Tag Archive: gospel


Kingdom of Heaven: Talent

Within the framework of our own unique, personal covenant, God gives each of us talent, and work to use our gifts. Some people have really big jobs, lifelong commitments, that only end with their death: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., for example.

Some have medium-sized jobs, like three years in the peace corps. But most of us don’t have the opportunity or ability to be the Pope. Instead we have the smallest, simplest tasks of all, like a smile to brighten someone’s day.

The people with big and medium-sized jobs know they have a responsibility. A teacher is a teacher every day. And, if we aren’t mindful, those of us with small jobs might decide to not even bother. Who cares if we don’t smile?

“And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing….”-John 6:39.

In order for Jesus to not lose any one of us, he needs all of us to help. In every interaction, we reinforce hope or despair. Big, medium, or small: All jobs, like all people, are equal in God’s eyes. When we are born again, we recognize the possibilities and responsibilities of the so-called small jobs.

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”-Matthew 25:14.

Everyone serves God’s will, from Nebuchadnezzar (who enslaved the Jews) to Cyrus (who freed them). Simply stated, God’s will is whatever happens. Whatever we accomplish, whether we see it as good or bad, big or small, we serve each other.

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

We are all shepherds and sheep, the Lord’s servants and goods. Don’t misunderstand the labeling here. We tend to think of big as not being small; good is opposite evil. But God is Alpha and Omega. And so are we.

“But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.”-Mark 10:31.

We are all greater heroes, and cowards, than anyone can possibly imagine…let alone witness. The first equals the last. We are all God’s will, and we serve all that is, was, and will be.

We do this according to how we treat each other. Whether or not we use our talent in our work remains up to us. The Lord steps back (metaphorically) going “into a far country,” and allows us to handle each other in whatever ways we choose.

“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.”-Matthew 25:15.

God never gives us more than we can handle. He pushes us to our limits, to show us what we can do, even when we think we can’t, and to show us our hearts. It’s no easy thing, to finish Jesus’ mission, to continue in the spirit of Moses, when we have but one talent to bring hope to billions.

“…for the LORD your God proveth [tests] you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”-Deuteronomy 13:3.

God knows our hearts, and tests us so that we know our hearts.

We can’t directly save billions, with our one little gift. Instead, we work with one smile at a time, a supportive gesture, giving love to the loveless, and hope to the hopeless.

Have faith in this good seed.

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

We can’t even save one life. But that soul we touch, and aid in the reinforcing of hope, touches others; and those lives, others. Faith and despair grow by degrees, one at a time. Before we know it, the world is full of fear or faith. Everyone counts; everything we do adds up, always moving forward in whatever direction we nudge it.

All this begins when we are born again, realizing our small, but absolutely necessary place in the universe. Remember, God wants to give us the kingdom of heaven.

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

He already has: Heaven is within us, each of us, all of us; it’s all around us. We just need new eyes, and new ears. The first step comes when we accept our talent and limitations.

“Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.”-Matthew 25:16.

A talent was not a coin, but a weight. It’s value depended on whether it was made of copper, silver, or gold. Silver was the most commonly used, and was worth approximately $600,000 (in our modern economy). It weighed from 75-130 pounds (34-58.9 kilograms).

So the first servant (as we’d see it today) had (5 x 600,000) 3 million dollars to trade with. His lord trusted him with that much of his money. The servant proved worthy of his master’s faith, doubling what he entrusted to him.

“And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.”-Matthew 25:17.

Interestingly enough, our current usage of the word “talent” comes from this parable: meaning gift or skill. When we have money, it’s easy to make more. We still have to work for it, but we have something obvious and tangible to trade with others.

Whether it’s art, science, sports, or a heartfelt smile, if we exercise our talent, our ability grows. The more we use it, the more we can do with it. Practice makes perfect.

If we don’t use our talents, we lose them.

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

We keep what we use. If we stop forgiving, soon we’ll forget how to do it. Same goes for everything. We teach ourselves, commit ourselves to whatever we do regularly. This is one of the best reasons for mindfulness: the absence of which is mindlessness.

These first two servants increased their talents, doubled them, by using them. The wording fascinates me too. They “received” these talents from their lord; they “traded” them with other people; and, by trading them, “gained” as much as they shared.

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

We reason, incorrectly, that if we give something to someone, even our love, compassion, and forgiveness, then we lose what we give away. But God gave these to us. We received them freely. Instead of hoarding our gifts, if we pass them on to others, who need them, the Lord blesses us for blessing others. Then we gain double, and lose nothing.

“But he that had received one [talent] went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.”-Matthew 25:18.

I interpret this servant as the parable’s main character. He is the “everyman”: an ordinary individual with whom the reader identifies. There’s only one Moses or Jesus. Most of us are on the sidelines, watching the game. We can’t tackle, pass, or run; we’re too clumsy to dribble; we couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat: mostly because we’re lazy and scared; we feel weak and unimportant.

We have one talent (which is still worth over half-a-million dollars), but we feel impotent and jealous, when comparing ourselves to the servant who has 3 million.

“And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”-Exodus 3:11.

Not everyone can be the drum major, the General, the Messiah. Not everyone can fight in armies, or serve as apostles. Some stay behind, by necessity or choice or fear. Maybe we have tried to do good, lending a hand here and there, but got stomped on, heedless of Jesus’ warning:

“…behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.”-Luke 10:3.

With our love defeated, and fear triumphant, we became the lost sheep: the very ones Jesus came to save. That’s why this servant is our main character. That’s why Jesus loves us, and died for us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”-John 3:16.

Don’t give up. It’s not too late. God needs and loves you, and wants you to be in the kingdom. You are a unique part of the universe. Only you can accomplish what your special talent inspires.

But the clock ticks ever onward.

“After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoned with them.”-Matthew 25:19.

Remember, before going “into a far country,” their lord “delivered unto them his goods.” He made no mention of what the servants should do with what he gave them. He left his wealth in their hands. But he gifted each “according to his several ability.”

So their lord gave them talent based on what they could do with it.

Jesus told us to watch and be ready; but how can we, when we don’t know what to prepare for, or how to make ourselves ready?

Ah, but see, if we prepare for what we know will come, then we’ve prepared, as much as possible, for what we don’t know will come. Right now, no matter what happens, we need to learn and work on love: compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, and thankfulness. These things help us right now, and prepare us for whatever comes.

“And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.”-Matthew 25:20.

This servant received love, shared it with others, and earned love in return. If we feel and share love, then we have spread the Word, not by insistent conversion, but by our works, and our example.

“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”-Matthew 25:21.

This servant was good and faithful because he accepted the unspoken responsibility that came with his lord’s gift, which he loaned or entrusted to the servant for safe keeping. Our talent no more belongs to us than the air, or the planets.

The servant was faithful because he knew the talent belonged to his lord, from whom he received it. And he was good because he received love, shared it, and returned it to the source. When we are good and faithful, we are ready to be born again.

“He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. / His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”-Matthew 25:22, 23.

You know that wonderful feeling when you’ve done something good? That is the joy of the Lord. Imagine a whole life, or just weeks or years of having those feelings stored, ready for perusal and judgment of yourself. We don’t need a literal catastrophe, or the seven vials filled with the seven final plagues. All we need is one night, lying awake in bed, regretting what we’ve done.

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

Whatever sin means in the heavenly sense, the earthly definition reveals cruelty to others that ricochets back on the sinner. This wakes us in the middle of the night, judges and condemns us when our own personal Judgment Day, our guilt, turns the moon into blood.

So it goes, when we refuse to give to others what God gave to us.

“Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed.”-Matthew 25:24.

What can we say, on Judgment Day, when we failed and know it? The servant tried to deflect the blame onto his lord, insulting his employer. Had the servant claimed ignorance (at least), or repented (at most), he might have escaped his lord’s wrath.

The servants received no instructions on what to do with these talents. Since this last servant didn’t know how to use his gift, and if he was willing to try again, and do it right, maybe…just maybe….

“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands….”-Revelation 9:20.

But he was too prideful, trying to stand tall in the midst of the storm. Why can’t we admit when we’re wrong? It’s natural to make mistakes, if we don’t know the rules. But we act like we’re always right.

It’s not my fault; it’s yours!

