So, Why the Second?

The Greatest Commandment

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:34-40 (NIV)

If you grew up going to church you have probably heard The Great Commandment recited or alluded to countless times. In the Christian faith, we accept these words without question. If you put your faith in God, it makes sense that you love Him with everything you have. It’s also accepted that we are to love our neighbours; it is the outward manifestation of our inward (or upward) faith. These two tenants are the basis of Christianity.

Not long ago, I heard, for the umpteenth time, this passage quoted at church and something new struck me. Why did Jesus add the second command? He was asked what the greatest was, and He answered that. He didn’t combine the 2 into one command; they were given as separate commands in the Old Testament, and considering He was answering a “expert in the law”, it makes sense that He kept them separate. He didn’t preface His answer by saying there are two commands that are considered the greatest, but He clearly indicated that the second, if not equal, is as close as you can get. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, and there were other times He corrected people on their interpretation. He could have taught that the two Laws were really two parts of one Law if He had seen fit to do so.

So why make it clear that the second command goes right along with the first? Again, after decades of this being ingrained into my thinking, it seems rather obvious that I honour God by loving those I come into contact with. As I pondered these, it seems to me that He wanted to make sure it was understood that you can’t ignore people in the name of honouring God; that devotion to God was not an excuse to discriminate or reject a person.

Maybe the first thing that comes to mind are people who use their interpretation of the Bible to justify hate. And while those people are out there, there are plenty of other times throughout scripture that behaviour is condemned. Jesus wouldn’t have to emphasize not hating people in this conversation.

Maybe there is a different antonym of love that Jesus had in mind. We often think of hate being the opposite of love, but what if we apply Eliezer Wiesel’s famous quote “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”? Or maybe instead of indifference we use judgement, justice or personal agenda?

I imagine that for each of us there is a time when we feel that we can justify our lack of showing love to someone is completely justified because we can point to the fact that doing so would be compromising on our effort to honour God, but I can’t think of a situation where that would actually be true.

This passage has taken on a new meaning for me. No longer do I read it as honour God and love your neighbour; it’s honour God by loving your neighbour.

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Lessons from a Rubik’s Cube

My son recently purchased a Rubik’s Cube. With him seeming to have interest in the puzzle, I decided that I should learn how to solve them. Well… maybe the fact that it was sitting there on the counter in its messed up, chaotic, state just mocking me was more of the motivation behind me wanting to solve it. Either way, I decided I needed to know how to get the thing back in order. In doing so, I learned a few lessons along the way.

Lesson One: No Shortcuts

To learn how to solve it, I went to the place that holds all the answers: Facebook (and you thought I was going to say the Bible). I found a video that claimed to show an algorithm that works every time. It went through the 25 steps and voila! the Cube was solved. After a few attempts using this method, my cube was nowhere near solved. As I scrolled down into the comments, I read how this video was a fake and done to mock those who argue that those who solve them quickly are cheating.

Lesson Two: Different approaches work for different people.

So, with Facebook having let me down, I turned to another source of great knowledge: Youtube. There, I found a video that would show me the different algorithms needed to solve the Cube. The problem was that with no real experience, the formulas weren’t solidifying in my head. I tried for a few minutes to follow along, but soon was lost and frustrated. While I am sure that for some that approach worked, I needed another way for it to be explained. Luckily for me, I found a clip that walked you through the Cube using plain language and step by step instructions with minimal algorithms. I knew what the goal was and worked my way to getting the Cube solved.

Lesson Three: Not the same every time

Once I solved it once (using my handy cheat sheet) I tried to solve it again. And once I did, I scrambled the Cube for a third time and solved it again… and again… and again – until I didn’t need the sheet. What I noticed was that sometimes I had to do a certain step twice or three times, other times I could completely skip a step. Every time is not exactly the same, but if you take stock of where the pieces are, you can eventually get them into the right place.

