Tag Archive: golden rule

Spread the Word

The dual metaphor of shepherd and sheep is present throughout the Old Testament: Noah, two-by-two; God leading Abraham—who, in turn, led God’s people; Moses and the Exodus; God inspiring prophets, who inspired people. In Jesus’ story, the image is even more pronounced.

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

He was a shepherd one moment, and sheep the next.

“…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29.

We are also both shepherd and sheep. We maintain our faith by watching over each other.

Shepherds were the first to spread the word about Christ in the New Testament.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”—Luke 2:8.

Yes, those shepherds (who shared a vision of an angelic choir and followed a new star) were the first to not only witness his birth, but to tell his story.

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. / And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. / And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”—Luke 2:16-18.

I see those shepherds as quintessential, a template for ministers. While everyone else slept, they kept watch: patient, humble, their eyes and ears open.

You never know when predators will attack your sheep.

“…I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”—Revelation 3:3.

Since we can’t stay awake all the time, we need to watch over each other, sleep in shifts, so to speak: shepherds one moment, sheep the next.

In the early days of his ministry, between his rejection at Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, Jesus decided it was time for his apostles to get more involved. We can’t just follow; we have to lead as well.

“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”—Mark 6:7.

As Noah gathered the animals two-by-two, so Jesus sent out his students. The Bible doesn’t say who went with whom. I wonder who accompanied Judas. I love the idea that they went together. Companionship would make the trip safer and not so lonely.

Though the Gospels of Matthew and Luke agreed with each other on the details of this story, Mark offered some exceptions; and John left it out entirely. For example, Mark was the only one to mention how the apostles went off in pairs.

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.”—Matthew 10:1.

Where it’s written in Mark that Jesus gave them “power over unclean spirits,” Matthew and Luke added the curing of sickness and disease. Jesus gave them the power to do everything he had done. In that way, one became twelve.

How exciting for a student to become the teacher. And how scary! The call to minister comes out of the blue.

Peter and his brother Andrew got a little warning.

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matthew 4:19.

Matthew (the tax collector) got a simple “Follow me.”—Luke 5:27.

The text doesn’t indicate if Jesus said anything at all to the other apostles when he recruited them.

“…he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. / And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”—Matthew 4:21-22.

If they thought that they could just follow, and not be shepherds themselves, then this assignment must’ve been really scary. But Jesus instructed them.

“…Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. / But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”—Matthew 10:5-6.

In time this would change. The Jewish authorities rejected him, and were conspiring to kill him. So the Gospel would go to the Gentiles. And with parables like “The Good Samaritan,” Christianity would call for a truce between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”—The Acts 10:28.

The lost were a top priority for Jesus.

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”—Matthew 18:11.

Mark and Luke both skipped over that detail. They also missed what is, arguably, the main message of Jesus’ early ministry.

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 10:7.

Before the New Testament, heaven was a vague concept. Always lower case, its plural form was a synonym for sky or firmament.

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained….”—Psalms 8:3.

In the singular, heaven was where God lived.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”—Exodus 20:22.

And that’s about all there was to it. Therefore, any preaching about the details of heaven caught everyone’s attention. That was how John the Baptist started.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1-2.

And Jesus too:

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 4:17.

It was a daring, new message. After all, God lived in heaven. Jesus told his apostles to preach that God’s kingdom had arrived, which meant God must not be far behind. That’s inspiring, or blasphemous, depending on who you asked.

Next, he told his apostles what they could and couldn’t bring with them as they preached.

“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, / Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”—Matthew 10:9-10.

(Scrip was a small shepherd’s pack.)

In Matthew, they weren’t allowed to carry anything, except for one coat. I’m reminded of “The Rich Young Ruler.” Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give all his money to the poor, and become a disciple. In essence, we are asked to surrender what we think we need, to get what we really need.

Mark was not quite so harsh.

“And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: / But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.”—Mark 6:8-9.

