Tag Archive: Christian


We’ve covered what “born again” means: not judging, but feeling and sharing unconditional love for all; and why we need it: without love, we sabotage ourselves and everyone else; and how to achieve it: be mindful, and accept the billions of other lives, all needing and worthy of dignity, respect, forgiveness, and compassion.

“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.

Despite what Jesus said, we find little about his yoke that is easy or light: mostly because we aren’t meek and lowly in heart, and our souls are anything but restful.

Let us say we do reach that point, what, in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus called “the good ground.” We work and work, until we achieve, through grace and sacrifice, what should be easy; and we are reborn. Then begins our most difficult trial.

When we succeed, our pride swells. With pride as our guide, we fail. Until we learn how to maintain humility in God’s presence, and practice unconditional compassion, and automatic forgiveness, then we’ll have to be reborn again and again.

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.”-Matthew 22:2.

We studied this marriage last time. We are the bride, and Jesus is the groom; we are the life, and love makes us whole. This parable doesn’t mention the bride. But that’s because we have other parts to play.

God is the king. And since God is love, then love presides over the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus told Nicodemus:

“…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

So we understand love by feeling and practicing mercy, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and respect; and when we learn to do these things naturally, we are reborn.

Jesus is the king’s son. He is the door, and we must pass through his lessons of our own free will, in order to reach the kingdom.

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”-John 10:9.

To find rest for our souls, all we have to do is follow the example Jesus gave us.

“And [the king] sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.”-Matthew 22:3.

God calls us to love one another: This is the invitation. If we accept, we are born again; through our actions, we invite others.

This is the first path: the servant.

With our wedding, we commit to a life of love, for better or worse, together. But first, we choose to accept or decline the groom. When we say yes to Jesus, then we become the bride, and the servant. These roles combine, as we minister to others; with our comforting of them, we invite them too.

Now we switch to the second path: the invited. After we’re born again, servants come to offer us a chance to show loving kindness.

How we react to the invitation determines our path.

When we’re offered the chance to love life, and we say no, we harm ourselves.

“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”-Proverbs 11:17.

No matter how others treat us, if we react with love, then we accept the groom’s proposal. We enter the kingdom of heaven, and live a wonderful life.

No matter how others treat us, if we react with hate, if we refuse to forgive, and be compassionate and merciful, we harm ourselves.

When we deny the groom, we deprive ourselves of heaven. Then, we live a hellish life.

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

This tribulation afflicts and refines us. We resort to this drastic method so we learn how someone else feels, when they hurt: So that, next time, we’ll comfort them when they need it; we’ll accept the invitation, react wisely, and enter the kingdom of heaven.

“Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.”-Matthew 22:4.

One fatling (or fattened calf) would feed an entire village. So multiple fatlings, and oxen too, made a huge, country-wide feast, which celebrated the king’s son getting married, and the propagation of the king’s reign: spreading the word.

Remember, the king invited the people who had already been reborn. After a difficult trial, they succeeded in winning the king’s favor. He honored them, and expected them to honor his son.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”-John 4:14.

God blesses us with everlasting life. God is love, and love is life, which is all around us. For the Hebrews, “everlasting” water meant flowing water. So everlasting life flows from one person to another, a cascading waterfall, gentle brook, the thunder of an ocean, and pouring of a cool drink.

We flow into each other, whether we know it or not, believe it or not, want to or not. For better or worse, we influence others, and shape the quality of all life around us. Acceptance of this awesome responsibility is the door to the kingdom of heaven.

To honor the king’s son, we love one another, as he loves us.

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”-John 12:26.

If we commit to this flowing life, which circulates from God, to Jesus, to us, and back again, then God invites us to the marriage. The feast celebrates our covenant: to cherish, honor, and not even in death do we part.

Refusal of his invitation insults the king. And insulting the king is treason.

“But they [who were invited] made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.”-Matthew 22:5.

Remember, the people who refused the king’s servants were already born again. They had gained the king’s favor, and received an invitation to the wedding.

Then their pride took hold of them.

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

They chose to honor their farms and merchandise, what they accomplished on their own. After all, we need our jobs to support our families; and we feel pride in taking care of our own.

Happiness and pride differ greatly, though we often use them interchangeably. By being happy with our success, we also show gratitude for our daily bread. With happiness, we honor life; with pride, we worship our own greatness.

“Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.”-Isaiah 2:8.

Remember, Jesus is “meek and lowly in heart.” Without reverence for God, for all things, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. We cannot bow, in meek reverence, if we’re prideful.

When we’re reborn, then we love as God does, as Jesus taught.

“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”-1 John 2:6.

But, we say, if I don’t tend the farm, or work in the store, my family doesn’t eat. First I have to take care of my family and myself, and then donate what’s left to others.

We never finish looking out for ourselves, or caring for our loved ones. The store needs stocking, and the field needs plowing, every day.

“…No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”-Luke 9:62.

So how can we look forward to others, if we’re always looking back on ourselves?

Since God is everything, love for all is the only way to neglect nothing. That’s why Jesus wants us to seek God first.

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

By loving God, we love everyone and everything all at once. Jesus gives and teaches us this divine love; in return, we honor his (and our) union with all life.

Keep in mind, whether we pass or fail doesn’t matter, compared to how we react to the test. After they refused the king’s invitation the second time, “the invited” returned to their businesses.

But some went too far, and reacted with hate.

“And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.”-Matthew 22:6.

Back then, the king’s messenger was exempted from harm. Killing him was a crime worthy of death. The proverb still exists today: You don’t “kill the messenger.”

Why? Because we aren’t just killing the servant, who represents the king. Really, we’re destroying the message he delivers. In this case, we murder the celebration of love.

“He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.”-John 13:20.

If we reject the king’s authority, then we renounce his rule, and remove ourselves from his protection, and the abundance of his kingdom.

This is the definition of sin.

So far, Jesus has set two paths before us. As servants, after we’re reborn, we spread the good news (the Old English word is “gospel”). But, if we take the other path, if we’re invited but refuse to tend to each other, we stifle the sharing of the gospel. The former we call ministry; and the latter, sin.

When we refuse to share and receive love, for whatever reason, we pay the ultimate price.

“But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”-Matthew 22:7.

Conquerors burn resistant cities. And love conquers all.

If we exalt ourselves above the king, then we put what we want before the whole world. God humbles us, and forces us to confront our selfishness. Then, when we admit that we refused to accept and share with others, and rejected our angelic potential, we destroy our city of sin.

When we say God burns our cities, we actually mean that our refusal of loving kindness ruined us. We brought disaster on ourselves.

As John the Baptist said of Jesus:

“…I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”-Luke 3:16.

When we see how we suffered, then we know how others feel when they’re in pain. As we hope for someone to help us, so we understand that others need us.

This is the baptism of fire.

We reap what we sow. We reflect the love or hate others project on us, and vice versa. If they’re mean to us, we’re mean to them. Hate begets hate; but love defeats hate. We can choose to break the chain.

If we kill the messenger, we reject and destroy not only the love God offers us, but the potential for us to be messengers (the Greek word for which is “angelos”). If we deny love, then we reject the better angels of our nature; and, therefore, we condemn ourselves.

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”-Proverbs 3:5.

Until we are reborn, we learn everything incorrectly: Our sustenance is selfishness; our goals, temporary. But when we nourish ourselves with God’s will, by accepting instead of judging, our burden becomes much lighter.

However painful and heavy at first, this process humbles us, and teaches us how to be worthy of the invitation to the marriage of all life.

“Then saith [the king] to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.”-Matthew 22:8.

How do we become worthy? How do we achieve the blessing of God’s invitation?

From The Vulgate (the late 4th century Latin translation of the Bible), the word beati (plural of beatus) means “blessings.” That’s where we get “beatitudes.”

During his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus points out the effects and importance of humility, which result from the blessing of being born again.

Blessed are the following: the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

In other words, people who are humbled, and pass through the baptism of fire, but react to their apocalypse with wisdom and loving kindness. These are only examples of how to reach that end result. There are as many paths to being born again as there are people.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”-Matthew 7:20.

We are worthy when we realize that what we thought were curses, are actually blessings. Our tribulation allows us to understand suffering, which leads to our blessing of others.

As God gave us strength and faith, which lifted us out of affliction (which God gave us), so we should comfort others (who God gave us). As Jesus feeds our souls with love and acceptance, so we should nourish and nurture others. We do so because it is all God.

We are all a piece of the puzzle, a part, and an aspect of the cosmos. We are small circles, inside a larger, universal circle. So when we harm or help a single part, then we do the same to the whole. Thus, we bring pain or joy on ourselves, and build or burn our cities.

