Tag Archive: patience


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the kingdom of heaven is like unto….

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus gave reasons for these similes and parables.

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

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

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

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

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

After their opening lines, these two parables diverge.

…like unto treasure hid in a field….

…like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls.

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

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

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

On the one hand:

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

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

For I am the first and the last.

I am the honored one and the scorned one.

I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the treasure finds us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To love like God, we must seek God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah, O my soul!

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

We feed our souls with patience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As God promised Abraham:

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

So does Jesus instruct us:

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

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

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

What we feed others, feeds us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To state their message plainly: Forgive and gain peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within that seed lies the kingdom of heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith works the miracle of mindfulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock on Water (Complete)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all shepherds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same is true of faith. Practice makes perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perseverance builds faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”-Isaiah 55:1.

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

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

Even so, after he prayed:

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

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

As he quoted from Isaiah:

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

This is the foundation of our faith in him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, for a moment….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, save me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

His miracles require faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They believed this.

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

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

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

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

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

What, then, do we know of Jesus?

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

And what do we know of God?

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

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

Talitha Cumi Part One

The people in the gospels had a mixed reception of Jesus, depending on their faith. Some adored him, like the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair; others wanted to kill or imprison everyone around him: infants or apostles. He was a charismatic outlaw healer.

Our faith is comprised of that very combination, depending on how we receive each other, and how we perceive each other: We all have within us the charisma to charm people out of their money, or make them feel comfortable enough to let us help them; we all live by the laws of others, but can choose when we feel it’s necessary to change or break the law for the greater good or our own benefit; and we all have the power to heal each other, or tear down those around us.

Would we kill Jesus because of his blasphemous claim to be the Son of God? Or would we throw palm fronds before him, singing hosanna as the blind see, and the deaf hear? Will we obey the letter of the law, or the spirit?

Though we struggle with our faith, eventually we have to stand and say, This is who I am! These important moments can come at any time.

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”—II Peter 3:10.

Judgment Day: We don’t have to approach it literally to understand it literally. We just have to think about those crazy times, in the heat of the moment, when we have to choose what side of the fence we’re on, and what we stand for.

When looking for examples of faith in the gospels, there are good ones and bad ones. Since I believe there is no greater teacher than failure, we’ll start with the bad.

Rejection at Nazareth

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. / …. / He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:5, 11.

At the beginning of his ministry, the people of his hometown not only rejected Jesus, but tried to kill him.

“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, / And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”—Luke 4:28-29.

They knew him, and his parents, brothers, and sisters. He wasn’t a stranger, foaming at the mouth, threatening them. He had been their neighbor for 30 years. But all their mercy vanished when they thought he had blasphemed. Those Godly people knew their scriptures well.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Bring forth him that hath cursed [blasphemed] without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.”—Leviticus 24:13-14.

That came from God! How could the simple people of Nazareth even think of disobeying God? It’s important to note that they not only had a reason for accusing Jesus, but he had provoked them. If he had just read from the book of Isaiah, and then sat without saying another word, his neighbors would not have rejected him. Instead, he told them, “…This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”—Luke 4:21.

Since the passage he’d read from (Isaiah 61:1-3) was accepted by all to prophesize the coming of the Messiah, then Jesus was saying that he was the Messiah. And since none of their priests had interpreted scripture to indicate that their savior would come as their neighbor, the carpenter’s son, they assumed Jesus was blaspheming.

What’s odd about the gospels is this binary nature of faith: You got it or you don’t. Wasn’t anyone in these stories capable of waiting to see, having enough patience to not judge right away? Apparently not, and what does that say about us? I see this as a warning, a lesson.

Our faith is not as robust or flexible as we assume. Everything takes practice. Without a daily regiment, faith weakens as quickly as muscles do. Our faith must always be ready to leap, not to throw others off the cliff, but to jump willingly, for the sake of others.

