Mustard Seeds

Recently, our Pastor gave a sermon on Matthew 17:14-20. In this story, Jesus is up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and when they come down a man approaches Jesus to ask him to help his son, who is demon possessed. The man had asked the disciples to help, but they could not do it, so Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, telling it to leave the boy, and it did. The disciples didn’t understand why they were unable to cast it out, so Jesus tells them about a mustard seed.

Our pastor was using these passages in scripture as an example of how faith works. That it only takes the smallest, really almost microscopic, amount of faith to move whatever your mountain, because nothing is too large for God to accomplish. But as he was telling the story, I couldn’t help but think that maybe there was more to the story, maybe it wasn’t just about how faith works, but also about how misplaced faith never works.

In the story, Jesus says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” and I love the Contemporary English Version which states, “You people are too stubborn to have any faith.” When he says this, Jesus is not only talking to the people who are continually hounding him for a miracle, but because they ask about why they couldn’t do it, he’s also talking to his disciples. He tells them they have a faith problem, that they “don’t have enough faith,” and that if they had “faith no larger than a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move and it would.” A mustard seed is really, really small, and Jesus tells them that they didn’t have even the tiniest bit of faith. 

Wait, what? They didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed? That would be like having no faith at all, and they’d been healing the sick and such all day, so they had to have something, right? It occurred to me right then, what Jesus was alluding to. It wasn’t necessarily that they had no faith, but moreover that their faith was resting in the wrong hands. It was misplaced. They had started to convince themselves that they were the reason the miracles were happening, they got full of themselves, and when they came up against a hard one, they lost sight of God, lost faith and gave up. Their faith in their own abilities had begun to eclipse their faith God’s ability, and because of that, they had no faith.

Whenever we forget about the “one who brought us,” failure is always waiting in the wings.  We lose faith, because we realize that we can’t, and we forget that with and through God, nothing is impossible! That’s why he told them about a mustard seed. Saying look you don’t even need a lot of faith. All you need is faith the size of this small seed, because that small seed, when planed in your heart grows into something much larger than yourself – trust me just this little bit and see where it takes you, and what you are able to accomplish, put your faith in me, instead of in yourselves.

It also got me thinking of Lazarus. Jesus wept for his friend, and just before he called Lazarus out of the tomb, he said a little prayer, he said, “Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew you always hear me, but I said this on account of  those standing around, that they may believe…” And this, to me, is the most powerful example of faith; a simple prayer that doesn’t ask God if He can, but rather states, “I know You hear, I know You can – thank You.”

~SLM

What About The Law

Many Christians today don’t think they should follow the law, because they reason, they are covered by the blood of the lamb, and therefore are not in need of the law. We don’t need to follow the “Jewish” laws, because that’s legalism, and isn’t legalism what Christ taught against, when he called the lawyers and teachers of his day hypocrites?

Is this, in fact, truth, or just something we want to be true, something we tell ourselves in order to justify our own idea of what God’s plan entails? What about the Ten Commandments? Christians certainly believe in those. Are they not a part of the law? Christ himself said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). In fact, he goes on to say that “not one pen stroke of it would pass away until God’s purposes were complete.”

So what about the law, and what does it mean to be under the law? I heard an excellent example the other day from Adam at The Parable of The Vineyard YouTube channel, and it went something like this:
When you drive your car down the street and you go the speed limit you are abiding by the law. But let’s say you roll through a 25 mph school zone at 35 mph and you get pulled over. The police officer gives you a ticket, and a summons to appear in court. You are now no longer abiding by the law, but are under it. You can only be under the law, when you violate it and a penalty has been assessed, in this case a fine.

So, let’s also say that when you get to court, a concerned parent from the school offers to pay your fine, and all he asks in return is that you abide by the law, and not speed in the school zone. The judge then releases you, and are once again living according to the law. Now, when you leave the court, do you immediately go out and race through a school zone again, or do you think of the concerned parent who paid your debt?
Here’s the paradox: If we live by the law, we are not under it. It is only when we break the law that we find ourselves under it, because breaking it, like living by it, has consequences.

