Faithful Stewardship

Андрей Николаевич Миронов (A.N. Mironov), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Like the dishonest manager, the Christian church has squandered the master’s wealth to enrich themselves instead of engaging in proper stewardship by helping those in need. We corrupt stewards deserve to be dismissed, so we need to act fast to make friends by using those hoarded riches to identify and help those in need.

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13

I’d like to begin today’s sermon with a pertinent story from Reader’s Digest. A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies. Then she sat down and began reading a newspaper. Gradually, she became aware of a rustling noise. From behind her paper, she was flabbergasted to see a neatly dressed man helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took a cookie herself.

A minute or two passed, and then came more rustling. He was helping himself to another cookie! After a while they came to the end of the package with one cookie left, but she was so angry, she didn’t dare allow herself to say anything. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the man broke the remaining cookie in two, pushed half across to her, ate the other half, and left.

Still fuming sometime later when her flight was announced, the woman opened her handbag to get her ticket. To her shock and embarrassment, there she found her package of unopened cookies!

This story illustrates perfectly the problem we have with sharing. Just as the traveler believed those cookies were hers, we are often of the mindset that what we have is “ours,” and we don’t want to share with others what is “ours.” But it isn’t really ours. It belongs to God, who so graciously shares everything with us, and expects us to do the same with the gifts he has given us.

That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward is one of the most perplexing, if not the most perplexing, of the parables of Jesus. It has been approached in many different ways all generating a variety of meanings and messages, which has been quite an embarrassing and humbling experience for Christian scholars.

Although this parable is not found in Matthew or Mark, most scholars agree that this is an authentic parable of Jesus. Perhaps the writers of Matthew and Mark didn’t include it because it is too shocking and confusing. Shocking and confusing his audiences to make a point was one of Jesus’ specialties.

The wealthy master of a large estate finds out that his steward is squandering his wealth, so he fires the steward. Facing poverty, the steward quickly goes to work to save his own neck before anyone finds out that he’s been fired. He ingratiates himself to his master’s clients by reducing their debt.

But the most astonishing thing of all is that, instead of throwing this guy in jail, the master actually praises him for being so shrewd. So, this parable seems to glorify the actions of this corrupt steward, who looks out for himself at the expense of his master. Why is he made out to be a hero?

Some Christian commentators view the wealthy master as the bad guy, accusing the steward unjustly, and the steward as the hero who makes things right. But this parable is not a commentary on the cruelty of ancient slavery. The steward is guilty as charged. He not only mismanaging his master’s goods; he also embezzled them and cheated his master’s clients.

This parable can be best understood within its first-century Jewish context. Back in Jesus’ time, agriculture was big business, and Jesus’ audience would have understood how it worked. The master owned a lot of land, and his clients were tenant farmers, who paid a portion of their harvest in exchange for the use of the land.

The steward’s job would have involved land leasing, collecting produce, keeping records, receiving income, and paying out disbursements. He probably received a salary as well as commission and gratuities from grateful renters for doing them favors. He occupied a powerful position of authority, basically acting as the POA for the master.

Losing his job, the steward will face poverty, but far worse than that in eastern culture is losing face. He will be put to shame. His prospects were dim, and he knew it. When he falls into the ranks of the poor, he would be not be welcomed among other stewards. He also wouldn’t likely be hired in a similar capacity because news of his dismissal would spread, and he wouldn’t have the money to travel someplace far away.

He realized that he needed to make friends fast, so he acted on behalf of the master before anyone knew he had the authority to do so. Under Mosaic Law, it is illegal for a Jew to charge another Jew interest, but that made commercial transactions unprofitable. So, things like interest and managers’ fees were hidden in the bill, which typically showed only a single charge, usually stated in terms of commodities like oil or wheat.

Scholars believe the steward simply removed these hidden charges from the bill. First, he visited an olive tree farmer, who owed the master 100 jugs of oil. Since the olive oil business was very profitable, the steward’s commission and fees were high – a 50% cut – which he removed from the bill.

Next, he visited a wheat farmer. Wheat being not nearly as profitable as oil, the steward removed a smaller cut of 20% from his bill. We can conclude that he continued applying these discounts for many more farmers over the course of the rest of the day.

Some scholars surmise that the discounts could have equaled around $38,000.00. That’s a lot of money even today. So, we can begin to imagine just how wealthy the master was. The actions of the steward cost the master dearly, but he obviously valued the steward’s shrewdness more than the money he lost, which reveals his kind and generous nature.

When we keep in mind the importance of saving face in eastern culture, this parable makes more sense. Both the steward and the master wish to avoid shame. The steward will be loved because of his actions on behalf of the generous master, who has no choice but to play along with what the steward has done if he wants to save face.

We can imagine that the master’s tenet farmers were all rejoicing the master’s generosity across his entire land. Now, imagine if the master went back to them all and said, “Sorry, it was all a mistake. The steward had been fired and therefore the agreements he made with you are null and void.” The tenet farmers would become very angry and curse him for his stinginess.

Instead, the master decides to keep silent, accepting the praise he is being giving while allowing the steward to bask in the favor he has so shrewdly earned. Really, that was his best option. And the master was highly noble; he didn’t appear to be flustered by it. In fact, he was quite impressed.

Now, the clue to the main point of this parable can be found in verse 8, which reads, “for the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

What does he mean?

The “children of the light” was what the Essenes called themselves. To them, everyone else was a “child of the darkness.” The Essenes made the people within their communities pledge to hate the children of the darkness and limit interactions with them.

The Essenes also required the members of their community to relinquish all their assets to the community. They called their money the “mammon of righteousness” and all other money the “wealth of unrighteousness.” Financial transactions were forbidden except for simple cash transactions.

Jesus along with many rabbis of the second temple period believed that people were more valuable than money. Financial resources should be put to work for social reform that benefits all. In the pursuit of God kingdom, money should be used to help people, a tool for assisting those in need, not hording it exclusively for oneself or for one’s own community of believers.

But the Essenes created a community of strong sectarian hatred which left no room for charity, a highly-prized Jewish value. In Jesus’ opinion, like the corrupt steward, the Essenes were wasting God’s gifts by hoarding money to enrich themselves. God, our benevolent and just master, would not be pleased.

But what if the Essenes changed their behavior, and started using their wealth to help anyone in need? Then, they’d be behaving properly. Then, the Lord would be pleased because that’s how He expects us to use the resources he has given us. To share His love and make friends.

Life is about investing in relationships.

In verse 10, Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” In Judaism, the steward’s dishonest behavior demonstrates the behavior of those who fail to use the gifts God has given them to help those in need.

Jesus and the rabbis rejected Essene separatism and bigotry. They also rejected the Essene doctrine of double-predestination: the idea that God has already determined or predestined both the individuals who would be saved and those who would be eternally damned. Jesus emphasized God’s love for the outsider while their attitude was that everyone outside their circle could “go to hell.”

But there is hope for the Essenes and those like them. This parable also illuminates God’s grace. The parable is funny because the steward outwits the master, but all the people were blessed by his actions, and the master was praised for his noble generosity. The point is that God forgives us, and since God owns everything there is, our generous actions on his behalf doesn’t bankrupt Him at all. It glorifies Him.

Jesus praises the behavior of those who engaged in both business and charity with everyone, calling them the “children of this age.” They did not judge others in the way the Essenes did, separating people into sheep and goats according to their own beliefs, and then using their own judgments to justify treating them with contempt.

Followers of Jesus must reach outside their own communities and self-righteous prejudices. Jesus teaches us through this parable that it is through our non-sectarian interaction with others that we can be made aware of and meet needs, and it is through our non-sectarian generosity that we can win friends, extend God’s grace to others, and glorify Him.

What does this parable have to teach us today?

Well, it’s clear what Jesus is NOT saying. He’s not saying that it is okay to be a con artist or to manipulate events to benefit us at the expense of others. It’s never okay to behave like that even if it’s in the service of God’s Kingdom. Those who use this parable to justify underhanded methods are fooling themselves if they think the Lord approves of such behavior.

In this parable, Jesus compares side-by-side improper and proper use of the resources God has given us. Money is power, and it can be used for evil or for good. Unlike the Essenes, Jesus didn’t view money as something that defiles someone on contact, but he did acknowledge the fact that nothing has the potential to corrupt the heart more than money.

This is why Jesus said, in Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Many people are of the mentality that they are “entitled” to do what they want with their resources because they “earned” them – so much so that they would rather let an unused asset rust in the garage rather than giving it away to some less fortunate stranger who could use it.

But that idea is a human one, not God’s. God is our master, and we are the managers on his land. As far as God is concerned, we aren’t “entitled” to anything because we didn’t “earn” anything. Everything we have is His property, which he shares with us. We are expected to share in return.

So, in order to be shrewd in this day and age, we need to be careful how we use money. Are we using it only to enrich ourselves, or are we using to make friends thereby cultivating love, which is the most valuable commodity in the Kingdom of God?

It’s also clear from this parable that Jesus rejected the creation of sectarian communities of wealth. Unfortunately, a lot of Christian churches have become just that. They use their financial resources mostly to help themselves, some of them convinced that this is justified because they are saved and everyone else is going to hell.

Rather than using money to attract people to the church, the Christian church in general has alienated people from the church. Rather than making friends, the Christian church in general has made lots of enemies – both externally and internally. The Christian Church deserves to be dismissed as God’s stewards because we have perpetuated suffering in the world instead of putting an end to it.

So, like the unfaithful steward, the Christian church needs to think fast about our future security. What are we going to do? How are we going to make friends and save face? To answer these questions right and save our necks, we need a completely different mindset from the one that got us into this mess.

In my opinion, we can start by remembering Jesus’ words, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is the same with the church. It was meant to serve people, not the other way around.

Life is not about accumulating wealth for ourselves and our small circle; it’s about using our wealth to bring the Kingdom of God to fruition by recognizing and meeting people’s needs. Because in God’s Kingdom, no one is hungry, no one is thirsty, and no one is homeless. There is no suffering or sadness. To use our resources to make this world a reality is what faithful stewardship is all about.

Let’s pray together:

Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. AMEN.


Inrig, Gary. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant. Our Daily Bread Publishing, Kindle Edition, 1991.

Mueller, Deniray. “Sermon |What are Our Priorities? | Luke 16:1-13.”, 18 Sept. 2016,

“Sermon Illustrations: Stewardship.” thepastor’,

Young, Brad H. The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. Baker Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2012.

Following Jesus Requires … What?

Photo by form PxHere

Synopsis: Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. It is the name we should love the most. When we love our family, religious, gender, racial, or political name more, we separate ourselves from the Body of Christ.

Scripture: Luke 14:25-33

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Imagine that I suddenly became a very popular preacher and a huge crowd of people just walked into this church all wanting to become Christians and join this church. You’d all be thrilled, wouldn’t you?

Now, imagine if I would say to them, “Before you all decide to join us, you should know the membership requirements. You must hate your family, and your life, and be willing to face an agonizing death.”

You probably wouldn’t be too happy with me for that less-than-encouraging “welcome” speech. Most if not all of them would most likely turn around and walk right out the door. But that’s essentially the speech Jesus gave the crowd in our scripture reading for today.

A large crowd was following Jesus because was a very popular preacher. People held high expectations of him – mostly political ones. Maybe they wanted to fight in the revolt they thought he was starting. Maybe they wanted to be a member of the court they thought he would establish as king. Or maybe they were just groupies who wanted to get to know the famous guy.

Jesus knew that most of them were following him for all the wrong reasons. So, he decided to use his powerful way with words to smack them all upside the head.

I’m sure he got their attention. Hearing his words two thousand years ago, the crowd would have been like, “What? Wait a minute … didn’t the prophet Malachi write that the Messiah ‘will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents …?’ And reading them today, we might be like, “What? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love one another – even our enemies?”

The problem with us understanding this passage is with the word “hate.” If your favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate, and someone buys you a vanilla ice cream cone, chances are you’ll eat it. You’d say, “Thanks!” and you’d enjoy it, but not as much as you would have enjoyed a chocolate ice cream cone.

But if you were from Biblical times, you might say, “I love chocolate, but I hate vanilla. Then, you’d start chowing down on the vanilla cone because it’s not that you despise vanilla. It’s just not your favorite. That’s how the word “hate” is used in the Bible.

For example, in Genesis chapter 29, there is the story of Jacob, Rachel, and LAY-ah. Jacob was in love with Rachel, but on his wedding night, Laban tricked him into sleeping with his eldest daughter, LAY-ah. Eventually, Rachel became Jacob’s second wife.

In verses 31, the Lord opened LAY-ah’s womb and left Rachel barren because “the Lord saw that LAY-ah was unloved.” After naming Jacob’s first son Reuben (“behold a son”), LAY-ah said in verse 32, “because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” After naming her second son Simeon (“listening”), LAY-ah said in verse 33, “because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”

So, in this passage, as in other passages in the Bible that use the word “hate,” its meaning is really “to love less.” So, we can translate “Jacob hated LAY-ah but loved Rachel” to mean “Jacob loved Rachel more than LAY-ah.” We can confidently say that Jacob didn’t despise LAY-ah. If he did, we doubt she would have given birth to his six sons and one daughter.

Jesus is telling the crowd that anyone who loves their family more is not worthy to be his disciple. To understand the full impact of Jesus’ words, we need to understand the role of family in Jewish culture.

In Jesus’ time and culture and in many eastern cultures even to this day, the people exist as a collective unit. They don’t see themselves as individuals. They see themselves as part of an extended family, or clan, and their fate is entirely dependent on the fate of their clan. Their lives revolve around their clan. Their clan is essentially their lifeline.

