Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” (Luke 5:13)
We often question out of our expectations and experiences, as if certain things can’t change. We see differences and proclaim, “Well, this can’t be right, because it’s not what I know to be true or normal.” But what if our ideas and expectations need to be tweaked?
They often do.
Just because someone or something doesn’t fit our cookie cutter molds doesn’t mean we should reject them. We can listen, learn, and when appropriate, change. Sometimes we accommodate what we learn into our existing ideas and practices, and the two meld together. Other times, we set aside what we encounter but not before learning from and wrestling with it. But when we simply reject things without filtering, either quickly or over time, it through truth, we miss out. Just because we don’t like something or it makes us uncomfortable is not a good reason to toss it aside.
Instead, we can search for truth among what we encounter, what we experience, and what we expect. And we can let that truth change us into who God wants us to become…instead of changing ourselves into what we most want.
“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” (Mark 5:36b)
It’s easier said than done much of the time.
I walked by a sign the other day that said, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” It’s not that fear doesn’t exist. We can’t just wish it away. We have to have something bigger than it, something that keeps it in check, in context, something that absorbs and handles it well.
Belief in and of itself doesn’t get rid of our fears. Some beliefs exacerbate fears. If we believe in the wrong things, undependable things, the fears are only masked, and when things are masked, they can grow in the dark where we hide them. Fears can grow and become something that they’re not.
Fears aren’t just the things we tremble about. They are also the quiet ways we think we’re missing out on something, the insecurities, the desires spurred by “what if.” Without true belief, our “what ifs” become unmanageable. We can’t control them like we thought we could, and they begin to control us. We begin to make decisions based on fleeting assumptions and feelings. We might feel certain at the time, but when we’re on shaky ground, it doesn’t take long for insecurities, regrets, and doubt to move in.
Belief isn’t easy. It’s an unrelenting effort. But it’s worth the effort in the long run.
Immediately the Spirit drove (Jesus) into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)
It happened right after Jesus was baptized. Off the the wilderness He was driven, and there He was for 40 days, with wild animals, being tempted by Satan.
And that’s how faith feels sometimes.
Following God doesn’t presume an easy path. When it gets hard, we want to run from the wilderness and find something that makes sense to us. We want comfort. We want something different. We often run to something, anything, that gives us temporary relief. We might find a path that is slightly easier, at least for a short jaunt, but in the long run?
In the long run, avoiding the not-so-easy path in the wilderness catches up to us. There are lessons we need to learn there, ways we need to reach out to and trust God. ways we can’t experience when we’re on the easy path, surrounded by what feels a bit more comforting to us. God gets to decide what we need and when we need it. When we avoid that, we avoid Him. And that comes at a great cost.
In fact, pretty much everything of great value in life comes at a great cost. Discerning the truth of the spiritual cost we’re paying takes effort and humility.
Where are you, and what is it costing you?
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Jesus answers Peter’s question with a parable of a man who was greatly forgiven, then refused to forgive a much smaller debt. Whether the debts against us are big or small, I wonder: How often do we not extend the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that God has extended to us?
I know, it’s easier to carry a grudge, to hang on to the hurt. It’s easier to remember the offense and recall it in a way that might punish the other person. We might want to hold the person in a cell, trapped by what he or she did.
But in that process, we trap ourselves, too. We can only truly experience the freedom we claim for ourselves and also extend to others.
Extending (and witholding) forgiveness is, in reality, accepting (or rejecting) freedom.
The Pharisees and Sadducees approached, and as a test, asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then He left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)
We need to be able to discern when people approach us with authentic curiosity and when they are only testing to find fault.
But notice how Jesus called them out. Here were people who were ready to recognize signs in nature, but look past the truth of Jesus right in front of them. That’s often the case today. People are willing to accept certain prophecies and signs and ideas that line up with their beliefs but can’t see truth in front of them. I suppose we’re all like that a bit. Our filters can get mixed up and clogged.
Hence, the need for discernment, which is sort of like keeping our filters clean and ready to sift through everything that comes our way.
Then Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
“Are even you still lacking in understanding?,” (Jesus) asked. (Matthew 15:15-16)
Even Jesus got frustrated and exhausted with discipleship. It’s a persistent process. Of course, Jesus stayed engaged. He worked through the difficult moments, because He knew how important the process was.
How committed are we to discipleship? How often do we walk away because of disinterest, misunderstandings, or frustrations? How ready and willing are we to explain, wrestle with, and listen to people as they grow?
It takes effort, patience, and humility.
And it is necessary and worthwhile.
I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37)
Careless words get us into trouble.
What exactly qualifies a word as careless? Anything we speak without giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors. It’s the words we speak without enough concern. And that concern involves so many aspects. Concern for truth. Concern for impact. Concern for motivation.
Just a few verses before, we find, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Matthew 12:33-34)
Careless describes our words and our motivations. It also describes us.