Words To The Wise For Your Journey to Godliness

Frustrations, Training, and Godlikeness

When it comes to “godliness” most Christians come up short. Though the word “godly” is only mentioned about 25 times, the whole Bible is a book about godliness. Unfortunately, most evangelical commentators want to reduce its meaning to something like “devotion to God.” I believe its more like “Godlikeness.” For example, “friendliness” is more than a devotion to a friend. It’s being a friend. “Laziness” is not a devotion to something lazy. It’s being lazy. Both words describe a characteristic of life. It’s who they are not just what they do. In fact, they act a certain way out of who they are. Godliness is the characteristic of a person who is like God. 

My journey towards godliness has been hindered by two mistaken beliefs: 

  1. That will-power is enough. I had a college professor, 6 foot 6 inches with a resonating deep voice, who often repeated this phrase: “You are spiritually where you want to be.” He may have been taking about desire. But I interpreted his saying as emphasizing the will – “You are spiritually where you will to be.” So for years I tried to will myself to spiritual growth like The Little Engine That Could – “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” 
  2. That ministry is the answer. I associated serving God with knowing God. Being active and serving is good. But it is no substitute for a vital, experiential relationship with God. In fact, it can be the factor that hinders the journey. Oswald Chambers (1874-1917), the popular devotional author writes, “We slander God by our very eagerness to work for Him without knowing Him. Our greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.”  

Acting on these beliefs only led me to frustration. I needed to learn to walk a journey of participation in the life of God in faith, grace, and…effort. This is the path to godliness. 

Tom Landry, one of the best coaches football has ever seen, said, “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” Something similar could be said about St. Paul’s instruction to “train yourself to godliness.” To become godly you need to engage in practices you may not want to do. But eventually, these practices become the enjoyable means to godliness. 

Exercise is Necessary 

The Church for centuries has encouraged its people to engage in ascetical practices that actually help them become more and more like God. These practices are not for the purpose of punishing the body. They are engaged for a couple reasons: 

  • To manage the fleshly passions, directing them to a positive end.
  • To open the heart to know God and experience His life, love, and light. 

It’s fascinating that many so-called Christians spend thousands of dollars and hours focused on their physical well-being while spending little or nothing on their spiritual well-being. These dear folks are barely Christians in the full sense of the word let alone walking the journey to be like God.  

But this is not you. You’re reading this because something inside you desires to know God and become more like Him. You’re simply looking for good ways to have that happen. You recognize that physical exercise is good as far as it goes. But, exercising yourself to godliness is good for this life and all eternity. You know that you don’t drift into godliness. You know that you must do something about it in the grace of God. 

Training is Good

The word translated “training” that St. Paul uses in 1 Timothy 4.7, is the word from which we get our word “gymnasium” – in modern usage, “gym.” “I’m going to the gym” usually means I’m going to work out, exercise, or engage in some activity that will benefit me physically. You know what a “gym” class at school means. Kids practice or play basketball or volleyball, train or wrestle in a gym. A gymnast works hard on various apparatus and floor exercises to hone his or her skills. Usually this “training” involves a coach, coaching, and a team that helps in the training.

Much effort goes into this physical training. Similarly, much effort needs to go into your spiritual training. Going to church, sitting in a pew, listening to sermons, and singing a few songs is not going to do it. Your church is not a gymnasium though it could be. You need to “exercise yourself for godliness” in ways that make all of life a gymnasium. stupidity1

In my next post, I will present a few simple means you can practice to help you become more godly. These are ancient practices taught by the Church for hundreds of years. They are not your usual practices. But as the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.” 

How are you doing on your journey towards godliness? Moving forward? Stuck? In the ditch? Lost? Enjoying the journey? Are you taking time to exercise along the way? 

Dr. K 

Stirring the Secret Sauce of Christian Living

Synergy is How It All Happens

Every Spring, with the harsh winter behind her, Kathy begins to prepare her little plot of land for delicious vegetables. She tills and feeds the soil and makes sure the garden is protected from pesky deer. She can taste the greens and peas, tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and squash as she plants the seeds and starter plants. Heavenly showers and the radiant sun along with ground-level nutrients will feed these plants to maturity. Kathy fertilizes and weeds to help things along.

When it comes to having beautiful vegetables, Kathy knows two things: 1) she must exert necessary time and wise effort to prepare the soil, plant, and tend her vegetable garden and 2) she has no vegetables without all the resources God provides. She knows that good gardening is a divine-human enterprise. God gives life to all creation. She is simply participating in that life in a particular “gardening” way. By God’s grace she plants and He gives the increase. 

The technical word for this interaction of human and divine effort is “synergy.” Synergy is normally understood as “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” could be one way of expressing synergy. 

Synergy and Salvation 

Though not the emphasis of this post, there is some debate among a few modern evangelical theologians about synergy as it relates to justification. In what ways do God’s will and the human will interact resulting in salvation? Synergism, as a theory of justification, is rejected by most evangelicals due to its association with Roman Catholicism and the belief in human free will.

In this debate, consideration is rarely given, if ever, to the understanding of the early Church regarding salvation. Augustine may be quoted but only as he fits into someone’s preconceptions. Perspectives are skewed in the direction of Reformation and post-reformation writers who shape modern theological understanding. Scriptures are often torn apart and used as daggers to slay the theological enemy of the “true gospel.” Without the grounding of established (early) Church dogma, it’s a chaotic and heartbreaking free-for-all.

It seems the first 1000-1200 years of the Church are ignored as if they knew little of the meaning of salvation and how God brings humanity to Himself. How was it possible for people have a relationship with Christ without the insights from the reformers and their devotees? 

But, as I said, synergism related to justification is not the emphasis of this post. ☺️

Synergy and Christian Living 

I want to emphasize synergy as an explanation and secret sauce for the Christian life. Synergy for Christian living, using the definition above, is the interaction or cooperation of God and humans to produce God-likeness and, actually, anything in the Christian life. 

The word “synergy” comes from the Greek words SYN: same, together and ERGOS: energy, work. It literally means: “work together.” In the New Testament synergism is the idea of being “workers together (Gr. sunergountes) with” God (2 Corinthians 6.1). 

Paul beautifully describes this work when he writes: work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). Our past, present and future salvation is being worked in us by God as we cooperate with Him. This is not the normal evangelical understanding of salvation. Perhaps we need to pause, take a second look at Paul’s words, and wrestle with what he’s saying. 