“And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.”-Matthew 25:25.

Here we see the true root of pride: fear. The strong know how weak they are; the courageous know their fear. But we who fake strength and courage, so others (who also fake these noble traits) accept us as one of their own, do so out of fear.

We hide our glorious gift, bury it, as if it were dead and did not exist. People suffer when we don’t give them our love and compassion; we suffer by not sharing it. No one gains anything, when we bury our heads and hearts.

When we ignore a part of the body, the whole body suffers. We are all a part of the body of the universe.

God knows who we are, and whether or not we’re ready to be born again. Judgment Day does not condemn us, but rather tests us, so we learn what we lack.

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

We cannot learn unless we’re ready. God tests us so that we know ourselves: how small and large, insignificant and important we are.

Jonah tried to run, because he wasn’t ready to use his talent to help others. But the storms came, and the sea raged; the sailors cast him off the ship, and he lived in the belly of the great fish, until he accepted who he was, and what he needed to do.

“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. // When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.”-Jonah 2:5, 7.

I think we must enjoy getting lost, so that we feel the rapture of being found. That’s why the Lord is my shepherd: I am the most wayward of sheep. Like our “everyman” servant, and Jonah, I run, sometimes stopping for a moment, to do something helpful and loving, then go right back to running. More great fish have swallowed and vomited me out, than I can count.

Sometimes, when I want to help others, the task and responsibility overwhelms me. The adversary inside my heart tells me, You’re weak and stupid, and can do no good, only harm; walk away. Sometimes I stand firm; other times, I agree with this judgment of my worth.

That’s when the Lord smites me, like a dog owner, who lightly smacks their beloved pet on the nose for making a mess on the carpet.

“His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed.”-Matthew 25:26.

In this parable, Jesus not only defines what is good, and what is wicked, but shows us our relationship with God, and the Lord’s almighty will.

We are good when we receive God’s gift, and acknowledge it by sharing it with others, especially those who need love. We are wicked when we are too lazy, prideful, and scared: when we surrender to the adversary within, our own personal Satan.

“Remove far from me falsehood and lies; Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with mine allotted bread.”-Proverbs 30:8.

(Slight departure from the norm: I took that quote from the Jewish Holy Scriptures, because I liked the wording.)

We each have our allotted bread, our specific talent, which is a part of our unique covenant. You have what God gave you, and I have something different. Separately, we’re incomplete, wicked; together, we complete God’s will, which is good.

The servant’s insult (“…I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed.”) was not a lie! His lord verified it. If God neither sows, nor straws, who does?

We do. God reaps and gathers what we sow and straw.

Jesus never left Palestine, but told his disciples that his gospel will be taught in the entire world. How? Through us and our works: He gave us the gospel, and left it up to us, as to what we’d do with it. God gave Moses the Law, and Moses passed it on to the Israelites, who gave it to us.

What will we do with this good news? What will you do with it?

“Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money [talent] to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.”-Matthew 25:27.

In Jesus’ time, usury was lending money with high rates of interest, an illegal activity in Israel, but practiced, nevertheless. In this second verse, from the lord to his wicked and slothful servant, I’m reminded of the money changers in the temple.

Everyone had to exchange Roman currency, or any other foreign coins, for local coinage, in order to donate it to the temple. The money changers charged exorbitant fees, knowing the pilgrims couldn’t exchange their money anywhere else. Jesus called them “a den of thieves.”

But at least, with this illegal activity, the lazy servant could have traded his lord’s gift with others. Anything is preferable to nothing: love or hate, but don’t ignore; do or don’t do. Decide, commit to one way or the other.

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”-Revelation 3:16.

We must accept who we are, to grow. Don’t second-guess; have faith in the good seed.

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

Even when someone isn’t ready to be born again, we still need to plant the seed. If we don’t sow, what does God have to reap? They might not accept your love and compassion, but reject you, perhaps vehemently so.

“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.

A person doesn’t know love, unless we share it with them. If we share nothing, but ignore their pain (for fear of them causing us pain), then, in the absence of love, they know only hate…and so do we.

We don’t need to actively hate, just not actively love, for hate to result. Without the seed, the field lies barren. This is the difference between faith and fear, just and unjust, good and wicked.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”-Luke 16:10.

The servants who used their talents for love were faithful with their work. God rewards a job well done with more glorious work to do.

If we are without faith, then we are fearful; and when we are fearful, we don’t love, only hate. And if we don’t share love, then we reject God’s gift: our talent. And we show ourselves that we aren’t ready for more difficult work, which comes with being born again.

“Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.”-Matthew 25:28.

If we don’t use our talents, we lose our abilities. No one exists as an island. Run and hide all you want, but someday, you will need someone’s love and compassion. We need each other from birth until death. Our singular talent is insufficient, without sharing it with others.

When we do share love, that is, our interpretation of it, from our personal covenant, and according to our “several ability”: We save everyone, especially ourselves. The only true selfishness is altruism.

Booker T. Washington wrote, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”-Matthew 25:29.

As an isolated quote, I know that might sound unfair, especially if we’re the one from whom the Lord takes away something.

But look at it this way:

“For unto every one that hath [love and talent] shall be given [or feel greater love and talent], and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not [or doesn’t share love] shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

We know what we did or didn’t do; what we felt, and didn’t express; what God gave us, which we refused to share. So is God unfair, or are we?

“Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?”-Ezekiel 18:25.

God can take away, as well as give. Our talent is our compassion, specifically, the ways in which we feel and share it. When I care for others, especially the loveless and hopeless, I accept myself; when I don’t care, I judge and reject myself.

We can blame this on God. Since the Lord is everything, we’d be somewhat correct in doing so. But God doesn’t straw or sow, we do. The fault is ours; the judgment, on us.

“And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 25:30.

Like Simon-Peter, we are all “fishers of men.” Peter was that way because Jesus was that way, and still is.

“…Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

We throw back the little fish, so they’ll finish growing: That’s what Judgment Day is. Growth hurts. (Ask a teething child.) The revelation of what we haven’t done, in comparison to what we accomplished, can be very painful. It reveals to us what good we’ve done, for ourselves and others, and makes us condemn ourselves for what we haven’t done.

Without God, that is, without love, we weep in darkness. We gnash our teeth in the overwhelming anxiety of finishing Jesus’ work. We’re not alone though: Moses believed he couldn’t save Israel; Jonah believed he couldn’t save Nineveh; and Peter thought he was too sinful to spread the Word and love of God.

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”-Luke 5:8.

When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, trapping them against the Red Sea, God told Moses what Moses then shared with the weeping, former slaves, what still holds true for all of us today.

“The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”-Exodus 14:14.

Reinforcing hope and faith seems impossible to us little people, who hover on the edge of outer darkness, on the sidelines. But nothing is impossible to God. When we spread the Word by our example, and love one another, we are not alone.

“…I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”-Matthew 28:20.

Jesus is with us, so is Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, and everyone everywhere who has ever loved the loveless, and given hope to the hopeless. In love, we are all one body, one universe.

And when we fail, and fall into darkness, do not surrender to your inner adversary. Someone will come along, and offer you support. God will not forsake you.

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

The “outer darkness” is not the end, only the beginning. Even if we surrender to this inner hell, when the great fish swallows us, like Jonah, all we have to do is repent: Accept God’s love; it’s everywhere.

See with new eyes, and hear with new ears. I’ve learned that what I believed were curses, in my life, were great blessings: miracles. God saves us from ourselves, and, through us, saves everyone. Jesus promised to not lose one of us. We will all pass over into the Promised Land, even if we wander through the wilderness for 40 years.

We will find the kingdom of heaven, because it’s inside of us, all around us, in each other, in everything. We can’t miss it!

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

Stay mindful. The opportunities to use our talent happen suddenly. Like making a left turn in heavy traffic, if we don’t use the precious few seconds, in which we notice someone in pain, then we lose the chance to share love, and stay stalled at the stoplight.

I can’t tell you what your talent is, or how to use it; your talent comes from your personal covenant with God, and all of life. Pray and meditate, commune and hold fellowship with all things. If you open your heart and mind, then God reveals your heart and mind, through the Word and love of Jesus.

The Lord bless and keep you.

Amen.

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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!