In these cultures, to shame your family would cost you dearly. It could cause you to be disowned by your immediate family and expelled from your clan. You would then be cut off from any support, which would make life very difficult. It’s doubtful that another clan would even take you in because of the shame you carry with you.

We Americans are strongly individualistic – and capitalist. In our society, industry has taken over much of the support extended families once provided, so it’s not unusual for Americans to shame or even shun their families.

When we introduce ourselves, we typically use our first and last name, but next comes our occupation. In fact, the first question people typically ask us after we tell them our name is, “So – what do you do for a living?”

American identity tends to be wrapped around work more than the family name. Most people identify more with their occupations and businesses, so they don’t worry as much about shaming their families as shaming their employers or shareholders.

So, as Americans, if we’re having a hard time feeling the full impact of Jesus’ words here, imagine him saying, “He who comes to me and does not hate his paycheck, his pension, his profits, his investments, his 401K; yes, and even his retirement plans, is not fit to be my disciple.”

As a Jew, Jesus probably introduced himself by saying, “I am Jeshua bar Joseph of the tribe of Judah.” Whatever Jesus did was a reflection not only on him but also on his parents and on his entire tribe. His honor equaled their honor; his shame – their shame.

Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, and everyone knew that the Messiah was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah. Everyone from that tribe, including some of the members of Jesus’ immediate family, expected Jesus to glorify them.

But it wasn’t Jesus’ mission to glorify the tribe of Judah. It was his mission to glorify God. Now, we can clearly see that Jesus didn’t despise his family, but that he did “hate” them in a biblical sense by not loving the name of Judah more than the name of Christ.

He expects the same level of commitment from his disciples.

The name of Christ is our real name. It is our eternal name. Our family name and other names we carry such as our religious name, gender name, racial or cultural name, and political name, stick to us for only as long as we walk the earth in this life, and in the context of eternity, that’s the blink of an eye.

If we love any of these worldly names more than the name of Christ, then we’re not following the Lord, and sooner or later, that truth will be made painfully obvious.

Jesus gives the example of a man who proposed to build a tower, but he never counted the cost, so his tower remained unfinished. Rather than bringing him glory, the unfinished tower brings him nothing but shame, a perpetual monument to wasted time and money.

That example was directed toward the people who were following him for fame and fortune. Those who follow the Lord to bring glory and honor to their own name end up ruined and ridiculed.

Jesus gives us another example of a king who goes to war against another king, without calculating whether he has the manpower to win. Because he was sorely outnumbered, he had to surrender, placing himself and his people entirely at the enemy’s mercy because of his foolishness.

That example was directed toward the people who were following him for political power. Those who follow the Lord for political power end up enslaved by our worst enemy, the human ego, and anyone who follow them marches right into slavery with them.

Our scripture reading ends with Jesus saying, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Most people will interpret this verse literally, that we must give up all our material possession to be the Lord’s disciple. But given the context of the passage, I think he’s taking aim at something bigger than just our material “stuff.”

I think he’s taking aim at our psychological stuff. The names we cling to. Our identity baggage. We need to let go of these “possessions” to be joined with Christ.

What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? Well, we can certainly relate. Since the advent of the Christian church, families have been torn apart because someone chose to love the name of Christ more than their religious name.

In her book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg tells the story of enjoying a lovely dinner with Christian friends who lived in Jerusalem. They had invited another guest to dinner – a man who was active in their congregation and who looked obviously Jewish.

Lois said to the man, “So, what did your family say when you told them you had become a Christian?” An awkward silence followed, and her friend changed the subject. Later her friend explained that when he told his parents about his faith in Christ, his father “sat shiva” for seven days. This is the ritual Jewish people observe to mourn the death of a loved one. As far as his father was concerned, his son was dead.

The same religious name attachment happens within the Christian faith. I remember Tabatha telling me a story about her childhood. She started attending an after-school church youth group with a friend of hers. Soon, the minister was knocking on the door of her house and asking her parents to join their church.

Now, Tabatha’s parents never went to church, but this incident scared her father so much that he started faithfully taking Tabatha to church – but to the Catholic church – because as far as he was concerned, his family was Catholic, doggonit. God forbid his daughter become a Baptist.

When we love our religious name more than we love the name of Christ, we are not fit to be the Lord’s disciples. But there are many people out there today who do not have a religious name because they are not religious people. There’s no problem with them, right?

Well, I wish religious names were the only names people love more than the name of Christ, but people also love their racial name, and their gender name, and their sexual orientation name, and their political name, and I could go on and on and on.

It’s not that the Lord is excluding these people. Truly, every human being is the Christ wearing a human costume. But when we love other names more, we exclude ourselves. This wrong attitude separates us from the body of Christ. We separate ourselves from love, and that leads us into the enemy’s territory.

It’s a terrible consequence. Many families have been torn apart when a family member loves the name of Christ more than any other name the family holds dear. Any name more beloved than the name of Christ will destroy family unity. It takes the fabric of family unity and tears it into pieces.

At that point, love is gone and animosity takes its place.

Perhaps now, the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39 are clear: He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Names tear the fabric of any unity into pieces. It not only tears into pieces the fabric of a family. It also tears the fabric of a community. The fabric of a nation. The fabric of a world. Jesus came to heal the illusion of separation these names create. He came to remind us of the true name we all share.

Certainly, names are not fundamentally bad. We need them to a certain extent to organize our lives as human beings. The problem is when we love them more than our true name. When we let them tell us who we are instead of letting God tell us who we are.

Jesus was headed for the cross. He was willing to pay a terrible price for the Name of Christ. He wanted the people following him to be fully aware that they would have to carry a cross too. At the top of Jesus’ cross, the soldiers nailed a name: King of the Jews. This was the name Jesus hated, this was the life Jesus hated, and he was willing to face an agonizing death to glorify his True Name.

Thankfully, chances are that we won’t have to face the kind of agonizing physical death Jesus faced, but we must be willing to face a psychological death. Depending on how much we love our other names, it might be agonizing. We can see the agony in the eyes of those who are desperately clinging to their beloved names and defending them at all costs.

We can have compassion for them in their suffering but also gratitude that we are saved from this torment. We have the peace of the Lord because we are willing for the glory of our True Name to nail all our other names at the top of our cross and die to those names.

Let’s pray together:

Lord, we love the name of Christ more than any other name, and we are willing to die to any other name. Give us the courage to stand for the name of Christ in these times and compassion for those who are suffering. AMEN.


Brown, Jeannine K. “Commentary on Luke 14:25-33.”, 5 Sept. 2010,

Deffinbaugh, Bob. “49. How to Hate Your Wife (Luke 14:25-35).”, 24 Jun. 2004,

McLarty, Phillip W. “Sermon| Luke 14:25-33| How Much Are You Willing to Give?”,

Leininger, David E. “The Danger of Discipleship.”

Extreme Religion

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Taking our religion seriously is a good thing, but there is such a thing as taking it too seriously. Those in positions of power who take their religion too seriously make up cruel rules and enact cruel enforcement policies designed to exclude and persecute those who do not follow them. Jesus criticized people like this for their hypocrisy in his time and culture … and so should we.

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Scripture: Luke 13: 10-17

In August of 2004, a headline in the Warren Times inquired, “Wheat Intolerance Invalidates Girl’s First Communion?” In the article, an 8-year-old who suffers from a rare digestive disorder and cannot eat wheat had her first communion invalidated by the Catholic church because the wafer contained no wheat, which violates Roman Catholic Doctrine.

The girl’s mother was pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to make an exception, arguing that her daughter’s condition should not exclude her from the sacrament, but the Catholic church was reluctant to change the rule that the wafers must contain some unleavened wheat.

Within our religious institutions, as with our institutions in general, people in positions of authority struggle with appropriate limits and enforcement of standards. What exceptions should be allowed? Where do we draw the line? What consequences should be imposed for failing to meet standards?

That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about. Just like extreme sports, extreme religion can be quite exhilarating, but also very dangerous, and the more deeply a person gets into it, the more dangerous it becomes for him or her and for everyone within their sphere of influence.

Let’s take a look at the context around our scripture reading for today. It follows on the heels of several related incidents where Jesus spars with the Pharisees and teachers of the law over the enforcement of traditional standards.

In chapter eleven, Jesus was teaching at the synagogue, and he was invited to come inside to dine with a Pharisee. As soon as he started eating, he was criticized for not engaging in the proper hand-washing ritual before the meal.

Jesus responded by denouncing the Pharisees and teachers of the law in no uncertain terms, calling them hypocrites, who clean the cup on the outside while leaving the inside filthy dirty. In other words, they were more concerned with ritual defilement than with ethical defilement.

Why didn’t Jesus wash his hands before eating? Isn’t that a hygiene thing? I mean, shouldn’t we all wash our hands before eating?

Actually, it wasn’t a hygiene thing. It was one of the Traditions of the Elders – a collection of Jewish practices and understandings that had grown over the years but were not found in Torah. They were also interpreted in a variety of ways. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, these traditions had become burdensome and confusing as well as being out-of-touch with the concerns of the times.

The Pharisees created these traditions as a way to keep the Jewish people in line. They sometimes called them a “fence” around Torah Law, believing that if people kept these small traditional practices, they would be more likely to follow Torah law. Unfortunately, these practices became more important to them than the law itself.

So, it wasn’t that Jesus resented being told to wash his hands before dinner. The fact that the Pharisees placed more importance on human traditions than on God’s laws made Jesus very grumpy. He taught that when the heart is corrupt, human-made laws can still be followed, but God’s laws cannot.

Now we come to our scripture reading. After this incident, Jesus is back at the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath. He routinely attended worship at synagogues, and he was often invited to teach. 

A woman was there who had been crippled for eighteen years. She was bent over, unable to straighten herself up. We can imagine living like that would put a strain on her internal organs as well as on her everyday life and relationships. Verse eleven suggests that her condition was caused by a demon, but Jesus didn’t treat her condition like a demonic possession.

It’s interesting that Jesus called her to him. Usually, he healed someone after they demonstrated their faith in some way and/or expressed a desire to be healed. She didn’t ask to be healed; she was simply attending synagogue like everyone else. He must have sensed that this woman had great faith and wanted to be healed. So, he placed his hands on her, and she was immediately healed.

The fact that Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath outrages the leader of the synagogue. He doesn’t directly reprimand Jesus; he does so indirectly by speaking to the people. My guess is that he has heard stories and knows better than to verbally spar with Jesus. He just wants to make it clear that Jesus violated Torah Law by healing this woman.

In his opinion, Jesus violated the Fourth Commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Just as God spent six days creating the world and rested on the seventh, so we should follow His example. Jews are not permitted to work on the Sabbath, and they must also give their servants and animals the day off.

Let’s take a closer look at Jewish Sabbath laws so that we can get a better grasp of them and what they mean to the Jewish people. In 167 B.C., almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Antiochus’ army tried to put a stop to sacrifices at the Temple. The people of Jerusalem revolted and then fled to the desert, but their hiding place was soon discovered by the pursuing soldiers.

The soldiers surrounded the Jews and demanded they surrender. The Jews didn’t give in, but they refused to fight because it was the Sabbath. They wouldn’t even block the entrances to their caves. As a result, one thousand men, women, and children died without resistance.

That gives us an idea of the intensity of the Jews’ conviction that the Sabbath should not be violated. Anyone who unintentionally violated the Sabbath was required to pay a heavy sin offering. Anyone who intentionally violated the Sabbath would be stoned to death.

By the time Jesus was born, the Jews’ conviction around Sabbath Laws had only become stronger. Because of the pagan influences all around them, the Pharisees had taken it upon themselves to keep the Jewish faith pure, and that is why they created the “Traditions of the Elders.”

Now, the problem is that what actually constitutes “work” is an ongoing debate to this very day. It was never clearly defined. We can imagine what the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the “fence makers,” did with this vague area of the law.

Obvious work was banned, but then anything remotely related to obvious work was also banned. For example, a farmer couldn’t plow his field on the Sabbath. Sounds reasonable, right? But then they ruled that no one could drag a chair across the ground because that would create a furrow which is related to plowing.

A Jew could not carry a heavy load on the Sabbath. Sounds reasonable too. But then they decided that no one could wear an extra piece of clothing because that was somehow related to carrying a heavy load.

One dilemma that caused a lot of discussion was what a Jew could do if their house caught on fire on the Sabbath. The Pharisees ruled that a Jew could save only clothing, wearing one piece at a time, but it had to be taken off before going back into the burning house to save another garment. Can you imagine the spectacle that would be?

So, what the leader of the synagogue was essentially saying, “Look people, you have six days out of the week where you can be healed. Woman, you’ve been dealing with this illness for eighteen years, surely you could have waited one more day to keep the Sabbath holy.” Sounds reasonable, right?

The synagogue leader didn’t get away with his indirect criticism. Jesus immediately calls him out on his hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of all those who share his mindset about the Sabbath. They believe it is fine to unbind stable animals on the Sabbath to lead them to water, but it is a violation to unbind this human being, their sister in the faith, who has been bound by her disability for eighteen years?

Like many religious leaders of Jesus’ day and even today, the synagogue leader couldn’t see the forest for the trees. He was so focused on all the trifling rules that had been built up around the law that he lost sight of the main point. His focus on the letter of the law blinded him to the spirit of the law.

His viewpoint was not reasonable; it was cruel. It lacked compassion. The Torah is supposed to reveal to us the holiness of God, and since compassion is one of God’s traits, acts of compassion extended toward others are among the holiest we could do.