In the past, I (mis)interpreted the word “salvation” in this verse as “sanctification” only to fit my theology. Now, I understand salvation to be the broad term for all the various aspects of our relationship with God – justification, calling, sanctification, glorification, adoption, imputation, etc. These are all aspects of our one “salvation.”

God is working each of these aspects into our lives. It’s our role to cooperate with Him. We are workers together with Him for everything related to salvation, in the broad sense of the term, in our lives. 

Synergy and Early Writers 

From the beginning of Christian thought, the reality of synergism, though the word was not used, is seen. Listen to St. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD): 

A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from sinful desires achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself to be very eager and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. God works together with willing souls. But if the person abandons his eagerness, the spirit from God is also restrained. To save the unwilling is the act of one using compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace. 

St. John Cassian (360-435) in his Conferences (Chap. 13) declares that human efforts cannot be set against the grace of God but that human effort and grace co-operate. 

And therefore the aforesaid teacher of the Gentiles [Paul], though he bears his witness that he had obtained the grade of the Apostolate by the grace of God, saying: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” yet also declares that he himself had corresponded to Divine Grace, where he says: “And His Grace in me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: and yet not I, but the Grace of God with me.” [1 Cor. 15.10] For when he says: “I laboured,” he shows the effort of his own will; when he says: “yet not I, but the grace of God,” he points out the value of Divine protection; when he says: “with me,” he affirms that [the grace of God] cooperates with him when he was not idle or careless, but working and making an effort.

Or, St. Peter of Damascus (12th c): 

Human effort is profitless…without help from above, but no one receives such help unless he himself chooses to make an effort. We need always both things, we need the human and the divine, ascetic practice and spiritual knowledge, fear and hope, inward grief and solace, fearfulness and humility, discrimination and love.

The early Church, the apostles, and patristic writers did not pit grace and works against each other. The synergy of grace and works made possible all things related to God. To accomplish anything worthwhile for God on earth, there must be synergy between God and humanity. 

For example, God alone is holy. We are not. Our actions and thoughts make this very obvious. The only way we become holy is cooperating with God; interacting with His holiness. We don’t make ourselves holy. And, God doesn’t make us holy against our will. We, God and us, work together to see holiness come about. Synergy makes holiness a possibility. 

Without the experience of synergy we’re in danger of swinging the pendulum between strict legalism and complacent libertinism – we think it’s all up to us or we don’t do a thing. Synergy stops the pendulum. 

Synergy in the Scriptures 

There are examples of synergy all throughout scripture.

We see synergy in Joseph’s life: “The keepers of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Genesis 39.23). Joseph worked yet it was God who prospered the work. How was the work accomplished? By God and Joseph working together. 

Nehemiah worked hard to prepare and build the walls of Jerusalem but only because “the good hand of my God” was upon him (Nehemiah 2.8). When opposition came, Nehemiah replied, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2.20). The servants built. God prospered their work. The walls were finished because God and Nehemiah (and hundreds of helpers) did the work together. 

An understanding of synergism makes certain Bible passages come alive.

For the the Apostle Paul, synergism is how his and our life, ministry and inner transformation take place.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gave the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it (1 Corinthians 3.6-10).

This whole passage demonstrates the interaction of God and His servants to accomplish His work. The Greek word for “fellow workers” is sunergoi (syn – with + ergoi – work) from which we get our word “synergy.” You work with God and He works with you. 

In this case Paul is pointing out that we work together with God as He plows the field of our heart and builds the building of our lives. God works within us yet we participate in His work. Without our participation, nothing is accomplished. Without God’s work, nothing is accomplished.  

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Corinthians 13.9-10). We are to work hard yet God works with us. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2.20). How can Paul no longer live but still live? Answer: Christ in him; living life in Paul as Paul lived life. 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3.20-21). His power works in us to do above what we ask or think. 

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). We work for it is God who works in us. 

Even Peter gets in on the action. Note that God has given us all His resources to live and be like God. Yet, as we become participants in God’s nature we are to make every effort to supplement our faith: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature,…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1.3-7)

God develops all His virtues in us as we participate in Him and cooperate with Him in that process. 

Illustration of Synergy: Sword & Fire 

Pastor Jon Braun writes about a sword in a fire as an illustration of what strength is available to us when we are joined to Christ. This is an ancient illustration of synergy. 

“Imagine a steel sword being heated in a fire. The sword becomes red hot. Does the sword become blended with the fire so that the fire and sword become one substance? Obviously not. The sword is still distinctly steel and the fire is still distinctly fire. The steel does not become fire, nor does the fire become steel. But the sword does get hot. It partakes of the heat of the fire. The heat of fire, the energy of the fire, interpenetrates the substance of the sword.” (Divine Energy, pp. 74-45)  

“To expand on this ancient example, you heat a sword in a fire until it’s white hot. Then you dip it in a tub of water. What happens? The hot sword makes the water sputter and hiss. Or, if the red-hot sword is pressed against a piece of word, the wood will scorch — perhaps even burst into flames.  

Let us make two observations from this illustration. First, the fire has one kind of nature and iron a nature quite distinct from it. It is the nature of a sharpened sword to cut; it is the nature of fire to burn. Yet, now the heated sword can both cut and burn. The heat of the fire penetrates the sword. The sword does not become fire by nature. But it does participate in the heat, the energy, of the fire. Through all this, though, both the fire and the sword maintain their distinct natures. ”  

Now is it the fire or the sword that burns the wood which the sword touches? The answer is both. Once the sword participates in the heat of the fire, it can inflict a burn quite easily. The energy produced by the fire is passed on to the sword and heat becomes characteristic of the sword as well as of the fire. It is accurate to say that the fire burns through the sword. And it is every bit as correct to say that the sword itself burns the wood with heat from the fire.” (Divine Energy, pp. 114-115) 

“What causes wood to burn when touched by a heated sword? There are a least three correct answers: the fire, the heat, the sword. It is inherent in the nature of fire to radiate heat, and thus it has the capacity to burn. It is not inherent in the nature of steel to radiate heat. But it is in the nature of steel to be able to participate in the heat of a fire and radiate that heat. Similarly, energized by union with Christ, we have access to the qualities needed to be godly. Then we are capable of living God’s way….Living God’s way is not just getting a bit of help; from God, nor is it the old, “God is my co-pilot” scheme, where I’m in charge and He cooperates with me. It is me cooperating with Him. In cooperation there is one operation, but two parties working together. Our God and King works, and we, His servants, work with Him. In dynamic union with Christ, participating in the energies from God’s own nature, we are able to work together with God.” (Divine Energy, p. 125)