They got to carry a staff and wear sandals. It’s hard for me to imagine them any other way, but apparently sandals and staves were luxury items. Regardless of the particulars, the imagery is clear.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

To do to others as I would have them do to me, I can no longer think in terms of me: spending my time pursuing what I want. I can’t serve both my interests and God’s. My treasure is where my heart is. If my heart cares only for me, then I am all that I will have.

“And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. / And when ye come into an house, salute it. / And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.”—Matthew 10:11-13.

In every new town, they stayed with a different family; but while in that town, they’d sleep and eat with that one family. What a great way to minister! You could talk late into the night, help them with cooking and cleaning. They would be your family, for a while.

While studying this passage, I got into the habit of blessing (praying or wishing kindness and happiness for) every road I drove on, every building I entered, and every sign I saw that I knew others would see. I prayed that everyone who encountered those objects would feel lifted up, that they would discover something new and exciting about their lives.

Everywhere I went, I blessed what was there. I didn’t say anything or make any gestures.

“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: / That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”—Matthew 6:3-4.

God knows our hearts. We don’t pray so much for God, but to feel the connection, the love between us and the world. Prayer anchors us in the moment, which is where love exists. Sin is always in the past or future.

Sometimes, we just can’t reach people: One or both of us could be blind to the connection, deaf to any word of comfort. Maybe it’s not time; maybe I’m not the person to help them; or maybe I need to tend to myself.

“And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”—Luke 9:5.

I love that saying. It reminds me of baseball, kicking dirt on the umpire. Remember, from “Tell No One,” a minister is not there to convert, but to comfort. If we can’t help, then we must realize and accept God’s will. We have to let go of our desire to save them, wash our hands, and dust off our feet.

We have to be willing, above all else, to let people live as they choose.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus had more to say about those who rejected his apostles.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. / Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”—Matthew 10:14-15.

In these pages, I’ve written about a practical understanding of Judgment Day: a time of self-judgment. We have to come to terms with our actions, even though we know not what we do. When we reject someone who wants to be our shepherd, or refuse to be a sheep or shepherd when the situation calls for it, we have to live with the consequences.

“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.

That is such a beautiful verse: the core of Christianity. Jesus (the shepherd) sends out his sheep to gather the lost sheep; and, along the way, his sheep become shepherds for the lost sheep, while remaining harmless against the wolves of the world. The sheep need faith, and the shepherd teaches them.

The reason why it’s so hard to have faith in someone is that we have to make ourselves vulnerable to them. We have to be willing to lay down our lives, to raise theirs out of sin, or make them feel loved. Faith is always a leap with two concerned parties: the one who leaps, and the one who catches them. So, when we leap, we need faith in ourselves, and faith in those who catch us. And we leap all the time.

That’s a lot of faith; it’s exhausting! That’s how and why we sin. We get tired. We have to be ready for whatever our situation asks of us: sheep or shepherd, disciples one moment, teachers the next.

How do I make that call? How do I know when to switch? Better yet, how do I know what to say?

“…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. / For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”—Matthew 10:19-20.

A few years ago, I volunteered in a Kindergarten classroom. I didn’t know what to say to such young children. I was afraid that I’d upset them, or talk over their heads and confuse them.

So, every day, I prayed that God would speak for me—or, at the very least, guide my speech, actions, facial expressions, you name it. And they loved me. We had a great time.

The simplest way to know if you’re following God’s will is to love and forgive everyone.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:35.

Before I do something, I (try to) ask myself if I’m showing love, or am I only interested in what I might get out of the exchange. If I’m showing love, then I am doing God’s will.

Sending out the twelve worked so well that Jesus called on an additional seventy disciples to stand up and spread the word.

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.”—Luke 10:1.

Vulnerable one moment, protective the next, we love and identify with both extremes because we have been both. When we lift someone, after catching them in their leap of faith, we are lifted in return. Faith happens in pairs, two-by-two. We don’t need to be paid back personally. Joy is what lifts us in return; the rapture of connection causes the singular person to vanish, leaving the pair as one kingdom in a heavenly state.