Our works (what we think, do, and say) nourish us or poison us. And since we share our works, our daily bread, we nourish or poison others. We are born again, and enter the kingdom of heaven, when we accept responsibility for this disparity, and acknowledge the cause of it: doubt.

If we doubt for reasons of growth, love, compassion, and positive change, then it nourishes us. If we doubt because of cynicism, fear, or hatred (which is the absence of love), then it poisons us.

Doubt influences us to spring forward, or fall back. As always, we must be mindful, not only of what we’re doing, but our reasons for doing it.

“…The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.”-Matthew 13:24.

Jesus loved parables about farming and fishing, because the people listening to him farmed and fished. We learn best by imagining his lessons in terms of how we live.

For me, the universal poison (the devil) is the dark side of doubt.

This is one of those few parables that Jesus interpreted for us. Unlike last time, let us look at both parable and interpretation together.

“…He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.”-Matthew 13:37.

Jesus most always referred to himself in the 3rd person, as the “Son of man.” There are many reasons for this, and we will get to it in a later essay. For now, note that he didn’t say I, and that Son of man refers to the Hebrew word Messiah (which means “anointed one”), the Greek word for which is Christ.

Since we aren’t ready to declare what Jesus meant by Son of man, we must limit what we glean from these opening lines.

So far we have two objects: The Son of man and the good seed.

“But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.”-Matthew 13:25.

Tares are a kind of weed, or ryegrass, that looks like wheat in its early stages. The farmer can’t distinguish them, until the tares grow ears. Their seeds are poisonous. (Another interesting note, the Romans outlawed sowing tares in an enemy’s field.)

“The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one.”-Matthew 13:38.

The Son of man plants the seeds that are the children of the kingdom of heaven, people who have been born again, through love for all.

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”-John 15:9.

As God loves Jesus, just so does Jesus love us, and, by his example, in that same way, we should love each other: This is God’s will.

The “wicked one” plants poisonous seeds.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus specifies a unique quality to God’s children.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”-Matthew 5:9.

Jesus came so that we might have peace, not only with each other, but within ourselves. The people whose works bring this peace are the good seed, the children of the kingdom.

He also spoke specifically about the children of the wicked one, who do not bring peace.

“…It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!”-Luke 17:1

Life without tribulation is impossible because of the children of the wicked one.

A word of caution: Do not assume that we are talking about different people. As discussed last time, redemption proves that no one person is evil all the time, but always has capacity for good; and sin proves that no one is good all the time, either.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil….”-Mark 7:21.

Evil is not out there, independent of us; it comes from us: We make evil by doubting love. Yet, we are the children of God, not because of what’s out there, but because of our peacemaking, as we spread the love that God feels for Jesus, and Jesus expresses to us.

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

At the crossroads of every decision, we choose to doubt, or to have faith in love.

“But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.”-Matthew 13:26.

This is the fruit, the results, of our selfish, antagonistic works. Through everything that we think, do, and say, we grow the wheat that nourishes us and others, or the tares that poison everyone’s faith in love.

Remember, the tares look just like the wheat, until they bear fruit. Consciously, we may not know, or acknowledge, that we thought or acted in a nourishing or poisonous way.

Whatever else it is, sin is psychological.

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

We act tough for others, even convincing ourselves that we don’t care.

“.…but God knoweth your hearts….”-Luke 16:15.

And when the tares spring up, when we poison our own flesh, even though we hide our hearts from everyone, including ourselves, God knows.

“.…for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.”-Ezekiel 8:12.

People have been saying that since the Jews’ Babylonian captivity, and we believe it today, even if only occasionally. But God is everywhere, ubiquitous in space and time-which means God is an immortal spirit.

“…and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”-John 4:24.

The truth is true, whether we admit it or not, believe it or not, deny it or not. Deep down, we know that God sees us, because we see ourselves; we know what we think, do, and say. We know the difference between nourishment and poison.

When we accept that we can’t lie to ourselves, without suffering mysterious ailments, turns of fortune, brought about by our own duplicity, and the poisoning of our own minds, then we are born again.

“So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? / He said unto them, An enemy hath done this….”–Matthew 13:27, 28.

At last we get to the fourth player in this drama.

“The enemy that sowed them is the devil….”-Matthew 13:39.

We’ve talked about the devil some, in past essays. “Satan” is the Greek and Hebrew word for “adversary” or “enemy.” The same word means the same thing in the two languages in which the Bible was originally written.

Let that sink in.

I don’t pretend to know the immortal goings-on of Heaven and Hell. I don’t even know the whole truth about our limited, mortal existence. Assume humility, not pride, and the truth (or what we can know of it) reveals itself.

Like the Son of man, whose meaning we can’t entirely understand, Satan defies absolute qualification; and, as with the good seed, which, by definition, none of us can attain completely, the Tares are not individual people, but parts of us: Tares symbolize our weaknesses; the wheat, our strengths.

So whatever else the Son of man and Satan might be, Son of God and Fallen Angel, respectively, they stand for our faith in love and our doubting of love.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”-John 8:44.

We lie when we doubt truth. Jesus is the truth: love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility. We murder all of these within ourselves and others, when we don’t live truthfully. Sin denies love; God is love; and God is everything: So when we don’t love, which is the unification of all that Jesus stands for, we sin.

“…Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”-Mark 7:9.

We want to do things our way. My pride assures me that I am in control of my life. What matters is that I increase my power, that I celebrate what I desire, and others can look out for themselves. The fact that love is a greater way, a life larger than my own, makes it my enemy, my adversary, my satan.

This is pride, and pride is a lie.

Lies and truth fight an eternal war within us.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.”-Revelation 12:7.

Heaven is within us, Jesus said. And evil infects us not from without, but from within. Lying, being cruel to others, so that we get what we want, and, by necessity, deny others what they want, seems to be the easiest way. And it would be, except the Tares poison us, as we grow them.

“There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”-Isaiah 48:22.

We ruin the very happiness we seek, falling into the trap we set for others, when we doubt that love saves us all. We think to look after our own interests, but poison our own lives. The only way to look our for ourselves is to love others.

This altruism is the only way to accomplish what we set out to do, by being selfish.

“.…The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? / But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”–Matthew 13:28, 29.

Since we don’t know enough to accurately judge anyone or anything, we are unable to separate good from evil. If we try, we might remove what (in time) turns out to be good. This is the reason for humility, and allowing God’s will to be done.

My favorite example of this truth comes from the story of Joseph, owner of the coat of many colors, and one of the 12 patriarchs that became the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jealous of him, because Jacob gave Joseph the coat, and angry with him for his dream interpretations, that foretold their obedience and subordination to this younger brother, the other brothers stole his coat, ripped it up, threw Joseph into a pit, and conspired to sell him into slavery.

But when Joseph was a slave in Egypt, he was the only one who could interpret Pharaoh’s dream, without being told the details of the dream. And his interpretation warned that famine was coming, that Egypt should prepare by storing food. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of this distribution, making the Hebrew slave his second in command.

So, when the famine hit Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers, and they heard that Pharaoh had food, they went to Egypt and found Joseph. Now, he could have thrown his hateful brothers into prison, or had them killed, or denied them food. What they did to him was exceedingly wicked.

Here is what Joseph said to them:

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”-Genesis 50:20.

He welcomed them (after messing with their heads a little), gave them food, and reunited with Jacob. He did this because, unlike his brothers, he had the faith to not judge what is good, and what is evil. God meant for their wicked acts to save many people.

“…did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?”-Luke 11:40.

We just don’t know what will come. Being totally ignorant, stumbling in the darkness of lust and selfish desires, by trying to put right what we think is wrong, we might make wrong what would have later turned out to be right.

Faith in love means having the patience to let God’s will be done. This faith, as we’ve said, is the Son of man, and the good seeds result from his (and our) love. Doubt is “the wicked one,” and the tares result from his lies, which are needed to support our doubt.

“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them together in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”-Matthew 13:30.

Good and evil exist together. God made everything and exists as everything. Good comes from evil; and evil, from good. I think Solomon said it best:

“The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”-Proverbs 16:4.

Jesus gave us two new terms here: harvest and reapers.