Since the time of Jesus, there have been two schools of Pharisaic thought: the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The main difference between the two schools is that the School of Shammai was more restrictive in its interpretation of Torah Law, and the School of Hillel was more lenient.

For example, if it is unknown whether a woman’s husband is alive or dead, Hillel ruled that the woman could remarry with even indirect evidence of the husband’s death, but Shammai ruled that witnesses must come forth with direct testimony before she was permitted to remarry. If no witnesses came forth, a woman would be forced to live a widow’s life for the rest of her life. Without a husband to support her, hers would be a very difficult life indeed.

Hillel recognized the cruelty of this. He was more concerned for the welfare of others than with strict interpretations of the law. His views were more popular and usually chosen by the Sanhedrin. But over time, the unity of these two schools began to fracture and the unity of the Jewish people along with it.

The disputes between the two schools started with only a few minor things, but ultimately, they had grown so far apart in their interpretations that it was as if two different Torahs were being taught, and the mutual respect there once was between the two schools had morphed into mutual animosity.

There were many laws that lacked compassion, and those from the school of Shammai often instigated severe punishments for those who challenged them – including Jesus. They were put to shame on this day, and the crowd rejoiced. The crowd was made up of ordinary people who could relate to the woman who had suffered for so long. They had all been suffering for a long time under the rigid authority of the Romans, and some of their own people were adding to the burden with their own brand of it.

So, what can we learn from this scripture reading today? How does it relate to our times? I believe we have a similar problem in today’s world. Within our Christian institutions, there has always been a conflict between the more restrictive ones and the less restrictive ones.

Lately, it seems that there are two totally different Bibles being taught and two totally different stories about Jesus being told. Just as in Jesus’ time and culture, Christian unity has fractured, and there isn’t much mutual respect remaining between the opposing sides.

Why does religion become oppressive? Well, people take religion very seriously. It’s a deeply-cherished part of our identity. Think of how all-encompassing your Christian identity is. It touches every aspect of who you are. So how people define Christianity and view Christians is important to us.

But as with all things in life, we need a proper balance. It’s good to take religion seriously, but there is such a thing as taking it too seriously. Religion is good. Religiosity is not good because it creates repressive religious systems.

In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Rules are intended to serve us, not the other way around. The Sabbath was meant to remind us to rest, not to burden us. What was meant to be a reminder of the nature of our compassionate God has been corrupted with cruel rules by those who take religion way too seriously.

Communion was meant to remind us of the love of God our Father, of our unity in Christ, of our belonging in the family of God. It has been corrupted with cruel rules by those who take religion way too seriously.

The Bible was written to guide our understanding about the nature of God and who we are in Christ. It has been corrupted, used to create cruel “fences” meant to exclude others at best and persecute them at worst, by those who take religion way too seriously.

I believe that Christians who practice extreme Christianity have Christ more in their heads than in their hearts. For them, Christianity is all about beliefs, not action. For them, the word “Christian” is another identity that must be properly defined and defended. Their perspective is very limited – so is their life and the life they wish to force on others.

Like the prodigal son’s older brother, they make slaves of themselves, imagining God to be like an employer whose orders they must follow, orders they themselves make up. Then they expect special privileges based on their perceived superiority. Just like the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ time, if they are in positions of power, they set up systems to oppress those who don’t follow their rules.

But if we have Christ in our hearts, we know that Christ is unlimited and therefore undefined. When it comes to our true nature, we need no definitions. Christ knows who Christ is. We’re the ones who have forgotten who we are, and we rely on Christ, not human definitions, to tell us who we are.

Before Jesus healed the crippled woman at the synagogue, all she could see was dirt and other people’s feet because she was bent over and couldn’t straighten herself out. Her perspective was bound like this for eighteen years. It was extremely limited.

Extreme religion does the same thing to people’s perspective of God, themselves, others, and the world. In addition to freeing the woman, Jesus was also trying to free the Pharisees and teachers of the law from their limited perspective and anyone today who suffers because they take religion to the extreme.

We are not called to take our religion to the extreme. We are called to take our religion to the streets. We are not called to sit in a pew on Sunday mornings, listen to someone talk about Jesus, and pass judgment on the rest of the world. We are called to go out into the world every day of our lives and extend love and compassion to those in need.

With all the noise in today’s world made by those who have more Christ in their heads, it can be tempting to doubt what we know to be true in our hearts. In this time of spiritual warfare, it is therefore important to wear your spiritual armor.

As Saint Paul advised the Ephesians in his letter to them chapter 6, verses 13-17:

“… Take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

And as for us, the Word of God is not some book outside of us; it is the Christ within us. Now is the time for all of us to get Christ out of our heads and into our hearts and start LIVING as the Christ. Now is the time to stop WAITING for the second coming of Christ and start BEING the second coming of Christ.

Let’s pray together: Lord, thank you for setting us free from slavery to human rules and traditions with your simple gospel of love for one another. Help us to shine the light of God’s love and compassion as we deal with people suffering from extreme religious views and those harmed by them. AMEN.


Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible study) Luke 13:10-17.”,

Hensell, Eugene. “Homily Helps: Jesus and the Tradition of the Elders.”, 30 Aug. 2018,

“Hillel and Shammai.”

Leininger, D. “Sermon|Luke 13:10-17|Repressive Religion.”, 2004,

“Why Did Jesus Heal on the Sabbath?”,

How Do We View Our Heavenly Father?

Synopsis: In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus showcases three mistaken viewpoints that we can hold about our Heavenly Father and how these bad attitudes cause trouble for us and the entire Family of God.

Scripture: Luke 15: 11-32

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

In writing sermons lately, I noticed that the Parable of the Prodigal Son kept coming to mind. I remembered that I once preached a sermon about this parable called “the Father’s Heart,” so I looked into my sermon archives, and I found it in a folder labeled April 3, 2016. That was a long time ago. I figured Spirit was calling me to revisit this parable.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite parable. I love it because the three characters in the parable, the father, the prodigal son, and the older son, are so rich. You can focus an entire sermon on either of them.

In my sermon back in 2016, I focused on the father and how through his character, Jesus revealed to his audience what our Heavenly Father is truly like. Our Father’s heart is filled with nothing but compassion and unconditional love for his children. 

For today’s sermon, I’d like to focus on the two sons, how they view their father, and how these viewpoints caused trouble for them and the rest of the family. But first, let’s review the context of this parable.

Jesus told parables for a specific reason: to make a point. If we ignore the context in which they are told, we can easily miss the point. In the context of this parable, Jesus tells three parables in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Who are these “sinners” coming to listen to Jesus? They are identified in verse 1 as “tax collectors and other sinners.” It’s interesting how tax collectors are grouped with sinners. We don’t like paying taxes in today’s world either, but most of us don’t consider tax collectors “sinners” for simply doing their jobs. In Jesus’ time, however, it was a bit more complicated.

The Jews despised tax collectors. There were several reasons for this. Tax collectors were fellow Jews collecting taxes for the Roman oppressors, so they were considered traitors. Even worse, they often collected more taxes than was owed and pocketed the extra. That scheme made them very wealthy, which the lower-class Jews resented since it was their stolen hard-earned money that made the tax collectors so wealthy.

The Pharisees’ term “other sinners” referred to ordinary non-religious Jews. Religious Jews called them “am h’aretz,” which can be translated as “the people of the land.” Because these non-religious Jews didn’t observe Torah Law, pious Jews like the Pharisees considered them unclean and therefore unworthy of their company.

The Pharisees were people who studied and dutifully observed Torah law, and while the am h’aretz were not “pious” in their observance of Torah Law, they were obviously spiritual people. They wanted to know more about their Heavenly Father; otherwise, they would not have come to listen to Jesus speak.

The parable begins with the younger son asking his father to give him his share of the estate. Many people don’t realize the audacity of this request.  In essence, he’s saying, “You’re not dying fast enough for me dad, so give me my inheritance … now.” Imagine the pain you’d feel if the child you nurtured from birth and dearly love said this to you.

To Jesus’ audience, this would have been a shocking offense – so appalling that many listeners would probably have considered it unforgivable. But the father grants his son’s request, making himself completely vulnerable. His future security is now divided in half. Three days later, half of his security says, “See ya!”

We read that the younger son “gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country.” He probably sold anything he couldn’t take with him – all his fixed assets. The son is making it clear that he intends to sever all ties to his father.

Jesus’ audience would have interpreted the “distant country” as the land of the gentiles. So, the son was not only leaving his father – but also his father’s god – to dwell in a land of pagan values and morals. There, we read that he “squandered his property in dissolute living.”

Bad choices lead to bad consequences, and the ones the young man suffers are pretty rough. Eventually, he runs out of money, and to make matters worse, a famine begins. A local man hires him to feed pigs, a totally degrading job especially for a proud Jew.

Food was so scarce that his employer wouldn’t even let him to eat the pig’s food. I know that seems cruel, but in a famine, a pig is more valuable because it is a source of food.

The Pharisees would have loved for Jesus’ story to end leaving the disobedient son in the pigpen, but Jesus, our great redeemer, couldn’t just leave him there, unredeemed.

So, the young man comes to his senses. He realizes that even his father’s hired men have food to spare, and here he is, starving to death. He probably thought, “How can I go back to my father after what I have done?”

Visions of an angry father danced around in his head: a father angry over his son’s insolence, angry over having to sell all he owned while he still lived, angry over half of his security walking away with his son, angry over the shame of having a son who chose a life of debauchery.

If he were his father, he’d sure feel that way, he figures. He concludes that his father will never accept him back as a son because he has broken the father-son relationship beyond repair. He believes there is no way that his father could ever forgive him for what he has done, so he assumes that his father will accept him back but as nothing more than a hired hand.

He finds out that he doesn’t know his father at all.

Instead of a father repulsed by the sight of him, he discovers a father running toward him, as if he had been searching for him a long time. Instead of an angry and judgmental father, he discovers a father full of compassion and forgiveness.

Unable to comprehend such unconditional love and forgiveness, the son begins his well-rehearsed speech. He doesn’t get to finish his speech because his father interrupts him by ordering his servants to dress him with garments and jewelry that reflect his status – not as a hired hand, but as a son.

To celebrate the return of his son, the father throws a party. The older son hears all the commotion and finds out what’s going on from one of the servants. He then becomes angry and refuses to join the celebration.

So, we have these two sons in this parable: the prodigal son and the older son.

We can probably figure out who they symbolize. The prodigal son is the am h’aretz, the people of the land. They haven’t followed Torah law as meticulously as the Pharisees. Some may have been trying their best to follow as many of them as they could. Others may have not tried at all. Like the prodigal son, they were living lives of debauchery. I’m sure all of them felt not worthy enough to be called children of God.

But there they are, gathered around to hear Jesus. Like the prodigal son, they had come to their senses. They want to return home, but they don’t expect much. They are humble and contrite, and they are warmly received by the Messiah, the Son of God. And through his parable, they learn that they didn’t know their father at all.

The older son is the Pharisees. The older son expected his father to impose some form of punishment on his younger brother. And he felt entitled to some kind of reward for his allegiance to his own father. What did he expect? A longevity payment?

The father, instead of becoming enraged by the older son’s selfishness and disrespect, tries to reason with him: “My son, how can I give you more than everything, and how can I not rejoice and be glad that my son has returned?”

The older son refers to his prodigal brother as “this son of yours” instead of as “my brother.” Obviously, he hates his brother. Why would he hate his brother for coming home? Well, the father welcomed his prodigal brother back with open arms, restored his status as a son, and threw a party for him. What does that say about the older son’s perceived superior status?

What does this parable have to say to us today? I think it says, “Beware of how we view our Heavenly Father.” There are a few different viewpoints revealed in this parable.

At first, the prodigal son viewed his father as someone he could use to satisfy his selfish desires. He knew his father owed him an inheritance, so he demanded it. Then, he walked away with half of the family’s assets, assets that were supposed to be used to support the entire family. He wasted them on pleasures and treasures for himself.

Many Christians view God this way. They believe, “God owes me, so I’m going to demand whatever I want and expect to get it whether it’s His Will or not, and I don’t care who it hurts.” It doesn’t matter if this attitude is preached from a pulpit in a church. It is an attempt to spiritualize greed, and greed hurts the entire family of God.

Like the prodigal son, they will learn that their pursuit of pleasures and treasures does nothing for them but to leave them in a state of spiritual bankruptcy.

After the prodigal son realized he had sinned, he viewed his father as angry and vengeful. Many view God this way also. Like the am h’aretz, some fall away from God because they can’t follow the rules well enough to feel worthy. And some fall away because they’ve done some really bad things – things for which they think they can never be forgiven.

Hopefully, like the prodigal son, they will come to their senses, find the courage to return home, and find out the truth about our Heavenly Father’s compassion and unconditional love.

The older son viewed his father like an employer. Listen to what he said, “‘…For all these years, I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command. He resents his father so much that he feels like nothing more than a slave who follows orders. It’s obvious that he doesn’t really love his father. He just wants to get paid.

He’s the son who is more like a hired hand – but by his own choice because of his bad attitude.

Many Christians with a legalistic faith view God in this way. To them, God is just the CEO of a major corporation, and we’re all just jockeying for positions on the corporate ladder. They don’t know God any better than the prodigals. In fact, their attitude might just be landing them in a place even farther away from God.