The invited guests weren’t ready, and lost everything. Remember, we are the servants, when we’re born again and bless others. We’re also the invited, who were reborn, grew prideful, and then rejected the offer to share and receive love.

In this parable, we have a third role or path: the uninvited.

“Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. / So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”-Matthew 22:9, 10.

When we’re reborn, God invites us to love one another. If we accept, and say yes to Jesus, then we marry all life; we become servants of loving kindness: We share and receive compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and respect with and from everyone and everything.

If we say no, if we refuse to see how we need each other, then we no longer experience the joys of compassion.

The terms good and bad apply to decisions, individual reactions; they are not equal to identity. We aren’t good or bad people; we just make good and bad decisions, with our mindful or mindless reactions.

Before we become servants, we are the invited. Before opportunities invite us, we are the uninvited. So, at one time or another, we are all three paths.

The opportunities present themselves with as many people as we find. Everyone is uninvited, until we invite them.

“We love him, because he first loved us.”-1 John 4:19.

When we’re born again, we marry everyone and everything. Abuse results in divorce. But patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion, i.e., love results in a happy marriage, a beautiful life for all.

Keep in mind, wolves circle our flock, waiting and searching for the weak. We have the potential to do each other great harm, even (or especially) when we act in Jesus’ name.

“…yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”-John 16:2.

Not everyone accepts what we offer.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”-Mark 6:11.

Jesus told this to his apostles, as he sent them out to spread the word. When we say yes, we become apostles. We do what we can, but we must allow every person to determine their own path, and covenant with life. If they aren’t ready, then plant the seed, and walk on.

When we say yes, we accept all things, even rejection. We do this because, when we reject someone, we want them to respect our path.

When we say no, we set ourselves up for disappointment and tribulation. Without the love offered by others, we have nothing to hold onto, when the floods come.

If we react wisely to the apocalypse we bring on ourselves, we learn how much we need each other, and how much others need us.

With every interaction, we are born again, through our acceptance or rejection. We cycle through everlasting life, becoming new all the time. Therefore, no one is without hope, or above mistakes.

“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.

This cycle shows us how easy it is to live without despair and hatred. Just love one another, as God loves Jesus, and Jesus loves us; that’s all. But that simplicity circulates through complexity; the finite flows through the infinite. How impossible it is to love everyone! So we pass from the kingdom of heaven to a burnt and decimated city.

Then we see how simple our mistake was. We forgot to accept the marriage of our will to the wills of everyone else. Life becomes beautiful again. Then we realize how impossible it is to combine what we want from a marriage, with what everyone else wants.

So many people; so many covenants!

Like Pilate, we wash our hands of Jesus, and surrender his love to the bloodthirsty mob. And we’re back to a heartless life. We wail and gnash our teeth, until we swear to try harder. We succeed, then succumb to pride, which we mistake for happiness.

Pride usurps humility; so when we serve, it is for our own ends, and not for the well-being of our marriage. The uninvited sense our lack of universal love, and reject us; then, in our confusion and frustration, we surrender to hopelessness.

“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”-Mark 14:38.

We must accept weakness, just as we say yes to everything else in our marriage. Take it in stride, because we know that we’ll make a new covenant. We’ll rise from the ashes of our self-sabotage. Faith in ourselves and others will breathe into us new, everlasting life.

We are reborn again and again.

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Kingdom of Heaven: 10 Virgins

(This one is a little long, about 19 pages. I recommend more bite-sized chunks: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. You can always reach these again by going to the Intro/Contents link at the top of the page, and clicking on the title of this essay in the contents.)

We choose how to react to our experiences. Whether thoughtlessly or mindfully, we bear the responsibility of adding another link to the chain, or breaking it to be born again.

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.”-Matthew 25:1.

Jesus shares this parable right in the middle of his discourse on the Second Coming, and the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 A.D., some 37 years after his crucifixion). That’s what he refers to, when he begins with “Then….”

So this parable applies to, and elucidates what Jesus said about “Judgment Day.” The kingdom of heaven results from the destruction of our world. Or, more personally, we are born again when we participate in the marriage between love and life.

Indeed, Revelation (the final book in the Bible) climaxes with the union between us and Jesus.

“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”-Revelation 19:7.