We are not the reapers, who separate good from evil. Since both of these exist within us, and God made both, and God is both, then we cannot divide what God put together, what is within us: our souls, our kingdom. We cannot divide God.

“And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”-Mark 3:34.

If we rid ourselves of all doubt, then we lose the good, as well as the bad. There is worthwhile doubt, and worthless doubt: fruitful and fruitless, nourishment and poison.

While we wait for God’s will to be done, we must also act as angels: the Greek word for “messenger.” As Jesus loves us, we must love others. To do nothing means to love no one, which is the same as hate.

The 12 apostles didn’t just listen to Jesus, nodding their heads in listless acquiescence. Jesus sent them out to preach, and act, and share love.

“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.

This is really hard and frightening. We wait for God’s will, and yet we act according to Jesus’ teachings; we tell no one, and yet we spread the word. We cannot do this, unless we are mindful of God, thinking always of what we learned from Jesus: faith, patience, love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion.

To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the hardest part of obeying God is that we must disobey ourselves. So we make our will to become God’s will. We accomplish this by following what we learn from Jesus. In that way, the impossible becomes possible, the finite becomes infinite, and the one becomes all.

“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”-Malachi 3:18.

In his messianic prophecy, Malachi points us to beginning of the conclusion. We serve God when we have faith in love, which is the good seed, which Jesus plants, which grows into the wheat that we use to bake our bread, which we feed to others.

We do not serve God when we doubt love, which is the poisonous seed, which our adversarial nature plants, which grows into the tares that ruin our bread, which we feed to others, and, thereby, ruin them.

Now, let us look at the two new terms.

“…the harvest is the end of the world; and the angels are the reapers.”-Matthew 13:39.

So, the good and bad seed grow together, until the end of the world, at which time the angels separate them. The “end of the world” is also our third unknowable term.

“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”-Mark 13:32.

By his own admission, even Jesus doesn’t know the entirety of what the Jews called “the day of the Lord.”

“The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly.”-Zephaniah 1:14.

Peter addressed one of the reasons for why these three terms (Son of man, Satan, and the end of the world) are unknowable.

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

So don’t believe anyone who tells you that they know what prophecy means. Only God knows.

The Lakota Indians called God (what is sacred, divine, the Great Spirit) “Wakan Tanka.” This translates into English as “the Great Mystery.” Some things are unknowable to us. We study and interpret them, not to know, but to learn humility while pondering the infinite.

This is why I tend to interpret by transposing these immortal goings-on into understandable, mortal ideas. Much is lost by doing it that way. But, by speaking in earthly terms, we at least have a chance of being right; we cover our bases.

“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.

That said, I see “the end of the world” as necessarily preceding the newly recreated world, what the Revelation called “New Jerusalem.” The Old passes away, to make room for the New; one decreases, so that the other increases. This creation uses the remains, the energy of what was destroyed. And so, God destroys the Old to make the New.

This describes being born again. The end of the world is the end of our old life. New Jerusalem is our new life. Things get worse and worse, the plagues mount, the moon turns to blood, the trumpets sound. To humble ourselves, to bend our knees to God, we must be driven to our knees.

Therefore, Judgment Day, the day of the Lord, is when we fail our most important test one too many times. Everything falls apart; the center cannot hold. So we learn that we are not islands unto ourselves, but a part of God, an ingredient of the universe: necessary, but no smaller or larger than anything else.

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

We sift through the good and bad, when God tests us, when we admit failure, and learn the truth, by which we are reborn.

Are we then the angels?

Not at first. And not entirely, even when we are at our best. But, yes, in this parable, we sit in judgment on ourselves: We are angels, and we are not angels. Recall this curious statement, one of many for which the Jews wanted to stone Jesus.

“I and my Father are one.”-John 10:30.

To explain this to his would-be murderers, who took him literally, and therefore charged him with blasphemy, Jesus referred to one of the Psalms of David.

“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”-Psalm 82:6.

What he tried to tell them was that they were gods, angels (God’s messengers) when they served God. When we remove the plank from our eye, we can see clearly to remove the mote from our brother’s eye. The humility and honesty required to remove our plank, and their mote, comes from the truth of love.

“As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of the world. / The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.”-Matthew 13:40, 41.

When we doubt love, we do iniquity (which is wicked, immoral behavior). This sparks the chain reaction that leads to the end of the world.

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

When we share love, and don’t receive love in return, our hearts grow cold; we stop sharing love, out of self-preservation. But if we don’t share love, then we hate, and poison ourselves, which poisons others, making their hearts grow cold. And so on.

Remember, when we share love, we are sheep among wolves: harmless, in that we don’t return their hate, and wise, in that we know they will hate us.

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”-John 15:18.

Therefore, we must mindfully start God’s chain reaction, by loving those who hate us, by blessing those who curse us, and praying for those who use and persecute us. This is God’s will, and, by following it, we are God’s children, angels of love.

To be able to do this impossible thing, we must be humbled to the point of self-obliteration, and allow our will to become God’s will, our life to become God’s life, our hate to become the love that God has for Jesus, and Jesus has for us.

When this happens, we throw our Tares into the furnace. When we encounter iniquity, which we know will be there, so it’s not a surprise, our hearts radiate warmth, growing warmer all the time. It is with this flame that we burn the Tares.

“And [the angels] shall cast [iniquity] into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”-Matthew 13:42.

As stated in previous essays, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, whatever else it may be, refers to the fear and anxiety we feel on Judgment Day. It is no small thing to lose our lives, even if it means saving our lives.

We leap with faith, and fall in doubt.

With faith, Peter walked on water. When he doubted, he sank. But, even then, he called to Jesus, he returned to faith, and, as Jesus said to everyone he miraculously healed:

“.…thy faith hath saved thee.”–Luke 18:42.

When Jesus knew he had to sacrifice his life on the cross, even though it meant saving all of us, he prayed in Gethsemane:

“…My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death…./ …O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”-Matthew 26:38, 39.

We want to save our lives, but we lose our lives, if we seek to save ourselves. This goes against our every instinct. We doubt even unto death. But then, we return to faith, and if we truly want to save our lives, we surrender to God’s will.

We must know everything to save our lives, which is impossible. Only everything knows everything. So we turn our will over to God, and act in the name of love, and then…a miracle!

“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”-Matthew 13:43.

This is what becomes of the conflict between the wheat and tares. The seemingly eternal war is really a passing thing, a vapor, a shadow. If we grasp the vapor, we come up empty handed. All we really have to hold onto is each other.

This is the truth. Everything else we tell ourselves is a lie. So if we hate, dismiss, ignore, poison our only hope, our single refuge, then we doubt the Son of man, grow from the wicked one’s ruinous seed, and destroy not only ourselves, but each other: a chain reaction that brings about the end of the world.

But we must do this. We will end the world. New stars are created with the remains of dead stars. The only remaining question is this: Will we learn before it’s too late?

“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”-Micah 6:8.

While many of us are stubborn and slow, some do learn. They do justly, show mercy, walk humbly regardless of how others treat them. They are the wise, harmless sheep, the good seed, God’s children, peacemakers among wolves: With love, they nourish everyone.

In the uproar and hopelessness of the great and terrible day of the Lord, they comfort the lost sheep, teach love by example, and not by ultimatum. They show us how “the end” evanesces like a shadow, that hate is but a prelude to love. When the sun goes dark, and the stars fall, and the moon turns to blood, they stand firmly in love.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humility is paramount. Remember Moses and the burning bush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten lepers approached Jesus, and begged to be healed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a catastrophe came upon Moses and the Israelites.

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

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

Remember, God placed his power in Moses’ staff.

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

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

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

And he failed.

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

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

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

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

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

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

God loved Moses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the ten lepers.

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

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

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

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

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

And why did Jesus come at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father gave this work to His Son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But if we use that talent, it grows.

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

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

And sing along with King David:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did he see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This is the third part of a larger essay. Here’s part 1, part 2, or the complete version.)

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

Remember the ten lepers.

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

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

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

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

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

And why did Jesus come at all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father gave this work to His Son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But if we use that talent, it grows.

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

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

And sing along with King David:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did he see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am that bread of life.”-John 6:48.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows is Moses’ Judgment Day.

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

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

Moses sinned by what he did and said. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

God loved Moses.