Notice that in the parable, the older son never comes to his senses. In the story, Jesus just leaves him there sulking, standing outside looking in, just as the Pharisees were on that day – sulking, because Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We can say that there is a fourth view of the father that isn’t really portrayed in the parable. But imagine how the prodigal son felt after his father so warmly welcomed him home? Can you imagine the enormity of gratitude the prodigal son felt, and the sincere desire to serve his father because the prodigal son loved him with a pure heart, and he loved his father with a pure heart because his father loved him that way first. As we read in the apostle John’s first epistle, chapter 4, verses 19-21: “We love because he first loved us.”

The prodigal son’s father taught him to feel worthy not because of anything he has done but because of who he is: his beloved child.

How we view our Heavenly Father matters a great deal. When Jesus prayed to God, he used the word “Abba,” which is Aramaic for “father,” but it’s a more intimate term – like our English word, “daddy.”

So, in this parable, Jesus taught us that it is a mistake to view God like a genie in a bottle. God doesn’t give us everything we want. He does give us everything we need to grow in the direction He wants us to grow. If He doesn’t give us something we want, then receiving it will somehow interfere with our soul’s plan.

It is a mistake to view God like an angry, vengeful judge. God is does not judge us or condemn us. He gave us Free Will, so why would he condemn us for using it? We are free to make our own choices and experience their consequences. That is how we learn to master life, and that’s how God designed it.

It is a mistake to view God like an employer. If we have truly accepted Christ into our hearts, then we have Christ to define sin for us. Only those who haven’t accepted the Christ need sin defined because apart from Him, we can’t figure out what sin really is. So, the mind of me deals with that like it deals with everything else it doesn’t know. It pretends to know.

So just like the Pharisees and their “traditions of the elders,” the mind of me makes up sins and ignores real sin. Then it resents God when it doesn’t get the reward it thinks it deserves for “following orders” while violators go unpunished. They stand outside sulking, while their brothers and sisters enjoy the peace, love, and joy that is our inheritance.

The correct perception of God is like a doting daddy. Our Heavenly Father has unlimited compassion and love for us. No matter what we do, God will never stop loving us. In fact, all he wants to do is shower us with presents – with unlimited blessings. That’s why he gave us everything – this entire Creation – to enjoy and share with our brothers and sisters.

God wants us to enjoy life like we would a grand party. In order to do that, we must learn what we need to learn. What is it that we need to learn? We need to learn to love God above all else, to cherish all of life, and to love our brothers and sisters the same way God loves us.

So let us be mindful of how we view our Father so that we can experience the love, peace, and joy God wants for us and set an example for those who are standing outside so that they may choose to view God correctly and join the party.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to embrace a proper view of Our Heavenly Father. Reveal to us any ways in which our perspective is in error so that we can experience the love, peace, and joy that is our inheritance and help our lost brothers and sisters. AMEN. 

New in Christ


Synopsis: What does it mean to be raised with Christ? It means that our attitude and behavior are so different from most people’s that we can be legitimately considered “weird.” When it comes to establishing His Kingdom here on earth, God needs thoughtful people with pure hearts, not rule-followers with rotten hearts.

Note: During the sermon, I showed two illustrations. To illustrate the Greek word “orge” (angry), I showed a picture of the Disney character “Shrek” looking angry. To illustrate the Greek word “thumos” (wrath), I showed a picture of Shrek screaming at Donkey. I have not included these images in this post in compliance with copyright law.

Scripture: Colossians 3: 1-11

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Last week, we started looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul had received word from Epaphras, the missionary who started the church there, that heretical beliefs were spreading among the Christians. First, Paul builds up the Colossians in the true faith, advising them to hold fast to what they had been taught.

Then he attacks the heretical beliefs that were undermining the gospel, threatening their freedom in Christ – ideas that they needed certain “props” in order to approach God – props like circumcision, observing the Sabbath and certain festivals, worshipping the angels, and engaging in extreme forms of self-discipline.

Paul reminds the Colossians that they don’t need to “elevate” themselves in order to approach God. Raised with Christ, we are One with God and All of Life. We are of the same substance, beloved sons and daughters of God. God is not like earthly rulers who need people to grovel at their feet.

But what does it mean to be raised with Christ? That’s the question Paul answers in our scripture reading for today, chapter three of his letter to the Colossians.

When we accept Christ as our new identity, our old identity dies. We no longer identify with the flesh; we identify with the Spirit. At that point, we have a totally different mindset because we are no longer of this world. We begin seeking things that are above.

This change in mindset is what the Apostle Paul refers to when he writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the Will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When our minds have been transformed, we are no longer obsessed with worldly pleasures and treasures. In Luke 12, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, who built bigger storage bins for his excess yields, thinking that he would be “set for life.” But that very night, he died.

Our pleasure is serving God through service to others, and our treasure is love – the only treasure that we can take with us when we leave this world. As our Lord said in Matthew 6, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

The Bible focuses a lot on the mind and talks a lot about beliefs. What we believe is important. We filter reality though our beliefs, so they influence what we expect from life and our behaviors, which often cause us to experience exactly what we expect.

If we believe that we don’t deserve to be happy, then we will behave in ways that lead us further away from happiness. We’ll get into relationships with people who treat us badly, take jobs we know we’ll hate, and tolerate things that make us unhappy – complaining all the while, but doing nothing to change any of it.

And if we believe that there isn’t enough, we will take more than we need in an effort to “fix” the sense of lack in our lives. But since this sense of lack is an illusion, and an illusion can’t be fixed, it always feels as if there is never enough. This mindset is responsible for the unbridled greed causing much suffering here on earth.

But if we believe that we are beloved children of God worthy of peace, love, and joy, that belief will change everything. We’ll attract relationships with good people, take jobs that are meaningful to us and give us joy, and change whatever in our lives doesn’t feel right. We’ll never feel trapped in anything that makes us unhappy, knowing that as children of God, we are loved and supported.

And if we believe that we are beloved children of God, then we know that we are One with All There Is. Nothing is separate from us. We are literally connected with everything that exists. That’s a lot. All we have to do is ask for what we want, believe that we can have it if it is God’s will, and we will receive it.

As our Lord says in Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?”

Paul writes, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” That is an incredibly direct statement about who we are. Christ is Life. God is pure Being, and Life is its expression. It’s like God is potential energy and Christ is kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is hidden within its source as potential until it is released, or expressed. Then, it becomes something else. It is a new thing.

We are very mysterious to those without faith. They really can’t figure us out. People look at us as if we are weird. That’s because we ARE weird. We are not of this world, and we shouldn’t be. We may not have a lot of friends, but the few we have are really good ones and just as weird as we are.

Verse 5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly.” Everything changes when we die to our old life and are raised to new life in Christ. Our minds change, and our feelings change, so our behaviors naturally change too. Everything about us should reflect our new identity.

Paul then goes into a list of specifics, beginning with sexual immorality. I noticed that he doesn’t define sexual immorality here, so I wondered, “How did Jesus define it?”

Whenever I have questions like this, I turn to the New Testament Bible expert Bart Ehrman, who wrote one of my favorite books, Misquoting Jesus. I was delighted to find that in April of this year, he posted on his blog an article entitled, “Jesus and Sexual Immorality.”

Ehrman lists two passages where Jesus uses the words “sexual immorality.” First in Matthew 5:32, where he says that it is unlawful for a man to divorce his wife except in cases of sexual immorality. Next in Matthew 15:19, where he says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

In the New Testament, the Greek word interpreted as “sexual immorality” is the word “porneia.” Some scholars argue that this term refers to the list of inappropriate partners found in Leviticus 18. Ehrman argues that the Greek word “porneia” means one thing: prostitution. But over the years, Jews and Christians started broadening its meaning.

Ehrman’s point is that no one can claim that they are truly refraining from all forms of Biblical sexual immorality unless they are having relations with their first spouse and only for the purpose of procreation. But people love to pick and choose their favorite sins and point their fingers at others.

If there’s any topic that clearly illuminates the two types of faith, it’s the topic of sexual immorality. The extreme libertines feel free in Christ to engage in any form of sexual activity they want, while the extreme legalists condemn almost every form of sexual activity known to man.

Yet Paul doesn’t define “sexual immorality.” Instead, he lists the causes of sexual immorality: “impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” This is similar to what Jesus says Matthew 15: sexual immorality is one of the evil thoughts that come out of the heart. But it’s so much easier to come up with definitions with which to condemn others than it is to look inside our own hearts.

Paul warns that because of the evil in our hearts, the wrath of God is coming! Whenever I hear this phrase, I get this image in my head of the Greek god Zeus hurtling lightning bolts. I don’t believe in the wrath of God. I believe our Father in Heaven loves us and does not judge us. It doesn’t make sense to me that he would give us free will and then punish us for using it.

The only way to grow in wisdom about life is to have the courage to make our free will choices and experience the consequences. Then we can decide whether that choice was a good one or a bad one. Karma, the law of cause and effect, helps us figure that out. We all know there are bad consequences for unethical sexual behavior, but they are natural consequences, not supernatural ones.

Next, Paul moves to a new set of iniquities to put away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. The Greek word for used anger is “orge.” Orge is the simmering, seething type of anger. The Greek word used for wrath is “thumos.” Thumos is orge unleashed.

(Use of visual aids here)

Jesus warned us about this kind of anger in Matthew 5. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

You see, when it comes to the foot soldiers God needs to establish His Kingdom here on earth, he can’t use rule followers with rotten hearts – what Jesus called “whitewashed tombs.” He needs people with pure hearts – hearts filled with His Love.

In verse 9, Paul writes, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Since God is Truth, telling lies is not in His Nature. Neither should it exist in His Image.

How do we apply the concept of Christ being our life? Well, our souls are all like particles of the energy of life. We know from science that energy can never be destroyed; it can only change form. The same is true of our Life in Christ. It is eternal. It can never be destroyed. It can only change form.

We exist as both Spirit and flesh, and we alternate between forms. When we know this, we have no fear of death because we know that it’s not really death. It’s just a change in form.

That knowledge alone will greatly enhance the quality of our life. But even though we may not fear death, we can still suffer. We may identify with the Christ, but we humans have all developed the mind of me, and we suffer to the extent that we allow it to be our guide.

The mind of me takes us to a place called “Never Enough, “where we will constantly crave pleasures and treasures and anxiously pursue them in a vain attempt to leave that place. It’s like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The only way to leave is to choose a different guide. If we let the Mind of Christ be our guide, it will take us out of there to a new place called “Always Enough.” And there we can relax without fear or cravings, knowing that we are perfectly supported by the Love of God. We will experience more peace and joy than we can ever imagine, without having to die first.

How do we apply “putting to death whatever within us is earthly?” I believe that as Christians, we are obligated to lead ethical lives. We are here as God’s emissaries, and our purpose is to extend His Love – to show humanity what it looks like to love one another. If Christ truly dwells in our hearts, that is what we will do naturally most of the time.

So, we don’t need to be legalistic. Since Christ is in our hearts, the last thing any of us want to do is hurt someone. We can always turn to our hearts for guidance. We can pay attention to how we feel about behaving in certain ways. Figuring out if our behavior truly hurts someone is not easy. People can be hurt by our behavior only because they are being judgmental or selfish. They may expect us to be just like them or to always cater to their needs at the expense of our own.

If we are truly responsible for someone’s hurt, we can apologize and do whatever we can reasonably do to make it right. Making mistakes comes with the territory of being human. We aren’t expected to be perfect; we are expected to learn from our mistakes.

Even if we are not responsible for people’s hurt, we must still extend love because that’s why we are here. But we don’t have to live our lives the way others choose to live theirs. Everyone is at different places on the path to Christ Consciousness, and that will affect lifestyle choices.

As we move forward on that path, some things about our lifestyle may no longer feel right, and we may feel inspired to make some changes. Others may be moving into our old position on the evolutionary journey. They may not understand the changes we made, and we might feel tempted to judge theirs as “unenlightened.”

There are many Christians telling lies today, very harmful ones about people they’ve never even met. These kinds of lies are intended to divide us, not unite us in Christ. Their goal is to fortify the walls that separate us into categories of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class. They create an “us” verses “them” mentality, which leads first to indifference and ultimately to hatred.

My supervisor at work recently had a meeting with the city council, and I was so glad that she had the courage to speak the truth in that meeting. One of the people on the council made a comment about homeless people making a mess in one of the parks. We work on the street, so we know the homeless people, and we clean the streets and the park he mentioned, so we know who can’t seem to find the trash can. It’s not the homeless people; it’s the visitors.

It’s important for us as Christians to have the courage to speak truth to lies. We should also be very careful to not believe everything we read or hear. We must check the truth of statements before we share them. Many are mixing some truth with lies to be more persuasive, but partial truths are still lies.

What will it be like when Christ who is our life is revealed? Well, I believe it means that at some point, people will love and care for one another regardless of who they are or what they have done. As Paul writes in verse 11, there will be no difference between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

“Christ is all, and in all.” Christ who is our life (Christ as Life Itself) will be revealed within all. Human beings will come to accept their true identity. When they look into the eyes of another, they won’t see another, they will see a reflection of themselves. At that point, following the Lord’s command to love one another as we love ourselves will be easy because we will recognize each other as ourselves.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to live our new life in Christ. We acknowledge that it is time to be who we truly are. Give us the courage to be weird as we reveal to those who are of this world what it looks like to be “not of this world.” Through our example, may they be inspired also to die to their old selves and be raised new in Christ. AMEN.


Donovan, Richard N. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Colossians 3:1-11.”

Ehrman, Bart. “Jesus and Sexual Immorality.” The Bart Ehrman Blog.” 13 Apr 2022.

