Listen to Luke Chapter 15
or read "One"
"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
Watch this modern day parable called Found ...

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"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." (Aurelius Augustine)

Care Like God

Listen to Luke Chapter 10
or read "Care Like God"
He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Once again we see Jesus pointing in this parable to living out the commandments of God rather than just learning about them and pointing them out to others.

In this encounter with an expert in the Law of Moses Jesus tries to shift his focus off the law as an end in itself and onto living it. The expert knew the law and understood it, he even correctly focused in on the heart of God's law to his people. The right answer came from his lips. But when face to face with this challenging command he wanted to squeeze it down into something he could practice. He wanted to narrow the definition of neighbor to those he could love as much as himself. So he asks Jesus "Who is my neighbor?" He knew he could not live it if the definition was beyond those he naturally liked. It is important to point out that many Jews during this time looked at Samaritans as second class people. Certainly not people they liked and wanted as neighbors. In this story Jesus expanded the definition to those the expert didn't want to include. He turned everything around and showed a Samaritan living out the command instead of the respected Hebrew priests and Levities who knew the commands.

To put the writer Brenda Quinn's words about this parable into a question I am asking myself today, am I "too busy working for God to care like God?"

Do I love my neighbor? Who is my neighbor? How narrow is my definition? Do I care about those who I least want to? Am I merciful? Do I live mercy? Do I care like God?

I am not sure that caring for those I least want to is even possible ... without knowing the love of God.

Here are some thoughts on this passage by Bruce Wersen in Burlington, Washington.

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"Go and do likewise."

God's Kingdom

Listen to Matthew Chapter 13 or read "God's Kingdom"
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables ...

Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like ...
What is the Kingdom of Heaven? I would note that in other places in Matthew's written account of Jesus on earth he refers to the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Heaven. In both Mark and Luke's accounts we see it called the Kingdom of God. It is my understanding that these mean the same thing.

I have to admit I have always been a little bothered by the fact that Jesus never specifically defined the Kingdom of God. He never said the Kingdom of God is ... He said it is "like" something else. He used parables to define the Kingdom of God.

From the things Jesus says about the Kingdom we know that it is not a political entity. It is not an empire here on earth established in one location. It is not a country with a strong leader or a king. It is not a government established by people and for the people and it is not a political party. The Kingdom of God transcends time and countries. It operates and governs during all times and among all empires, nations, and races. It is the rule of God in his people in this world. We also learn from Jesus that entering and living in the Kingdom has nothing to do with material wealth.
Reading these parables and other descriptions of it I get the sense that the Kingdom of God is here now, today, but also to come in an incredible way in the future. The parables here tell us that it started very small, barely noticed by anyone, but it is growing and will grow to something very large and permeate every part of the world. In his parables Jesus also describes the Kingdom as priceless and is worth more than anything in this world.

Perhaps it is also undefinable. Maybe the finite human language we people devised can't define in words the Kingdom of God. The infinite Creator came down from heaven, became human, and in doing so also accepted the limitation of human language. So rather than completely and finitely defining the Kingdom Jesus uses parables to describe it, painting a complex and living picture in our minds. Jesus ultimately lived it. Using his own life here on earth he gave us the perfect picture of God's Kingdom. Perhaps it takes millions of lives looking to Christ, spanning thousands of years, and living his message to even come close to defining the Kingdom of God.

High Standard

Listen to Matthew Chapter 6 & 7 or read "High Standard"

We ended the previous passage reading with this challenging verse.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
And started this passage with this strong warning.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.
Today's passage is the second half of what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. I find his teaching here pretty intense and extremely challenging. We go from his opening words of "blessed are the poor in spirit" to "fell with a great crash" and right in the middle "be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect". Woe! Wow!

Sometimes I try to imagine living during the days Jesus lived. Here I imagine that I am in this crowd and know only of the Old Testament writings. Imagining I know nothing of the death of Jesus and his resurrection. The crowd that I am apart of is sitting all around Jesus and some in the crowd are even referring to him as a great prophet from God. Jesus is sitting and teaching us about blessings, God's commandments, the world, and life. What would be my reaction to this message given by Jesus on these rolling hills not too far from Capernaum. To be honest I am not sure I would have left those hills feeling encouraged. I would have probably left confused. My world and values had just been turned completely upside down by this man named Jesus.