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued in part 3.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humility is paramount. Remember Moses and the burning bush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten lepers approached Jesus, and begged to be healed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a catastrophe came upon Moses and the Israelites.

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

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

Remember, God placed his power in Moses’ staff.

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

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

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

And he failed.

(To be continued in part 2.)

The Adversary

When writing a story, an author considers two initial plot devices: what the main character wants, and what stands in his (or her) way. And, as their character is revealed during the resultant drama, we sympathize with the hero according to how they overcome their obstacles.

In my life, I am the main character; in yours, you are. Regardless of who we are, we share the same adversary. This obstacle unites us, equates us, and blocks our way. As we seek to live free from the impairment of fear, hopelessness, and despair, as we strive to be born again, and maintain such enlightenment, who is our own worst enemy? What obstructs all humanity, throughout all time?

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”-John 8:44.

In my ongoing study of what born again means, I examine what’s in my way, what’s preventing me from attaining my goal: my obstacle. Part of what unites us is that we share this common enemy. We project this adversary outward, because it seems to be a force that is apart from us. If it is, then we can’t do anything about it. We’re victims. But if we’re going to accept responsibility for our lives, and our souls, then we must accept that this evil comes from us.

Then we can do something about it.

“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”-1 John 3:10.

When we do not love everyone, friends and enemies alike, then we are of the devil. The absence of love is the presence of hate. There are no shades of gray with God.

“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”-Matthew 12:30.

Let us examine our qualities: the characteristics of Satan. First, the name Satan is a Hebrew word, meaning “adversary.” This is our opponent, what stands in our way of being born again. How we deal with this plot device reveals our character, and determines if we are of God or of the devil.

In that first quote, we should note to whom Jesus was speaking, and where he was.

“And early in the morning [Jesus] came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. / And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery….”-John 8:2, 3.

Yes, she was the woman whom Jesus saved from being stoned.

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

The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to kill her in the temple. They wanted everyone present to join their fun. And they wanted to see if Jesus would say something to stop them, so that they could accuse him of defying Moses’ law.

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”-Leviticus 20:10.

A brief aside: another name for Satan is “the devil.” It comes from the Greek word diabolos (pronounced dee-ab’-ol-os). It’s actually an adjective, and it means “slanderous: to accuse falsely.”

Now, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, for the Jews, and in Greek, for the Romans. So the language reveals the writers’ intentions, which are often quite different from how the modern world has come to interpret them.

“These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple….”-John 8:20.

There’s a long dialogue between Jesus on one side, and the scribes, Pharisees, and Jews on the other-of God vs. of the Devil, what we know as right versus what we believe as right.

They claimed Abraham as their father. Jesus countered that if they were of Abraham, then they would do as Abraham did.

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

That verse from Luke, and the original quote from John, show us the cost of Christianity: Our deeds reveal our true nature, our character.

“[Jesus said,] Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said [the Jews, scribes, and Pharisees] to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”-John 8:41.

We cannot say, Lord, Lord, or claim to be of God, or Christian, if we hate one another. Remember, if we aren’t loving, we’re hating.

Their father, then, isn’t God. And since we can draw a parallel between the hypocritical Pharisees, and the modern Christian who doesn’t love everyone (as Jesus taught), then we see that our deeds reveal our true parentage.

“Ye are of your father the devil….”-John 8:44.

So we can’t hate homosexuals, Liberals, Conservatives, Catholics, African-Americans, Mexicans, etc., and still be Christians. Remember Jesus’ new commandment.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”-John 13:34, 35.

Those two verses counter whatever justifications for hatred we conjure. Christianity is that simple.

Before we are born again, our father is Satan. That means we accuse others falsely, hate others. God is all things. Whatever we hate, we are actually hating God.

“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me. // I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:5, 7.

I love the Old Testament prophets: They don’t pull any punches. And neither does Jesus.

“…[the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him….”-John 8:44.

When we hate, we deny love: We murder love. God is love. Jesus is not only love, but life, and the truth. So, when we don’t love, then we are killing the truth. That makes us liars. Remember the translation for devil is slanderer, and means “to falsely accuse.” Hate is never the truth. Jesus is the truth. Therefore, love is the truth.

This is a startling revelation.

We are territorial, tribal. To think of loving the other tribe, with their different colors, strange gods, and natural hatred toward our tribe, and jealousy of our territory…It’s all too much to ask. Isn’t it? We must hate them, destroy them, before they hate and destroy us!

The Bible, in general, and Christianity, specifically, exists for this very reason. It reminds us of our unconscious, all-too-natural response to our neighbors.

“And [Jesus] said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”-Luke 10:18.

Whatever else it is, the Bible is poetry, storytelling.

If we take the Bible literally, viewing only the surface, and thinking no further, then we learn nothing about ourselves. Satan falling from heaven is simply that. It’s ironic that, by not interpreting the Bible metaphorically, like poetry, and having storytelling characteristics, our surface-level reading interprets that quote from Luke as Satan’s origin story.

It goes like this: There was war in Heaven.

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”-The Revelation 12:9.

This has no bearing on our morality, except that Satan and his angels tempt us, preventing us from loving one another.

The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos (pronounced pi-ras-mos’). It does not mean “to seduce, or trick.” Rather, it refers to “a test, or trial.” We are tested to see if we’ve learned the material, if we’re ready for greater burdens, more responsibility. What happens if we fail the test?

“…I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.”-Luke 10:18.

The war in heaven is not just a war in heaven. Heaven is within us. The war is within us. It is our responsibility. When we are born again, and yet fail to love one another, then we fall from heaven: quickly, too, like lightning.

Whatever greater truth Jesus meant, regarding fallen angels and bottomless pits, the human lesson is that we can fall from grace faster than anything imaginable.

“But [Jesus] turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”-Matthew 16:23.

Did Jesus just call Peter (the rock on which the church was built) Satan? How jarring! But when we remember the Hebrew definition (adversary), Jesus’ meaning becomes clear.

First, “Get behind me” likely referred to the tradition of disciples walking behind their teachers.

Jesus is always teaching, even today, right now. A good teacher is never off duty. Peter was swept up by his emotions, because Jesus had just told him of the coming crucifixion. Peter didn’t want Jesus to die.

We tend to sin when we’re caught up in our emotions. Thinking is often the opposite of feeling; either can be replaced by invoking its opposite: When your feelings are strong, think logically, do some math, or look at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. That’ll fix you right up. Or, conversely, if you’re thinking too much, listen to some music, take a walk in a park.

Like Peter, we assume that we know everything, but we are disciples. Every day is the like the first day of school, because everywhere we look there is something we don’t know or understand. This is how our teacher reminds us that we are always learning, and must always be open and humble.

Peter wanted to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion. But without the cross, Jesus would have no glory; with it, he would stay in the minds and imaginations of countless millions over millennia. Peter didn’t know about that.

Only God knows everything.

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

Secondly, we shouldn’t take it at face value that “the things that be of men” means that humanity, or the world, is evil.

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

The world isn’t evil. God loves the world. Humanity isn’t evil. Jesus loves us.

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”-John 15:9.

We have to stop blaming Satan, and other people, for our evil.What is evil, then? Where does it come from? And how do we stop it?

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”-Matthew 15:11.

We can find the answer to all three questions by looking into a mirror. Evil comes from our judgment. Since we don’t know everything, we’re unable to make sound judgments, especially of each other.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”-Romans 12:19.

When we get angry, judging others for what we judge to be bad judgment on their part, then we’ve committed four sins back-to-back. Judgment belongs to God, because only God knows everything. But by thinking we are capable of doing what only God can do, then we are the adversary. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Peter.

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

Heaven is within you, within all of us, meaning all around us. To think that another person is evil is to think that heaven is evil.

“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.

Evil comes from our thoughts, when we make uninformed judgments. We must learn to accept God’s will: Remain open to the possibilities, without deciding that this means that, when we don’t know what this means.

I know how difficult it is to not make up your mind. We have to make decisions, every day, all day. But that’s because others are making decisions. We feel the need to keep up, to match evil for evil, eye for an eye.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: / But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”-Matthew 5:38, 39.

Jesus got rid of that eye-for-an-eye rubbish. If we resist evil, then we become evil. We must break the chain, or it will go on forever. Love is the only way to stop hate.