In this way, the one becomes two, twelve, and seventy. Every life we touch, touches others. How we interact becomes a huge responsibility. Will we comfort or convert? That is, respectively, will we allow God to speak through us, or let our ego be what we choose to pass along to the rest of the world?

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

With all the talk of devils and hell, sin and responsibility, we might forget the main reason for the Gospels, which is peace. We have to remind ourselves to live in the moment, to love the moment. Have faith that tomorrow will take care of itself. Being mindful of God helps: Bless and be thankful for everything and everyone. That will keep you in the present, with your eyes and ears open to what the situation calls for: shepherd or sheep, when to dust off your feet, and when to comfort.

It’s your choice, in the end, whether to spread the word or despise the kingdom of heaven that is within. And it’s their choice to hear your words, accept you as a shepherd, or reject you.

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”—Luke 10:16.

By interacting with each other, we pass along a potential for connection that affects more lives than we can imagine. We can choose to share peace of mind through comfort and understanding. Or we can reject the responsibility we have to each other, to ourselves. What we do to our neighbors, we do to God. And whatever we do to God, we do to ourselves.


The Tower and the King

Imagine yourself back in the time of the gospels. You walk beside the Sea of Galilee—all is wide-open green, brown, and blue—and you listen to stories that promote love and forgiveness above all else. And then, the man who calls himself the Son of Man, the one who speaks to you only in parables, says this:

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:26.

The murmurs would surely wake those who were dozing in the back, staring dreamily across the sea. Everyone would be asking, what did he just say?

My term for this teaching technique is “shock therapy.” Sometimes I’ll learn things incorrectly: bad postulates, faulty assumptions, thinking with my ego instead of my heart, or my heart instead of my brain. Whether correct or not, I’ll hold onto my beliefs because they are mine. And I won’t compromise even if it means the heavens fall. This is the point when shock therapy becomes necessary.

“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”—Matthew 13:15.

Jesus was an ace at performing shock therapy, a real showman.

‘And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, / And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:12-13.

He walked on water, turned water into wine, resurrected Lazarus (and himself); he smashed up the exchange tables in the temple, threatened to destroy the temple, and on, and on.

When we are shocked, we’re scared, vulnerable…like children.

“Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”—Luke 18:17.

Before the crowd by the sea could murmur for too long, Jesus launched into the first of two back-to-back parables.

Parable of the Tower:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? / Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, / Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”—Luke 14:28-30.

One minute the crowd is wondering why they should hate their mother and father, and how that’s against the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), which Jesus mentioned as essential to the Rich Young Ruler: “Honor thy father and thy mother….”—Matthew 19:19.

The next minute, they’re in a hypothetical scenario, wondering what it means to be able to afford to accomplish their goals. Do I have enough money to build the tower, hire the contractors and engineers? If I do, fine; if I don’t, then where (or from whom) can I get the cash?

Before going too far with any interpretation, I want to skip ahead, so that we know the point of these parables. Jesus didn’t often spell out his parables to his followers. So this is a key note moment.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:33.

If you’ll remember, that was the high price the Rich Young Ruler couldn’t afford: surrendering everything. This is probably the most important lesson Jesus taught, symbolized by his death on the cross. It is the first commandment.

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

While that could be interpreted literally, no graven images, we can also think of it as putting nothing before God. On the list of all the important things in our lives, God is (or should be) number one. That means our parents would come after God; even our own lives are not as important.

“No man 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. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”—Matthew 6:24.

Mammon is the way of the world. It is material greed, something that Jesus warned against.

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

My greed and lust for things in this world are abominations because they are just for me, not God; Mammon is the love of my will, and not God’s. That’s how you can tell whether or not a choice follows God’s will. If it benefits only you, then it is not God’s will, but yours.

I think of my will as the currency to build my tower. I want to look out over the world, and understand, and appreciate, and grow wiser from the effort, so that I can teach the path to others who are lost. But do I have enough in the bank to afford my dream? Since my dream is my whole life, I would certainly surrender everything I have now, in exchange for what I want later…eventually, once the tower is finished.