Lesson Four: You don’t have to understand how or why

I have now solved the Rubik’s Cube about 25 times. I still don’t quite understand why certain things work the way they do, and how the movements solve the Cube and not destroy the work already done. Sometimes, I have to backtrack and get to a place where I know how to go forward. Other times, I am surprised at how far along the path to completing it I am. What I have learned is that if I follow the steps, I can get it back to its solved state.

Conclusion:

As I reflected back on learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube, I realized that there are some parallels not only to life in general but to the Christian walk.

There are no shortcuts – You grow in your faith by putting the time in. Spending time in God’s word, in prayer and in fellowship with our believers.

There are different paths to Christ – Coming to faith in Christ doesn’t happen to same for everyone. There is no magic formula. As we share Christ’s love with others, they won’t always respond to the same things.

No two of us are the same – Everyone has their own path to walk. You may go through trials that I don’t to lead you where you need to go. God’s path for each of us is different, and the steps we take are in His hands.

We don’t always see the reason – We won’t always understand what God is doing, or why He is doing it, but if we trust in Him, He will work it out for our benefit. Maybe we see in the end the reason for that journey, or maybe we don’t – but it all is designed to be a completed work.

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Going Nowhere Fast

On my way to work, I drive for a stretch on a country road. It’s a two-lane road lined with forests and farm fields. While I do enjoy the scenery, the reason that I travel that path is that there is little traffic on it. I strongly dislike traffic and much prefer this route, complete with the occasional horse and buggy, to one that is more heavily travelled.

The one thing about travelling on long, straight and rarely patrolled back roads is that there are some who ignore the speed limit completely. I have, more than a few times, had a car blow past me travelling well in excess of the posted rate. I don’t mind being passed. I understand some people want to go faster than I do.

I realize that people are busy and on schedules, and the faster you drive, the more you feel like you are making up time (even if, mathematically speaking, you have to travel either very fast or very far to make much difference). What I have found amusing is that most times I am passed on my way to work, I catch up to them when we get to the stoplight at the end of the road. So while it may have felt like they were getting to their destination quicker, all they accomplished was using more gas to wait longer for the light to turn green.

Our lives can be a lot like this. We stress about getting here and there, accomplishing our lists and meeting deadlines and at the end of the day, it seems that we are no further ahead. What is worse is when we let the stress of trying to get things done interfere with our interactions with the people around us; either by not making the time for them or by acting and speaking to them in a way that hurts them.

During the school year I am often trying to get my kids out of the house on time so that they can get to school and I can get to work. I am a huge fan of punctuality, and I hate being late. I drop my kids off well before the bell, but I do this so that I can get to the office for the start of my day. While a few minutes delay doesn’t make any difference to them, it would cause me to be late.

There have been times, more than I can care to count, where I have said things I wish I hadn’t out of frustration of how long it is taking them to get into the car. I am not even sure what my goal was in chastising their lack of motivation – guilt them into being quicker tomorrow? Here’s the thing – so what if I am a couple minutes late for work? No one is sitting at my desk making sure I am in on time. Sure, regular or excessive tardiness may result in some sort of warning, but at this point, any consequence I would face is not worth getting my children’s day off to a rough start. I need to just accept that that morning I may be a couple minutes late and adapt accordingly the next.

In many ways, it is hard to avoid the rush of life. For all the convenience items and appliances, we have “things” that fill up our time. I know I need to consciously stop and make time for what is really important – my God and the people He has brought into my life. Because in the end, we all get to the stoplight, and realize the journey wasn’t about getting to the end, but enjoying the ride.

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Consistent

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t written in a few weeks. While there are a few reasons for this, including vacation, the main one is that my thoughts have been more and more tied up trying to make sense of the news headlines from around the world. You may have picked up on this if you read my past few posts. I didn’t start writing this blog to give my opinion on current events, at least not as political commentary, but to share my experience as I walk through life with my Heavenly Father. So, I took a few weeks to clear my mind (which vacation helps with!) and refocus on sharing about my relationship with God.

While I am not here to give my opinion on the latest headline, I will share with you one of the characteristics of God that I have a new appreciation for as I read the news: God’s consistent nature.