“And he could there [in Nazareth] do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. / And he marveled because of their unbelief….”—Mark 6:5-6.

Those who were unable to believe were not healed by Jesus. All of his miracles were accomplished because of the faith of those receiving his help. Faith enables healing. To heal a friendship, then, we would have to forgive each other by believing in each other.

“And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.”—Luke 18:42.

What are we supposed to have faith in, according to the Bible? What are we claiming to believe? The people of Jesus’ hometown believed in God’s laws. They would kill or heal according to the law. They had to; it was their covenant with God…as they understood it.

I think what Jesus was trying to tell them (and us), and what they couldn’t hear because of their rigid beliefs, is that we should have faith in each other.

“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.

Doesn’t love assume faith? We’d need to have faith in someone before we could love them. Just as the gospels are lessons on how to love one another, they are also examples of how difficult it is to have faith in each other. To understand my faith in God, I need only observe my faith in others.

The people of Nazareth had no patience or faith in their neighbor. And what faith they did have was rigid and cold as stone.

My favorite part of this whole episode was how Jesus escaped the mob.

“But he passing through the midst of them went his way.”—Luke 4:30.

He slipped right by them. Now that’s faith. When you’re surrounded by people who want to throw you off a cliff, what do you do?

“…Be not afraid, only believe.”—Mark 5:36.

Jesus had faith that they wouldn’t stone him, or throw him off the cliff. He had faith in the good will of those who only had expressed ill will for him.

“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.”—Matthew 5:44.

Talk about a faith that can move mountains: It’s a reminder to not let our belief in others be lessened when they are unreceptive; the weaker their faith in you, the stronger your faith in them must be.

That was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his perceived blasphemy. He didn’t catch the attention of the Pharisees until the crowds started following him; but that happened right away. For people who did believe, they were healed of every possible illness.

“And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. / And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from Jordan.”—Matthew 4:24-25.

For people who didn’t believe in the goodness of others, however, Jesus was a threat. And since all those thousands of people were out following Jesus, they weren’t in the synagogues. The priests were losing their audience. They were failing God. It was a catch-22 for them: In order to follow God’s law, they would have to murder this man; or they would have to accept Jesus’ new teachings, thereby abandoning their old ways.

I sometimes think we’re too hard on the Pharisees. They are the most human of all the Bible’s characters, and excellent examples of what can happen when our faith in each other isn’t strong.

First encounter

“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”—Matthew 9:11.

In Matthew’s gospel, the Pharisees had three encounters with Jesus before they conspired to kill him. This was the first. He had just blasphemed in front of the scribes, by forgiving a man of his sins—only God could do that, according to their laws. So he caught the Pharisees’ attention.

Surrounded by huge crowds, all of them treating Jesus the way the Pharisees wished they were treated, Jesus stood up to those who were, in a sense, the Bible’s policemen.

“But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”—Matthew 9:12.

If he had left well enough alone, that statement might’ve perplexed them and not made them angry. He could’ve changed the subject, and everything would’ve been fine. Instead:

“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”—Matthew 9:13.

Am I the only one who sees Jesus had an attitude sometimes? It was as if he said, I’ll let you off the hook, this time, because you need to go away and think about it. And he said that to the cops! He liked to rub his fingers in open wounds, perhaps to remind us that we’re wounded, and not infallible.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Second encounter

“At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. / But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:1-2.

They referred to the fifth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”—Exodus 20:8. Since God rested on the seventh day, then we should too. It was the law.

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”—Leviticus 23:3.

Jesus’ disciples were breaking the law. As clever as the priests thought they were, Jesus smooth talked them, showing how their own scriptures and greatest heroes supported what he was doing.

“…Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; / How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”—Matthew 12:3-4.

He left the Pharisees speechless, unable to present a counter-argument. And then, of course, he had to rub it in.

“But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. / For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:7-8.

