Kindness

Charlie Chaplin once said, “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.” I couldn’t agree more.

As I thought about the great deficit of kindness and gentleness in the world, I suddenly landed on the notion of learning from toddlers, from special needs children, and from animals. These three groups have so much to teach us. Toddlers of course, are at the age of flexing their independence and they may at times be quite selfish. But watch what happens when someone is hurt or cries. A toddler will often move over to the hapless victim of misfortune and hug them or try to console them in some way.

The same sort of thing happens with special needs children with conditions like autism. While a child on the spectrum may be trying in so many ways, he can also be extremely empathetic and caring.

There are so many stories of how pets have the ability to sense emotional turmoil in humans, and they console them in ways that only pets can. For example, only recently, my wife and I were dealing with a thorny issue involving our son, and she was stressed and upset. Our wonderful cat, Ernie, hopped up on the couch and sat beside her and placed a paw on her leg, as if to remind her that things would be alright.

As we go through life, we see so many people who are beaten down and suffering. Too often, we pass them by and don’t give them a second thought. Maybe there is nothing that we can do to help them. Maybe their problems are beyond our scope and ability. But that doesn’t mean we can’t care, show kindness and gentleness and even mercy.

Of course, the Bible is replete with calls to kindness and mercy. So many people can quote the beatitudes, but too few apply them. In particular, Matthew 5.7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Now, this is not to say that we should offer mercy only in order to get it, an investment for an expected greater return. We should be merciful because it is the right thing to do. A consequence of being merciful is that we, too, obtain mercy. What is the difference? The first case cheapens the act to a tit-for-tat game or a business venture. The result of this would be that if we do not attain an acceptable return, we will no longer invest our mercy in that enterprise. The second view entails mercy for its own sake, with nothing tangible expected in return. This is true mercy, and the reward is much greater in the long run.

This concept of kindness and mercy is not a Judeo-Christian only talking point. Far from it. All great religions see the need for harmony among people. The way to achieve that is through kindness, caring, love and mercy. Many people are familiar with the Golden Rule, where Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them….” Sadly, knowledge and action are often far apart. In more recent times, the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” I think Jesus would approve of that message.

As I think about the Random Acts of Kindness movement, I have mixed feelings: on the one hand, any kindness is good. On the other, I believe kindness should in many cases be premeditated and systematic. It should be so until it becomes second nature, even automatic.

Imagine a world where every person looked after each other, lived kindness, not just performed perfunctory actions. That would be a revolution beyond any other, beyond political boundaries, beyond selfish pursuits, and truly into the realm of the divine.

And even if we are “only human,” we can dream of something better. Every achievement begins with a dream, a vision. Maybe it’s time to dream of a better human nature. Maybe then, “you’re only human” would be the highest form of praise, not just an excuse.

A Pause to Reflect on Reaching 100 Posts

It’s been an experience.

Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of indulging a life-long passion: writing.  I love to write as a means of self-expression, but also to entertain and enlighten.  I have often thought that if I could choose a different career, I would love to be a writer.  Not that anything I have ever written has ever been that good.  But I have poured my heart and soul into the essays I have crafted and shared with my willing readers.  You have seen more of the true me than I normally ever share in public.

I have never tried to force my words on anyone.  I have shared freely as a way to spark dialog and encourage people not to blindly accept anything, but rather to think for themselves.  God gave us all brains for a reason.  We need to use them, and often to keep the cobwebs swept out and protect the precious gift of free will.

So much of what I have written has been of a rather focused nature regarding issues that I believe have concerns for Christians who are heirs of a bold and noble historical movement, the Stone-Campbell Restoration.  That is my heritage, and I intend to remain with it because it is what I know best.  But while that is my heritage and my fellowship, my allegiance is not to any organization.  My faith, my hope is in Jesus, not in any particular wing or splinter group of any church.  Like Paul, I want to know Jesus as well as I possibly can; learn of him and from him.  I want his words to speak to me, not filtered through any group’s dogmas, written or unwritten creeds or assimilated doctrines.  As the hymn reminds, “He the great example is, and pattern for me.”  I am confident in my faith that I am what I am happily by his mercy, and most thankfully by his grace.  I am a Christian who neither requires nor demands any other description.