Thoughts on Synergy

  • Synergy is not among equals. Limited and finite humans work together with Almighty God. In our weakness, brokenness and nothingness, God is strong, pure, and all we need. Our contribution is minuscule compared to His power. He is great, we are not. 
  • Synergy changes the way we consider certain supposed dichotomies: law and grace, faith and works, Old Testament and New Testament, nature and grace, spirit and body, reality and symbol, God’s faithfulness and humanity’s faithfulness, secular and sacred, Church and state. These pairs of concepts are no longer in conflict but cooperate in a true understanding of the Faith and God’s will for us. 
  • Synergy sheds light on the interactive operation of the Trinity. Three Persons are indeed One as they work together in perfect unity. It is this unified cooperation into which all of us are invited and for which Jesus prayed (John 17.20-26). 
  • Synergy is the way you and I are to live. Our goal is to live in union with the life of the Triune God. God’s work, then, becomes our work and our work is God’s work. We seek to be in such (com)union with God that we do His will with ease and effectiveness. We spend the rest of our lives in this quest. 
  • Synergy gives us theological equilibrium. We are not carried away with fanciful notions related to grace and faith, works and righteousness, Jesus and Church, prayer and scripture. Accepting and practicing synergy provides a clarifying perspective on divisive theological issues. 
  • Synergy challenges us to be humble, to trust, to be faithful, and to commune with God. If we know that nothing happens in our life apart from God’s work in and through us, then we will do what’s necessary to allow God full access to our heart, mind, soul and body. Moment by moment, we acknowledge our need for His mercy and grace. 

Those who would oppose synergism believing that any work of humans diminishes God’s grace, fail to see that a greater sense of God and His grace are actually experienced in synergism. As Jesus teaches us, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Synergists actually know that to be true. 

Conclusion

Seek to live in such communion with God that His will becomes your will and your will becomes His will. Then HIs work will be your work and your work will be His work. 

Always recognize you have work to do, yet it is God who does the work in you. 

Are you familiar with synergism as it relates to your own Christian living? Share your thoughts about synergism below. Thanks! 

Dr. K 

P.S. It is my prayer that this post is written in cooperation with God’s work in your life and mine. 

Taking On Christ’s Yoke: A Fresh Perspective

Christ's Yoke is Participating in the Son's Communion with the Father

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11.29-30)

These familiar and well-loved words from Jesus are cherished by many Christians. Jesus’ invitation with its promise of “rest,” draws many to come to Him, take up 

His yoke, and learn from Him. We can easily understand what it is to come and learn. But when Jesus uses the word “yoke” without comment, the reader is left a bit befuddled as to its meaning. Jesus does not literally wear a yoke around His neck. So He must mean something else; it must be a metaphor. But, a metaphor of what? 

What is a “yoke?” 

Literally, a yoke is a wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen). There is such a thing as a single yoke, too.     

Metaphorically, a yoke describes any number of ideas as we will see below. 

Explanations of Christ’s Yoke 

On a Church of Christ website, Bailey McBride interprets the “yoke” to be some kind of force that enables us to defeat our immoral passions, helps us address our stubborn hearts, and provides an instrument of discipline. It is a powerful guide for our thoughts and actions, shapes us in the image of Jesus, and equips us to “deal with egos that drive us to all kinds of accesses.” 

Wow! I think he’s covered all the bases. Or has he? 

According to a Mormon website the yoke means, “To humbly do his will and allow him to guide and direct our lives.”

“Take my yoke,” according to John Wesley means to “believe in me: receive me as your prophet, priest, and king.” 

A writer in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary says, “the yoke of Christ is His teaching, His rule of life.”

Meyers claims the yoke is “His guidance and discipline, to which they are to subject themselves through faith in Him.”

A writer of Expositor’s Greek Testament says Jesus is referring to his disciples taking Jesus as their “Master in religion.”

Barnes says that the yoke “refers here to the religion of the Redeemer; and the idea is, that they should embrace his system of religion and obey him…and the Saviour here means to say that the restraints and laws of his religion are mild, and gentle, and easy.” Jesus still has laws and requirements but they are easy and light.  

“The yoke is the service that Christ gives us to do, and therefore implies more than his teaching.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible) 

The yoke is a submission to an occupation or obligation. “by the coming of the Saviour, they would first take on them the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then that of the commandments, finding this yoke easy and the burden light.” (Vincent’s Word Studies) 

“To take Christ’s yoke means to submit oneself to the authority of Christ. It means to put ourselves under his rule, to join together with him. He is inviting people to put their shoulders into a new yoke, one in which he is the yoke mate. And he promises that, as they submit to his authority and are yoked with him, they will find rest for their souls.” Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost 

Benedictine monk Br. Francis de Sales Wagner writes: 

So then, what precisely is the yoke of Christ for us? It is the vehicle of grace on the path of life by which we progressively and obediently come to know, love, and serve God. It means being a disciple of Christ, being true to one’s vocation in life—which may be lived out in many different ways.

This yoke, this right mind of obedience under the law of freedom, this Love, is symbolized in different ways for those living out other vocations. It may be a wedding ring, or a clerical collar, or it may be something less visible but no less demanding—such as an illness, loneliness, or other difficult circumstances.

Yoke = Weed? 

It’s surprising what one finds on the internet. Here is Ras SpiritLeaf’s take on “yoke:”  https://spiritleafministries.org/articles/2-take-my-yoke-upon-you

When we take Hemp (Cannabis) upon ourselves in this way we are yoked to JahShua’s Father (Jah) and this is how he brings forth judgement unto truth (enables every individual to know what Jah is saying directly without any need for an intermediary).  Anxiety is relieved as the external noise is quieted.  Intermission and recreation and judgement unto Truth are found… via our breath. This is how Jah governs man. Yoke yourself so you yourself know… and the external controls, religious and otherwise, are replaced by what you now know as Jah reveals directly to you (babes; common folk) via his yoke.  Your anxiety and stress dissolve as you know and are known by Jah. Your life is preserved / health is restored. This is the result of “knowing” Jah:

HEMP is Jah’s government for the minds of men and his sustainable provision for every need. This is why Jahshuah instructed us to take it upon ourselves. Us… the people; the common folk. He did not instruct a leadership of any sort to manage this for us. He didn’t consult the reigning authorities. He understood separation of church and state. It isn’t up to any earthly authority. It is mandated by JahShua directly to The People to take his yoke (Hemp) upon themselves and via this sacramental practice find rest in our breath.