Free in Christ

Synopsis: Just as in Paul’s day, many Christians today are trying to keep Christ for themselves by distorting the gospel. How can we remain free in Christ when heretics claim that we must first be like them and follow their made-up rules?

Scripture: Colossians 2: 6-19

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

In Jesus’ time, there was a great deal of concern about political freedom. Living under the heavy yoke of Rome, the Jews had very little ability to influence laws and policies or to advocate for themselves. They were just pushed around like pawns on a chess board by those in power. Some of us might be feeling a similar sense of powerlessness with the current political climate in our country.

Political freedom is important, but there is something far more powerful than political freedom, and that is the kind of freedom Jesus was concerned about. Jesus came into this world because he wanted everyone to reclaim their spiritual freedom in Christ.

Yet, as the Christian church grew, Paul was constantly dealing with people attempting to nullify the gospel. How can we remain free in Christ when people keep messing with the gospel? That is what today’s scripture reading is all about.

Our scripture reading for today comes from the epistle of Colossians. Paul and his coworker Timothy wrote this letter to the church at Colossae. This small city was located about 15 miles east of the Denizli province in modern-day Turkey. Paul had never been to Colossae, but he had received reports from Epaphras, a missionary who probably founded the church there.

Epaphras reports some problems with false teachings that scholars have named the “Colossian Heresy.” Where the heresy came from is debatable. Some scholars believe it originated from Greek philosophy; other scholars believe its source was Jewish philosophy.

The Colossian Heresy undermined the gospel – the Truth that we are saved through faith in Christ alone. There were several components of this heresy, and Paul deals with each of them in turn. But first, he grounds the Colossians in the True faith.

As we learned from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the Torah was a temporary covenant given to Moses in order to constrain the Israelites and to make them aware of their need for salvation until the time that perfect salvation was accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. To receive the Christ is to receive perfect salvation. Once we receive the Christ, we no longer identify with the flesh; we identify with the Spirit. We become a new creation – a son or daughter of God.

Paul uses the words “rooted” and “built up.” When we are rooted in Christ, our spiritual resources are literally infinite. When we are built up in Christ, we have a sturdy foundation. As the offspring of the Creator of All That Is, we have an equally indestructible essence. Whether times are good or bad, we can always draw upon the Christ for nourishment and support. There is nothing more we need.

Paul advises the Colossians to hold fast to what they were taught. What we believe matters because we perceive life through the lens of what we believe. Jesus said in John 8:32 that “the truth will make you free.” The opposite is also true.

Lies rob us of our freedom because they cause us to perceive ourselves, others, and the world through a distorted lens. Under those circumstances, our vision is limited. We can’t see clearly, so we respond to life in ways that hurt us, other human beings, and all of life.

Paul reassures the Colossians that they can be thankful that they are rooted and built up in Christ through proper instruction. As long as they hold fast to what they have been taught, nothing can rob them of their freedom in Christ.

Paul then attacks the heretical beliefs that are threatening to rob them. Some fellow Christians were teaching that the Godhead does not dwell fully in the Christ; therefore, human beings cannot approach God through faith in Christ alone. They must use certain props to “elevate” themselves spiritually.

This reminds me of a husband-and-wife team in Easton who dress up in costumes and walk around on stilts for the city’s festivals. Now, plenty of people approach them to talk to them and to get some pictures with them apparently without feeling the need to first find themselves a pair of stilts.

Why don’t they feel the need to “elevate” themselves in order to approach these two? Well, because they know that the stilts create an illusion. These two are not superhumans; they are ordinary humans. Anyone who would go through all the trouble to find themselves a pair of stilts and to put them on before feeling “worthy enough” to approach these two would probably be viewed as insane.

And so it is with God and the Christ. They are essentially the same. When we have joined with Christ, we do not need any “stilts” to approach God. To think we need them is not humility. It’s ignorance.

Returning to our reading, some heretical Christians were claiming that in order to approach God, people needed to elevate themselves spiritually through observing several practices. One practice was circumcision. Another was the observance of certain ceremonial laws pertaining to what they could eat and drink as well as the observance of the sabbath and certain festivals.

Sound familiar? Many Jewish Christians believed that gentile Christians had to become Jews like them in order to approach Christ, so I think it’s obvious that these ideas originated with the Judaizers.

This was similar to the legalism imposed by the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. It wasn’t enough for them that the Jews were already required to follow 613 Torah laws. In Mark chapter 7, the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for not performing the proper hand-washing ritual before eating bread. This ritual was nothing more than a Pharisaic tradition. It was not part of Torah law.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for requiring such burdensome traditions like this one and treating violations of them as if they were violations of Torah. He also exposes their hypocrisy and wickedness for breaking God’s laws in favor of their own “Traditions of the Elders.”

Returning to our reading, a third way these heretics claimed people needed to spiritually elevate themselves was through the worship of angels. They taught that Christians should not arrogantly assume that they can reach God directly or even through the mediation of Christ. They needed to humble themselves by reaching lower on the totem pole.

This is a misunderstanding of who angels are in relation to us. It’s inappropriate to worship the angels. God created angels to serve us, not the other way around, and we are supposed to worship only God.

It’s appropriate to ask the angels for help. They respect our free will, so they won’t become involved in our lives unless we ask. So don’t hesitate to ask. They are powerful beings. It’s also appropriate to love and respect the angels for their dutiful service to us. They will do anything for us as long as it doesn’t interfere with God’s Will.

Finally, these heretics claimed that people needed to spiritually elevate themselves by practicing a form of asceticism including severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence. This is the idea that the body is evil and that only the soul needs to be preserved. But without the body, God would not be able to express His Love in this world. The body is God’s Temple, so we should take good care of it. Certainly, that requires some level of self-discipline and avoiding self-indulgence, but nothing extreme.

Both of these ideas originated with the Essenes, a mystical Jewish sect that existed in Jesus’ time. Essene thought influenced the Gnostic Christian philosophy that was developing among Christians around this time. So, I believe that the most likely source of the Colossian Heresy was Jewish philosophy.

How can we apply this lesson in our world today? Are there any ways in which we are we being robbed of our spiritual freedom in Christ?

Imagine yourself as pure energy floating safely in unlimited space. Within this space, you can be, do, and have anything you want. You decide that you want to experience being human, so you are born into this world. You are immediately assigned a gender, and you begin learning who you can and can’t be, what you can and can’t do, and what you can and can’t have based on your gender.

That unlimited space suddenly becomes a box. You also inherit a race, and you begin learning who you can and can’t be, what you can and can’t do, and what you can and can’t have based on your race. Now, you’re inside a smaller box within your gender box. 

You also inherit a socioeconomic status, and you begin learning who you can and can’t be, what you can and can’t do, and what you can and can’t have based on your socioeconomic status. And now, you’re inside an even smaller box within the race box.

Over time, you adopt many more identities, with each one forcing you into smaller and smaller boxes until the unlimited freedom to be, do, and have whatever you want is gone, and after some time, you have forgotten you ever had that kind of freedom.

At that point, the very thought of losing these identities becomes extremely frightening because you think that you will cease to exist without them, and so you do everything you can to protect these identities without realizing that what you’re really doing is fortifying the walls of your own prison.

What I have just described is the development of the mind of me and how it becomes prominent over time, pushing the Mind of Christ further and further into the background.

Now, it’s all part of the game. We need the experience of individuality to function in this world, and we use identities and roles to structure human life. They are the costumes we wear in this play called Life. But when we start to believe that we are these costumes and nothing more, we begin defending them tooth-and-nail, and life becomes very painful for everyone.

Anyone who behaves in ways that do not conform to them becomes an extreme threat because they are making it clear that they are not-so-solid – that they are nothing more than illusions. These brave souls are treated as if they are public enemy #1 when the truth is that they are the ones who are taking a sledgehammer to our prison walls.

Yet those who are trapped inside tiny prisons vehemently criticize everything that these truly Christ-like men and women are doing to set us free while giving carte blanche to men and women who engage in mind-blowing levels of corruption designed to keep us all in prison.

Because you see, when someone doesn’t accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they have no other choice for an identity, and so they feel they need to prove their worth and entitlements based on these things rather than simply on their status as sons and daughters of God.

That is why the Pharisees created the “traditions of the elders.” They created these burdensome traditions so that Jews could be more distinguishable from non-Jews. They didn’t want to make the unthinkable mistake of treating a non-Jew as an equal. They were attempting to fortify their religious and cultural walls, and Jesus was taking a sledgehammer to them.

The Judaizers in the early Christian church were attempting to do the same thing. They wanted keep Christ for themselves, and there are many Christians today who are attempting to do the same. They make up their own rules and treat violations of them as if they are violations of Scripture.

They may call themselves Christians, but they have not accepted the true Gospel. When we accept true Gospel, we become aware of our true spiritual nature, our essential unity with All That Is. We became aware that, as Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We realize that our personal characteristics like our gender, race, religion, and socioeconomic status are all part of the illusory personal self – costumes that will be shed when we leave this world.

In John chapter 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Peter objects saying, “You shall never wash my feet.” He said this because in his culture, teachers didn’t wash their students’ feet. It was the other way around. But Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”

Jesus taught us here that in order to join with Christ, we must be willing to let these roles go. The biggest reason why we feel unable to be, do, or have whatever we want isn’t so much due to external forces; it’s more due to internal forces, and the biggest internal force is that we don’t feel we deserve it.

Just like Peter, we believe we are unworthy. And we believe that because we identify more with these roles instead of with the Christ, and we try to follow the gazillion human-made rules that go with these roles instead of with the Christ’s one rule, and that rule is “Love one another.”

Indeed, there are countless cultural and religious rules designed to keep us within the boundaries of our identities and roles. But listen to what Paul writes about the Lord: “having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.”

He canceled the bonds. We are free in Christ. The powers that be have no real power over us. As One with Christ, we are still floating safely in unlimited space. We still have the freedom to be, do, and have anything we want. There is no one on the spiritual level judging us.

Of course, on the worldly level, there are plenty of judges. But if you’re a guy, you’re free in Christ to wear pink. If you’re a woman, you’re free in Christ to be a firefighter. If you’re poor, you’re free in Christ to go to college. And regardless of your race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, you’re free in Christ to have a lucrative career and to own nice things and to enjoy your life as much as everyone else. Because the Truth is that, as far as God is concerned, no one is more entitled than another to the gifts of His Creation. No one!

We can choose to experience whatever we desire because God gave us free will. He gave us free will so that we could freely learn from our experiences – both the good and the bad. We are Life learning how to master Life. Life in the process of self-mastery.

If we make a not-so-good decision, God set this world up in a way that we will eventually learn from our mistake. It’s called Karma. Karma is a teacher, not a judge. So, we are free in Christ to break the law, but we might end up in prison – literally – like behind bars.

But if through that experience we learn some good lessons about life, then there’s nothing to be ashamed of because that’s what life is all about! Our soul knows exactly what we need to learn and how we can best learn it, and sometimes, it picks the School of Hard Knocks.

That is true on both a personal and collective level.

Paul tells the Colossians not to let anyone judge them, and he’s telling us today the same thing. We are One body in Christ growing in the way God wants us to grow. So let us let go of the modern legalism that binds us, keeping us separate from one another and our True Nature, for it was from these bonds that Jesus Christ came to set us free.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we accept the wonderful truth that our Father loves all his sons and daughters equally. Through the power of Your Holy Spirit, help us to let go of any identities or roles that make us feel unworthy or entitled so that we can be truly free in Christ. AMEN.


Donovan, Richard N. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Colossians 2:6-19.”, 2013,

Epistles: the Colossian Heresy. Grace Communion International,

Free Means Free

Attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Using the law for the wrong purpose is hazardous to our spiritual health because it nullifies the gospel. Just as the “Judaizers” of Paul’s day required people to follow Torah law before coming to Christ, many Christians undermine both faith and grace by requiring works of those who wish to come to Christ.

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Scripture reading: Galatians 3: 23-29.

How many of you have ever used something for a purpose other than for that which it was intended? Like using a fork to clean your teeth instead of a toothpick? Or using a knife to open a can instead of a can opener? And how many of you got hurt as a result?

Often, using things for other than their intended purpose can be hazardous to our health. There is a word for using things in ways they were not intended to be used. The word is “abuse.” In our scripture reading for today, Paul discusses the abuse of the law, and how it is hazardous to our spiritual health.

The term “Judaizers” refers to the Jewish Christians who taught that salvation was a mixture of grace through the work of Jesus Christ and human effort through obeying Torah. They believed Gentiles had to become Jewish like them before they could come to Christ. Paul first deals with this false doctrine in Acts chapter 15 when some Judaizers opposed him and Barnabas at the Jerusalem Council, and he strongly condemns it in his letter to the Galatians.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” In a nutshell, Paul is stating that anyone who claims salvation isn’t by faith alone is declaring the Lord’s work pointless and God’s grace invalid.

This reminds me of a sad story Tabatha told me about something that happened in her childhood. She gave her old bike to a good friend as a gift. When Tabatha’s mother found out about it, she marched over to her friend’s house and demanded payment for the bike. This alienated her friend, destroyed their friendship, and broke Tabatha’s heart.

I can imagine that is how God feels.

Let’s take a look at the context around our passage. In the first half of chapter 3, Paul explains to the Galatians that Mosaic law could not pronounce a blessing, only a curse, because the law must be followed perfectly, which is something we humans can’t do.

He reminds them that Abraham was justified (or declared righteous) on the basis of his faith, not his works, and it was because of his righteousness that God made a covenant with him recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. In that covenant, God promised Abraham a land, many descendants, and that the entire world would be blessed through him.

