul, creates a mental imbalance, makes us sick, and fills our lives with anger, fear, depression, and gives us a bad back, tendonitis, nightmares, and anxieties without end. Hate invades our hearts, even when we put our family first, spend time with our children, care for the poor, homeless, sick, and imprisoned…if that’s all we love.

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”-Matthew 10:37.

That curious quote makes sense now. If we put family first, then we don’t love everything else as much. And the absence of love is hate. This is the subtlety of evil. But when we love God, then we love family and stranger, football and baseball, listening to music and dancing, because the Lord is all of that and more.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: / But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”-Matthew 6:19, 20.

The Bible reveals our oversights, and leads us on the way to the truth of who we are and what we do, and offers us life.

“For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live.”-Amos 5:4.

The only way to live is to love. When we realize this, and correct the oversight, we are born again. Jesus cures our blindness, enables us to walk in God’s path, and raises us from the death brought on by our hate.

To love like God, we must seek God.

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.”-Psalm 25:4.

We learn at Jesus’ feet when we understand that we don’t know everything; no one knows everything; only everything knows everything. And so we forgive the blind when they stumble. Like the Good Samaritan, we have mercy on, and feel compassion for, those who get hurt while walking dangerous roads.

We discover God’s treasure when (1) we accept that (apart from how we search, and how we react) everything and everyone is out of our control, and (2) we put aside our ego, our self-righteous delusions that we, alone, matter.

This understanding and acceptance is the treasure in our parable, the greatest pearl in the world. And since we are what we seek, we are that treasure in God’s eyes.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”-Luke 15:7.

Given the equal and opposite nature of life, we realize that God also symbolizes the treasure and the treasure hunter. We are God’s treasure, just as the Lord is ours. God waits for us, and asks only that we wait for the will of the Lord to be done.

“The Serenity Prayer” summarizes what we learn and gain, when we make God’s will our search.

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

This discovery is what it means to be born again. This is the way to love without leaving an opening for hate. And, thereby, we accomplish God’s will, and accept the responsibility for our will. As we hunt for treasure, we allow, and wait for, others to conduct their search.

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”-Psalm 27:14.

While we search for the ingredients of our leaven (what we love), and what we love searches for us, and while we wait for what we love, and what we love waits for us, everyone else searches and waits as well. And God searches for them, and waits for them, as well as us.

We are all things in interpretation, but God is all things in actuality. So, to let the Lord’s will be done, we let others search, and we practice patience while they wait.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”-Matthew 6:10.

We search for the kingdom. We wait for the kingdom. We are the kingdom. And the kingdom searches and waits for us, because it is who we are. This revelation leads to the buried treasure, and is the way to eternal life through love.

Hallelujah, O my soul!

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.

(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 the first part of a larger essay. For the complete version, go here.)

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.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

(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.

When the Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus how to be good, and was told to keep the Commandments, he said that he was doing that already, and asked what else he needed to do.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”-Matthew 19:21.

Was Jesus joking, or did he offer the possibility of being perfect? And what does it mean, to be perfect? We answer these important questions, when we are born again, when we sin no more.

As we discussed last time, being perfect doesn’t mean that we’ll dodge unavoidable accidents. We slip, trip, and fall. I spill every time I pour something. But that is not hate (the every-day word for sin). Hate is our choice, our responsibility; we choose to sin. So we can choose to not sin.

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”-Luke 6:46.

If we aren’t going to do the work Jesus requires, then how can we claim to be his followers?

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”-James 1:22.

Too long have we remained enslaved by hate, believing ourselves powerless against it, yet claiming that Jesus saved us from our sins, and rid the world of evil. We can’t believe he saved us, while we’re actively sinning. We can’t be with him, and against him. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must choose.

“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”-Luke 11:23.

Don’t panic. This is a slow process. We’re addicted to sin, and it’ll take a long time, and a lot of hard work, to kick the habit. Review the steps in mindfulness from Part 1, and stay in God’s presence. We can’t hate, when we’re loving God.

Before Jesus asked the impossible of us, God formed a covenant with his ancestor, Abram. The Lord changed the man’s name, symbolizing rebirth, to Abraham.