The NIV Study Bible has no note on Christ’s yoke.

The Life With God Bible (NRSV) indicates that the yoke is wisdom unlike the Torah. “Jesus is offering his yoke, which involves both old and new teachings, not simply the yoke of the Mosaic law…Jesus’ person, life, and teaching are the climactic expression fo God’s wisdom and will.”

The Orthodox Study Bible relates that “Jesus’ yoke is submission to the Kingdom of God. A yoke could be seen as a sign of hardship, burdens, and responsibilities…but in Christ, the yoke is easy, for the power of God works in each person.”

St. Theophan the Recluse writes:

A soul desiring to be saved from sins knows what to say to the Lord: “Take my heavy, sinful burden from me, and I will take Thine easy yoke.” And this is how it happens: the Lord forgives one’s sins, and his soul begins to walk in His commandments. The commandments are the yoke, and sins are the burden. But comparing the two, the soul finds that the yoke of the commandments is as light as a feather, while the burden of sins is as heavy as a mountain. Let us not fear readily accepting the Lord’s easy yoke and His light burden. In no other way can we find rest unto our souls. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 135

Questions I Have 

Is a yoke always for two creatures? In many of the explanations, it is assumed that this yoke is for two. Jesus refers to “My yoke” which implies his own, solitary yoke. 

How is the yoke obtained? It seems obvious that the yoke is not forced upon us. We are not oxen compelled to be in subjection. Jesus does not place His yoke on us. We are to take it upon ourselves. We are free to take it upon ourselves or not. 

Does the literal translation, “take the yoke of me” have any significance? If this is Christ’s own yoke, in what way does it become ours? 

Meanings of Yoke

From the writers above, I conclude that Christ’s yoke can mean any of these ideas:

  • Submission – to Christ’s authority as Master and Lord not only as Teacher; “submit to me and become my disciple.” Or, submission to the Kingdom of God (God’s rule) 
  • Belief in Jesus Christ 
  • Anything that Christ uses to manifest his grace – His rule, doctrine, and leadership                                                                                 
  • A means by which God guides our lives
  • Christ’s commandments (which are light)  
  • Discipline – training under the challenge of discipline; Dallas Willard takes the ‘yoke” as referring to all spiritual disciplines. 
  • Christ’s teachings/Instruction – learning from Jesus Himself 
  • Commitment/Discipleship – to Christ’s authoritative understanding of God’s truth
  • Instruction under discipline
  • Smoking cannabis  – Is this what all Christians must do? I know some up-tight ones that might benefit. But, I’m sure Jesus wasn’t inviting us to smoke weed. 
  • Sevice
  • Symbol of obedience 
  • Symbol of obligation and subjection 

This list demonstrates the challenge to discern the meaning of Christ’s yoke. Perhaps this is by design – it doesn’t really matter “what” the yoke is as long as we come to Jesus and learn from Him. Yet, I am unconvinced this is the case.  

I have two major reasons to question these explanations of the yoke and to espouse another explanation: 

1. Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun “My.”

Not one commentator on this passage notes this. I guess they all assume the “My” means nothing. He’s simply talking about “a” yoke, any yoke, the yoke that means nothing unless we give it meaning.

Perhaps they assume Jesus is using “my” as some kind of thing or idea that He possesses that He’ll share with others. If so, then most of the explanations of yoke given do not make sense. For example, if Jesus is wearing the yoke of discipleship, then Jesus must be being discipled. Nonsense. Is Jesus subject to discipline or even spiritual disciplines? Hardly. Is he receiving instruction from someone? Nope. This idea may have merit if the yoke is a symbol of obedience. However, I think something else is going on here with Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun making his invitation tantalizingly incredible.  

I take Jesus’ words at face value – the yoke He mentions is His yoke. He wears it daily. It is His experience of living life on earth. His experience is what He wants us to wear. 

What is “My yoke” that Jesus is wearing? Instead of guessing from the metaphor itself, why not take our clues from the context of His invitation. 

2. The context of Jesus’ invitation.

The often-forgotten verses preceding Jesus’ invitation are key to understanding the meaning of “yoke.” 

 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (v. 27)

Jesus states that only the Father fully knows the Son and only the Son fully knows the Father. And, if the Son wills, there are those to whom He will reveal the Father. Only then is the invitation given to come, take His yoke, and learn from Him.

Two realities stand out

  1. Relationship – the terms “Father” and “Son” denote a kinship bond deeper than mere organizational authority or educational mentorship. Here we get a glimpse of their essential oneness and their undivided nature. They know one another fully. This is a likeness like no other. 
  2. Knowledge – they are intimately, consubstantially (of one substance or essence) known by or in one another.  This is an experiential union like no other. 

With this in his mind, Jesus invites us to place His own “yoke” of intimate relationship with the Father upon ourselves. Their relationship is in union and oneness; love and goodness; beauty and peace. Christ lives life in the Father and the Father experiences life through the Son. By taking His yoke, Jesus invites us to do the same. 

Communion = Co-Union 

In real communion with Jesus Christ you enter into union with the Trinity. This is gradually accomplished as you continually place Christ’s yoke upon you. 

And when you do, all of life – being and doing – blends together in one unified expression of your union with the Trinity. All that God has for you, over time, becomes useful, kindly, good, beautiful, gracious, and holy. No longer is the Christian life burdensome and hard. Even the demands, rules, struggles, pains, and trials are experienced as good since they all are experienced in union with the Father, Son, and Spirit who are transforming every aspect of your life.  

It is as if Jesus is saying: “What I wear is union and participation with the Father and He with me. We are in complete union and oneness which can be yours when you come to me as a baby and take this yoke of union upon yourself.” 

Only Jesus can make such an offer as this. That’s what’s so amazing. When He offers Himself to you, as He does here, He is inviting you into the Mystery of life in the Trinity. This goes beyond anything you can imagine. It certainly goes way beyond any idea of humility, meekness, and rest you may conjure up from this passage. 

Christ’s yoke is a unified relationship with the Trinity, not a “thing” or “activity.” 

However, to take this yoke, experiencing the reality of union with Christ, is an ongoing, constant activity. That’s where “communion” comes into play. Do all you can to commune with the Trinity through Jesus Christ. Find that path and walk it diligently every moment of every day. 