Paul reminds his readers that the Mosaic covenant was given through Moses, but God gave the Abrahamic Covenant directly to Abraham 430 years earlier. Therefore, Mosaic law did not replace God’s covenant with Abraham. So then, what was the purpose of Mosaic Law? Why did God add this covenant to his original covenant with Abraham?

And that takes us to our scripture reading for today. Paul explains that we were confined under the law. It kept us under restraint. It was our custodian until Christ came that we may be justified by faith. A custodian is a guardian or protector, but how can it be when Paul also says it’s a curse?

Well, think about how we all feel about rules – especially while growing up. We curse them, but our parents put them in place to guide and protect us. The rules confined us for our own good until we were wise enough to follow them willingly. Until then, we didn’t follow them perfectly, did we? No, we probably tested those rules quite a bit.

I’m reminded of an event that took place while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. In Numbers chapter 21, we read that the Israelites were being bitten by snakes. They believed God sent the snakes because they spoke out against Him and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Many Israelites were dying from the snake bites, so God told Moses to create a bronze snake so that anyone who is bitten could look at it and live. Imagine if you were dying from a snake bite, and someone tells you to look at a bronze snake on a pole to be healed. You might think it’s a cruel joke. Some of the Israelites might have thought that too, but to look at it was an act of faith, not works.

Israelites who were bitten by a snake knew they were bitten. They also knew they were dying, so they actively sought healing because they didn’t want to die. That’s how it is when we know there’s something physically wrong with us. We have ways of knowing, such as symptoms and medical technology like x-rays and scans. Once our illness is confirmed, we then seek healing.

When someone is suffering from mental illness, it’s more difficult to identify. There aren’t any physical symptoms or medical technologies to make it obvious. A person is diagnosed with mental illness when their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are out of the range of “normal.” But what is “normal?” We have a book called the “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” to define what’s “normal.”

When someone is spiritually ill, how can that be identified – especially when most people are spiritually ill – more or less? When most people are walking around spiritually ill, and very few are spiritually healthy, the ill ones point at the healthy ones and say, “Something’s wrong with them.”

Many people have been bitten and poisoned by the “snake,” the Mind of Me, but if they don’t know it, they won’t seek healing. If we don’t think we need something, we won’t accept it – even if it’s free. If you say to me, “Here’s a free toaster oven.” I’d say, “No thanks, I don’t need one, but maybe someone else could use it.”

So … Mosaic law is like “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Spiritual Disorders.” It reveals what we can’t do when we’ve been bitten by the snake, and its poison is causing spiritual illness within us. This way, we can be made aware of our need for healing and then actively seek it out.

The less we understand about a form of illness, the more likely we are to judge and condemn those who suffer from it. We understand the body the most, so we have a lot of compassion for people who have illnesses like cancer. We understand the mind much less, so there has been a lot of stigma around mental illness, but thankfully, that is changing.

We understand the least about the spirit, so we judge and condemn people. But, judging and condemning others is just another symptom of a spiritual disorder. In Matthew 7, the Lord said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

If we’re measuring others’ righteousness using the law, then we must also be measuring our own. God did not give us the law for that purpose. We don’t expect those suffering from mental illness to read the manual, identify their abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and then say, “OK – I’ll stop doing those things.” We know they can’t do that because they are suffering from mental illness.

That’s the point of the book! We understand that the manual is a diagnostic tool, not the cure. The same is true of Mosaic law, but all those who require works for salvation are trying to make the law the cure.

The cure for spiritual illness was accomplished through God’s own Son being lifted up on the cross so that all who would look upon Him in FAITH would be healed. This is how God made good on his third promise to Abraham – that all the world would be blessed through him.

This is the “new covenant” that the prophet Jeremiah foretells in chapter 31: 33-34 where we read, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days [of Moses], says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jesus, at the last supper, suggested that his work fulfilled God’s promise of a new covenant. In Luke 20:20, we read, “And likewise [he took] the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Through Jesus – both a son of Abraham and the Son of God – the entire world has been healed.

The law is no longer needed once we have been spiritually healed by looking to the Lord with faith. Once we know who we are, we no longer need the custodian of the law. We no longer need it because through the Holy Spirit, the law is within us, written on our hearts, and soon, my friends, we will live in a world where all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest.

How can we apply Paul’s message to the Galatians today? Well, we must acknowledge that free means free. We are saved by faith in Christ alone through God’s grace. Salvation is simply having faith in the Truth that God has only one child whom He loves dearly. That Child is the Christ, and we are all part of Him. There is nothing we can do to change that.

God can’t have any favorites because he has only one child. Those who believe that God loves them more than another clearly don’t know who they are.

Some modern Christian churches explicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone. The Hebrew Roots Movement holds beliefs that are identical to those of the Judaizers of Paul’s day, and some churches believe certain sacraments, such as baptism, are required for salvation. Other churches implicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone by requiring adherents to follow their rules and traditions.

Why do people nullify the gospel? Because there is something within us that doesn’t know the meaning of free. It believes that everything must be earned, particularly our worth and the right to live. It doesn’t like freedom either. It likes control. And it really hates equality because it loves superiority.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a direct assault on the Mind of Me, so it created a false gospel. Simply by adding works, it effectively undermines faith. It discourages people from discovering their True Nature by keeping them too busy following rules and traditions that don’t change their hearts.

It also effectively undermines grace, making salvation no longer so easy because it’s no longer free. The Mind of Me can now control people because it gets to decide what is required to earn salvation. It can choose whatever beliefs and deeds it favors, particularly those that manipulate people into giving it what it wants. To sell its requirements, it promotes and practices them in public, but what it does in private is a different story.

Jesus had a serious problem with people who abused Mosaic Law. He called them “hypocrites.” In Matthew chapter 23:4, Jesus says, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” And in verse 23, “… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

This abuse has certainly affected the Christian church. Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality, summed it up quite nicely saying, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward unison with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.”

Thanks be to God that we know all about the Mind of Me, so we don’t fall for its tricks. Free means free. That is what we need to communicate to people. Because like Tabatha’s friend, many of God’s own children have been alienated from Him because others have demanded payment for His Gift.

God wants nothing from us because God needs nothing from us. I mean, what could Almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth, who is quite literally All There Is, possibly need from us? God wants nothing from us, but he does want something for us. He wants for us to have an abundant life free from suffering, and to have that, all WE need is FAITH in who we are.

It is not until we can fully accept who we are that we can accept salvation as a gift given freely by our loving Father. He gave us this gift not to make us feel obligated but so that we can enjoy the peace, love, and joy that is our inheritance.

Isn’t our Heavenly Father wonderful? What can we do in response to such magnanimous love? We can say, “Thank you, Father!” We can be grateful, but God doesn’t need gratitude from us. Gratitude is another thing for us. Faith opens the door of our heart to receive God’s greatest gift, and gratitude keeps that door open so that we can receive more gifts. Our Heavenly Father is a doting father; it is His greatest joy to shower us with gifts.

We can also love God in return. We can love God where God can be found – within that Spark you see glowing out of the eyes of others. In the flesh, there are differences, certainly. We, however, are able to acknowledge and respect differences without attaching them to worthiness before Our God because we know that when it comes to our essential nature, we are One in Christ.

So let us be God’s ambassadors, bringing all those estranged from Him back into a relationship with Him. Let us tell everyone the truth that they are beloved of God no matter who they are or what they have done and that they need only to look to the Christ in faith to be healed. No payment required.

In this way, we give God the Father’s Day gift he’s always wanted.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are grateful to you for teaching us the proper use of the law. Give us the courage to lead others to You, to unity with the Father and All That Is, and to love them as you love us. AMEN.


Deffinbaugh, Bob. “9. The Contribution of the Mosaic Covenant (Galatians 3:19-29).”, 28 Jun 2004,

“What is the Abrahamic Covenant?”,

“Who were the Judaizers?”,

The Choice

Jean II Restout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: The choice between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh is not one to be taken lightly. It’s a choice between having a life of peace and joy and not having a life at all due to the suffering caused by self-indulgence and self-righteousness. Do we choose a life of peace and joy or one of suffering and misery?

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1-17

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

Our statement of faith begins, “We are not alone; we live with God in our hearts.” We say it, but we might also wonder, “What does it really mean, and how do we demonstrate this faith in our daily lives?”

Our scripture reading for today from Paul’s letter to the Romans is part of a chapter that is considered the most systematic treatment of the doctrine of the spiritual life in the entire New Testament. I believe it is here that we can find the answer. But first let’s back up a couple of chapters for some context.

In chapter six, Paul writes about libertine faith. This is the kind of faith Christians who don’t want to change have. They talk about grace, but they don’t strive for righteousness. Paul rejects this type of faith, explaining that if we are alive in Christ, then we are dead to sin. I believe that means the more we identify with the Spirit instead of the flesh, the more we will experience freedom from sin and the suffering it causes.

Both Jewish and gentile Christians suffered from this type of faith. They basically said, “Hot dog! I’m saved by grace, so I can do whatever I want!” Surprisingly, the Jewish Christians were in some ways worse than the gentile Christians. In his first letter to the Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul scolds the Jewish Christians for engaging in a form of sexual immorality that not even the pagans would tolerate.

There are many Christians today who suffer from this type of faith. They believe they are saved because they claim faith in Christ, but they are not experiencing their salvation. They are still enslaved by the Mind of Me. They are still suffering from their addictions to pleasures and treasures – still striving for these “status symbols” that they think make them worthy.

In chapter seven, Paul writes about legalist faith. This type of faith is the opposite of libertine faith. People with this type of faith want to bury themselves and others in rules. Many of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had this kind of faith. Paul rejects this faith also, explaining that anyone who tries to follow the law without a change of heart is bound to fail. And the attempt itself is a sin because of the reliance on one’s own power instead of God’s.

There are many Christians today who suffer from this type of faith also. They belong to sects that are very strict, lots of rules and regulations. Devotees have no choice but to follow them if they don’t want to be expelled. But Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will place even more burdens on you until your spirit is totally crushed because I am hard and arrogant in heart.”

No, he said in Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When we have true faith in Christ, we know that we are worthy by virtue of who we are, not what we do. We are God’s children. We can’t earn our inheritance any more than a child can earn his or her parents’ inheritance. It is ours simply by virtue of being a son or daughter. It is freely given in love. How insolent would it be for us to say, “No thanks dad. I don’t want your gift. I’d rather earn it myself.”

Yet that is exactly what those with a legalist faith are saying to God. Paul, a very devout Pharisee, suffered from a legalist faith. He writes about his struggle in verses 21-25: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!”

Both the libertine and legalist types of faith do not work. Both are self-deceptions that keep us slaves to sin. Many of the people in the Roman church might have felt the same frustration Paul expressed. But then Paul ends the chapter with the solution: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Chapter 8, in which our scripture reading lies, begins with Paul explaining the nature of God’s provision for our deliverance. We can escape the suffering sin causes and live in a way that fulfills the law of God because we are not alone. God is with us. And more than being beside us, God is actually within us as the Christ – His Perfect Image. We are saved through his power alone. But how?

Paul explains in verses 2-4 that the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death by sending his son in the flesh to deal with and condemn sin so that God’s law could be fulfilled in us. What does that mean? Well, I don’t believe it means God sent His Son to pay for our sins. I do believe it means that God had to send His Son in the flesh because the problem existed in the flesh.

Here is an analogy to think about. In science, a complete circuit is an uninterrupted path for electrons to flow from an energy source, through a device, and back to its source. If that path is broken, then the flow of electrons stops, and the device can no longer receive power.

Often, the path is broken through a short circuit. What’s a short circuit? Well, energy likes to follow along a path of least resistance. When it finds a shorter path to follow, it will follow that one instead of the intended one, causing all connected devices to stop receiving power. To fix a short circuit, the damaged wire needs to be identified, cut out, and replaced with a new wire.

We are the Circuit of Life, and this body/mind is a device. The development of the Mind of Me caused a short circuit. Our energy began flowing in another direction – along the path of least resistance. God sent His Son, a master electrician, to deal with it. Taking on the flesh, he identified the Mind of Me as the faulty wire. Then he willingly and lovingly removed it with his crucifixion and replaced it with his resurrection. We now have the Power of God, the Holy Spirit, flowing through us once again.

It is only when we are connected to God’s power that we are able to function properly and fulfill God’s law. If we are short-circuited, we just can’t do it. We have free will, so God allowed the path of least resistance to remain so that we have a choice. So … do we choose to be a fully-powered, functioning part of the circuitry of Life – or to be defunct?

Imagine that you need to go on a long road trip, and you have a choice between two drivers. The first one is an expert driver. He knows exactly the path you need to follow to get you to your destination as painlessly and efficiently as possible. And all along the way, he’ll give you very wise advice, keep you on the right track, and comfort and reassure you that all will be well.

The second one has no idea how to drive; he only pretends to know. And he has no clue where you’re going; he only pretends to know. And all along the way, he’ll give you crappy advice, get distracted by all kinds of “shiny things,” leave you lost in some awful places, and fill you with fear and dread. But it won’t be his fault. He’ll consistently blame either you or others for the mess you’re in.

The choice between these two drivers is the choice between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. So which driver would you choose for that long road trip? Seems like a no brainer, right? Yet most people pick the totally incompetent one.

All you have to do is look out into the world today to see evidence of that. In Luke 13: 23-24, we read, “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.’”