It was as if he said, I could chastise you Pharisees even more, but I won’t, because you’re unable to understand what I’m talking about. And they didn’t have a clue. They took everything literally, and were without imagination.

Once, they thought Jesus threatened to destroy the great temple in Jerusalem, while boasting to also raise it in three days. They had not only misunderstood him, but misquoted him.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”—John 2:19.

They had wanted a sign, so Jesus told them that if they destroyed the temple, then, in three days, he would 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? / But he spake of the temple of his body.”—John 2:20-21.

And then some lied about what he’d said, after he was brought before Caiaphas.

“…this fellow said I am able to destroy the temple of God, and build it in three days.”—Matthew 26:61.

The Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus as he spoke, and later lied about what he said. They were so caught up in obeying the letter of the law that they forgot about its spirit.

In a two-page rant against them, Jesus said to the Pharisees, in part:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”—Matthew 23:23.

And that brings us to his third strike.

Third encounter

“And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked [Jesus], saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? That they might accuse him.”—Matthew 12:10.

By that point, the Pharisees were already trying to trap him in his words, prove him to be a fool, and therefore a fraud. His first infraction was barely more than a faux pas: hanging out with the wrong sort of people. The second time, his disciples actually broke the law, by picking corn to eat on the Sabbath.

As usual, Jesus had a smooth, common-sense approach to help them understand what he was doing.

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? / How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”—Matthew 12:11-12.

But the Pharisees weren’t trying to understand. Whatever Jesus said was lost on them, except they perceived him as threat.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”—John 1:5.

If I don’t even try to understand my neighbor, how can I have faith in them? How many times have I been guilty of not listening? The practical way to experience faith in God is to have faith in each other. Even though they clung desperately to their faith, the Pharisees betrayed “the weightier measures of the law” by not showing mercy.

It’s one thing to not understand, or even want to understand; it’s another to seek to murder what you perceive as a threat.

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

Not only was Jesus rejected by his own people in Nazareth, but by the Jewish priests as well.

“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”—John 7:1.

Jesus was a wanted man.

The Pharisees would’ve killed him right there, if thousands of people weren’t cheering his name. I imagine steam blowing out of their ears. Then Jesus rubbed it in even more:

“Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.”—Matthew 12:13.

If you see a miracle, and still don’t believe, then you are of “little faith.” The Pharisees had to choose, right then, what side of the fence they were on. Their Messiah had come and performed a miracle right in front of them. Would they fall down and worship him, abandoning their power and influence, their worldly wealth?

It is startling to think that they did, in fact, know Jesus was the Messiah. If you remember, I see the Pharisees as being us. I also have the tendency to reject what will help me. I can make it on my own: That’s my battle cry. But it’s obvious that I can’t. None of us can: We need each other. I need to treat my neighbors well, so that they’ll treat me well, so that we all can, by prospering, cause each other to prosper.

Before I can reap the rewards of such a potential relationship, I need to love my neighbors, which means I need to have faith in them.

Next time, we’ll look at the good examples of faith in the gospels.

The Sower

Test time! We’ll be grading on a 10-point scale: Anything below 70 = F. Ready?

To ease test anxiety, take a deep breath and visualize my favorite teaching moment from the gospels.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. / And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”—Matthew 13:1-2.

We don’t have to do anything for this test, except be honest with ourselves, and see how far along we are in trusting God’s will: how much patience we still need to learn.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; / Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”—James 1:2-3.

Grade F: By the wayside

“…Behold, a sower went forth to sow; / And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.”—Matthew 13:3-4.

Jesus later explained most of this to his apostles. Remember, he spoke to the crowds only by parables.

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

But to his twelve apostles he spoke openly:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”—Matthew 13:19.

Before we can hope to fight temptation, we first have to understand how to fight it.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:11.

Like God, the word of God is everything.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: /…/ That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us….”—I John 1:1,3.

You could say that the word is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to understand the word.