Walking the path begins by faith when baptized into Christ, continues by partaking of His body and blood, and by coming to Jesus all the time in prayer. It persists by sustained communion with Jesus. And, it never ends even in eternity. In fact, eternity involves walking the path in communion with Jesus all the time.

The invitation for us all is to start coming to Jesus now. Then, start coming again tomorrow. Then, start coming everyday. Take Christ’s yoke always. Learn from Him moment-by-moment. Your soul will experience the rest which this kind of relationship with Jesus can provide.

If you have comments on this perspective or if you have questions, share below. 

Dr. K 

What Every Christian Should Know About Prayer

It's Not What You Think

You only truly know what you experience. So when a disciple made the request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus did not give his disciples a book to read, a program to follow, or a video to watch. He didn’t form a small group to study prayer. He didn’t give them words to study, exegete, or preach. He gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them. That, according to Jesus, is what it means to pray. That’s how you learn to know how to pray. You learn to pray by praying. There is no theory here, no theoretical ideas at all.

 

You don’t understand Jesus’ words in order to say them. You say them in order to understand them. 

Jesus made prayer accessible and good. We’ve made prayer complicated and intimidating. Let me save you hours of frustration and help prayer become simple again. 

Learn to Pray By Praying 

Learning to pray is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?

However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this. When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them.

We have much to learn from this brief exchange. But first let’s see that…

Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer.

Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy, a prayer liturgy – a form or order to follow with meaningful words expressing the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him. It’s that simple. 

Here it is simple and plain. Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night. 

Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, 

Give us today our bread 

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors 

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Don’t listen to the ignorant naysayers who believe that repeating a set of words becomes boring, methodical, nonsensical, and rote. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Real liturgical prayer is filled with meaning, struggle, surprises, depth, and wonder. Follow Jesus. He knows what he’s talking about. 

I have been saying these words almost daily (and now multiple times during the day) for over 5 years now. After all these years, I’ve not tapped into the depth of their meaning though new experiences of prayer sometimes happen. This prayer, in particular, is an inexhaustible treasure of God’s life, love, and light. 

Say it consistently with a humble heart and you’ll discover its treasure. 

How will you implement Jesus’ prayer to his disciples in your own daily life? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order for this to happen? When will you start? Share below. 

Dr. K 

An Invitation to Real Apostolic-Like Living

The Challenge of 1 Corinthians 4.9-16

From some corners of evangelical Christianity come the cries for apostolic ministry – ministries of authority, physical healing, signs, words of knowledge, prophesy, and the “supernatural.” The desire is for apostolic results. But, what about the apostolic kind of life that goes with it? These results did not come through empty vessels but through men shaped by asceticism, hardship, resistance, and prayer. A modern apostle might say, “It doesn’t matter. The supernatural is God’s work. It matters little how I live or who I am.” The Apostle Paul would disagree.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9-16, the Apostle Paul, from first hand experience, describes what being an apostle looks like: 

  • last of all
  • sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world, angels and others
  • a fool for Christ’s sake
  • weak
  • held in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly dressed
  • beaten
  • homeless
  • involved in manual labor
  • reviled yet blesses
  • persecuted yet endures
  • slandered yet speaks well of the slanderers
  • the scum of the world
  • rejected like garbage

Contrast this with the modern-day “apostle,” who is trying hard to be:

  • relevant
  • distinguished
  • privileged
  • popular
  • successful
  • influential
  • diplomatic
  • well-liked
  • recognized
  • powerful
  • comfortable

Paul’s description could easily be dismissed as only applying to first century apostles. If only he had not gone on to say,

 I admonish you because you have countless guides who want to tell you how to live but not many fathers who are actual examples of how to live. That’s why I say, “live as I live; imitate me.”

You and I are not apostles. But we are to become apostle-like Christians as Paul describes. This is at the core of our journey with Jesus Christ and his apostles.

It is a journey to nothingness.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle writes, “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies”  (4.10). Nothingness is the place we experience everything good. 

It is only in dying that we experience real life.

Do you know much about the Apostles? Unfortunately, I don’t. 

Today, let’s find out more about these men who changed the world in their living and in their dying.  

Spoiler alert: with one exception, they all died as martyrs. How did they live? How did they die? Let’s do some research. Then, let’s do some self-examination in light of what we find. 

Share below a gem that you discover and how it impacts you. And share this post with others. 

Dr. K

Trying to Help Those Who Don’t Want Help

A Brief Discourse on Helping

People who have a heart for people desire to help them. Yet, people you care about are not always receptive to your help. What do you do then? When it comes to helping others, it takes two to tango.

Seeking help is scary and sometimes difficult. To admit you have a problem along with the prospect of personal change often keeps you from seeking help. You’re blinded by shame, pride, fear, and anger. Therefore, you can’t clearly see reality or your true self.

There’s the story of the two young fish swimming along. They happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys! How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit. Eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

The truth can be right in front of us but we can’t – or choose not to – see it. It’s easy to become blinded to the realities of who we are and what’s around us – like the fish clueless about the water.

Help means someone “invades” our private space challenging us to rearrange some things, get rid of the junk, clean out our closets, and stop messing up our lives.

It’s easy to see how seeking help is rarely easy.

Offering Help

According to my 10 pound New Oxford American Dictionary, “help” means to: 1) “make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or financial or material aid; improve (a situation or problem); be of benefit to; assist (someone) to move in a specified direction; assist someone to put on or take off (a garment); relieve the symptoms of (an ailment); 2) to serve someone with (food or drink); to take something without permission; 3) an appeal for urgent assistance

Basically help is assistance. We don’t like to see people in pain. We have resources they need. We offer the resources.

Unfortunately, this kind of assistance may be unwelcome, unappreciated, faulty, or misunderstood,

It Takes Two to Tango 

First, there’s the “help-er” who seeks to ease someone in a difficulty PLUS the “help-ee” who receives the help and benefits from the help.

Help is a two-person dance. Sure, you can try to help yourself on your own, but rarely with any level of success. You’ll keep tripping over your own clumsy feet. The best way to help yourself is to accept the beneficial help from others who have insight and experience related to your situation.

What do you do, then, when your help is not wanted? Here are five suggestions:

1. Press forward anyway no matter the consequences. Force your help on them. This reminds me of an intervention. I’ve only heard stories of this method’s success. The few times I’ve been involved in something like this, it failed. The human will plays a significant part in change. As Benjamin Franklin taught: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

2. Pull back and find another way to persuade. When done with genuine sensitivity, love and kindness, this method is effective.