I hope that the things I have written have been of interest to the broader scope of Christendom as well, and even beyond.  As I have related, I lived for so long outside the door, as C.S. Lewis visualized. I could hear the fellowship, see the glow from within, but I could not make myself knock and ask for admission.  Not until I was able to set aside fear and embrace the essence of true Christianity: love.  The rich themes of love and mercy and grace play throughout all of scripture far more than fear.  If I have accomplished anything with these essays, I hope that someone may be challenged to lay aside fear or prejudice or misconceptions and embrace that essence.

As I have grown over these last few years in faith and insight, I have seen so much more of what God expects of his people.  He is love, and he expects us to be like him.  From the beginning mankind was expected to take care of God’s good creation.  That not only includes all of nature, but our fellow humans, as well.  Justice and mercy have been ongoing themes in things I have written, and they shall continue to be because they have become so deeply ingrained in me.

I welcome any and all to read these words.  Share them, think on them, consider them, but please do it in the spirit of charity with which they are always offered.  I have never set out to offend in anything.  If I have, I am deeply sorry for any misunderstanding that may have arisen.

In the wonderful classic motion picture, Chariots of Fire, the Christian missionary turned Olympian, Eric Liddell, delivers a line that I have remembered since the first time I saw the film.  He said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  I told my dad just this morning that I feel the same way when I write.  I pray that all that I have shared has been seen as it is intended: to glorify God.

So, as sort of a celebration of this landmark 100th post, here is a list of the top 10 most viewed essays as of 1 November 2014.  Many thanks to all who have read these posts and shared them with others.  Your encouragement has lifted my spirit on many dark days.

Exploring a Multidimensional Reality from the Human Nexus

Marcellus Gallio’s Defense Before Caligula, From “The Robe” (1953)

Coming to Terms with “Joy to the World”

Logic and the Turtle on the Fence Post

In Search of a Different Kind of Conservatism

Questions

When Ignorance Becomes Sin

Toward a Better Understanding of Atheism

Thoughts on Patterns, Examples, and Restoration

This may not be perfectly accurate, however, as the numbers only reflect the counts since I moved my blog over to Word Press.  For me, it’s sort of a walk down memory lane.

I look forward to many more opportunities to share observations and reflections.  As long as I have reasonable control of my mental faculties, I will continue to think, explore, and share with all who may be interested.  Without this forum, I might continue to write, but I would likely not have the strong drive to edit, correct and clarify.  Indeed, modern technology is quite a blessing.

I thank God for giving me a love for and a reasonable command of words.  And again, I thank every person who has taken the time to read and share any of these posts.

A Brief Meditation on the Tragic Fall and Triumphant Rise of Humanity

From ancient times, the human condition was degrading.  We were created in innocence and ensconced in a realm of perfection, never having been polluted by sin or evil.  But humanity was not content with perfection.  There must be more.  That one prohibition given to those innocents in the Garden was too restrictive, that forbidden fruit too tempting, that soothingly nagging voice too convincing to let the line go uncrossed. 

But perhaps the far-reaching effects of that one fateful decision were too cosmically cataclysmic for two innocent hearts, too inexperienced minds to fully contemplate or comprehend.  How do you know evil unless you have seen it face to face, heard its voice, felt the intensity of its burning cold emptiness?  How do you know loneliness without separation?  How do you know safety without danger? How do you know peace without conflict?

With that one decision, a curtain fell.  With one thought that traveled through still learning synapses, guiding a hand upward, reaching for something that should never have been considered; with one touch of something as apparently innocuous as a fruit, this universe was destroyed.  Not all at once.  But even as entropy patiently, inexorably claims order, the rift between eternal and mortal, soul and body, God and man had begun.

Through countless years of calls to order, pleas to return, invitations to reason, the rift continued to fray until perhaps this failing, corrupted creation reached a tipping point beyond which there could be no hope of redemption.  Whether that was the case, only God knows.  But it was then that God lit a candle in the darkness to guide us home should we choose to see it.  He opened the realm of the divine and let slip the hope of a restored creation.