However, before I can get to that point, I have to understand who the sower is. We aren’t told—which seems odd, since it’s the title of the parable. As you read, keep this in mind, and decide for yourself the identity of the sower.

This first type of ground, the wayside, is for those who don’t understand the word of God. Think for a moment. Do you understand it? Do I? I’d like to think I do. But we’re human beings. That means we don’t know much, unless it can be proven with math and the scientific method.

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

I think of that plea from the cross as the definition of humanity, which is (or should be) humility.

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

Therefore I humble myself by acknowledging that I don’t understand everything taught in the Bible. Think about that. Who would dare claim such a thing? I try. Sometimes I think that I have flashes of insight. But it is never total. Should I expect it to be?

My grade: F!

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”—Mark 4:13.

So this is really a learning exercise. If we can understand this parable, which is all laid out for us, then we can apply what we learned to the others.

The sower gave me the word of God. This is the first hint at the sower’s identity. Who gives us the word? How does it come to us?

When I don’t understand, it’s because my earth failed to absorb the seeds. I wasn’t doing anything with the seeds, so the birds came and ate them. When we leave our faith up for grabs, and don’t take responsibility, the potential we have for loving one another slips away.

“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.

Did you fail too? Don’t give up. Understanding is all we lack. That can be overcome with patience.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; / And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”—Romans 5:3-4.

Grade C: Rocky ground

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: / And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.”—Matthew 13:5-6.

We want the seed to reach good earth, but there’s always something in the way.

“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.

Notice that the sower is no longer mentioned, and won’t be for the rest of the parable. Yet, everything that happens is a result of his/her actions.

So far, this is my highest score. Sometimes I do understand. I get it, and I’m so happy. Though I have faith in the word, I struggle during tribulation because of a lack of faith in myself. Faith is the root; if it’s strong, then so am I. But sometimes I get caught off guard, overwhelmed.

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

If you’ve made it this far, then you somewhat understand the word, but have trouble using it. The rocky ground is where we suffer temptation from within. Maybe we’ve built a stone wall, which keeps everything out, including the word. Or it could be that our hearts are cold, refusing personal investment and connection. Whatever the case, the lack of faith is due to fear. We think that we have to protect ourselves, look out for number one. But this shuts us off, not only from the damage of living, but the love of living.

Since we’ve made it to Grade C, it’s time to start using our understanding to fight temptation. The Bible is full of quotable mantras. This is my favorite one for dealing with fear:

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

Repeating this to yourself in times of need may not make you fearless. It won’t solve all your problems. But it is a good first step. We have to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

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

Rocky ground is the hardest level for me. I am my own worst critic. While the kingdom of heaven is within us, so are the worst angels of our nature.

My goal is to learn how to control my fear, by reminding myself that God is with me. Through patience and honesty with myself during prayer, and using the Bible’s mantras in mindfulness meditation, I have faith that my grade will improve.

Grade B: Thorny ground

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”—Matthew 13:7.

Whatever we put our faith into, that’s what gives us strength; whatever we put our time into defines who we are.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”—Matthew 13:22.

Sometimes we get our strength from the things of this world: (the good) family and friends, and (the bad) addiction and greed. While these can work, if my strength doesn’t come from God, but from the things of this world, then I’ll have to choke and smother myself with temporary fixes. All we need is one God, but we need countless cars, clothes, food, cigarettes, promotions, larger apartments, etc.

At this level, we would’ve learned to understand a majority of the word, and dealt with our inner demons, but we’re still a fat camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. The good news is that we’re almost perfect, just one letter grade remains. The bad news is that one can’t find anything more contrary to the gospels than the temptations of the physical world.

“…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:15.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…?”—Matthew 16:26.

“…My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

Is that what we are: a den of thieves? Are we the Pharisees, or the Romans who cast lots for Jesus’ torn garments?

At this level, the thorny ground, we must answer these questions. Basically, where do we put our faith? The needs of this world spring up like thorns: unpredictable, unstoppable, at least by conventional methods.