An Aesop’s fable illustrates:

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

“Kindness effects more than severity.”

However, there are human beings that will use this method to manipulate people. Instead of a direct assault, they’ve learned the art of “putting on airs,” treating people nicely, so they can get their way.

Real help doesn’t manipulate people. Discover options that will make a difference.

3. Wash your hands of it. You care for the person by letting them carry on blinded by their own insanity. This seems to be what the father of the prodigal son did. It’s what God does to some of his creatures driven by sin. It seems a crazy way to love. But we’re not God.

There are some people whom you cannot rescue. It’s a hard reality to admit. You cannot help every individual no matter how much you try.

4. Pray for God to help while waiting to participate (or not) in that help. As a Christian, this is a great option. Commit the person to God’s mercy constantly. Then, seek God wholeheartedly as you wait on Him to direct your desire to help.

5. Most importantly, be an example of a person being transformed by the mercy and grace of God. The trouble this person is having may be God’s way of changing YOU and your ability to love others. Your ability to help flows from who you are.

Insight from the Psalmist

Read how God helps those in need:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob; whose hope is in the Lord his God….The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin. (Psalm 146.5-9)

  • The person who looks to God for help will usually be open to receive help from others. He/She has some idea of God’s ability to assist.
  • The person who doesn’t trust God for help may struggle with trusting others who offer help. That kind of person may find God assisting them to ruin.
  • With God there is always hope and help. Yet, we are responsible to learn to trust Him and His help. We can just as easily  rely on ourselves.

Insight from Psychology 

Victoria Maxwell who writes on the Psychology Today site, reminds us of these steps in helping those who don’t want help:

  1. Remember the journey to accept there is a problem to deal with is theirs alone. We can offer genuine help and listen with an open and compassionate heart. But, we are not responsible for their health and happiness. Let go.
  2. Ask your loved one to humor you and go to see someone who can help. Offer to go together.
  3. Build trust and rapport. If your trying to help creates more frustration and anger, do not get frustrated or angry in return. This is easier said than done. Do your best to keep communication open no matter how difficult it becomes.
  4. Evaluate whether you are really the best person to talk to your loved one right now. This may really be true of parents toward their adult children. Another person who is wise and loves people, may be the better option to meet their need.

When Help may not Helpful

  • When help is given only to correct a perceived wrong. Care for the individual is not important. The only issue is fixing the problem.
  • When help comes from a less-than-credible person or someone not respected; an unreliable source. Of course, the one needing help determines this. If they want to dismiss a person as untrustworthy, then they’ll miss the help they need.
  • When help comes from a haughty, proud person. This person may be more interested in looking good than actually helping.
  • When help creates more problems. For example, the person becomes even more dependent on the aid of others.

Making it Personal 

A major frustration of ministry is directing our desire to help people towards those who don’t see their need for help. People who are complacent or self-satisfied, don’t see their need for help. Unfortunately, this describes most people who sit in church pews Sunday after Sunday.

It also describes most church and ministry leaders. Their problem is more ego-related than complacency. Their expertise, training, position, or charisma exempt them from needing assistance. This is a dangerous place to be.

Though life always includes a good dose of struggle (it’s designed that way), we make it more difficult on ourselves when we try to go it alone. Truth is, we don’t have what it takes to make life “work.” We need help.

Also recognize that help is available to you. Ask God for help and see where that takes you. Wisely receive the help that’s offered and be open to benefit from it.

Lastly, become a person who genuinely helps others in kindness and love. Draw close to the Helper of us all and learn from Him. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all know what help is and how to do it. Follow their lead and heart.

Share a story of help below or share something you’re taking away from this post. 

Dr. K

 

A Look at Faith: Beautifully Destitute & Pleasing to God

Would You Know Genuine Faith If It Was Different From Your Faith?

The best Christian you’ll ever meet might be the homeless guy you ignore and despise at Exit #8 on your way to work. She might be the down syndrome child that irritates you with her guttural outbursts during the sermon. He might be the tatted, long-haired, artsy-fartsy moron neighbor who drinks too much. When it comes to recognizing people of faith, we’re probably clueless, though we may think we’re keenly insightful. 

Euphrosynos was a disrespected, simple monastery cook. One night, the monastery’s abbot had a dream of heavenly paradise. Surprisingly, there he met Euphrosynos who gave him three beautiful apples from a tree. Upon awakening he found three apples lying on his pillow much to his amazement. He located Euphrosynos and asked him where he’d been last night. He responded, “Where you were, Father.” The abbot was astonished. How is it possible that this despised yet humble cook could actually be a saint? 

Reading scripture and the lives of saints in church history, I’m beginning to see that holy people are formed out of struggle. They step into the unknown and deal with the challenges of uncertainty and conflict. They persevere in their fears and pain as they experience God. Knowing God seems to be enough to carry them as they advance through carnage and battle inner demons. 

These warriors are described in Hebrews 11: 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (v. 1). (Be careful not to interpret “assurance” and “conviction” as what you think should happen.) 

And without faith it is impossible to please [God}, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (v. 6). 

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (vv. 13-16).  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world is not worthy — wandering in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (vv. 35-40). 

The miracle was not God getting them out of their suffering/affliction/mistreatment but God being present with them no matter how long or how deep the pain. Many were never rescued. Yet, they knew God, becoming aware of Him, even when God seemed nowhere to be found. Knowing God was their reward.  

Where did we get the idea that real faith means we believe God will always rescue us, take us out of trouble, free us from pain, heal our physical ailments, and make our lives better? 

Modern Person of Faith

I don’t know what this kind of Hebrews 11 person would actually look like today. But I have a sneaking suspicion our modern Christian sensibilities would find him/her off-putting. Our family faith album is filled with smiling, clean-cut, healthy-looking people who don’t seem to have a care in the world. God forbid a photobomb by a destitute and tortured grandchild. 

Though held up as great examples of the faith, these kinds of people wouldn’t make it past the greeter at your church. By the look of things, they would not be considered Christians at all – odd clothing, destitute, beat down, tormented, plagued, disorderly, foul-smelling, sick. It doesn’t look like they have any faith in God at all or they wouldn’t be in their particular predicament, right? 

Some churches don’t allow children into their morning service let alone someone like this. I’ve heard of ushers not allowing an autistic child into a service because he would be too disruptive. 

What kind of screwed-up understanding of a person’s faith is this? 