Those who try to enter but are not able are the people who think they are saved but can’t figure out why their life is still a mess. It’s a mess because their driver is not the Lord, and that’s why the Lord doesn’t know them.

Those who live according to the flesh suffer from an insatiable striving for pleasures and treasures. Do not envy people who go on exotic vacations or eat fancy meals or buy expensive things. They will never be satisfied no matter how many exotic vacations, fancy meals, or expensive things they buy.

That’s because how much they are “worth” by society’s definition doesn’t make them truly worthy. Deep in their souls, they know this, but they can’t stop listening to their incompetent driver, who says, “Check out this shiny thing. Buy this one, and I promise you’ll feel better.”

Those who live according to the flesh also suffer from an insatiable desire to be better than everyone else. Do not envy people who claim to be better than everyone else because they live according to “God’s Word.”

They inwardly place on themselves the same demands they place on others – heavy burdens that they themselves will never be able to live up to. Deep in their souls, they know it, but they can’t stop listening to their incompetent driver, who says, “Check out that sinner. Judge her, and I promise you’ll feel better.”

Do not envy these libertines and legalists because they are dying inside. They are experiencing painful alienation from God. Their souls are shackled and languishing in the Mind of Me’s prison, causing them to have a very twisted view God, themselves, the world, and life in general.

As Paul writes in verses 12-13, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

I love that Paul uses the word “obligated.” So many people choose that incompetent driver because they feel obligated. They believe that incompetent driver is providing them with some kind of valuable service. Think of it this way: If you’ve ever traveled overseas, and your car is stopped at a stop light, someone may very well wash your windshield for you. And you will feel obligated to pay for that service.

But did you really need your windshield washed? Probably not, but opened your wallet or purse and paid for it anyway because you were tricked into feeling obligated. And that is the plain truth when it comes to any feelings of obligation we might have for the “service” the incompetent driver provides – service that is not only unnecessary but also truly stinks.

If we should feel obligated to anyone, we should feel obligated to the Lord who truly and lovingly served us. Yet, the Lord doesn’t trick us into feeling obligated (some churches do that), but the Lord gives us a choice. We can choose not to live by the Spirit, but if we make that choice, we won’t have a life. The Lord loves us so much that he did all he did so that we could have not just a life, but an abundant life.

As the Lord told his disciples in Matthew 16:24-26, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

Thanks be to God that we have made a different choice. We have true faith in Christ, which is our only hope of release from slavery to sin. We know that we are worthy by virtue of who we are, not what we have or what we do. Once we know that we can’t un-know it, so we can’t go back self-indulgence or self-righteousness. That is why there is no condemnation.

We can consider ourselves Sons of God because by our choice to be led by the Spirit, we join with the Christ. We cry “Abba, Father!” because we acknowledge who we are. We gratefully receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, knowing that it is only though this gift, our Father’s gracious gift, that we can escape the slavery and death of the Mind of Me and truly live.

So, what does it mean to truly believe that we live with God in our hearts? Well, it doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect; it simply means that we are truly striving for righteousness. We are extremely wary of self-indulgence and self-righteousness because we know it’s a trap. We may briefly follow the path of least resistance – it’s only natural – but the suffering on that path returns us to our senses rather quickly.

We may engage in a little self-indulgence from time-to-time, but we don’t use pleasures and treasures as a yardstick of our worth. We use God’s judgment of our worth, and He said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” We have nothing to prove.

And because we know we have nothing to prove, self-righteousness is almost non-existent in us Sons of God. Only people who believe they have something to prove are self-righteous, and if we ever think we have something to prove, then it’s a sure sign that we have forgotten who we are.

Many self-righteous people will judge us, and the Mind of Me will tempt you to judge them in return. But doing that only makes the Mind of Me feel better. Trust me, very soon after it persuades you to judge someone, it will turn around and judge you for being so judgmental. Yes. it gets a double-high at your expense. It’s not worth it!

We must be willing to let the Mind of Me suffer from our refusal to do its bidding because the more we let it suffer, the more it loses its power over us. It’s like letting a toddler throw a tantrum without giving into his or her demands. Eventually, the tantrums stop because he or she finally learns who is in charge.

That is what it means to suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Imagine how much the Lord caused suffering for the Mind of Me! We know from the story of his temptations in the wilderness that he refused to do its bidding. He made the Mind of Me suffer so terribly that he became its master. That allowed his true Christ identity to take the driver’s seat in his life and save the world! That is the power of God within one glorified human being – one human being joined with Christ.

When we’re tempted to give up hope for humanity, let us just imagine the power of many human beings joined with Christ. Jesus was the first fruit in a multitude to come, and everyone in this room is part of that multitude.

So, let us make the choice live by the Spirit, to suffer with him, so that we may be glorified with him and joined with Christ as he comes now to establish the Kingdom of God – a world filled with love, peace, and joy.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we choose to live by the Spirit, to suffer with you so that we may be glorified with you. Give us the strength to resist the temptation to follow the path of least resistance so that we may be part of the abundant harvest to come that will transform this world into God’s Kingdom. AMEN.


Deffinbaugh, Bob. 32. “The Eleventh Commandment (John 13:31-38).” 20 Aug. 2014

Loving Our Gentiles

James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: When Jesus gave his disciples a “new” commandment to love one another, he was telling them to stick together through the hard times. We are commanded to do the same – to love our Christian brothers and sisters – especially our “gentiles” – those who think very differently from us and live very different lives. We all know how difficult that can be, so what’s the secret?

Scripture: John 13:31-35

If we were to visit a variety of Christian churches over several Sundays, and asked people, “Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ?” I’m sure they would all say, “Yes, of course I do!” We all know that we’re supposed to love our Christian brothers and sisters, but how well do we do that in reality?

Even within our own congregations, it’s not always easy to love one another through conflicts over church administrative decisions, worship practices, music selection, and even fellowship hour goodies. But generally, it is far easier to love people who are more like us than it is to love those who are very different from us – those who think very differently and live very different lives.

The apostles were faced with this same challenge when they started the church. There were major conflicts among the Jews over whether the gentiles could be accepted as Christians without becoming Jews like them. Who are our “gentiles,” and how can we learn to love them?

That is what our scripture reading for today is all about.

The setting of our scripture reading is the night the Lord was betrayed. During supper, the Lord took off his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet to demonstrate the true purpose for his coming to earth – not to be served, but to serve.

You may remember how much Peter objected to the Lord washing his feet because he didn’t believe a master should wash his disciples’ feet. The Lord responded by reminding Peter that unless he allows this, he can have “no share” with him. Jesus meant that unless Peter can accept his essential equality with the Lord, he will always feel estranged (or separated) from him.

The same is true for all of us. We struggle to give and receive service unless we feel equal. In this world, there is status, but in God’s world, there is no such thing. We are essentially equal – quite literally. The only real part of us is the spark of the Divine within us all, so our essential nature is exactly the same.

After setting this example for his disciples and encouraging them to follow it, Jesus foretells his betrayal, and Judas exits the scene. Here is where our scripture reading begins. The disciples’ relationship with the Lord is about to undergo a huge change, and the Lord does the best he can to explain it.

It must have been a lot like trying to explain to a child where a loved ones goes after they pass away. It’s so difficult to comfort children because they don’t understand why the loved one has to go away and why they can’t follow. Even though we adults understand this more, we feel much the same way.

Jesus has compassion for his disciples, knowing how difficult it will be for them to understand the transformation he is about to undergo, and how it will change his relationship with them. First, he explains that he is about to be glorified with the Father.

The Father within the Son is about to be revealed. The way I understand this is that Jesus’ life and death perfectly expressed the love of God. When he resurrected, he became the Love of God, and so he was immediately glorified with God as God’s perfect expression.

In his teachings, Jesus had told the crowd that he would be with them only a little while longer and that where he was going, they could not follow him or find him. Now, the disciples probably thought that this didn’t apply to them since they went everywhere with Jesus – even the most remote places – when he retreated from his adversaries.

At this point in time, they were determined to follow Jesus wherever he went – even if they had to die with him. When Jesus decided to return to Judea even though the Jews were trying to kill him, Thomas said, “Let us also go that we may die with him.” And later in this passage Peter will say, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

You see, when Jesus says he’s going to a place where they can’t follow him or find him, they think it’s some earthly place. They haven’t accepted what Jesus had been trying to tell them – that he is going to die and then resurrect three days later.

Back to our scripture reading. Jesus gives his disciples what he calls a “new commandment.” But how can it be considered “new” when they all know the greatest commandment of Jewish Law is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Well, in preparing his disciples for his crucifixion, Jesus is telling them to stick together and to take care of one another – to not abandon one another – no matter what happens. He knew that what was about to happen to him in Jerusalem could potentially shatter the group, which could prevent them from spreading the gospel.

They had to love one another through Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial and Thomas’ doubt. They had to love one another through trying to comprehend the purpose of Jesus’ death and the meaning of his resurrection. They had to love one another through figuring out how to bring Jesus’ message of salvation to the world. They had to love one another through making decisions about how to establish and nurture the church.

I can imagine Jesus calling it a “new” commandment with a little wink, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy. In Acts chapter 11, we learn that Peter, along with many Jews, struggled to view gentile Christians as equals because they were not Jews like him. Then, he had a vision that changed his mind and, in verse 12, Peter advises the Jews, “not to make a distinction between them and us.”

Jesus commands us to love our Christian brothers and sisters. But why should we? Jesus told us why. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” By loving one another, we set an example for others because it’s just not how most people behave.

Historical records reveal that in early Christian history, non-believers mocked Christians because of how they loved one another. For instance, Tertullian, who lived toward the end of the second century, wrote, “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” And Caecillius wrote, “They love one another before they know one another!”

If these two could step into a time machine and transport themselves into these times, I’m afraid they would admire today’s Christians. They’d be like, “Behold how the Christians hate one another! They hate one another before they know one another!”

Because I am so liberal-minded, my personal “gentiles” are conservative Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, and until recently I decided that they weren’t really Christians, so I didn’t have to love them. Yes, I was taking advantage of a very popular ploy designed to dodge the Lord’s command.

Then I realized it’s not my place to judge other Christians’ relationship with the Lord. They may genuinely love the Lord just as much as I do, and they feel just as strongly as I do about certain things. I resent it when they judge my relationship with the Lord, and here I was doing the same thing to them.

How can we learn to love them? Well, my parents are two conservative Christians who figured it out. While I was growing up, my parents made it very clear how they felt about homosexuals. My mother didn’t hate anyone, but she had her beliefs, and she believed being gay was sinful. My father, on the other hand, hated homosexuals so much that he said he hoped the AIDS epidemic would kill them all.

I tried to tell my parents when I was in my early twenties that I am gay, but they didn’t handle it well. Since I needed their support, I withdrew my confession, explaining it was due to my mental health crisis. I didn’t attempt coming out again until I was almost fifty years old, after I met my future wife.

My parents didn’t attend the wedding because they didn’t believe in gay marriage. It hurt, but we respected their decision. Some might judge them harshly for this choice, but in not coming to the wedding, they were simply living their lives according to their values, and everyone has that right.

Despite their beliefs, they have always treated both me and my wife with love and respect. Believe it or not, my mother was finally able to accept who I am after she confessed to one of her personal care home friends that she has a daughter who is a lesbian. Her friend replied, “You should be proud of your daughter!” I guess all mom needed was a second opinion.

My father still considers our lifestyle sinful, but he has always treated both me and my wife lovingly – and he recently he told me that he is proud of me – even though I’m gay. Now, that meant a lot to me. All it took for my father to stop hating gay people was for him to know one.

My parents discovered the secret to loving Christians who are very different from us. The secret is this: Love is more important than beliefs. When we make our beliefs more important than love, then we are worshipping an idol, and that idol is ourselves. When we judge others, we are overruling God’s judgement of His Creation as “good” and making of ourselves a rival to God.

This state of mind that separates us from God and one another because it leads to estrangement, which leads to apathy, and often to hatred. The trouble starts the moment we place our fellow Christians into the “them” category.

I was inspired to apply the secret to loving Christians who are different from us in the ruthless arena of social media. I recently posted on Facebook how I feel about a very controversial subject that’s all over the news. There were three comments on my post. The first and third were comments from friends in support of how I feel, so I clicked the “like” emoji for their comments.

The second comment was from a friend who is an evangelical Christian who strongly disagreed with how I feel, and I could just feel the devil’s horns pushing up against my halo! I knew better than to reply and start a discussion with her since we’d been down that painful “Road to Nowhere” before. I thought about deleting her comment, but I decided that was too mean. Then I thought about ignoring it, but I decided that was mean too.

A solution finally came from the Holy Spirit, and it was so easy! I decided to click the “care” emoji for her comment to indicate that I “care” about her feelings even though I feel differently. So, with the click of a button, I let her know that I loved my fellow Christian without requiring her to be like me.

It is the same choice Peter made – a choice we need to make every day – not because we want to, but because the Lord commanded it. What a difference it would make if we Christians could all find a way to love one another despite our differences instead of demonizing one another?

All we need to do is be willing to try to actually care about how they feel. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to feel the same way. We just have to respect them enough to acknowledge the fact that they also feel strongly about their values and that they have the right to express them and live according to them.

That is true for all of us. We don’t have to tolerate the bad behavior of Christians who judge other Christians who have a very different mindset and lifestyle. Paul certainly didn’t. We read in Galatians chapter 2 that Peter caved under the pressure of his Jewish peers and stopped eating with the gentiles. As a result, other Jews followed his lead. He was not setting a good example, and he was the rock.

