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

And When You Pray…


Prayer is such a tricky subject. It’s a concept we all think we know, one that we tend to overuse as well as over simplify, but is it really as straight forward and easy as we assume? When asked, most people today, would say that it’s a one-on-one conversation with God, and that’s not entirely wrong. It is that, but it is also a great deal more.

For context, here’s how the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines prayer:

an address (such as a petition) to God (or a god) in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

And the word pray is defined as:

to entreat, to implore, to address God (or a god) with adoration, confession, supplication or thanksgiving

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us about prayer, what it is, what it is not, and that we should pray in a certain way. He says, “don’t make a big show of it, so that others can congratulate you on how great a “prayer” you are. If you do that, you are really praying for your own benefit, for your own praise. And, he says that there is no need for using lots of empty phrases, thinking that the bigger and more elaborate your prayer, the better. God knows what you need, before you ask him, so pray like this:”

Our father who art in heaven hollowed be thy name – Our creator, our progenitor, who resides in eternity, whose name is sacred to us, holy. We acknowledge and remember Your rightful status, Your greatness.

Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – We recognize your sovereignty and authority in all things, and pray for Your will to be done, not ours, even when we don’t understand it, and especially when we think it is “wrong.”

Give us this day, our daily bread – Feed us, Lord, each day, not just our bodies, but also with “the bread of life.” Help us to know and understand your Word, fill us with your wisdom.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – Forgive us for our transgressions into your realm, for trying to fill your shoes, for how we fall short, for grieving your Holy Spirit, and give us the courage, the strength and temerity to forgive those who have wronged us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (the evil one) – Lead us away from the things that tempt us, the things that ensnare us and hold us in bondage, that mire us down in hopelessness and deceit, and save us from ourselves, from our propensity to make the wrong choices. Help us to recognize evil in all its forms and give us the strength to overcome, to turn our back, to walk away from it, as You did in the desert.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever – It’s your creation, Lord, your playground, you are the potter, and it is through your might, your will, your love that you distinguish yourself, striking awe into the hearts of men that they may sing your praises without end.

I find it rather curious that in his example, Christ uses “our” and “us,” not “me” and “my.” As if to say, pray collectively while you pray individually. It also occurs to me that prayer was never meant to be about us individually, like a laundry list of things we’d like to get done, but an all encompassing notion that’s done best when we pray for more than just ourselves. Daniel didn’t pray for just himself, but for the whole nation of Israel (Daniel 9:4-19), and when Job prayed, it was his friends that he prayed for. As a result, the Lord restored his fortunes, giving him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)

Whether we call it meditation, supplication, or whatever other name that strikes our fancy, prayer is a powerful tool. It’s something we all practice in one form or another, whether we realize it or not.  In Ephesians 6:18, Paul encourages us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

~SLM

Our Daily Bread

“Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matt 6:11)

Flat Breads
When I was a kid, I could tell when my mom was baking from halfway down the block. Even today, the smell of goodies fresh from the oven evokes a certain sense of comfort, abundance, blessing and love. There’s just something about bread that speaks to the human psyche. It’s something we share with each other in the spirit of fellowship, something for which many people around the world will stand in line for hours hoping to get, and something we long for in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we are forgetful about how lucky we are to have “daily bread” in our lives and how thoroughly God provides for us. I’m reminded of Exodus 16, which tells the story of the manna, and how the Israelites, who had been liberated from their oppression for just a little over 2 months, began grumbling and complaining. All they could think about was food, not how they had been miraculously saved from oppression, but how hungry they were, even telling themselves how much better it was in Egypt, because there, at least, they had their “daily bread.”

The Israelites were indeed hungry, and in a way that went far beyond their physical need for food, they just didn’t know it. Daily bread is more than mere sustenance. It’s a yearning to recover what was lost at the fall of Eden, an unconscious desire to hear the voice of God. In Matthew 4, after he had fasted for forty days, Christ was confronted by the “tempter,” who said, “If you are the son of God, order these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, stating, “it is written, that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Today, we’re not so unlike the Israelites of Moses’ day. We, too, are hungry, to the point of starving. We pine for our youth, for that time when every word from the mouth of God seemed far simpler to believe, and far less complicated to hear. We search for it in churches that seem to be more like social clubs, than sacred spaces to “tabernacle” with the Lord. We listen to preachers who are more interested in teaching us “political correctness” rather than God’s righteousness. When we pray for daily bread, we’re asking God to provide us with more than a marble rye to fill our bellies, or a good story with some anecdotal truth attached, we’re asking Him to fill us with the everlasting bread of His holy spirit, His presence in our daily lives so that we may be counted among the blessed.

How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled. (Matt 5:6)

~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

Do as I Say…

Funny how this seeking for a higher meaning works, just when you think you’ve got something figured out, your turn your perspective a fraction of a degree, and suddenly it’s a whole new landscape.  There are certain verses that seem to return again and again, to show you that what you thought you knew was, in reality, only a small sampling of a greater truth, a greater equation, and that’s why I’ve landed back on Isaiah 29:13, which states, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,”  It’s not just about being estranged from God, but also about duplicity; about our persistent habit of commingling words and actions, our false logic of substitution in which we assume our words and actions are interchangeable, and our expectation that others do what we cannot ourselves do.