We make ourselves ready by acknowledging the folly of our pride, arrogance, and cruelty. When life tears us down, we learn and change from the experience. We either double-down on our foolishness, or gain wisdom: We choose our path based on how we react to apocalyptic experiences.

Jesus is the bridegroom.

“But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.”-Luke 5:35.

More personally, Jesus is our love for one another: the wisdom to understand that, without love, we are weak; without love, we fake strength, which causes sin. So when someone wrongs us (or we harm them), we know it’s because of their (or our) weakness.

We do not punish the weak, because then we would need to condemn ourselves as well.

“…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”-John 8:7.

We are all mortal, and ignorant of what lies outside our experience. So mercy, compassion, and forgiveness should occur automatically. This requires us to be mindful, and practice love at all times. This is wisdom.

We’ve been working on “the kingdom of heaven” for several essays now. Basically, we are in the kingdom if we react wisely to Jesus’ lessons. The kingdom is our understanding of his lessons, and our commitment to live by them.

“…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”-Luke 17:21.

So the kingdom is the love we feel and share. It is the potential within us, the realization of our better nature, our very heart, soul, mind, and strength.

“The ten virgins” represent all of us, the whole spectrum of humanity. Recall the first verse of a previous “kingdom” essay.

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

From every kind, the angels separate the good fish from the bad, and the wheat from the tares. In the very next verse, as we’ve seen in previous essays, the virgins actually separate themselves, based on what they learned (or didn’t learn) from experience, how they react to their preparation for the marriage.

Our final term, in this first verse, is the “lamp” that each virgin carries. We’ll look deeper into this one as we go.

For now, let us note that all ten virgins, all of us, we all carry a lamp.

“And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.”-Matthew 25:2.

Right away, in this second verse, we see the point of the parable. Don’t misunderstand the terms. No one is all good, or all bad. Sometimes, we make foolish decisions, or we react wisely. Sometimes, we do the right thing; other times, the wrong thing.

We must be born again to see our variability, and mindful enough to commit to one or the other. Through our marriage with the Lamb, and our personal covenant with life, we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of wisdom, and are, thereby, reborn. Like inertia, love struggles to begin, but continues easily, once we get moving.

If we react wisely to tribulation, the kingdom of heaven follows. Wisdom is understanding why we need love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness: It was the lack of them that brought us to our day of reckoning.

Wisdom can be hard to define. Luckily, we have King Solomon. As the son and heir of King David (and Jesus’ ancestor), when the Lord appeared to him, and asked him what he wanted, this is what he said:

“Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad….”-1 Kings 3:9.

If you could ask anything of God, and know that the Lord would grant your request, what would you ask for? Solomon had wisdom before God granted his wish for it. This is true of us all.

Jesus (our love within) takes what we offer (our talent), and multiplies our few loaves and fish, allowing us to feed thousands. If we use wisdom in being kind to others, we gain more.

“And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.”-1 Kings 4:29.

For now, we note that wisdom is understanding, discerning honestly between good and bad. It is largeness of heart: such a great empathy that it could be likened to all the sand on the shores of every beach in the world.

With understanding, we don’t have to agree or approve. We just need to see and feel others so deeply, that we know why they did what they did. Leave yourself behind. When trying to understand someone, judge based on their thoughts and feelings, not yours.

If we practice this mindfully, it occurs automatically, and our understanding will be instinctive. This is wisdom.

“They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. / But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”-Matthew 25:3, 4.

Jesus develops the parable quickly, defining and distinguishing wisdom and foolishness: We behave wisely when we prepare, and foolishly when we do not make ourselves ready.

“And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.”-Luke 12:39.

We don’t know when disaster will strike, or when we’ll have the opportunity to forgive, show mercy and compassion. It’s like the musician’s nightmare: suddenly called onto stage, in front of a packed house, and given an instrument they don’t know how to play.

We can’t prepare for every eventuality. We’re unable to learn every instrument, and maintain familiarity with them at all times. But we can learn the basics of musicianship, and love.

“…Behold, the fear [reverence] of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”-Job 28:28.

God is all things. So to revere the Lord is to admire and respect all things. That is the Bible’s main point. If we choose to love and respect everyone and everything, and do so mindfully at all times, that is wisdom. Or, rather, it’s the first step along the path. As Solomon wrote:

“The fear [reverence] of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”-Proverbs 1:7.