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. // Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”–Genesis 17:1, 5.

We are all fathers of many nations. Whether or not we accept the responsibility, our deeds (good or bad) influence others, who influence others, and so on…until we affect, or infect, the whole world. Our will is insufficient to love all who hate us, or ignore us, and so we shirk the needs of others by hating or ignoring them: allowing the poor to remain poor, the weak to be trodden upon, and the wicked to triumph.

“LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?”-Psalm 94:3.

The answer? As long as we believe it’s impossible to follow God’s will.

Perfect is what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” We take our first step in understanding this daunting concept, by agreeing that God is perfect.

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler [or shield] to all them that trust in him.”-2 Samuel 22:31.

But we can’t be perfect like God, can we? Keep in mind we aren’t talking about avoiding mistakes, or shooting the basketball into the hoop every time. The Lord is perfect because He is without sin. By its most basic definition, to sin is to be apart from God: to hate, instead of love. God cannot be apart from God.

King David further illuminated this for us, passing along his wisdom, as his descendant Jesus did.

“God is my strength and my power; and he maketh my way perfect.”-2 Samuel 22:33.

Alone, we cannot be perfect. Hatred clouds our judgment. Without God, we sin, since that is what sin means: “without God.” But when we realize how insufficient our will is, that we are alone and unarmed, and facing an army, then we choose. Pride fails us at this point; we must let it go. We are outnumbered, out-gunned, out of luck, and out of time.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”-Matthew 6:10.

The kingdom of heaven comes when God’s will is done on earth, that is, by us. So we are born again when our will becomes God’s will. That is how we become perfect.

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

Here’s where Jesus breaks down the Bible shorthand into something we can approach and understand. Perfect = merciful. Further, everything God is, is perfect, and whatever we do to serve the Lord, in the way that He wants us to do it (not the way we want) is perfect.

Here are some Old Testament synonyms, courtesy of King David.

Perfect = totally sincere (1 Kings 11:4; 2 Samuel 22:33), completely dedicated (2 Chronicles 16:9). And this Psalm of David further clarifies the meaning:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”-Psalm 19:7.

God’s love converts the soul, and causes us to be reborn, if we’re humble enough to receive it. When we admit our ignorance and weakness, and commit ourselves to loving all things, all people, then we simple human beings become wise.

The apostle Peter adds to our list and understanding.

“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”-1 Peter 1:15.

Holy is, of course, what God is. Not only that, but the term points us to the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called “the Comforter.”

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”-John 14:26.

To be a comforter to those who are poor, brokenhearted, sick, in prison, in the hospital, friendless, and hopeless is to bring to remembrance what Jesus taught.

And one more synonym rounds out our list.

“…as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

Here’s what we have so far, as we contemplate what Jesus asks of us, and will give us, when we surrender our will to God. We are to be totally sincere and completely dedicated. No half-measures.

“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.

God is love, and love is everything. Give it all. Hold nothing back. To enter the kingdom of heaven is to embrace love; we do this by following Jesus’ teachings. This is a life-changing commitment, a personal covenant, between each of us and God.

Our covenant includes our perspective, experiences, everything that makes us unique. When we surrender, we remain who we are, we lose nothing of ourselves. Rather, our gifts, and our shortcomings, our faults and sins, passions and dreams…We dedicate all of it to the Lord, to life.

So we are completely dedicated, and totally sincere. We are merciful, and love one another. How dedicated, sincere, merciful, and loving should we be?

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

How perfect must we be?

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

We must be as merciful as God, as loving as Jesus, as holy as the Lord. Now we see how the Rich Young Ruler felt, when he walked away, shaking his head at the thought of surrendering all that he owned.

Take a deep breath.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”-Luke 12:32.

I know all this is scary: like a nightmare, where we’re a musician on stage, asked to perform on an instrument we’ve never played; or maybe we’re a casual jogger, who has to suddenly run a 10-mile marathon.

Keep in mind, we’re looking at the end, the goal. To reach perfection, we take one baby step at a time. Review the steps from my mindfulness essays. Keep God with you, or, rather, stay with God.