Imagine a Christian guy’s response to news of stage four colon cancer. On Facebook he writes, “Yesterday I got the news that I have colon cancer. But, I’m trusting God. Nothing is a surprise to him. It’s all OK. God’s got this! No worries! God is good all the time!” His friends might respond, “What incredible faith!”

But, doesn’t this actually come off as a form of denial? “Folks, it’s not really bad news because I have a rock-solid belief in God.” Sounds to me like his faith is in his faith. 

What if he’d written: “Yesterday I got the news I have stage four colon cancer. I’m devastated and not handling this well. I’m emotionally and physically spent and yet this cancer journey has just begun. I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I need God now more than ever. Without His mercy and help I have no hope. I’m pitiful. But God is able.”

This sounds more like genuine faith in God. “Folks, I don’t have what it takes in this situation, but God does.”   

Struggle On…

Take an honest look at Hebrews 11 and compare the kind of faith these folks have to your own. Do you see how destitute you really are and how badly you need God’s mercy? 

The Christian life is the journey into a more genuine faith in God. The struggle to believe God is a good struggle. Don’t be discouraged if you think your faith is small. The amount of faith you have is not the issue. The source and object of faith is the issue. 

Keep looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith (Hebrews 12.2).

Without faith we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11.6)

If whatever we do is not in faith, we sin. (Romans 14.23)

I believe. Help my unbelief. (Mark 9.24)

Looking at these scriptural reminders, we’ve got a long ways to go on this journey.

Trust God now…then now…then now. Each moment of every second. No matter what’s happening to you, around you, or in you.

It may not be all that impresive, but at least it’s real. 

Dr. K 

Exploring the Magnificent, Yet Often Misunderstood, Mercy of God

Mercy = Lovingkindness, Steadfast Love, Goodness, Loyalty

It is very clear in scripture and in life, that God is merciful. Over half the Psalms proclaim God’s mercy. God’s mercy is seen from Old Testament stories to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Your life and mine are filled with evidence of God’s mercy. That you are alive: seeing, breathing, reading, thinking, and being show God’s mercy in action. 

The Lord loves mercy and justice; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord…Behold the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, that He may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our helper and defender. Our heart shall rejoice in Him, and we have hoped in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have set our hope on You.

(Psalm 33.5, 18-22)

O God, You have rejected and destroyed us; You have been angry; yet You showed us mercy!

(Psalm 60.1) 

No matter what God does (even the occasional angry act), He always does it in mercy. Whatever your life situation, God will strengthen you in it or guide you through it by His mercy. 

How God Characterizes Himself

God describes Himself as one who “shows mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20.6). In another conversation with Moses, He says of Himself: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… (Exodus 34.6-7).

How do you perceive God? 

Many Christians believe God sees Himself as: The Lord, the Lord God, angry and impatient, eager to punish, and abounding in wrath and displeasure, keeping fury for thousands, outraged by iniquity and transgression and sin. 

If that describes your perception of God, then you don’t believe God Himself.

Does God ever describe Himself as wrathful? The closest I’ve found is Psalm 95.11, “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest'” referring to His dealings with disobedient Israel who refused to trust God in conquering Canaan. Moses uses the word “anger” (Numbers 32.6-15) to describe God’s dealings with Israel at this time. However, in an earlier conversation with God (Numbers 14.13-19), Moses says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [mercy].” It seems that God’s wrath is not so much an emotion God “feels” but an action of judgment or justice towards those who disobey in unbelief. 

God’s mercy is all over this particular event and certainly is seen in His dealings with Israel in the wilderness. 

Does God judge sin? Of course; yet in a manner permeated by lovingkindness. Though hard for us to understand, He has the ability to be merciful as He deals justly with those who disobey and reject Him

There is a place for God’s wrath in His dealing with humanity. Yet, again, it is wrath permeated by mercy. It may not make sense to us humans. But that’s one of many ways God is beyond our understanding. 

My point is that He never characterizes Himself as angry, outraged, eager to punish, or wrathful; only as merciful, gracious, long-suffering, good, truthful, and forgiving. His words, not mine. 

For more on God’s mercy along with some modern-day examples, click here.

A Gospel of Mercy 

A misunderstanding of God’s mercy creates a misunderstanding of the gospel. Modern Calvinists and many others who see God primary as an arbitrator and punisher of sin, belittle God’s mercy and settle for a truncated, crude gospel. It looks like this: God protects us from Himself and His wrath by punishing His Son, pouring down His wrath on Him for sins He did not commit, so that we are spared from His punishment ourselves. What a God! And then we wonder why we struggle to accept God’s love for us.  

The contrast of these two approaches to the gospel are clearly and uniquely presented by my friend Brad Jersak here. He delivers the “Gospel in Chairs” to highlight the truth that God has always dealt with humanity in mercy.

It’s only a merciful God who rescues us from ourselves and a corrupt world that we might enjoy communion with Him. 

Please give the time to look at this video. It could change your life…just like God’s mercy does. 

But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Psalm 13.5).

Dr. K 

15 Dangerous Teachings of Jesus You Better Ignore

If You Seriously Try To Practice Them They'll Mess Up Your Life

Leave it to Jesus to mess up your comfortable life. He’s only supposed to get you into paradise when you die. That’s all, folks! No to hell; yes to heaven. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and give you a home in heaven. Everything else he did or said, you can ignore, right? What He teaches doesn’t matter as long as you’re headed for the streets of gold and your (10,000 sq. ft.) mansion in the sky. 

So, just ignore what He said: 

1. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Matthew 19.15, Mark 10.15, Luke 18.17).

This is a regular theme of Jesus – it’s children who enter the kingdom. Unruly, curious, simple, and unlearned children are the example of those who enter the kingdom of heaven. Young children are the standard of faith by which adults receive the kingdom of heaven not the other way around.

2. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.35)and this bread, which I give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6.62).

Even some of Jesus’ disciples rejected him and this “hard saying” and “walked with him no more.” The same is happening today. Many try to rationally explain the nature of this mystery or explain it away. These disciples didn’t walk away from Jesus over a metaphor or symbol. Jesus meant literally what he said here (as always!). 

3. Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Mathew 5.39).

We often do not know what is good for us or harmful (evil). We think we know what’s harmful, label it as such, and resist it. But, God may have other reasons for us to experience this “evil” of which we are unaware, thus, making it “good.” Real evil is to be overcome with good (Romans 12.21). Learn to resist nothing since all things are for our good. 

4. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom God (Luke 6.20).