The translations for the last two quotes are a little misleading. By fear, what they meant to write (as we’d use the word today) is reverence. Don’t be afraid of sharing love, or rejoicing in life. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is reverence.

The “lamps” that the virgins carried were actually torches.

Around the top of the torch, they wrapped rags soaked in oil; with enough in reserve, the torch lasted for several hours. The foolish virgins lit their torches, but failed to carry any extra oil with them. So their light wouldn’t last for long.

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”-John 8:12.

Jesus said he was many things, but the most common and often-repeated metaphor was light. Throughout the millennia, many religious and spiritual practices understood light as synonymous with nirvana, enlightenment, and being reborn.

So the lamps (or torches) produce light, which is Jesus, who is love. The oil maintains light. So love perseveres via the display of light, and the reapplication of rags soaked in oil.

Like inertia, our sharing of love makes it easier for us to continue sharing it. But if we don’t choose to shine our light on others, if, instead, we allow their cold hearts to influence our reactions, then love becomes almost impossible.

Remember the Parable of the Sower:

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”-Matthew 13:20, 21.

In other words, when Jesus lights our torch, at first we feel love, if we are ready to receive it. But when someone else does something hateful and spiteful, they offend the foolish virgins; and, with no extra oil (without forgiveness), tribulation extinguishes love.

Don’t be too frustrated with yourself because of this. In the different kinds of soil that Jesus describes, the best of us live on stony ground. We hear and feel the Word, and love all things. But we are lambs among wolves.

Jesus warned us of this.

“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”-Matthew 24:12.

We react based on how others treat us: cause and effect. This is natural. But the Bible (and Jesus’ lessons specifically) exist to warn us of our instinctive, but harmful behavior.

So if we sin because others sin against us, then, instead, we can choose to break the chain. We can forgive those who trespass against us, and thereby forgive and confront our own weaknesses. We can remove the stones from our ground, and out of our hearts, transforming temporary love (limited fuel) into perpetual motion, by choosing to accept and reflect the unending love of God, which is all around us.

“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.

When we carry extra oil, then we react to the wolves around us by being wise as serpents and harmless as doves: having a strong mind and tender heart.

If we let our minds weaken, or our hearts become like stone, then we add another link to the chain, and separate ourselves from the good fish, the nourishing wheat. This is foolishness.

God is everything. So love is everything, everywhere. In other words, we fuel our torches just by reaching out with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

This takes practice. Be patient with your patience.

Before we move on, note that Jesus is both the bridegroom and the light given by the lamps. More personally, mindfulness of mercy and compassion lights the torch. Our love for one another illuminates the way. And forgiveness renews the flame.

“While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.”-Matthew 25:5.

Everything takes time. Don’t panic! With patience, we learn humility; with humility, we learn reverence; and with reverence, we gain wisdom.

When the Jewish couple of Jesus’ time were to be married, the virgins kept the bride company, at the bride’s parents’ house. They waited for the groom, who could be held up for any number of reasons: working out the dowry, making arrangements at his parents’ house. No one knew when everything would be ready, when the groom would come for the bride.

The groom could arrive that night, the next night, or not for a couple of weeks. Nobody knew for sure. Part of the fun for the groom was to surprise the bridal party, even catch them napping.

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

Going back as far as their Babylonian exile, the Hebrews were convinced that God had forsaken them.

“… for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.”-Ezekiel 9:9.

In other words, the groom didn’t just tarry, he left us at the altar.

No matter how many times God proves that he will not abandon us, we surrender when things go wrong. This is natural. Even Jesus (quoting Psalm 22:1) felt this powerful, all-too-human emotion, when he was on the cross:

“…My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”-Matthew 27:46.

If, at his most horrifying and painful moment, he thought God had forsaken him, then we can expect no better from ourselves. When in doubt, we go into fight or flight mode, and cut ourselves off from love. Even without choosing mindfully, we bear the responsibility of acting thoughtlessly. We wish for wolves to be lambs, and when they aren’t, we become wolves too.

Just because it’s natural doesn’t make it right. Just because it seems impossible, doesn’t mean we should refuse to try. Practice ahead of time, during the smaller tribulations. Don’t give up on love. Don’t panic. The groom needs time, because we need time to make ourselves ready. I know we tire, and fall asleep on watch (like Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane).

“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”-Mark 14:38.