As I was reading news articles, the frustrating part of it was trying to figure out how bias affected opinions and how much of the article was based in facts. While everyone has a bias, how much that bias interjects into their opinion can sometimes be hard to tell. With God, there is no bias in the message. He has consistently said and done the same things for millennia. He loves us and longs to have us love Him back. He works for our benefit, even if we sometimes can’t see it. There is no manipulation, only a steady stream of care.

God doesn’t change to impress us or tp get us to love Him more. There is no hidden or ulterior motives in the way He works. Everything is to bring us closer to him. God’s message doesn’t change to make it fit into what we want. If you don’t like the offer, it is your’s to reject. He doesn’t like it, but respects our choice. God doesn’t need us – and there is only one thing we can give Him that He doesn’t, but default, already have – our worship.

Does God want to be glorified and praised? YES! But He is deserving of that praise. We worship God not because of what He can do for us, but because of what He has already done. He will literally give us more than we can imagine for all of eternity in exchange for accepting His forgiveness. Let that sink in, a full portion of His glory is ours if we accept that we owe him an unpayable debt. While no metaphor could ever do that justice, it is like someone giving you a trillion dollars to say “sorry” for burning down their mansion and garage full of priceless automobiles.

In a world where everyone seems to spin the story for their benefit, and opinions are based on what we want to believe, God’s message and approach remains markedly consistent. He doesn’t bend to the masses to gain their approval or throw dirt on those who don’t accept Him as their God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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Biblical Justification

A little over a year ago, I had a coworker who was the closest thing to an enemy I have ever had. There is no need to go into antics and attitudes; it is suffice to say that we did not get along or like each other. One day, he wanted to run out to grab some lunch. Our office was a few blocks, walking distance, from a number of restaurants, but he didn’t feel like walking, so he asked me if he could borrow my car to run and grab some lunch. With my whole being I wanted to tell him “no” in many different ways, most of them of the not-very-nice variety.

If it had been someone I got along with, someone I would refer to as a friend, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation. I probably would have tossed them the keys and made a joke about making sure they filled it up before they returned it. As I handed the keys over, presuming that any joke would be met with a snarky remark, I didn’t say much, if anything, as he headed out the door.

Another coworker, who was very aware of my “displeasure” with working with this individual looked at me in shock and said, “Why didn’t you just say no?” I turned to her and said, “I couldn’t think of a good reason not to let him.” The only justification I had for my actions was that the Bible instructs to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Using Scripture to justify one’s actions isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout history, including events recorded in the Bible, people have used God’s word to justify their actions, both good and bad. While I am sure you can think of many examples, at least one has been in the news recently, the truth is that if you are using the Bible to justify your actions, it should only be because you are showing more mercy than was to be expected, or more grace than others would, or more love than is required. The Bible should never be used as justification for hate, causing harm or treating others in any way that you would not welcome on yourself.

We have all heard the “Golden Rule”, and while there are many different wordings, Jesus made sure to give us the example we should follow – “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). What makes Jesus’ phrasing unique is that, while other versions of the Golden Rule focus on not doing harm, Jesus opens the door to going above and beyond the norm. In other words, Jesus is not just saying “don’t be mean to each other”; He is saying “go out of your way to be nice to each other.”

Now, my story above is not the norm for me. It is the most extreme example from my life I could think of, and even at that, it wasn’t like I did it with a joyful spirit. In truth, I try to be nice and treat others with respect, but I seldom find myself doing something that others would react to as more than what is expected. So as I reflect on the world around me, I am resolved to make sure that I am erring on the side of love so that I might be a light in this world. That way if I am ever asked why my actions were out-of-line with what was anticipated, I can gladly say “because the Bible says…”

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The Long Game

We have all seen a situation where the short-term fix is favoured to the long-term solution. In sports, General Managers will trade top prospects for proven talent in an attempt to win now. In politics, decisions are made by the ruling party in an attempt to stay in power. In business, quarterly profits are the driving force behind many decisions. Even in raising children, we make decisions sometimes to just try to get through a hectic day.