This is how it is with Christ. We acknowledge that he paid the penalty for us, but does that mean we are free to ignore the law, say that it doesn’t matter, because Jesus paid and I don’t have to? He told the adulteress, when all her accusers had disappeared, “Go, and sin no more.”

God’s commandments are not an arbitrary set of rules that we can follow or not according to our own desires, but an expression of the attributes of love, God’s love for us. In total, he gave Israel, his set-apart people, 613 commands. Of those 613 rules to live by, He wrote the first 10 with his own hand, which suggests they must be pretty important. In fact, all 613 can be encapsulated in those first ten. They are how we show God our love, and how we can also reflect His love to others. And, the ten can also be subdivided into just two, the two Christ spoke of in Matthew 22, when he said all the law could be summed up by this: Love God, and love your neighbor.

“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” One to four are all about loving God.

1. You shall have no other Gods before me. Number one is about loyalty: Love is Loyal.
2. You shall not make for yourself graven images, no idols that you might bow down to or serve. Number two is about faithfulness: Love is Faithful.
3. Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain, don’t misuse it, do not bring God’s name to naught. Number three is about reverence: Love is Revenant.
4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Time set-apart on a recurring and regular basis to spend with God. Number four is about intimacy: Love is Intimate.

“And the second is like unto it; love your neighbor as yourself.” Six to ten are about loving your neighbor.

5. Honor your mother and father. Show them you are grateful for all they have done for you, indeed given up for you, and that you value their guidance. Number five is about respect: Love is Respectful.
6. Do not commit murder. This one seems straight forward, right? But it’s not because it also applies to gossip as gossip is, in reality, a form of murder, since it assassinates character. Number six is about harmlessness: Love is Harmless.
7. You shall not commit adultery. Keeping sacred the special bond of marriage that is the foundation of the family unit. Number seven is about purity: Love is Pure.
8. You shall not steal. Taking what does not belong to you is the epitome of selfishness, and emphasizes getting rather than giving. Number eight is about generosity: Love is not selfish, but Generous.
9. You shall not bear false witness. Don’t speak falsely, lie, speak unjustly, or devise ways to deceive others. Number nine is about truthfulness: Love is Truthful.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. We should not crave nor desire what is not ours. Number ten is about contentment: Love is Content.

Christ tells us in John 14:15, “If you love, keep my commandments.” 1 John 2:5 says that if we keep doing what he (Jesus) says, then love for God has truly been brought to its goal in us, and we are also told in 1 John 5:3 that loving God means obeying his commands, and that his commands are not burdensome.

~SLM

Who Is To Blame, Anyway?

Here’s what’s been stuck in my head for the last several weeks: 1 John 1:8 which states “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us.”  We say these words as often as we recite liturgy, yet we seldom take time to analyze them, to really understand what they mean, what we say by reciting them.

When we refuse to admit that we are sinners, we are basically saying that we are blameless, and we can do this in a myriad of ways. We can reject our own guilt, we can deny that we are wrong in our thinking or our actions, or we can hold ourselves guiltless for the events of our lives. If we claim to be blameless, that an action we take, or even the result our actions, the reaction, is not our fault, then what we really claim is that we are without sin. It’s a splendid falsehood, making excuses for our behavior, claiming that we can’t help ourselves, but to act in a certain manner, in irrational and self-obsessive ways, figuring that if we lie to ourselves enough times, the lie will become truth. It’s so easy to make excuses, to lead ourselves astray, to give ourselves a “get out of jail free” card by twisting our perception; by looking at it wrongly and telling ourselves that we are justified in our delusions, because the situation was fostered upon us rather than created by us, or the result of what we have done.

Holding ourselves blameless is the ultimate avoidance of responsibility, of saying that we are not the liar, the cheater, the deceiver, the thief; we are instead the victim or our behavior, not the perpetrator of it.  So, who is to blame, anyway? If it’s not us, who? 1 John 1:10 tells us this: “if we say (claim) we have not sinned, we contradict His Word and make Him out to be false and a liar.” And, for this reason, we cannot have the truth in us, because we must accept responsibility for what we say to and how we treat each other, if we intend to lead truthful and authentic lives.

~SLM