Temptation should not be understood as we think of it today, as seducing for evil purposes. In the Bible, it translates as “a test.” The groom tests our reactions, to see if we are ready to be born again.

“…For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”-Deuteronomy 13.3. (Taken from the English Standard Version.)

We can’t be physically, literally perfect. We make mistakes. Nor can we stay awake all the time. We must sleep. But we can be perfect in how we follow, and are tested by, Jesus’ lessons: not all at once, right off the bat, to be certain. But over time, with mindfulness, we can learn to see God everywhere, in everything.

We can stay awake in our hearts, minds, and souls.

We learn through temptation, by the tests God provides, like manna from heaven. If not for the apocalyptic results of our failed attempts, we would never learn how to be delivered from evil. These small temptations prepare us for the greater revelations, the more difficult tests.

Tribulation makes us ready.

“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.”-Matthew 25:6.

When he finished all the arrangements, part of the Jewish marriage custom was for the groom to send a messenger. That way, the bride-to-be and the virgins received some advance warning.

For us, now, this means we get some warning prior to a test. It may not be much, a few seconds to prime our awareness, and be ready.

We never know when the opportunity will come for us to forgive, or show mercy and compassion. It often goes by so quickly, that we miss it altogether.

By showing mercy, we feel better: We lighten our burden. So when life tests us through other people, we not only help them, but ourselves too.

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

We act wisely by keeping our torches lit, with forgiveness always in our hearts, acting with mercy and compassion. Remain aware of beauty and love, the connection of all things, which is God.

When we treat others kindly, they love us: cause and effect; maybe not all at once, so be patient. We love our family and friends because they love us. So if we forgive them, because they forgive us, let us share this with everyone.

“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.

With mindfulness, we break the old chain, in which we react foolishly to indifference and hostility; and begin a new chain. When we behave wisely, we no longer have to worry about fixing what our thoughtlessness ruined. We don’t have to worry at all: just be aware.

Everyone you meet needs you. And you need everyone you meet. But if we aren’t prepared, if we refuse to see love and beauty as the natural state of things, the state unadulterated by our judgmental perception, then we miss the chance to heal and prepare ourselves.

“Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. / And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.”-Matthew 25:7, 8.

You ever turn the key, and your car won’t start? Or flip the switch, and the light bulb dies? Or open the refrigerator, only to find it empty?

We must perform maintenance. We must learn algebra and trigonometry before we can understand calculus; walk, before we run. Our small tests prepare us. If we don’t learn from them, we are foolish.

Forgiveness maintains the flame of love. If we think that we can skip it, that someone doesn’t deserve our mercy and compassion, then our flame dies. We lose, by not loving others.

“John [the Baptist] answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.”-John 3:27.

God tests us, knowing we won’t pass, because we aren’t mindful of love. We fail, so that we see our foolishness, and learn wisdom. We suffer the apocalypse, so that our humiliation teaches us humility, so that we choose to be born again, participating in the marriage between love and life.

I can’t tell you why it has to be that way. I don’t know why I have to learn the hard way. I only see what happens. And I see, in the occurrence, both my folly, and the seeds of wisdom. The why doesn’t matter so much as the how.

Jesus is wisdom: the how, the way out of this mess that we foolishly created, believing we could live without loving one another.

“But the wise [virgins] answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough [oil] for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”-Matthew 25:9.

When we see the refrigerator empty, then we know that we have to go to the grocery store. If we don’t check our food and drinks before our guests arrive, and, only then do we see we’re out, that is foolishness.

We laugh at the thought of being so unprepared, just as the Jews must have, when they heard Jesus tell this parable. The disrespect for our guests, our irresponsible actions as host, is inconceivable.

We might try to borrow from our neighbors. But it’s not their fault that we were unprepared. The blame lies with us. The virgins had one task: to be ready. Even though they fell asleep, and the messenger woke them at midnight, the wise ones had learned from past mistakes and heartbreaks. They were ready.

By not being honest with ourselves about our foolishness, yet believing that we’ve covered every base, we skip our tests. Then, when it comes time for our final exam, when the guests are due, we face the worst tragedy of all:

We’re too late.

“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.”-Matthew 25:10.

In Jewish custom, the Rabbi performed the marriage ceremony at the bride’s parents’ house. Once the groom arrived, they shut the door. If you weren’t ready, you missed the ceremony. Afterwards, with their torches lit, the virgins danced down the street, leading the marriage procession to the groom’s parents’ house.