God is love.

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

Jesus’ message is love.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”-John 15:12.

Jesus’ message is God’s will.

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

God’s will is for us to do that which pleases him: to love one another, i.e., to love God. This is how we defeat evil. When we are calm and at peace, then we are open to God, able to experience love. When we must make decisions, then ask, What does God want me to do? If we keep our minds open, then God’s messenger can enter.

“And [the angel] laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is called the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”-The Revelation 20:2.

That’s what being born again does to our anger, fear, and despair. We are reborn, away from our old father, the devil, by accepting the will of our true father.

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

Jesus’ lessons about Satan teach us the truth. And the truth is love; it’s our only salvation. Without it, evil perpetuates itself. But with love, we break the chains (our old habits); and with those chains, God’s message of love binds our old life, and tosses it into the fire.

“…Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”-Matthew 25:41.

The revelation is that we have not been following God’s will, but our own. And when we aren’t following God’s will, then we are of our father the Devil. But when we learn to let go of our fear of death, and the desperate, hasty actions resulting from that fear, when we breathe deep the beauty of God’s world, and realize that we are one of billions of main characters, and not the only hero, then we understand how natural and rewarding it is to love one another.

Satan exists in our judgments. Temptation is not a seduction, or a trick; it tests our resolve, and reveals our true character.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil….”-Matthew 6:13.

We don’t pray to avoid temptation, but to be delivered from our inner evil. (Remember the Jewish practice of parallelism, where the second part clarifies the first.) The temptation is to do our own will, because everyone else is doing their own will.

Accept this weakness. It is the truth. If we can accept it, and when we do, then our inner Jesus has overcome the world; our main character has defeated Satan. And we are born again.

Born Again (Complete)

[This one is quite a mouthful, about 20 pages. If you want something more bite sized, start with part one. You can also skip to part two, or part three.]

If someone asked you what it takes to be born again, what would you say? Is the concept limited to Christianity? What if the person asking is an atheist?

This happened to me. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say, or what “born again” means, exactly, what it requires.

In my first batch of gospel essays, what I called Book One, I dealt with my ignorance on love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion; what do these things mean, exactly? They are such simple terms, that I had long forgotten their meaning.

Just so, “born again” is a concept that I had stopped thinking about. My understanding of it fell out of my train of thought, and I had to go back to the source.

Book Two is about that journey. As usual, the answer is simple, but the reason why the answer works is complicated.

The answer is this: Humble yourself before the overwhelming might of the world, accept your insufficient, unarmed weakness, cleanse and purify your thoughts and actions with selflessness, and develop a system of symbols to remind you of goodness, for when badness brings panic and despair; surrender your anger, fear, and doubt; stop fighting battles you cannot win, wars that destroy not only your peace of mind, and sense of well-being, but everyone else who gets caught up in your war; in short, merge your will, surrender it to its rightful place, so that it joins with the will of all things: the will of God.

Simple, right?

But how does that work? Does the person need to believe in Jesus, that God took on human form, and died for our sins? And what does that mean, to believe in Jesus?

To discover how the answer works, we must return to the well, and drink the water of everlasting life.

“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.

The story begins at night, in the darkness of ignorance. The man approaching the light, which is the light of the world, goes by the name of Nicodemus. But his name is your name too, and mine.

All of us hide in darkness.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [or discovered].”—John 3:20.

But the shadows swallow us; the darkness of sin devours our selfishness, our greed, until we become so damaged, so traumatized, that our own will becomes worthless: insufficient to justify our hatred of the light.

When our will is no longer enough to sustain us, we must swallow our pride, as Nicodemus did. We have to bolster our will in order to overcome the world. The only way to do that is to attain the will of all things.

The will of God.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: / The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”—John 3:1, 2.

Nicodemus swallowed a lot of pride to go to Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which translates as “Separated One.” They believed the first five books of the Bible were the perfect word of God. They extrapolated a lengthy series of laws from this Pentateuch (in Greek, or Torah in Hebrew), because they also believed it contained reasons and answers for every possible situation.

The Pharisees separated themselves from normal, everyday life so that they could follow what they believed were God’s perfect laws. As strict as they were pious, they had no room for anything, or anyone, outside the law. That was one of the reasons why they hated Jesus, and his new doctrine, so much so that they conspired to kill him.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews: a member of the Sanhedrin. Consisting of 70 members, this brotherhood presided over, and enforced God’s laws on, the Jews. One of their mandates was to investigate, and deal with, any false prophets. Since Jesus did not strictly follow their extrapolated laws, he was, by their definition, a false prophet.

And, finally, Nicodemus was wealthy.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes [to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion], about an hundred pound weight.”—John 19:39.

That would cost a lot of money, more that the average person could afford. If you’ll recall the Rich Young Ruler, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for someone to spend that much money on a wandering, possibly false prophet.

Nicodemus surrendered his will, his way of life, because it was not enough to sustain him. He needed something more.

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

This is a good time to pause for a moment, and consider what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” When Jesus spoke of “life,” he meant “what we love.” Our lives consist of what we love. And, as I’ve often quoted in these essays, God is love.

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

So we must surrender our will, what we think we love (thereby losing our lives) in order to gain the strength that comes from the will of all things: the love of God.

To win the fight, we must surrender.

Jesus’ miracles impressed Nicodemus. Let us consider those for a moment.

He gave sight to the blind, enabled people who couldn’t walk to walk once more, purified the blood of a woman with a life-long blood disease, raised people from the dead, transformed water into wine, and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000. He filled Peter’s nets with fish, when, before, the nets were coming up empty.

Do you see a pattern here?

Nicodemus saw it.

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

At last we come to the only explicit mentioning of the term “born again” in the gospels. It is implied in everything that Jesus says and does, from his miracles, to his referring to the necessity that we be like children to enter heaven.

“…Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3.

But only John’s gospel names this fundamental essence of Christianity. Of course, other New Testament books discuss it.

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”—1 Peter 1:23.

Nicodemus should’ve been familiar with the idea of the old becoming new. Abram became Abraham when he left his old life and agreed to follow God. Most every story in the Bible involves a rebirth, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, or Noah building the ark.

Plus, one wouldn’t have to read too much into those stories, to see the emphasis on new beginnings.

All the Old Testament prophets wrote of being born anew, such as Ezekiel.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.

But Nicodemus didn’t seem to understand.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”—John 3:4.

First, I want to say a quick word about the kingdom of heaven, then we’ll get back to Nicodemus’ very literal interpretation.

Another of my favorite Bible quotes, that you’ll find in almost every one of my essays is this:

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

Whether or not Heaven is actually a literal place, where we go after we die, Jesus said we will see the kingdom after being born again. So, unless we can’t be reborn until we actually die, then heaven is (at least) a state of mind, a perception attained by being born again.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

Despite Jesus’ parabolic teaching method, or because of it, many people (then and now) insist on literal interpretations.

“The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”—John 6:52.

And….

“…How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”—John 10:24.

And….

“…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. / Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”—John 2:19, 20.

And on, and on. We look for exact, specific knowledge in the Bible, as if spirituality were science. If we expect a fish to behave like a squirrel, then, in our ignorance and conceit, we’ll be severely disappointed when the fish doesn’t climb trees.

“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

It is not for us to decide why things are, or what they should be. Concern yourself with yourself, and accept the natural state of all things: The combined will of which is the will of God.

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:5.

We must be born again to “see” the kingdom, and born of water and of [or by] the Spirit to “enter” heaven.

At night, we see a light, far off, as Nicodemus did before approaching Jesus.

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. / And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”—John 12:46, 47.

When we see the light, then we must decide whether or not we’ll approach it, and then if we will enter into it, or abide in darkness. These are three very important choices, any one of which could change our lives forever.

Just so, in the last quote, there are three points that are open to interpretation. First, what does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Your answer will determine your journey. I cannot (and do not) answer for you. I choose my path, and answer for me.

Before answering, read the quote again. Note what Jesus said about belief in the first verse, and what he said about it in the second. The second elaborates on the first, clarifying its meaning.

This is a fundamental Jewish practice, in writing the Bible, called “parallelism.” We see it in the Psalms.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”—Psalms 46:7.