In Hebrew, the “poor” means both a) the materially poor and b) the faithful among God’s people. These folks are totally dependent on God for their existence and life. Total dependence on God is a foreign reality to most modern, Western Christians, you and me included. 

5. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5.9).

Don’t you become a child of God by faith alone? To be given the title “child of God” you must be a peacemaker, that is, you participate in God’s peace by grace through faith (but not faith alone). Participating in the peace of the Father, Jesus the Prince of Peace, and Holy Spirit (giver of peace), enables you to share God’s peace with others; become a peacemaker. 

6. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while there is still a beam in your eye? You hypocrite. first take the beam out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.1-5).

You won’t have time to remove the tiny fault in someone else when you really see the huge mess that you are. Truth is, you’ll never see clearly. So, give up trying to correct the faults of others and deal with your own crap. 

7. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6.33).

Do you see God, HIs kingdom and righteousness, as the most important reality in your life? A starving person craves food. A drowning person gasps for air. A true Christian is intense and unstoppable in his/her desire to know God. All else – food, clothing, shelter – find their rightful place only as one craves after God. 

8. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will wear (Matthew 6.34).

How much time, money, thought, and effort is put into providing for our physical needs? We can easily worry about these things indicating a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. Are you consumed by earthly things or God? 

9. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7.21-23)

Only the doers of the Father’s will enter the kingdom. Those who heal, give words of knowledge, prophesy, drive out demons, see visions, and “perform miracles” – even in Lord’s name! – better wise up. So should those who have learned to say the right words. Simply and consistently doing the will of the Father trumps all performances. Do you know the Father well enough that when He wills something you automatically do it?  

10. Be careful not to practice your charitable deeds in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6.1).

Giving of ourselves or our possessions is always good unless our motive is to look good to others. No one has pure motives. Have you ever congratulated yourself or looked for the “Thank you” from others for doing something charitable? This is a subtle attitude we need to struggle with because it affects our relationship with God. 

11. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6.6).

Prayer is primarily an intimate, communion with the Triune God. This kind of meeting with God is it’s own reward. Unfortunately, prayer has become a way to display one’s “piety” before others whether in a small group or a larger church meeting. Use of right-sounding words, voice inflection, and remembering the requests become priority. All that disappears when you’re in solitude, honest and open with God. He becomes your reward.  

12. You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.43-45).

Doesn’t the mercy of God irritate you at times? Why doesn’t He destroy the wicked? Instead, he treats then with the same grace he treats you and asks you to do the same. Love, pray for, act like God towards those who hurt and try to destroy me? It’s difficult enough to love those we love. This is really too much. Love and pray for everyone? Ugh! 

13. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48).

Perfection, God-likeness, is our destiny. It is also our journey. You are on earth, in Christ, to be perfect. Being of good character, spiritually-minded or mature, a good church member, and servant-leader are all good yet incomplete. St. Paul prayed for us to be filled with the fullness of God. St. Peter writes that we are partakers of the divine nature. What are you doing to journey in and towards God-likeness?  

14. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11.12).

According to St. John Chrysostom, the violent who take the kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faithfully living in Him. Is that how you approach the kingdom of God? 

15. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17.3).

Eternal life is not a “thing” given to one who believes. It is the life of God available to enter and live into in an ongoing, loving experience of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Eternal life is a participation in His divine life and in communion with the Trinity. Knowledge here is not merely an intellectual or confident assertion of faith. Since eternal life is the life of God, you must learn to live in it not just believe it.

There’s no getting around it. Jesus upsets your comfortable little Christian world if you take His words seriously and if they matter to you. Or, you can ignore them as most Christians do, and live as you please.  

But if they matter then the struggle to practice these weighty sayings becomes real in your daily living. In the struggle comes great joy and anguish. It’s supposed to be like that. 

Let’s join together in the struggle. It’ll be a beautiful mess. 

Dr. K 

**Some of the comments on Jesus’ teachings were informed by the study notes in the Orthodox Study Bible, 2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Today Is The Perfect Day To Be With Jesus

Seek First His Kingdom & Righteousness

What’s on your schedule today? Get kids to school? Meet with your company’s CEO? Go grocery shopping? Take your dog to the vet? Make 5 sales calls? Have lunch with a friend? Attend your son’s soccer game? Prepare your Bible study lesson? Study for tomorrow’s exam? Drop off clothes at Goodwill? Fix dinner for the family? Mow the yard? Get a hair cut? Stop yelling at the kids? Help a neighbor? Pray? Today is the perfect day to do all of this with Jesus. 

How about, spend time with Jesus? Is that on your schedule? Today is the perfect day to be with Jesus. The good news is that you can accomplish what’s on your schedule while spending time with Jesus. It’s not “either/or but “both/and” – you can BOTH accomplish what’s on your agenda AND be with Jesus. 

While you are driving, meeting, calling, eating, preparing, watching, fixing, or mowing you can be with Jesus. That’s good news. 

Even greater news is that Jesus is already with you and in you. You just have to pay attention…something that’s challenging to do since there is so much in a day that preoccupies your attention and distracts your heart and mind from God. 

Jesus invites you to live like this when He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). The priority of each day you live is God – His governance/authority/rule and His goodness/reality – in all things. When you live with God’s governance and goodness already present and active in and around you, you are assured of all other responsibilities being realized.

Schedules are best accomplished as you participate in God’s rule in union with Him. 

Actually devoting your every moment to Jesus Christ while doing everything else will take some concerted effort. Prayer is the key. 

You’re probably already connecting with God in prayer before your meals – three times a day. 

You can increase prayer times to the traditional “hours” of 6 AM & 9 AM, Noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM. Say the Lord’s prayer at these times drawing your heart to God. Set alerts on your phone for these hours as reminders to pray. You can pray silently wherever you are or whatever you’re doing at these times. 

You can “pray without ceasing” using the Jesus Prayer as the instrument played all throughout the day. Commune with God continually as you repeat the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

As you drive, don’t turn on the radio or CD player but use the time to pray the Jesus Prayer and commune with God…yes, even with children present. 

Do this same thing as you fix meals, mow the lawn, sit in meetings, watch games, or eat your food. 

You will discover joy, peace, goodness and love like never before. Anxiety and fear will lessen. You’ll see beauty everywhere. You’ll become more like Jesus.

It’s simply the best way to live each day. 

How will you commune with God throughout the day today? 

Dr. K

P.S. Here’s a little cliche to practice: Commune as you commute.