He sent us Jesus.

Jesus’ earthly ancestry was a jumble of rogues and royalty, like most of us.  His birth was into humble circumstances, like most of us.  That birth was a miracle of life, as any birth is, but was even more miraculous through its circumstance.  His life was unremarkable in terms of worldly accumulation of wealth, like most of us, but the riches he imparted through his teaching were far from ordinary.  He was challenged with every temptation that humanity can face, like every one of us, but stood firm in his resistance, to show us it can be done.   

His message was one of hope.  It was the echo of the creation call to perfection.  It was the challenge to rise above the gathering corruption of a fallen humanity bent on self-destruction and breathe the clean air of a restored Eden, now in heart, but one day in reality. 

His life was one brief but eloquent demonstration of what humanity can and should be: thankful, gracious, appreciative, selfless, loving, caring, passionate, compassionate, giving, forgiving, strong, courageous…in a word, perfect.

When the darkness claimed Jesus’ earthly life through his own willingness to lay it down, its victory was short-lived.  He arose from a borrowed tomb to unsurpassed glory: he was re-created, now more in God’s image than any before him.  He was the new Adam, rising above the bonds of mortality to show us the way to what was always planned for us.  The candle in the window now blazes as a watch-fire, a beacon on the hill of Heaven, a lighthouse to guide us safely through the straits of this fallen creation and on to perfection.  Through his life and example we have the pattern of what humanity was meant to be, what we can be if we choose.

Whether you call him Jesus, Yeshua, Immanuel, the Lamb of God or the Lion of Judah, there is no mistaking who it is you are talking about.  He is the central figure in the Christian scriptures, and some would say all of history.  His life changed the course of history, the echoes of his teaching ringing still through 20 centuries.  His message, though twisted by some and denied by others, will never be extinguished.  He continues to change hearts.  He is the son of God.  He was.  He is.  He ever shall be.

Greed, II

As I have been thinking lately about greed, I have been thinking about things that money can and can’t do. It’s an interesting exercise, really. I mean the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.” An old adage asserts that, “Money can’t buy happiness.” So I got to thinking about what can be done with money.

 For example,

 You could hoard it, but then it isn’t actually doing anything but causing concern and worry about keeping it, and usually getting more.

 You could use it to buy politicians and even a government, but you’ll never be able to buy true loyalty, especially from the people.

 You could spend it on the best health care available for yourself, but you can’t spend enough to buy enough life to ultimately avoid death.

 You could spend a magnificent sum on a single and singularly sumptuous feast; but in the end, food is food, and it only ends as does all such matters.

 You could spend it on the most expensive books, but if they are never opened and read, they are worthless trifles.

 You could spend money to make more money, but in the end, all you have is more of something that you really don’t need.

 I was thinking that even if I had all the money in the world, and could afford the very best of anything and everything, there is no sum of money that can take away my son’s autism. No matter how much wealth I could shovel at it, it will never go away.

 The measure of a man is not in his bank account, no matter what some may say. The measure of a man is in the values by which he lives, and in what he is willing to offer, whether money or time or effort, to a cause or to someone in need, with no expectation of return. The greatest among us achieve greatness not by getting, but by giving. Think about it: who has had greater impact on history: a Rockefeller, a Vanderbilt, a Koch or a Walton or Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Jesus of Nazareth?

Greed is the enemy of progress in fighting environmental problems. The very industries at fault in generating most of the offending pollution have generated phenomenal wealth. And with wealth has come power. And that power has been used to make ever more money, with no concern for correcting the wrongs that the wealth has caused. The greatest hindrances to the development of sustainable and clean energy have been the giant oil corporations and the greedy men at their helms.

 Where might we be if not for greed? The world would be cleaner because the expense of cleaner technology would not be an impediment to doing the right thing. The world would be safer, because the cost of implementing safety protocols would not deter conscientious business leaders and government from doing what is right. There would be less disease and less suffering as a result of an inability to afford medical care and medications, because profit, while necessary for any business venture, would not supersede compassion.   There would be less frivolous and costly litigation, because when we are convinced that others are indeed acting in the best interest of all and not only themselves, we will be more forgiving. The impetus to litigate would diminish, because cooperation and altruism are not only forgiving in response to the actions of others, they are fundamentally giving in the first place, providing a foundation for positive interaction. There would be less emphasis on insubstantial superficiality such as monetary income and more emphasis on human dignity.