Jesus starts his message pointing out that God's Kingdom is for those who are honest with their condition and sincerely acknowledge they need him. Not for those who think they have it all figured out. The Kingdom is for those who are considered by the world's societies as low, weak, and poor. It is for those who have a pure heart and are passionate for what is right. It is for those who are sad and are persecuted for their faith in God. It is for those who show mercy to others and seek peace with those around them. It is these kind of people who have a deep joy that makes them happier than happy. They have a place in God's Kingdom.

Jesus goes on in his message to very specifically challenge those listening. To challenge me. Here is the challenge I hear when I read his message:

Don't hide your faith in God. Sincerely teach and live the words God has given us. Don't commit murder but also don't hold an angry grudge against those around you. Stop hurting people by calling them names. Don't worship God while you have an angry grudge against someone else. Settle your legal claims with others quickley. Don't commit adultery but also be careful how you look at the opposite sex. Don't divorce your spouse. Don't make promises you can't keep. Keep your commitments real- let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don't fight back if you are hit. Don't turn away from those who ask you for things. Love your friends and neighbors, but also love your enemies. Don't ignore your enemies. Pray for them. Be perfect like God is perfect. Don't be a poser. Don't make your faith into a performance for others. Don't be a hypocrite. Forgive others. Don't pretend to be Holy. Don't play to the crowd. Quite going after things that are temporary. Focus on the eternal things of God and his Kingdom. Don't let money control you. Don't become a servant to money. Don't worry about your physical needs, like clothing and food. Don't worry about your security. Don't worry about the future. Don't judge others. Don't focus on the failings of others. Treat others like you would like to be treated. Don't just hear and learn about the teachings of Jesus. Live them.

I feel like Jesus is raising the bar way to high to an unreachable height. In reading this message from Jesus and listing out the challenges I simply find them too difficult to live. Sometimes I may be able to. Sometimes I hit the mark, but probably most of the time I fall short of the high and holy standard of God.

I am comforted that Jesus doesn't leave me alone here at this message of God's high standard. He has not left me here only to fail and fall short. His ministry went on after this message.

Jesus lived his message. He, in practice, met God's holy and high standard. He died living this message. He died having met God's highest standard. He died so my failure to live to the high standard of God's perfection was forgiven. His resurrection and victory over death has given me a way that I can meet the high standard even while failing to do so.

Who Am I

Listen to Matthew Chapter 5 or read "Who Am I"
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
What does this mean - "Poor in spirit"? Our spirit is low? Down in the dumps? Depressed? Not exactly.

The first thing I like to do when I am not sure I fully understand the meaning of a verse is to look it up in other translations. In the modern translation known as The Message it is written as "at the end of your rope". The Amplified Bible includes "the humble, who rate themselves insignificant" in parentheses after poor in spirit. Here are some other translations for poor in spirit:
"who realize their spiritual poverty" (New Century Version)
"who are spiritually needy" (New International Reader's Version)
"who know there is nothing good in themselves" (New Life Version)
"who know that they need him [God]" (Worldwide English)
"who recognize they are spiritually helpless" (God's Word Translation)
"who are poor and realize their need for him" (New Living Translation)
At the start of his first great message Jesus lays out what has become known as the Beatitudes. To me these 8 sayings speak both about the present and the future. But there is more than that here. I think they also reverse our natural priorities and present a contrast of this world with the Kingdom of God. But there is more. I believe they give the secret to real and complete happiness. Not happiness that comes and goes based on our circumstances. Not the short lived happiness that you can buy. But a deep and profound happiness. Some refer to it as joy.

In the first saying Jesus starts right at the heart of this matter of happiness. Our heart and soul. Our spirit. Our center. The thing that makes us who we are. Jesus encourages us to honestly assess who we are before the throne of God. Do we realize that we have failings and weaknesses? Do we have a sense of our powerlessness and helplessness? Do we acknowledge our low condition apart from Christ? Do we acknowledge we fall short of the Glory of God? Are we humble before God? Do we need Him?

There can only be two basic loves, the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.” (Augustine)
Mark Hall, lead singer of the group Casting Crowns wrote the song Who am I and in the chorus are these words.

“I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow,
A wave tossed in the ocean,
A vapor in the wind."

Humility before God leads to the correct knowledge of who we are. It is a starting point for true happiness in our soul in our life here and now, but also for eternity. It is from this starting point that we can be all that God desires us to be.

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