We can say all the right things in flowery prose and elegant verse. We can talk our fool heads off about what is right, what is fair, what we think others should do, or be willing to do. We can be as socially acceptable and politically correct as the best little soldier out there, but the true test of where we live is in the heart, and while we can say anything, and oft times we actually do, our actions are the reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. The heart is where action resides. If we say we are against bullying, but bully others in order to prove they are bullies, then we become what we call, we use our lips to prove our “rightness” while showing what lives in our hearts: a bully. We can talk of peace and cooperation, we can take others to task for what they say or don’t say, but if our actions don’t back up our lips, we are nothing but liars, hypocrites.  We can talk a big game, but when it comes right down to it, our hearts reveal our true intent, our true thoughts and feelings, our true core beliefs, and how we act speaks to what is in our hearts.

Words and actions are not the same; they do not bear the same weight. While words can be illuminating, clarifying, and insightful, they can also be deceiving, misguided and false. Actions on the other hand, are like a mirror; they merely reveal and reflect who we are in our heart of hearts.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5)

~SLM

The Meek

In my quest to find wisdom through scripture, I come back again and again to certain passages. Today I’m stuck on the Sermon on the Mount and the meek. In Matthew 5:5, we are taught, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and I’m preoccupied with how we apply this teaching to ourselves, so we can live wiser, more peace-filled lives. Perhaps it would be better understood, if it read, “Blessed are the gentle, the humbly patient, for they will reap the rich reward of their calm endurance.”

This goes hand-in-glove with being “poor” in spirit. It has everything to do with humility, and it means; don’t think you’re all that, because generally, you’re not.  In fact, when we’re full of ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to be humble, let alone be patient. In truth, when the ego is inflated, all else shrinks back, all else  becomes secondary, and we’re easily offended, easily angered, easily whipped up into a frenzy of self-righteous indignation over the tiniest of perceived slights – real or imagined. We convince ourselves that others think about us above all else, plotting, acting in a certain way, or doing something to us on purpose, when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When we’re “filled with the yeast of the Pharisees,” we leave little room for meekness.

When we’re meek, we understand and accept our own limitations. We are yielding and unassuming, filled with fortitude. It takes great strength and courage to admit to ourselves (and to God) that we don’t have it all together, don’t have any clue what to do next, don’t have all the answers. But meekness also suggests that we know and understand our strengths as well. If one is quiet and gentle, unassuming and calm, it’s an indication of conviction, of certainty. Understanding our strengths and weaknesses is what gives us the poise to remain calm in the face of controversy, to intentionally accept disagreeable circumstances which are beyond our control, to be still and wait for His direction, before charging forth into questionable actions and circumstances. 

There’s a profound connection between gentleness and not thinking you’re all that, and there’s also a connection between the “fear” (as in awe) of the Lord and meekness. The “fear” of the Lord is the cause of gentleness, of humble patience. Because, respecting God and being certain of His hand gives us the quiet confidence we need to press on, to endure with gentle patience the long tunnel, keeping our eyes fixed on the light, however dim it may seem at times, confident of the tunnel’s end, and the rich reward awaiting there. 

~SLM

The Narrow Path

Lately, I’ve been chewing on the book of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve’s epic fail in particular, considering what it says about human nature, and what wisdom can be gleaned from the account.  My nephew thinks I’m crazy to be fixed on a “silly old myth that doesn’t have much bearing on life in the modern world.” But, is that in fact true? Have we really “evolved” beyond a tale of choices and consequences, of responsibility and self-examination?

If you think about it, it’s really much more than a “silly old myth” about a man and woman, and a snake; it’s about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices, choices that, even now, in our modern “evolved” world, are presented to us every day of our lives in a myriad of forms. It’s also about taking responsibility for our choices, owning up to the mistakes we make, rather than pointing the finger at someone else.

In the Book “The Road Less Traveled,” psychologist M. Scott Peck, says, “Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity.” Blaming others for our behavior is nothing new, we’ve been doing this since time began. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and a quick look at the any newsfeed suggests that we haven’t changed much since. Dr. Peck goes on to say that when we blame it means “we then give away our power to that entity.” So Adam gave his power to Eve, and she in turn gave hers to the snake, absolving all, save the snake, of any wrongdoing, right? Not at all. Contrary to what we think we are doing, when we blame others for our actions, we aren’t exercising our “get out of jail free” cards, we are actually giving our power to those we blame, assigning the control over our lives to an outside force, making us hopeless, helpless, a victim.

Eve made a choice to eat the fruit and serve it to her husband. Adam made a choice to eat the fruit, even though he, too, knew it was forbidden. We all make choices, and we can choose whether or not to partake, yet if we do, we must know that there will surely be consequences. We can eat of the fruit, or not, but that road, if we choose to go down it, is wide and well-traveled, and where it leads? Well, that’s a different matter all together. And, making our way back? Well, as we have been told, “Small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

The narrow road is fraught with difficulties and challenges, because our desire to back up, to have a do-over, our resolve in the matter, will be tested again and again. Speaking truth in the face widespread dishonesty and doing what’s right, when no one else does, is not easy. Accepting our shortcomings, taking responsibility for them and resolving to change is harder still. Yet this story challenges us to confront the difficulties we face in life, to own up to our faults, to look for that “narrow” path. In truth, life is difficult, it’s unfair, no matter which path we take, but the difference is this: The narrow path teaches us so much more about ourselves, about the nature of reality, of God, and how we fit into the cosmic plan; it gives us perspective and teaches us perseverance, and trust, and leads us to life, and to God’s peace.

~SLM