The second part amplifies and explains the first. What does it mean to say the Lord is with us? It means God is our refuge.

We also see it in the Lord’s Prayer.

“….Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”—Luke 11:12.

What does thy kingdom come mean? It means God’s will shall be followed in earthly life, as it is in heaven.

So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means that, even for people who don’t believe in the literal interpretation (that he was God’s actual offspring, that he historically died on the cross for our sins, etc.), and yet they follow his teachings, they will not be judged and condemned by God.

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

Therefore, even atheists can be born again, and maintain their skepticism, as long as they love as Jesus taught. This is how we see the light, and decide to approach it. We are born again when we believe in what Jesus called his “new commandment.”

“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.

There are other examples too. Jesus ate with sinners, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.

“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:2.

He told parables about how the chosen ones (the Jews) rejected him, and his parabolic wedding feasts. And, to have a full wedding party, he sent his servants to gather people off the streets.

“And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. // Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”—Matthew 22:3, 9.

Jesus stated the purpose of Christianity, the reason for his ministry, by quoting 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 4:18.

The purpose of Christianity is not to get dressed up, and go to the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple.

“And [he] 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 21:13.

The true house of God, like the kingdom, is within us.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20.

I cannot stress this enough. The Bible shorthand for “believing in Jesus” is “loving one another.” No one is saved by believing what they don’t (and can’t) know to be true. We are saved by love.

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

We must have the mindfulness of faith, moment-by-moment: faith in ourselves, in each other, and faith in the whole picture, the ebb and flow of all things: the will of God. This is what Jesus meant by losing our lives to save our lives. We must surrender our self-important definitions, so that we see ourselves (and each other) as God sees us. That is how we see the light, and start a new life, as the children of one great purpose: love, which is God.

Once we’ve seen the distant light, and approach its warmth and comfort, then we must make the third (and most important) decision: to enter into that new life, to be “born of water and of the Spirit.”

Water has always been a symbol of cleansing.

“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”—Genesis 6:17.

When everyone became corrupt, except for Noah and his family, and humanity thought only evil all the time, God flooded the world. We can see this as an allegory, a symbol, foreshadowing what Jesus and his gospel would accomplish.

We think of God as destroying the world. How cruel he must be! But the world is still here; it was not destroyed. Humanity is still here; it was not destroyed.

“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.

We have to check our tendency to take the Bible literally. Remember, God is love; humanity, then, in this passage, is a symbol for wickedness, evil, sin. Therefore, the story of Noah’s ark tells us that love destroys sin, if we allow God (love) into our lives.

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

“The Spirit” (with a capital S) should not be confused with “spirit” (and its lower-case S). The capital-S Spirit denotes a proper noun, an entity: the Holy Spirit, what (or to whom) John’s gospel refers as “the Comforter.”

A full analysis can be found here. To summarize:

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…. / …the Spirit of truth…. //…which is the Holy Ghost…. //…he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak….”—John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13.

Jesus said that when he died, he would not leave us comfortless; but he would send people who, like him, would not seek to glorify themselves. Rather, their purpose would be to glorify God by reminding us of what Jesus said: his teachings minus the dogma that developed over the centuries, clouding his message of love.

We’re talking about the true Christian missionaries, whose doctrine is not their own, but God’s.

“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. / If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”—John 5:30, 31.

This is the final step in being born again: to not only be cleansed by love, but for you, yourself, to cleanse others with love; to not only be comforted, but to comfort others with a will that doesn’t seek personal gain. To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again of water and the Spirit, we must see and treat each other with everlasting love: unconditional, unending love.

The Bible shorthand for this is “everlasting life.”

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life….”—John 6:40.

Remember, Jesus is life.

“…I am the resurrection and the life….”—John 11:25.

And:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life….”—John 14:6.

And, as if to further complicate things, while also illuminating his entire ministry, Jesus said:

“I and my Father are one.”—John 10:30.

Since Jesus is life, and God is love, and since Jesus and God are one, then Jesus is love. Thus, the shorthand for “everlasting life” is “everlasting love.”

So let us look again at this time-honored quote, which Jesus said to Nicodemus, to explain what “born again” means.

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

God flooded the world not because he was cruel and vengeful, but because he loved the world. He didn’t destroy the world or humanity. Rather, he washed the world clean of sin.

That’s what born again means. When we love, we cleanse ourselves of sin.

But sin, too, resurfaced, because we are weak and tend towards fear and anger, for which we attempt to compensate by sinning, hiding in darkness.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”—John 8:44.

God sent his love, which is the true love, to this world, because we live in darkness, following lust instead of the truth. We look at each other as someone to cheat, or lie to, murder, or slander, rather than as someone with whom we can share everlasting love.

Life is love; death, the absence of love: more Bible shorthand.

Without following Jesus’ teachings (i.e., believing in him), we die inside, living lonely, hollow lives: filled with deceit, conceit, delusion, and illusion. This is who we are. We sin to hide our weakness in shadow, in a show of strength, which has no truth in it. Truth lives in the light.

And we must enter the light, by being reborn of water and of the Spirit, to rid ourselves of the lies and lusts.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

Since God is a Spirit with a capital-S, then, when we are born again, through the Spirit, we are reborn through love, and being truthful with ourselves.

The truth is that we are born of flesh, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”—John 3:6.

Love is selfless; lust is selfish. Therefore, flesh is selfish, and spirit, through the Spirit, is selfless.

This is how we know if we are loving or lusting. Ask yourself, is this all for me? Be mindful, truthful with your answer.

The light shows the way; mindfulness shows the truth; and love gives us life.

“…and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too, as did Jesus’ followers.

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”—John 6:60.

Don’t worry. Any magician’s trick seems impossible, until you learn how it’s done. And this is no trick. It is the truth of life, the key to living without fear, anger, or despair.

What we can’t see in the dark becomes easily discernible, when we stop hiding from the shame of our selfishness, our willful ignorance.

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”—John 15:22.

This shame is as old as Adam and Eve.

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

But there’s no need to be afraid, the judgment and condemnation we feel does not come from God, but from ourselves.

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

We judge ourselves by our reaction to the light, and the new commandment, that we love one another. When we show mercy, compassion, and empathy, we are saved. But when we hate, practice exclusiveness, and judge others, then we condemn ourselves to the hell that is the absence of God.

While Jesus’ lessons on love might seem confusing, and hard to hear, we don’t necessarily need to know how they work; we just need to have faith that they do work.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whiter it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:8.

Talk about hard to hear! What does that mean?

It means that we don’t have to know the intricate details of how something works, to use it. In our technological age, this holds true even more than it did in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

I don’t know how a car engine works, but I drive daily; I don’t know how a refrigerator works, or a coffee maker, a light bulb, cell phone, computer, and so on. Still, I use those things all the time. If I want, I can learn how they function. My curiosity isn’t required, but faith is: faith in the maker, the designer, the engineer.

At the end of the day, none of us can really know God’s will.

“….no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son….”—Matthew 11:27.

Imagine an infinite refrigerator, an unknowable coffee maker, an engineer who is designer, Father, the sound of the wheels turning, smell of its fuel, the very life and heat of its work, as it creates life and light.

Best I can tell you, for sure, is that God is love. And if you love your enemies, as well as your friends, then you will be doing God’s will.

“But I say unto you, 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; / That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven….”—Matthew 5:44, 45.

You don’t have to know the wind’s origin, or destination. You don’t have to believe in what I call God, or what anyone else calls God. You don’t have to know how the engine works, to drive the car: just so long as you drive it.

Love everyone and everything. Surrender your will, which calls for suspicion, hatred, and despair. And, instead, accept the will of all things with patience, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is your covenant, your agreement, your peace treaty with life: You will stop hating it, and it will stop hating you; you will love it, and it will love you. When one of you should falter (and it will happen, at least 490 times), then you must forgive them and yourself.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21, 22.

It helps me to have a symbol, a keepsake to remind me of my covenant with life. This is what I think of when life overwhelms me:

“And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but [Jesus] was asleep. / And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. / And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”—Matthew 8:24-26.

For Nicodemus, Jesus offered another story, one that a Pharisee would know.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

Jesus concluded his dialogue with Nicodemus by referencing this bizarre, but strangely typical Old Testament story. Occurring in the fourth book of Moses, well into the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, the weirdest thing happened.

