I’ve been traveling a lot in the past month since I took off for Des Moines, Iowa, from Orlando, Florida, on October 7th to attending the wedding of my youngest nephew (see my last two blog posts titled, “A Love Song,” and “You Can Go Home Again”). I’ve covered over 3,500 miles of highways traveling through Atlanta, Nashville, southern Illinois and into Iowa to Des Moines; and then on my return trip back to Orlando I took a southern route hitting afternoon rush hour traffic in Kansas City and, again, rush hour traffic the next morning while traveling through Dallas/Fort Worth and east on I-20 into Louisiana and Mississippi with a stop in Biloxi for two nights before finishing the final leg of the trip to Orlando.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, once I got back to Orlando I decided it was time to travel to the west coast of Florida where I had previously lived for over four years to go through some boxes in my storage unit that I had put in it when I left that town to go to Orlando at the end of March 2014. I spent three days rummaging through my stuff and returned to Orlando, only to return again a few days later to that area as I decided there were a couple of things I want to keep with me that I had put in the storage unit. And that is where I am right now.
And again, as if I haven’t traveled enough lately (well, I do love road trips), in a scant two plus weeks and right before Thanksgiving I will be taking another road trip. This time it will be to Arkansas where I will be house sitting the home of my best friend and her husband while they are away for a period of time in Iowa taking care of her elderly mother.
Obviously, all of this traveling of late hasn’t left much time for blog post writing but that’s okay. With over 400 blog posts written during the past four plus years I can use a break every now and then. And I’ve been reminded of one thing over and over again during all of this traveling that I’ve been doing that I didn’t have a clue I would be doing when the month of October opened up. And that reminder is a fact that we all need to keep in mind while we are making our plans for the future–that life only unfolds one day at a time, and we really don’t know what a day may bring even with our best laid intentions and plans.
Jesus had a lot to say about living in the “now” and not worrying about tomorrow. In Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV) he made the following statement:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Lately, those last two sentences have given me pause for thought. We are, obviously, instructed not to worry about our lives. However, at the end of this passage in verse 34, Jesus states that “. . . tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” To think that each day will have enough trouble of its own can be a bit challenging. It’s as if he is telling us that there will be no easy days for us to look forward to just enjoying. However, the Message Bible states verse 34 in this way which makes the meaning a bit more clear:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
While this entire passage is about the subject of worry (or anxiety) and that we should not be consumed by it, the verse that holds the key is verse 33:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (NIV) (these things being the things mentioned in the previous verses in vv. 25-32).
The Message Bible states verse 33 like this:
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Don’t worry about missing out” . . . . There is a big difference between being involved in “religious activities” and “steeping our lives in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions,” which extends way beyond what we “do” (as in activities). With that being said, I’m not implying there is anything wrong with being involved in religious activities. It, instead, is a “letting go” of every conception we have about how life should be lived (especially in the “religious” realm) and letting God lead the way from the moment we wake up each day until we lay our heads on our pillows at night.
We tend to put a “halo” on “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” and miss the entire point of what Jesus was and is saying about seeking his kingdom and his righteousness. We too often make it a “religious activity” in and of itself, and that is the opposite of what Jesus meant for us to be doing. He meant for us to be living it, not merely going through the motions of being involved in some “religious activity” in the hope of earning whatever it is we think we are earning (heaven, Jesus, etc.). Again, I’m not saying that being involved in religious activities is wrong. It is a matter of the heart and attitude, and not just the mind and/or going through the motions of doing particular activities or looking “Christian” on the exterior in order to appear “Christian” to others and ourselves.
It really does come down to the issue of love. A person can be cold as ice and still be involved in religious activities and think he or she is on the right path to God. For example, grim faces and scolding looks are a dead giveaway. And, we can even hide behind a big smile with all the right words while privately judging others harshly who we think don’t quite fit in. However, without genuine love, we are nothing. Let me repeat that again . . . Without love, we . . . are . . . nothing. And no amount of religious activities or “halo” wearing will change that. We can look and act the part, maybe even carry around a Bible, spout an “Amen” at an appropriate time, and still fool others and ourselves along the way. However, without love, it means nothing.