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

We can’t fight sin without sinning ourselves; it infects everything it touches. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m here: to find a way to cleanse myself, and then share that knowledge.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”—I Peter 4:19.

We suffer so that we can learn patience. We need that very kind of patience to follow God’s will. We have to follow God’s will, or the cares of this world will overcome us. It’s an impossible fight without the word of God: the seeds that bring fruit according to our actions, i.e., what type of ground we’re on.

That reminds me of how the sower’s actions are all we have to determine his/her identity. And it reminds me of Judgment Day, the ultimate test.

“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.

Grade A: Good earth

“But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”—Matthew 13:8.

We are into science fiction territory here.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”—Matthew 13:23.

Our sower never stopped to clear the thorns and stones. He/she didn’t even seem to be aiming. Everyone got treated the same, no matter what type of ground they were on. This is how the word comes to us. The question remains: who is the sower?

At this level we understand the word, and rejoice in temptation, since it tests our faith. We are pros at being tested, because we’ve faced all our demons, maintaining patience through every tribulation; and we were able to do all that because we put our faith in the will and word of God.

If I were to get an A, what would the prize be? What’s my goal in all of this? First, my goal is to be what I just described. But there must be something beyond that, on the other side of the door.

“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”—Matthew 7:7.

Once we’ve understood the word, and faced our inner and outer demons, then we are able to bear the fruit of our seeds. This is unique to the good earth. Since the seeds are the word of God, what kind of fruit would that be? Think back to how you received the seeds, and the peace they brought to your life: comfort during tribulation, strength during temptation.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

That’s what Jesus said to his apostles, before sending them to minister to the people. For the twelve, Jesus was the sower. He brought them the word. For those ministered to by the apostles, the twelve were the sowers. They sowed by their actions: cleansing, raising, casting out; we sow, or bear fruit, according to our actions. Therefore, we not only receive the seeds, but give them to others as well.

We are the sowers. It’s all entirely up to us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. We are the source of evil in this world.

“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 have two potential roles in this parable: giving and receiving. Sometimes we are the sower; other times we’re on rocky or thorny ground; or we may just be by the wayside.

We are free at any point to shift to another level, seek better understanding, fight our demons, free to decide if we want to follow God’s will at all: Some people like a lost cause; I know I do.

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Luke 19:10.

Amen to that.

Prodigal Son

When we say love, what do we mean? I’ve been told that there are different kinds of love, different shades, manifestations, or expressions of love: romantic, platonic, familial. I love this color, that book, this song, and I love God. And God loves me.

If God is love, then love, itself, must be infinite, while also being singular. A paradox!

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

All things were made by love, for love. So why do we have such a hard time loving each other? What am I doing wrong? If love is infinite, then how can we mortals comprehend it, let alone express it? In times of confusion, I return to the well, to the simplicity of storytelling.

You’re with all your friends, each a singular expression of your love for life. Since we leave judgment of good and evil to God, you have all kinds of friends. You sit and laugh with them on the beach, as the Sea of Galilee pulses with fish and fisherman. A couple of Pharisees show up, causing trouble:

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. / And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:1-2.

Who are these people to tell you who to love? Why can’t they see and understand the connection you feel? Is love relative (i.e., not an absolute)?

Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Remember, we are ignorant, weak sinners. It’s okay to have trouble comprehending infinity. To explain to the Pharisees why he loves sinners, Jesus shares three parables.

1. Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? / And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. / And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. / I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”—Luke 15:4-7.

I added the bold so you could keep that phrase in mind when reading the second parable.

2. Parable of the Lost Piece of Silver

“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? / And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. / Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”—Luke 15:8-10.

See the pattern? Let’s break it down. There are three things being illustrated here: love, forgiveness, and repentance. None of these can exist without the others.

We cannot forgive without showing compassion, and without the repentance of the person who did us wrong.