 It is an impossibility to embrace greed and be good. To be good is to do good. I continually return to a favorite passage from the book of Micah (6.8),

 “He has told you, O man, what is good;

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

   and to walk humbly with your God?”

 Greed is the antithesis of justice. It would pervert justice whether judicially or socially at every juncture. Greed is in diametric opposition to kindness. In fact, greed cannot coexist with true kindness, because kindness is born of compassion and love for people, not possession and love of money. And finally greed precludes any person, old or young, male or female from walking humbly with God. There is no humility in greed. At its core is a desire to be superior to all others.

 Consider the following argument: John tells us that God is love. Paul explains that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13.4-6). Greed fits none of those descriptors, thus greed cannot be from God nor can it glorify God, because God is love.

 I realize that this argument is hollow to any who might not embrace a life of faith. However, to those who do, I hope that this gives a reason to think seriously about our attitudes toward money and wealth. We must not idolize or honor those who are defined primarily by their money.

Everyone knows and frequently quotes the first part I Timothy 6.10: “10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” But Paul continues on in the second part with a warning: “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” These are apparently universally understood truths, as witnessed by the observation of the Taiwanese proverb, “Greed will cause pain.”

 Greed is not good. It outwardly hurts others to gain more needless wealth for the greedy, and inwardly destroys him like an aggressive cancer of the soul. But unlike a physical cancer, those who suffer from greed tend to refuse treatment, choosing to feed the tumor until it consumes them completely. The odd thing is that we usually feel sorrow and sympathy for the one with bodily cancer, but some show admiration and respect for the one with greed. And yet, both are lethal.

 I would prefer to live in a world where there is peace among mankind. Money can’t buy that. I would prefer a world where I could depend on my neighbor and he could depend on me. Greed would only allow that if there were a significant enough reward. Perhaps if we wake up to the dangers of greed, we might some day decide to put it in its place. In my opinion, there is only one place for it: the past. But it must not be forgotten, however, because if it were, we would only be susceptible to its unwitting and pernicious recurrence.

The happiest man is the one who can find contentment. He will never be greedy, and his greatest wealth will be the fruit of his generosity, the good will that he freely gives and humbly receives.

I Hate Halloween

I hate Halloween.

There. I said it. I know what you’re thinking: you’re an old stick in the mud. You have a problem with the Druidic origins of it. Or the Satanic implications that some have made of it.

But that’s not it at all.

Well, maybe hate is too strong of a word.

I deeply dislike Halloween and I have since I was young. I never liked going around begging for candy on a threat of being tormented by some foul trick or act of vandalism.

I never liked getting the daylights scared out of me, either. Like when my parents got together with some other parents and pulled off one of those super scary Halloween parties, complete with dipping your hand in simulated corpse innards, etc. I just never liked it.

But more recently, I dislike Halloween for what it has become. If it had stayed a low key event for children with superhero, clown or un-scary Casper-like ghost, or princess costumes, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If the parties were more harvest festivals, maybe they wouldn’t be so bad, either.

But I go to my door on Halloween and see six-year-old kids with masks that drip blood. I see people that think that cleavers to the head and dismembered bodies are funny.   I know it sounds ridiculous to some people, but I wonder if our acceptance of horror as entertainment has desensitized us to real horror. I think of Christians and other ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria facing real horror every day from a contemptible band of organized terrorists.

I turned on a television show last night, and thought I’d watch a bit of it. But when it appeared that a military leader was encouraging a young boy to behead a captive, I turned it off. It was too real. It was too disturbing, even for me, a middle aged-man.

I dislike Halloween because in so many places around the country, it is seen as an excuse for very bad behavior, including criminal acts. Property is damaged and losses incurred, all in the name of observing a holiday.