I can understand Peter’s conflict. It’s like being invited to someone’s house and being served meat when you are a vegan or a vegetarian, but I personally know someone who in that situation will, out of respect for his hosts, eat the meat. Why? Because he believes love is more important than his beliefs.

Religious leaders from both sides have set bad examples by encouraging their flock to categorize as “them” Christians who think differently on things like church doctrine, worship practices, and women in the ministry as well as on social topics such as abortion and gay marriage.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:20-21 “… it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Some Christians think that they earn God’s justification through their beliefs, but if we become righteous through our beliefs, then Christ died for nothing. There is no belief that earns us justification because we are already justified by virtue of who we are.

Christ died to show us who we are, not what to believe.  It is only the knowledge of Christ living within us that makes us aware of our justification, and that knowledge comes through faith alone. Thanks be to the Lord that we have been brought to this truth.

In gratitude, let us choose to love all our brothers and sisters – especially our gentiles – by letting go of our beliefs, our need to be right, and our obstinacy about having our way. These are all nothing more than the dysfunctional addictions of our human nature. Letting go of these vices helps us to access our Christ nature by opening our hearts so that we can begin to genuinely care about how others feel.

This is how we can restore rational thinking and the ability to compromise not only in the Christian church but also in our country and around the world. This is the path to unity and peace, and through our example, we can lead the way.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to obey your command to love our Christian brothers and sisters, but we confess it is hard to love those who think and live differently from us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to release all that keeps us estranged from others so that we can be the good examples of unconditional love that you desire for all your disciples to be.


Deffinbaugh, Bob. 32. “The Eleventh Commandment (John 13:31-38).” 20 Aug. 2014

Do We Love the Lord More than These?

Pieter van der Borcht (ca. 1540-1608), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Just as the disciples tried to go back to their old way of life after Jesus’ crucifixion, many have tried to go back to “normal” after recent events have “crucified” their old way of life – with disappointing results. How can we move from hard labor on the lake of self-reliance to the calm shores of God-reliance?

Scripture: John 21:1-19

The gospels report that on the days following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and some followers who all struggled to make sense out of his crucifixion and to believe the reports of his resurrection. The events that took place severely tested their faith and hope.

Cleopas and his companion, traveling down the road to Emmaus, recounted the events from their worldly perspective, which offered them nothing more than a sense of futility and defeat. Even Jesus’ disciples struggled to believe that he had risen – especially Thomas, who refused to believe until he had seen Jesus with his own two eyes and conducted his own forensic investigation of Jesus’ wounds.

They all had doubts. They all struggled to understand what Jesus had taught them. And on the evening of his arrest, most of them deserted him. According to Luke 22, Peter, one of the first disciples Jesus called, denied him three times and was living with the terrible memory of those denials.

Then after Jesus’ crucifixion, they were all hiding out cowering in fear of being arrested, and Jesus suddenly appeared to them saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

How do you think they felt?

How many of you remember the show “Welcome back Kotter?” This show first aired back in 1975, and it was one of my favorites. How many of you can still remember the theme song? Hah! Now’s it’s going to be stuck in your head all day! Anyway, Gabe Kotter returns to his old high school as a teacher, and he’s put in charge of a classroom full of students called the “Sweathogs.” They’re a band of wisecracking, underachieving, incorrigible students.

The disciples probably felt a lot like the Sweathogs. They had been in Jesus’ school for three years, and when the final exam came, they pretty much flunked. But like Gabe Kotter, Jesus sees tremendous potential in his little band of doubters, deniers, and deserters.

Our scripture reading for today reports that the disciples attempted to go back to their old way of life. This story reminds us of when Jesus first called them to be fishers of men. Before the Lord showed up, no matter how long or hard they labored, the results were disappointing.

But there they were – at it again. Didn’t Jesus say to them, “As the Father sent me, so I send you?” Did he then say, “Go ye therefore and be fishers of fish!” No, he didn’t. In Luke 9, Jesus invites some people to follow him, but they all had other things to do first. Jesus commented, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The disciples had all been called out of their old lives to follow Jesus. They had put their hand to the plow of cultivating the vineyard of the human race, but now they were looking back, and it would only be a matter of time before they would go back permanently.

We can understand their frustration. With their perceived failure as Jesus’ disciples, they had lost their meaning and purpose, and the smell of the sea brought back the memory of an old meaning and purpose that had once made them happy. So, they figured, “Well, we can always catch fish.”

So, that evening, they got into their boats, shoved-off, drifted into position, and cast their nets, eagerly longing for that exhilarating feeling you get from catching fish and the return of that old meaning and purpose for their lives. But all night long, and not a single fish.

Then as the sun rises, Jesus appears on the beach. You or I might have yelled out, “Hey! Did you catch any fish?” But Jesus already knows the results. He says, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”

That reminds me of the first time I made a cake. Mom specifically told me to use baking soda, but since that was on the top shelf of the cupboard, and I didn’t feel like getting a chair to stand on to reach it, I decided to use something within reach on the bottom shelf: baking powder. I figured it was close enough – only a difference of one little word.

When I took the cake out of the oven, mom said, “It didn’t rise, did it?”

The disciples didn’t listen to Jesus either. Without reaching up higher for the baking soda of God’s purpose for their lives, all their efforts would turn out like my cake – flat. We think that we can work things out with our own power, might, and ingenuity, but if we’re not where God wants us to be, the results will always be disappointing.

What do you think the disciples thought about their fishless night? You know how it is: When fishermen catch fish, they call it “skill.” When they don’t, they call it “bad luck,” or they blame it on the weather, or the temperature of the water, or the bait. And even if no fish were caught, there’s always the ego-preserving fish story entitled “the big one that got away.”

But the disciples didn’t offer any excuses or fish stories. They simply answered with a truthful one-word confession – “No.” Sometimes it’s hard to admit failure. Maybe they thought, “Yeah, we can’t even catch simple fish, and he expects us to catch men!”

Once they admit failure, Jesus offers a solution. Throw the nets on the right side of the boat. In metaphysical philosophy, the right side is the side of Truth, the side of power. The results are immediate – tons of fish – the net was so full of fish that they couldn’t even haul it in.

And that’s when Peter experiences déjà vu. Now it may seem a little strange to us that he put on his outer garment before he jumped over the side, but it was a show of respect. He had probably been working in just a loincloth and that wasn’t enough to wear when you approach a teacher.

I’m sure their enthusiasm over finally catching some fish was amplified by their growling stomachs, but by the time they had all gotten to shore, the Lord had a meal already prepared for them. Fish was cooking over a charcoal fire, and there was some bread for them to eat also. Jesus knew that they were hungry and hurting, so he provided what they needed – food and communion with Him.

Peter grabs the net full of fish, 153 of them, but they didn’t need any of them because God had already prepared a blessing for them without the toil. And the same is true for us. God has a place of food, rest, and fellowship always waiting for us. All we have to do is accept His purpose for our lives.

That was the question Jesus had for all of the disciples, but he directs it specifically toward Peter. He asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.” 

What was Jesus referring to by the words, “more than these?” He was asking Peter if he loved him more than the sea, his boat, his net, and the fish. He had once called Peter out of that life and into a new life, and now he’s asking him to make a choice.

The “lambs” refers to fledgling believers, who are essentially defenseless. Those who are young in the faith can easily fall prey to lies because they don’t know any better. They need to be fed the Truth about who God is, who they are in relation to God, and why they are here.

The second time Peter professes his love for the Lord, Jesus responds, “Tend my sheep.” The “sheep” refers to veteran believers, and in using the word “tend,” he’s asking Peter to be their shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd because frankly, they aren’t too smart, they are prone to wander, and they can’t defend themselves from predators looking for a late-night snack.

Now, the “sheep” comparison might not seem very flattering to us older believers, but we are still vulnerable in many ways. The personal self is very tricky, and we all have one. It’s so easy to be deceived by its bad advice. So easy to wander away, end up lost, and become prey for the predators of this world.

Peter feels hurt when the Lord asks him the third time, “Do you love me?” So, he says to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep.” Now, he’s asking Peter to help his sheep find pasture – a place of food and fellowship like he was providing for them on the beach.

Peter felt bad that the Lord asked him three times if he loved him, but we can easily figure out why. Peter was burdened by the guilt of his three denials. By giving Peter the opportunity to profess his love for him three times, the Lord gave him a way to cleanse his guilty conscience so that he could forgive himself and move on with the new life, the new meaning, and the new purpose into which he had been called.

What does this story have to say to us today, in these times? Well, I believe it has a lot to say. Many events that have recently taken place have severely tested our faith and hope – particularly the pandemic. It has brought to the world an extreme degree of uncertainty and groundlessness.

In many ways, it forced us out of our old way of life. Many lost their jobs, but we all had to limit our spending and our activities due to lockdowns. Some people tragically lost family members and struggled to meet their basic needs. We pray that they will find the strength and comfort of the Lord within them to rebuild their lives and to restore their peace and joy.

But for others, the pandemic wasn’t so tragic. It only felt that way because it was an assault on the personal self’s insatiable desires for bodily pleasures, worldly treasures, and the freedom to do whatever it darn well pleases despite the harm.

Those who hoped that Jesus would be a political savior who would save them from the Romans viewed his crucifixion as a disaster. In the same way, the pandemic felt like a disaster to those who are addicted to and those who profit the most from American workaholism, consumerism, and rugged individualism.

Because the longer the restrictions lasted, the more time people had to realize that maybe they didn’t really need to work so much, buy so much, and go out so much. In fact, when they didn’t work so much and spend so much, and actually spent more time at home cultivating meaningful relationships with those closest to them, life was actually … more satisfying.

It seemed to me that for the addicted, that time was excruciatingly painful, and for the profiteers, the thought of people realizing this was absolutely terrifying. So, they pushed us back into the old ways as fast as they could. Now, like the disciples in our story, many are back in that old boat toiling away.

And the Lord is standing off shore, waving at us saying, “Ahem children! … the same old same old is giving you the same old disappointing results, isn’t it?”

The disciples worked all night long with no results. Some people work eight hours a day, five days a week. Some work a lot more than that – around the clock, tons of overtime. What are the results? Lots of cash in the bank account? Plenty of stuff? A bigger pension or 401K?

Are we busting our butts storing up riches so that we can enjoy life … someday?

That reminds me of a documentary I saw recently. It was about ravens and how smart they are. One scene took place in Holland in the dead of winter. Since food is so scarce, hunters purposefully gut their kills in the woods and leave the entrails there to feed the wildlife. As soon as one buzzard landed and started to enjoy its feast, another buzzard divebombed it, and they both started fighting over the pile.

While those two buzzards were busy fighting, the ravens and all the other scavengers and birds of prey who needed to eat swooped in, took a piece, and flew away. Swooped in, took a piece, and flew away. So that by the time the champion buzzard returned to the pile it had worked so hard to defend, it was like, “Hey? Where’d it all go?”

It’s hilarious, and it’s sad because we humans often act just like those dumb buzzards. In our fear and greed, we work so hard to store up and protect our stash, but it doesn’t make us happy. Cast your net on the right side of the boat. The truth is that we can enjoy life right now – any time we choose – if we accept God’s purpose for our lives and trust in Him to provide.

The Lord knows what kind of work feeds our souls, so he asks us to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep. That kind of work is truly meaningful. It’s called service.

Meaningful work is what many people are beginning to realize they really want. They don’t want a meaningless job that don’t pay. They don’t even want a meaningless job that does pay unless they can use it as a temporary bridge to something more meaningful. They don’t want to be rich; they simply want a meaningful job that at least provides them with a livable wage. And they won’t settle for less.

You might ask, “But Pastor Joan, why are so many leaving the service professions in droves?” They are leaving because they feel as if they can’t serve. They want to serve – badly. It’s just that many of our current systems are making true service very difficult if not impossible, and many no longer want to be part of a system that does not truly serve.

That is absolutely maddening to those who are addicted to and profit from the old ways, but those who are looking for work that truly serves can rest assured that they are doing nothing wrong. Within their hearts, they have heard the Lord’s request, and they are responding, “Yes!”

So, we need to honestly ask ourselves if the work we are doing is truly working for us. Even those of you who are retired may be working part-time or perhaps engaging in volunteer activities. Is our work feeding our souls? Or are we toiling too much on the turbulent lake of self-reliance when the Lord has everything we need already prepared for us on the calm shore of God-reliance?

And are we providing pasture for ourselves? The old proverb to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help someone else put theirs on is relevant when it comes to taking care of souls. We can’t provide pasture for others if we don’t provide it for ourselves first.

Coming here on Sunday morning to spend time with the Lord and to fellowship with one another is one type of pasture, but we need more than just this. We need daily pasture, and we can do whatever works for us to commune with the Lord and feed our souls. We need this time every day to study, reflect, pray and meditate on the Lord’s teachings.

If we do this regularly, we can become a pasture for others.

It’s not easy to transcend the personal self. It’s very challenging, especially when many are still gripped by it and look at us like we’re nuts. It’s hard not to cave into the pressure of what we know doesn’t work when everyone else thinks it works. If you think it’s easy for me to practice what I preach, think again. It’s just as challenging for me as it is for every other human being.

But no matter how much we struggle, no matter how many times the Lord has wave at us, it’s a worthy challenge because it’s calling us back to calm shores and the peace and joy of our true nature. And the longer we stay there, the better the likelihood that we will stay there permanently.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we love you more than worldly pleasures and treasures and our own self-reliance. We say “yes” to tending to and feeding your flock because we know that our souls long to serve. We are ready to trust God for all our needs. AMEN.