We cannot repent without feeling love, and the possibility of forgiveness, if not by others, then forgiveness of ourselves after admitting that we were wrong.

And we cannot love unless we’re willing to accept repentance, forgive the sinner, and love the sinner.

All things were made by him: including sin and the sinner. There is nothing that is unnatural or unclean. It is all of God.

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

It is not for us to judge; that’s God’s job. Our job is to love each other, because we are all of God, even when we choose to leave him, abandoning love for our own selfish entitlement.

3. Parable of the Lost Son

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: / And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto his living. / And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”—Luke 15:11-13.

There are three characters here: the father, younger son, and elder son. The father begins this parable by showing patience—which you need when the other person does you wrong as a result of their own selfishness. The younger son wasn’t trying to hurt the father; he was only thinking of himself. This isn’t always a bad thing.

Loving yourself is part of love. But sometimes we do this at other’s expense. Love is still there. God hasn’t abandoned you. Part of being connected to others is allowing the connection to grow. And sometimes growth is catastrophic.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. / And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. / And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.”—Luke 15:14-16.

We cannot love only ourselves. Remember, God is love. God is everything. By loving only himself, the younger son left his father, abandoning the balance of love between himself and his family. When out of balance, that is, not shared equally with everyone you know (including yourself), love turns toxic.

The only way for the younger son to save himself is to repent.

“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! / I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, / And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”—Luke 15:17-19.

I am no more worthy.

That’s the key. If God is love, how can we approach love, except with humility?

“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 14:11.

Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. If I can’t accept that I have done wrong, then how can I hope to fix what is causing my unhappiness?

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.

The young son admits that he didn’t show love for his father. His thoughts were only for himself. He corrects this imbalance, which is ruining his life, with repentance. It’s okay to admit we were wrong. Since we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s a miracle we ever do anything right. While that won’t hold up in a court of law, it’s the truth. And truth is part of love, but so is compassion.

“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. / 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 15:20-21.

Without the father’s compassion, this scene would’ve gone very differently. The father showed patience when his son sinned and compassion when his son admitted that he had done wrong.

In the heat of the moment, no matter what our personal convictions are, we are liable to say and do anything. The only way to prepare for that involuntary reaction to a perceived threat is to practice love and forgiveness at all times. Make it your first priority, your first thought. But don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. That’s why we’re practicing, because our ability to love needs work and focus.

“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; / And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; / For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”—Luke 15:22-24.

I have found my sheep which was lost.

I have found the piece [of silver] which I had lost.

Without love we become lost; more than that, we die. The younger son couldn’t survive on his own, that is, without love, without repenting to his father, and forgiving himself. Self-interest is at work here, for both father and son. The father lost his son, who was precious to him. The son was starving to death. Love is in our best interest. If you want to look out for yourself, always look out for others.

I know…I know…paradox!

“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. / And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. / And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.”—Luke 15:25-27.

Finally, the elder son gets some story time. Hopefully you didn’t forget about him, because he is crucial to the moral. In the heat of the moment, despite being a good, loyal son, how does he react?

“And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and entreated him. / 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 15:28-30.

Though the elder son loves his father, he has no patience or compassion for his brother.

If we take the father to be God, the younger son represents us, as we wander to and away from love. If you remember that Jesus is telling this story to the Pharisees, I can’t help but think that the elder brother represents them. And, looking at the story of Jesus as a parable, the Pharisees symbolize our tendency to be unyielding, to cling to old understandings, without new wisdom. (Remember the Parable of the New Cloth from Matthew 9:16.)

Love comes through the understanding that we are weak. We need each other. Humility leads to wisdom, illustrated by the father’s patience and compassion toward a child who repented.

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

Love is the merging of self-interest and altruism; it’s expressed through patience, compassion, repentance, and forgiveness. It is the humility of admitting your limitations, and the strength of the hope that we can go home again.