When is the national help your neighbor holiday? When is the holiday we observe by doing good deeds for others? When do we undo the damage of Halloween?

Sometimes I think that maybe I would be better off if I just jumped in and did like everyone else. Then maybe I wouldn’t be so disturbed when I hear of children being brutally killed. Or NATO planes intercepting 19 military aircraft in a show of Russian military might. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad when disabled people are the butt of foul, demeaning jokes. Maybe I wouldn’t care as much as I seem to care now.

I might be better off. I might sleep better.

But I can’t.

I do let the bad things of the world bother me. The correct response in any case would be to try and see how we can alleviate suffering and reduce the damage. We should try and restore order to a fallen but once very good creation. As a person of faith, I am instructed not to dwell on bad things. Paul told the Philippians how they should think in chapter 4 of his letter to them. He put the emphasis squarely on the positive. He said,

“8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

That is where I would prefer to put my time and interests. I would rather nurture the good than embrace the bad, even a caricature of it. I have enough chaos and mayhem in my life already without celebrating it even one day a year. If we could go back to a more innocent time when bloody corpses and undead vampires and zombies and mass murderers were not the center of the celebration, I would be all for it. But we left that time a while ago. And once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no returning.    

Yes, this makes me sound like an old curmudgeonly stick in the mud. But my feelings on Halloween have not changed since I was young. I didn’t like it then, and don’t like it today. My reasons for not liking it are every bit as valid as yours for liking it. So go ahead. Simulate bodily injury. Drench yourself in ersatz blood. Hide your identity from the evil spirits that will chase you mercilessly. I won’t judge you for joining in if you don’t condemn me for not doing the same.

For me, the best part of Halloween is the realization that it’s less than a month to Thanksgiving. So in that one small respect, maybe Halloween isn’t so bad after all.

Greed

I’ve been thinking a lot about greed lately. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and wondering what I have accomplished in life. I have not through greed amassed a great fortune, although I suppose I make a comfortable living. I have no great desire to do be unthinkably rich, either, unless it might give me the freedom to provide more help to people who need it.

I have been perusing a number of thoughts and ideas on greed, but one really struck me as being odd. Actor and conservative pundit Ben Stein reflected that, “Greed is a part of animal nature. Being against it is like being against breathing or eating. It means nothing.”

Really, Ben?

Other than Ben Stein and the denizens of the rarified 1%, few people would subscribe to the idea that greed is good. Stilted, self-important hate-monger, Ayn Rand perverted scripture much as did Satan with Eve, when she preached through her character in Atlas Shrugged that, “Money is the root of all good.”

That greed is natural, even normal, even virtuous seems to take a dismal view of all of humanity.

I choose to disagree with Mr. Stein for a number of reasons. Outside a cadre of money-centered business people, the mantra of the 1980’s that said, “Greed is good,” is hollow. There is little point to gaining more than you can possibly use. Money is of no good unless it is a tool to achieve an end. Sir Francis Bacon astutely observed, “If money be not thy servant, it will be thy master.  The covetous man cannot so properly be said to possess wealth, as that may be said to possess him.” He also noted, “Of great wealth there is no real use, except in its distribution. The rest is just conceit.” Now, no offense to Mr. Stein, but in 350 years, I am confident that thoughtful people will still be seeking the wisdom of Bacon, but most will not remember Mr. Stein’s words of back-handed defamation.  

Greed is indeed a common feature of our species. However, I view it more as a mutation, and not the norm. As social creatures, we would benefit more from cooperation and altruism, not conflict in the accumulation of wealth, and the constant concern and worry over keeping it.

The Bhagavad Gita says that greed is one of three gates of hell, along with anger and lust. The Bible says that money is a root of all kinds of evil. A well-known Cherokee proverb says, “There is a battle of two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth. The wolf that wins? The one you feed.”

Proverbs 11.24 says, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” Here, I see one who gives much, and receives much, although it may not be in material wealth. The one who withholds, who guards his hoard of gold, only wants more, and may become consumed by that lust for gain. The same story was immortalized by Tolkien in his character of Gollum, the once gentle being who succumbed to an all-consuming greed for a ring of power. The allegory is obvious.