The problem with the “short game” is that the consequences of pursuing short-term success can often cause long-term pain. Looking at the scenarios above, we can all think of an example of a team that languished at the bottom of the standings for years because they traded away future stars, or a government that created huge debts by spending to win the vote, or a business that went bankrupt because their quick fixes never resulted in a long-term strategy.

Our human nature desires instant results. We want it all, and we want it now. We want results, and we will deal with the effects of those decisions later – we let “future me” worry about those things. We have to learn to plan for the future – put off the instant desires and consciously focus on what is best in the long-term.

God is the master of the “long game”. He is patient and works His purpose out over time. He doesn’t take a shortcut or sacrifice the overall plan for a quick win. After walking through the Old Testament this year, I have a new appreciation for how God was patient with His people and worked to keep them on track so that when the time was right, Jesus could come and fulfill His purpose.

Maybe there is no better example of God rejecting the “short game” than when Christ was in the desert and being tempted by Satan. Jesus rejected the opportunity to take the easy way out because He knew that path would lead to ultimate defeat. He had to be patient, wait for things to fall into place and stay true to His mission.

When it comes to our spiritual growth, we need to keep our eye on the long-term goal as well. We don’t want to go through the trials and the growing pains, but they are so important. We don’t become the people we are without going through the hard times. “You learn more from failure than you do from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.” Though it is not known who first coined the phrase, we have all found it to be true.

God doesn’t promise us the easy life if we put our faith in Him – in fact, Jesus warns that we will endure hardship for His sake and that it is the narrow path, not the wide one, that leads to Him. God isn’t a genie in a bottle waiting to grant us our every wish; He is the potter who is shaping the clay, molding it to become a beautiful creation. We can’t rush the process. There is no substitute for experience. We need to simply draw close to Him and allow Him to work in us. He is patient and loving, and if we just let him sculpt us to become the creation He wants us to be, the results will be glorious.

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Time to Talk

They say there are two things you should never talk about at work: politics and religion. I am just guessing here, but I don’t think it’s because they are two fascinating subjects and productivity would go down as employees lost track of time joyfully discussing them.

As for politics, I think we should start talking about it more, and more importantly, listen to each other. But this is not a political blog, so I won’t get into that any further. But as for religion – as Christians – we should not only welcome conversations about our faith, but pursue them.

For many years I didn’t look for the chance to share my faith at work. I didn’t hide it. Everyone knew I was a Christian, even commented on it. but I didn’t actively look to  engage in conversation about it. After all, doesn’t Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 tell us to always be prepared when someone asks? It doesn’t say to volunteer the information.

The Bible tells us that our lives should be a reflection of our faith; be the same person on Monday as we are on Sunday, and I figured if I did that, God would lead people to me that would ask. On occasions they did, and I would be happy to converse with them about my beliefs, but those times were few and far between.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the taboo nature of religious conversation didn’t have an effect on my approach to religious talk at work. Not only did I want to avoid getting reprimanded for doing it (not that I was ever threatened with consequences) but I also didn’t want to alienate people as the “pushy Christian”.

I would like to think that most Christians conduct themselves so that those around them would notice their relationship with God. The problem with stopping there is that we are supposed to be changing the world, and it is very hard to do that when you meekly sit in your corner and wait for someone to come up to you and say “Hey, you seem like a nice person. I want to put my faith in whatever it is you put yours in”. That’s not going to happen (First off, no one talks like that.). Sure, meekness is good, but we need to be bold for Christ.

Here is the thing – it doesn’t take much to insert faith into conversation these days. I have found a number of different times lately where just sharing my point of view on a subject has opened the door to talking about my faith. You don’t have to push it into the conversation, or be controversial (anymore than Jesus was anyway), or even blatantly try to steer the conversation in a certain way. If you look, and ask God for the opportunity to share your faith, you will find that the conversations happen naturally.

It’s time to stop thinking that the unsaved will come to us when they are ready if we just behave ourselves. It’s time to stop keeping Jesus to ourselves and worry that they may not like that we talk about Him. It’s time to share, with gentleness, respect and love, the reason for our hope with the people we see everyday and need Jesus is every way.

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