Also, remember that we aren’t alone in this covenant. Jesus blesses his students.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [or allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”-1 Corinthians 10:13.

Temptation is Bible Shorthand for “testing.” It does not mean to seduce or trick, as we use the word today. Now and then, God tests us, to see how well we’ve learned Jesus’ lessons, and to prepare us for more advanced classes.

God will not give us more than we can handle, without also giving us the strength to handle the tests. What does the Lord give us, then?

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”-Joshua 1:9.

God replaces our fears and anxieties with love and hope. Think of it: no more doubt, worry, regret, or shame. How much of our strength do we channel into carrying these useless burdens? How much stronger will we be without them?

We either sail with the wind, or against it. In the latter, we spend all our energy to accomplish our own will. We fight against nature, refusing to go the way life asks of us. But in the former, the wind is at our backs. We barely have to lift a finger. Everything happens naturally, because we have given ourselves over to nature, to God.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”-Matthew 11:29, 30.

We think loving people who hate us is impossible, that we can’t live without returning their hate. Actually, love is the easiest thing in the world to share. What makes Jesus’ teachings so seemingly difficult is that we’re required to be like him; I don’t mean godly, immortal, or performing miracles; I mean meek and lowly in heart.

Pride is our ultimate defense mechanism: a small animal growling, to scare a larger predator. We are small creatures. Jesus asks us to see ourselves for who we really are. This is the difficulty. Once we surrender our pride, the wind is at our backs, and God is with us.

“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”-Deuteronomy 31:8.

With God, we no longer need to hate, or take revenge, or judge others. We are no longer jealous and bitter, or, therefore, anxious and depressed. We love, because the Lord rights all wrongs.

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”-Leviticus 19:18.

When we surrender pride, we rip hatred up by the roots, and throw that vile weed (and all of its effects) into the furnace. Leave these volatile emotions to the Lord; vengeance happens by His time table, not according to our limited, selfish desires, but by His infinite wisdom.

“To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.”-Deuteronomy 32:35.

Nature is balance; and the Lord is nature. We do not have to carry the burden of ill will. Instead, with God, all we have to do is be at peace, and love one another.

“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.

Remember the world is not evil. The world doesn’t betray us, or hate us for our weakness, trying to devour us at every turn. We people hate; we are responsible for what happens. We cause tribulation in our futile attempts to overcome the nearly 8 billion other people.

Since that is so, we can, instead, bring good cheer. Breathe in the sin of others, and breathe out the love of God; inhale the false, exhale the truth. Make every breath count toward the betterment of all. That is the only way we win: not by seeking our desires, which is an endless and impossible task, but by joining the choir of life. Sing your hearts out.

“I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. / It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.”-Psalm 144:9, 10.

We don’t have to hate ourselves and others. We can sing a new song. Join with God, with nature, and all things. When we love His world-the trees, rocks, animals, the sky, the earth, and each other-then we can draw strength, courage, and love from everything around us.

This is the covenant that Jesus offers: not eye for an eye, but love in return for love; hope, for hope; salvation, for salvation. The Promised Land is ours for the taking!

Behold the wisdom of Solomon, another of Jesus’ ancestors:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. / In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. / Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear [or revere] the Lord, and depart from evil.”-Proverbs 3:5-7.

We cannot be perfect in every way, but we can love perfectly. We cannot overcome the world, but we can defeat hatred. We cannot forge our own heaven on earth, but we can join the kingdom of heaven, by following God’s will-doing what’s right for all, not some, not just you or me, but feeling love for everyone, everything. This is who we are.

Loving, when we’re used to hating, will not be easy; Jesus promised that it would be like carrying a cross. Be patient. Breathe. Inhale sorrow; exhale peace.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. / But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”-James 1:3, 4.

Inhale sorrow; exhale peace. Make every breath count for everyone. This is God’s breath: divine life, the word that has always existed, even before existence, itself. And that word is love.

To be born again is to give all we have to God, to love all, and hate nothing. When we are without hate, then we sin no more. Our love is God’s love for Jesus, which is his love for us.

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

And that is the perfect love, the perfect life, the way, and the truth. May the Lord bless and keep you. Amen.

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.