1 Corinthians 13 (the chapter on what genuine love looks and acts like) is not just a nice little passage on love to be read at wedding ceremonies. It is a way of life, and without it, we have no life. That is not to say that we aren’t alive (as in breathing). We, obviously, do exist and we live our lives pretty much the way we want to or according to a set of rules we think we should be following, but there is no life apart from love. Not genuine life. 1 Corinthians 13 states:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
And that is the Kingdom of God. It’s about love–24/7–in the good, the bad, and the truly ugly of life. The classic passage on God’s love is John 3:16-18:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
When Jesus hung on the cross, the people who put him there were the religious folks of his day. They had all of the appearances of “looking good” and acting religious in front of others and claiming to love God, but they were completely void of love–for God, definitely for Jesus, and for anybody else. Jesus’ worst enemies were the religious folks; the folks who thought they had it right but actually had it so incredibly wrong.
And down through the ages things have not changed. Only a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ built on love can change us, and all of the religious activities in the world means nothing without it. And if we mock or make fun of anyone, we have lost, and we do not love. And we are the losers as we have missed the entire message of the cross.
Many of the religious folks of Jesus day didn’t get it, and that is the same today. In Jesus’ statement to his disciples in John 15:18-25, he stated something that is still true today regarding his disciples:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
The Message Bible states that passage (John 15:18-25) as follows:
“If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.
“When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them.
“They are going to do all these things to you because of the way they treated me, because they don’t know the One who sent me. If I hadn’t come and told them all this in plain language, it wouldn’t be so bad. As it is, they have no excuse. Hate me, hate my Father—it’s all the same. If I hadn’t done what I have done among them, works no one has ever done, they wouldn’t be to blame. But they saw the God-signs and hated anyway, both me and my Father. Interesting—they have verified the truth of their own Scriptures where it is written, ‘They hated me for no good reason.’”
We don’t often hear messages about the world at large hating the followers of Jesus. For one thing, we often congregate with other Christians, and we are oblivious to (or look down on) those around us who are not on the same page as us. Because we still tend to think of America as a Christian nation, we live in a sheltered world of our own making that really doesn’t exist. The Gospel causes division wherever it is found (see Jesus’ statements in Luke 12:49-53 and Matthew 10:34-37 (NIV)–also in MSG version; also, click this link for a brief explanation to the question, “Did Jesus come to bring peace or not?”), and this is true throughout the Old and New Testaments, too. The apostle Paul and the disciples of Jesus along with his other followers did not suddenly have an easy life when they came to believe in Jesus Christ. If fact, some of them gave up pretty cushy lives for the sake of the Gospel (the Apostle Paul, for example). In fact, Paul, as a Pharisee named Saul before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, hunted down and had killed the followers of Jesus. And that kind of division really hasn’t changed at all today. Just look at the number of terrorists groups in our world today who are murdering and persecuting Christians (as well as others who don’t believe like they do). We only have to look as far as Syria and Iraq, and other places around the globe, to see the severe persecution of Christians by terrorist groups like ISIS.
The greatest difference between Christianity and all other religions is that Christianity is founded on love–love for others including our enemies, and a lack of retaliation for a wrong suffered. It isn’t easy to live that way; in fact, it is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit to genuinely change us from the inside out. And if we don’t allow God his rightful ownership over our lives, we can’t mask very well our hatred for those who we don’t like very much. As Christians, we can’t say we love Jesus and hate our enemies at the same time, or treat our neighbors unjustly, or judge others without mercy. Yet that happens more then it should among us who claim to follow after Jesus. The truth is that the kingdom of God cannot be found in those who hate others, and it doesn’t matter what the reason is for their hatred. We only fool ourselves if we have no love for others, and that includes all others, even those we love to hate.
As for the issue of “religious activities,” there are a whole lot of “religious activities” going on out there today that, in the end, won’t mean anything. Again, it’s not about the actual activities but rather the motives behind the activities that count. And many folks, just like the religious folks in Jesus’ day, who are involved in them will never “get it,” either. If love is not at the core of everything we do, everything we believe, and how we treat others (as in all others–with no exceptions), in the end nothing that we do will matter. Nothing. And it’s a tragedy that existed in Jesus’ day and down through the centuries to us living today.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For God so love the world that He gave his one and only Son . . . .
Without love . . .
We are nothing . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here