Unlike us, the Jewish couple in ancient times didn’t go away on a honeymoon. Instead, at the groom’s parents’ house, they held a week-long celebration. Anyone could come. The doors remained open. People came and went, whether they were wise or foolish, and participated in the most glorious party, celebrating the marriage between love and life.

We are reborn, and begin the path to wisdom by being mindful of what we and others need: Do they need to be forgiven? Forgive them. Do they need compassion? Be compassionate unto them. By practicing in this way, we learn to respect and admire everyone and everything. We practice love until we feel it, without having to stop and think.

We understand that no one is always wise. So we forgive them when they’re foolish. We realize that no one is always a fool, so we admire them when they show wisdom. As we watch them, we’re aware of ourselves wavering: good, bad, wise, foolish.

Being born again means that we choose to become aware of this vacillation, in ourselves and others. And we commit ourselves to wisdom. Then, we become lambs.

Part of wisdom is knowing that, just as we needed time to prepare, other people haven’t learned from experience; they haven’t dedicated themselves to a better life. They are wolves.

Don’t expect a wolf to be a lamb. And, as a lamb, be wary of slipping back into the pack, howling with them as they hunt their neighbors. Just know, more than likely (actually, without a doubt), you will slip. So have patience with them, as you do with yourself; forgive them, and yourself. Have mercy, because the time will come when, during such a slip, you will need mercy.

The door shuts, regardless of whether you’re inside or out.

“Afterward came also the other [foolish] virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.”-Matthew 25:11.

Keep in mind, when Jesus told this parable, he was aware that his Jewish audience knew the custom; they knew of the week-long party, which anyone could attend. But they also knew, if you were outside the shut door, you would miss the ceremony.

There is always another test. But there’s also a potential for finality. In the flesh, I will never get to tell my Grandfather that he was right, that everything I searched for was in the Bible. That door closed. But I can pass it on. I cannot pay him back, but I can pay it forward. That’s what these essays are: What I would say to him, if I could, if I had been ready to enter the door, and attend the ceremony with him.

But I was a small fish (and still am). So the fishermen threw me back. I was a tare, so the farmers separated me from the wheat. Without that heartbreaking, and illuminating experience, I would not be on this journey today. And these essays would not exist.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”-Matthew 7:21.

God’s will for the world is whatever happens. The Lord’s will for us is that we love whatever happens. Even, or especially, if we don’t understand, or approve, or agree, we love because Jesus loves us, because God loves the world, all life, everything: good, evil, wise, foolish, the caterpillar under the log in the middle of the jungle, the murderer on death row: God has enough love for all of it, all of us. That’s why we’re here. This is wisdom.

But if we choose to not love, if we’re unable to understand the necessity for automatic forgiveness, then Jesus shuts the door. We cannot enter, what we’re unwilling to enter. We cannot pass the line we’ve drawn. So we judge and condemn ourselves.

“But he answered [the foolish virgins] and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”-Matthew 25:12.

By failing to prepare, we disrespect the groom, his bride, the other guests, and ourselves. If you remember, from Revelation, the bride is everyone. Plus, the 10 virgins represent everyone. And Jesus is the groom.

So, by failing to prepare, we haven’t shown reverence to God, which is everyone and everything. Solomon taught that reverence to all is the beginning of wisdom. Without wisdom, we are foolish.

When Jesus says he doesn’t know us, it’s because we don’t know love. Wisdom is the understanding that comes from sharing love. Without that awareness, we cannot be born again, and enter the kingdom of heaven.

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

It might seem to us that Jesus is keeping us out, when, really, we deny him entrance. He didn’t leave us at the altar; we left him. God didn’t abandon the earth; we abandoned him. See the pattern?

Saying “Lord, Lord” means nothing, if we refuse to forgive, and show mercy and compassion.

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

Like the Sower, when we love others, we plant a seed, which needs time to grow. During that time we learn patience: We wait on the Lord. And we learn wisdom: We watch God’s will work itself out, through the apocalypse, and into the marriage of love and life.

But if we don’t follow Jesus’ lessons, and wait until the last second, then we are foolish: We rush out and buy, not allowing time for the seeds to grow. We didn’t even plant any seeds, in the first place. We did nothing!