“And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.”—Numbers 21:1.

So the Canaanites busted the Jewish spies, and imprisoned them. God had kept the Israelites wandering in circles, in the wilderness, waiting for them to learn what they needed to be reborn in the Promised Land.

What’s funny and tragic about their time in God’s school is this: They learned the lesson, only to immediately forget it.

“And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”—Numbers 21:2.

As with all my essays, whether or not this really happened is beside the point.

“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’t focus on the infinite reality of divinity, or treasure hunt through history and geography, while also paying attention to the lessons we need to enter the light, our land of milk and honey.

And there are two crucial lessons here: what happened to the Israelites, and Jesus’ larger point. To grasp the latter, we must first understand the former. No small feat, since, according to the gospels, most of the Jews never learned to live in God, in love, or to recognize their Messiah when he came.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—Matthew 23:37.

Again, please don’t take this literally, as a slight against the Jewish people. I interpret the Bible as stories so that I can get to the point easier. And, whether we’re talking Old or New Testament, the Israelites represent us. We must be mindful of the warning that we tend to not recognize our good fortune, our personal messiahs.

Since the Jews symbolize us, and our struggle to follow God’s will, their time in the wilderness is our time on earth, as we learn and then forget, in times of trouble, the lessons we need to be born again.

The Canaanites, then, symbolize sin. As God’s people fought one army after another (sometimes winning, sometimes losing), so do we struggle with the benefits of loving one another, versus the self-gratification of following our own will.

“And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities….”—Numbers 21:3.

It was as if the Jews prayed, “Give us the strength, and, with your love, we will conquer our sins.” No matter how many times they asked for help, and got it, they were immediately ungrateful, and went right back to sinning. That’s why they were kept in the wilderness for so long.

Even after God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea, allowing them to pass, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s army with that same water, the Israelites complained right away. They had the nerve to mutter against God and Moses, even after singing a happy song about the miracle and their deliverance.

“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”—Exodus 15:24.

Ungrateful punks! I would’ve left them in the wilderness right then and there. But, where everything about us is finite, everything about God is infinite, including patience.

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

That’s not to say a loving father won’t spank his wayward child.

“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”—Numbers 21:5.

God just delivered the Canaanites into their hands, giving the Jews strength to overcome their sins. It was a miracle: divine intervention. By the way, that “light bread” they complained about was manna. Yes, that miracle food from God, which fed them when there was no other food in the desert. They whined about that. It wasn’t the first time, either.

“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely: the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: / But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”—Numbers 11:5, 6.

Isn’t their reaction almost comical? I think it’s hilarious. Then I remember that they represent us. That is how we react after being blessed.

Here’s where the heavenly Father spanks His ungrateful child.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”—Numbers 21:6.

I can’t stop laughing as I write this. God didn’t just send venomous snakes to punish the Israelites. That would’ve been bad enough. No, he sent “fiery serpents.”

What does that even mean? Were the snakes on fire, but not burning up, like the bush?

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”—Exodus 3:2.

I think that’s it, exactly. What an image, one of my favorites in all my Bible studies. Just imagine, hundreds and maybe thousands of fiery serpents…slithering at top speed, God speed…biting, and injecting not venom (perhaps), but fire!

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”—Matthew 3:11.

It’s all a big joke until a bunch of people die from fiery serpent venom. That’s enough to humble anyone. Humility brings about repentance. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must admit we were wrong to be selfish, weak in our greed, foolish to think we could take on the whole world.

That’s what John the Baptist preached.

“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.

Jesus began his ministry by teaching about repentance.

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, / And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”—Mark 1:14, 15.

Unfortunately, we arrive at repentance the hard way. We are so hard-headed and willful, that we require utter failure and ruin before bending our knee to God, as learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:21.

We think that we can’t possibly be forgiven. After all, we wasted our prodigal inheritance, rejected our father’s love, and crucified him, and complained about the miraculous manna, that nourished us when we were lost in the wilderness. But we forget that we are finite, with limited patience, rushed into hasty reactions, due to our short, painful lives. However, God is infinite.

“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.”—Numbers 21:7.

God’s love is infinite; God’s patience is infinite; God’s ability to feel everything we feel is also infinite.

“And the Lord said [to Moses, from the burning bush], I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.”—Exodus 3:7.

That’s one of the most touching lines about God from the Old Testament. God knows our sorrows: hence, the infinite patience. When it says that God knows our sorrows, keep in mind how the Old Testament normally uses the word know.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.”—Genesis 4:1.

As loving couples know each other, so God knows our sorrows: intimately, personally. Far from judging us, God empathizes with us.

After the Israelites repented, and Moses prayed to Him, God devised a fascinating cure for the plague of fiery serpents.

Keep in mind, Nicodemus pictured this whole story, as Jesus concluded his lesson on being born again.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”—Numbers 21:8.

For easy reference, here’s what Jesus said, to give Nicodemus a keepsake, a symbol to help his faith during troubled times, to strengthen him with God’s love, and be reborn.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

With symbols, as with the Bible’s poetry (and most everything in life), there is an obvious, surface-level meaning; and there is the deeper, more thoughtful meaning. Our imaginations work on an involuntary level, as well as voluntarily.

A Christian sees a cross, and their imagination pictures Christ’s crucifixion, ascension, and rebirth. A musician sees a note on staff paper, and their imagination pictures middle-C, defining, relatively, every other note, and all the possible music. Married couples have their wedding rings; patriots, their flags; mathematicians, their operators; and on, and on.

Everything stands for a greater idea, even us, even Jesus.

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

God’s empathy shows us how we should relate to each other. Jesus’ selfless, courageous love shows us how we can find peace: both within, and without.

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

So Moses followed God’s will, and made a symbol that cured those poor, hard-headed Israelites.

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”—Numbers 21:9.

The hardcore literalist might think this was idol worship, violating one of God’s commandments.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image….”—Exodus 20:4.

However, God told told them to do this. Plus, it’s not the image that is important, but what it represents. The brass serpent symbolized God’s love: That’s what cured the people.

God sent the fiery serpents because the Israelites were thinking selfishly, instead of thanking God for their victory over the Canaanites, the conquering of their sins. They panicked during a crisis. Recall 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.

We all get tired, hungry, and weak form enduring the trials of our days. But that’s when we tend to sin. So stay mindful, even when you’re exhausted, and needing rest.

At such times, if we raise Jesus’ lessons in our hearts, when we picture him washing his disciples’ feet, calming the storm at sea, raising Lazarus from the dead, being lifted up on the cross, and lifted into the imaginations of people throughout the millennia…those of us who were lost, become found; those who can’t see how to love or forgive, see once more; those who can’t walk in the light, find renewed energy in their limbs; our blood, our thoughts are purified; we conquer the unbeatable Goliath, the powerful Canaanites, our habitual sins.

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

We must plan ahead. We will panic; it will happen. At the worst possible moment, we forsake love, compassion, and forgiveness.

“And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”—Luke 22:34.

We declare war on each other, instead of fighting our sins.

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite….”—Luke 6:42.

This is a natural projection of our weakness and fearful imaginations, involuntarily done, unless we stay mindful of God.

To remain aware, we need a symbol of God’s love, so that we remember to love each other as Jesus loves us, as God loves Jesus, as God loves the world.

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

Choose an image, and make it a part of your personal covenant. Keep it close. Pray for this symbol to be revealed to you. Meditate on it. Be mindful of it. Chances are that you already know what it is: whatever makes you smile, feel safe, warm, and secure, whatever makes you feel loved, and feel like sharing love.

Find your heaven. It’s there, your land of milk and honey, waiting to welcome you home. Find it now, because your greatest trial is still to come: your revelation, your apocalypse, your day of judgment.

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”—The Revelation 1:3.

Learn to call on your symbol. Learn to call on love, now, before you panic and sink into despair.

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

Humble yourself. Admit your weakness, your insufficient will. Make every day the first day of school. Learn like a wide-eyed child. Love and accept everything around you. There is no separation. We are all of God, born of love.

This time of thoughtful light is Jesus’ gift. Embrace it. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you, as it guides you towards mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and away from temptation.

Be born again.