“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.

I don’t have to build my tower on my own. I’d probably go bankrupt, get all stressed out. I should have a partner. And if that partner knows how to build the whole thing, and wants to design it in the most perfect way possible, why not surrender my pride and ego, and accept this as a wonderful gift?

Parable of the King:
“Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? / Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.”—Luke 14:31-32.

While the first parable asked if we had enough funds to afford the tower, this one tells us that we do not. It’s a lost cause; we can’t overcome the sins of the world, not without sinning ourselves.

“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. / These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:32-33.

We don’t have enough men, so to speak. We cannot accomplish the Golden Rule on our own. When I have tried, the result was twisted into this: Do unto others as they have done unto you. I have to look out for myself first, right?

No, actually, I fell into that trap for years. By looking after myself, I never had enough time or energy for anyone else.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. / Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”—Matthew 6:33-34.

God looks after us. This frees us to look after each other. And so I have come to the most shocking idea of all: How do I let my will become God’s?

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

Could a person really do this? I think of Pope Francis, and I know that we can. Why don’t we live more by God’s will? I know that we all have our good moments, but we have bad ones too.

When I consider surrendering my life to God’s will, I remember the definition for God that I’ve used in all these essays.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

In trying to understand what love was, I realized it was God. And God is inside each and every one of us.

“…The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: / Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:20-21.

Love connects us: By loving one another, we love God, who loves us in return. Whatever we do to one another, we are doing that to God.

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

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

Therefore, I’d be surrendering myself to the love that connects all things. I can do it through mindfulness meditation: avoiding choices that are done for me alone, or for destructive purposes, and instead focus on what will improve the lives of others. I don’t mean to imply that I’ll refuse to eat or sleep. Quite the contrary: I’ll stop smoking. Cold Turkey.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4.

It won’t be just my willpower against those cigarettes, but God’s. What would be impossible for me, will be easy for God.

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. / When his disciples heard it, they were amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:24-26.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

My New Year’s resolution is to surrender myself to God’s will. All of my choices will be based on the Golden Rule. Even if the heavens fall, and I doubt they will—It’ll be party time!—I promise to stick to this, and see where it takes me. What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best that could happen?

I choose the leap of faith. I invite everyone who reads this to consider the difference between your will, and God’s. Note the choices you make and why (or for whom). Ask yourself if you can accomplish your goals on your own. Count your men. And if you can’t overcome the world, there is a way you can. But you’ll have to surrender the life you thought you wanted, for the life that is waiting.

Back in the time of the gospels, this was what it took to become Jesus’ disciple. (Don’t confuse the term disciple with apostles, of which there were only twelve.) It’s the same choice today. We are still walking thoughtfully by the Sea of Galilee, pondering whether or not it would be better to surrender all that we have for all that we want.

Rich Young Ruler

This was my first step in understanding how to forgive, and why: “…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

We lack the infinite wisdom that’s necessary to judge someone. We don’t know everything, and so we’re unable to make informed decisions. It’s a miracle we ever do anything right. Therefore, forgiveness should be automatic, right? Though I see Jesus’ quote from the cross as the first step, and all that really matters at the end of the day, there is a second step.

We know exactly what we’re doing when we sin.

“And, behold, one [rich young ruler] came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”—Matthew 19:16.

Since he asked what he should do, he must not have known the answer.

“And [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”—Matthew 19:17.

Instead of just telling the young man to follow the Ten Commandments, Jesus added a seemingly tangential definition of what is good. At first I thought he was making fun of the fancy man—come to hang out with all the cool kids. But we aren’t talking about some snarky teenager.

Though we might throw the word around, especially in more formal settings (my good sir), only God is good. Does that mean we aren’t even capable of doing what’s right?