We can’t expect something to happen, if we refuse to do anything. Sure, the wolves might reject our love. So we don’t even try. But we don’t have to convert them, only comfort them. This requires no words, only our loving presence. In this way, we plant the seed, shine our light, allowing the love that’s larger than us, larger than life, to do the work needed to spread the Word.

“And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”-Hosea 2:19.

Loving one another seems so very complicated, to the point of being impossible. And it is, until we spend time with it: forgiving each other and ourselves, showing mercy, being compassionate, not judging someone as ugly, but accepting their beauty as it is.

Think of loving kindness as insurance: Some day we will need it. If we can’t love each other, then we’re unable to love ourselves. We feel guilty, when abandoning others to their suffering. We might learn to live with that guilt, but when apocalyptic tribulation comes, we’ll having nothing to hold onto.

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”-Matthew 25:13.

This is what it boils down to: watching, always ready, because we’ve prepared ourselves. As we see how necessary it is to forgive ourselves, because we really had no idea what we were doing, we forgive others too.

Jesus lights our torch, invites us to dance and praise life. We accept his love, which seeds our hearts with humility and reverence. His only catch: that we share his seeds with others.

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

We enlarge our hearts, leaving self behind, living for all, for God: aware at all times, mindful of suffering that we can comfort.

We give the seeds of mercy to those who are without, the light of compassion to those who live in darkness. We prepare for our foolishness, knowing it will come, that we’ll panic at the worst possible moment. And, in doing so, we stock our refrigerators for our guests, and respect our host by treating everyone the way we would have them treat us: the way God treats Jesus, who is inside all of us.

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

Before our light goes out, before we despair, we forgive. Always forgive: This renews the torch, keeps us moving, breathing, playing, praying, dancing down the street, leading the marriage procession between love and life.

This is wisdom! It is the practiced instrument that becomes instinctive, second nature becoming first, every instance of love outnumbering the sands on all the shores of the world.

“And he brought [Abraham] forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.”-Genesis 15:5.

We are and share Abraham’s seed, which is King David’s poetic soul, Solomon’s wisdom, the love, mercy, compassion, and patient forgiveness taught by their descendant, Jesus; handed down to us, so we can keep the fire burning, keep the immovable object moving: choosing mercy, refusing to let sin take root, reacting to the wolves (inside and out) with a strong mind, and a tender heart.

We know of the chain, cause and effect, and refuse to be its puppet. Jesus is my shepherd. I shall not want! The Lord breaks the chain of sin, shatters our bonds, leads us through the wilderness, all so that we can learn to love.

We waver, slip, run back to the pack, back to Egypt, wishing only for the safety of enslavement. But, in our thoughtless fear, if we practice enough ahead of time, our mindfulness returns. Our torches flair anew.

We remember Jesus: how his greatest triumph was dying on a cross, only to be born again. We realize the necessity of our suffering: so that we know how others feel, when they suffer.

Mercy ignites our torch; we shine with compassion, only to be extinguished by pride, reignited by forgiveness. Over and over! Unless we choose to learn from our mistakes, we are never free, always subject to the lash of regret.

“…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.

We cannot be free, until we know we’re slaves. We learn wisdom only after realizing how foolish we’ve been. The kingdom of heaven lives within, because the adversary lives within. Jesus gives us a torch, because darkness reigns otherwise.

“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.

Let there be light! Waver no more. Commit to the boundless wisdom you carry as a birthright, passed on to you through the covenant, the marriage between love and life. Don’t believe it, be it. The choice is yours: learn or don’t learn, wise or foolish, mindless wolves, or mindful lambs.

Just don’t take too long, because the door will shut: not forever, but for one person, one chance, which never comes again. We cannot step in the same river twice. Everything changes, grows, endures, and transforms. Cleanse yourself; be reborn, through love for one another: automatic forgiveness, instinctive mercy, and everlasting compassion. This is the way to the Promised Land.

“…As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. // …Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.”-Joshua 1:5, 9.

We won’t journey forever. The day will come when we cross the Jordan, pushing back the waters, following the Ark of the Covenant, and our leader, Joshua, our example, Jesus, the one and only Jehovah, which is all of us, and everything else.

This is wisdom. This is Jesus.

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!

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!

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

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

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

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

To state their message plainly: Forgive and gain peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within that seed lies the kingdom of heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith works the miracle of mindfulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This 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.