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

But we’re jumping ahead in the story. After Jesus told the rich young ruler to follow the Commandments, which would seem pretty obvious, the young man asked which ones he should follow. To me, he might as well have asked which laws he should follow, so that he doesn’t break the law. The answer is all of them! Jesus had patience, though, and spelled it out even further.

“He said unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, / Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”—Matthew 19:18-19.

Jesus cut the Ten Commandments in half, and attached the Golden Rule. Still, he wasn’t specific enough for that rich ruler.

“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”—Matthew 19:20.

That was the point I started thinking, we know when we sin.

Did he actually believe he’d kept the Commandments for his entire life? Had he never broken the Golden Rule, even before Jesus stated it as the ultimate goal of his lessons?

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

None of us are without sin. We all make mistakes. Remember, Jesus said that only God was/is good. Was the ruler lying to himself? Maybe he lacked the introspection to recognize that he’d sinned.

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

That changed his tune. Don’t just give everything away, but sell it all, and give the money to the poor, then leave your old life, and follow Jesus.

He asked how to get eternal life, as if he didn’t already know. When he was told to follow the Commandments and Golden Rule, he said that he’d been doing so all his life. Therefore, he did know how to attain eternal life. But he wanted to be “perfect.” Despite his bravado, what he did next showed his true colors:

“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”—Matthew 19:22.

At the start of their exchange, the rich young ruler thought he had it all under control. He had never sinned, and was hoping that whatever Jesus claimed he lacked, he could then respond how he’d been doing that all his life too. When he found out the truth, he turned away, because he knew that he could never be perfect.

The Bible has many such stories of people doing what they know to be wrong.

Adam and Eve:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”—Genesis 2:17.

Lot’s wife:

“…Escape for thy life; look not behind thee…/ But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”—Genesis 19:17, 26.

Most of the time, it was only one thing they couldn’t do, one simple act. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples fell asleep three times, when they were supposed to be guarding him.

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”—Matthew 26:41.

That’s our biggest problem: strong spirit, weak flesh. In other words, our physical lives take precedence over our spiritual needs; or, as Jesus put it:

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”—Matthew 19:24.

That doesn’t apply to just literal riches, like gold. Instead it could mean any earthly, physical possession that means more to us than loving our neighbors; I’ve always interpreted the first commandment (No other Gods before me) in that way. Maybe that meant God was jealous. But I think it’s a reminder that we can serve only one master; only one thing can be first in our lives.

Think of what you put first; consider what you would (or wouldn’t) do to protect it; and ask yourself if you’d be willing to give it up, surrender this all-consuming part of your life. Also, think of what you do that isn’t healthy, that benefits only you (possibly at other’s expense); be honest. We can’t just confess our sins to a priest; we must confess them to ourselves. Now think of giving up all those sins.

For me, smoking is a big one. I can’t give it up! I won’t! But I need to, badly. I just lack the strength. Like Eve, I know that, by smoking, I shall surely die. First, I have to forgive myself for being so stupid. Then, I have to accept that I did this knowingly. Finally, I have to find the strength to surrender a sin that I’ve come to depend on.

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

Since I’ve reached the second step of forgiveness, accepting that my sins are deliberate, maybe it’s time for my second step in understanding God. The first, if you’ll recall from earlier essays, was this: God = Love. At the end of the day, that’s all I really need to know. But since God’s presence accomplishes what would be impossible for me, I feel there is a greater understanding required.

“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4.

Thou art with me: omnipresence.

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

I will strengthen thee.

God gives us strength. God is everywhere, everything.

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

Look to your right. What’s the first thing you see? Whatever it is, God is there; He made it, and exists as it. That person or object deserves the same love and respect you’d give to God. Look to your left. Whatever you see, that is also God—both of them, left and right. Stop and consider them.

This is why we love our neighbors. They, and everything you see, and everything you don’t, it is all God. This is where our strength comes from.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: / Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:20-21.

Not just within you, but within everyone and everything. You can gain strength to accomplish the impossible just by looking to your right, and loving what you see. This is what empowers us to forgive.