In the words of the Chinese warrior/philosopher, Sun Tzu, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Greed is the enemy of all humanity. So much human suffering is directly tied to it, from the pursuit of greed by the wealth seeker to the denial of wealth to the poor. Only by knowing it, recognizing it for all that it is and all that it does and all that it harms can we defeat it. And it can be defeated.

To say that greed is an unavoidable part of humanity is to say we lack the vision to see our faults. Greed may indeed be a natural part of life, but so is cancer. Accepting its existence and acknowledging that it happens does not mean that we do nothing to fight it. Life is precious, and far more so than wealth.

As I think about wealth and greed, I have often dreamed of what it would be like to be wealthy. I know I never shall be rich in conventional wealth, although I am now richer than the greater mass of humanity on earth. Nor do I really want it, except to be able to do more good with it. My greatest joy comes with helping people. I shudder to think about the money wasted on trivialities when others are sick and cannot afford medicine. Others are starving, while we throw away food. There is so much suffering that could be alleviated if people would wake up to the evil that is greed.

When CEOs make millions and their workers are on Food Stamps (now SNAP benefits), greed is in play. When governments are run by those who prefer their own wealth to saving the lives of poor children or seniors, greed is in action. If we some day fall as a nation, it will likely be because of our unwillingness to reach out and help our neighbors.

I hope that never happens. I hope that we awaken to the dangers of unbridled greed and see money for what it truly is: a tool with which to make a better world, not just for a few wealthy people, not just for some who want to remake society in their image, but for everyone.

The weight of rational humanity is against Mr. Stein’s fatalistic philosophy. Greed has been viewed with disdain by every great moral thinker in every culture that I can recall. There is no positive virtue in greed, only an endless, pointless, and ultimately fruitless quest for more. And while it may only reveal my limited, provincial and moralistic thinking, I still assert that the old proverb is indeed true: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16.8)  

A Question of Heaven: Entering the Kingdom Means More Than Checking Off Boxes

People are an interesting lot.  I enjoy watching people, talking to people, being around people.  While I’m a person who needs time to be alone, at other times, I’m very much a people person.

So in my observations, I have seen people who are religious, and people who are not.  Of those who are religious, I have seen people of the broader Christian faith, and some who are not.  Of those in the Christian faith, I have seen those who are of one church, and some who are of a different church.  Pretty much anyone who espouses a form of Christianity believes in some form of afterlife, and I would imagine that they would want that afterlife to include Heaven. Some churches define who is going to heaven much more strictly than others, but most if not all of them are pretty sure that people of their particular heritage are going. 

But Jesus essentially said, “Not so fast.”

Going through the motions is one thing.  Really living the Way is a different thing altogether. That was one of the real take home messages from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.  Near the close of his message in Matthew 7.21-23, Jesus drops a bombshell of a pronouncement.  21  “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

I’ve read that many times over the years and heard it expounded upon, and pounded into the heads and hearts of listeners by preachers who are trying to get them to see that it takes a specific set of conditions to meet the requirements of entry into Heaven. I can’t argue with that.  In my experience, this has usually been applied to those who are of a different religious background, faith heritage or denomination.  I think it reasonable to take issue with that, because there were no denominations at that point in time since the church itself had not formally come into existence.  Jesus was talking about people, their hearts and their behaviors.

But I can see some things that I think many of those preachers have missed.  Their focus is on getting the steps right: in the church of Christ tradition, that means a five-step “plan of salvation.”  In many of the sermons I have heard this in, that has been the focus: you can’t short cut the process.  You can’t just believe (which requires first hearing the message, which is usually focused more on what to do rather than why it is done), you must also repent, confess, and be baptized.  Five steps.

But Jesus wasn’t just talking about five steps.  Now, I will not dispute those steps.  I believe that the human response to grace is important.  But there is so much more that Jesus wanted his followers to know and do.  So many preachers stop at number five.  Some may add a sixth step, which is living faithfully until death, as in Revelation 2.10, but that often focuses more on not committing overt or covert moral sins and maintaining doctrinal purity. 

In my faith heritage, there is almost no attention paid to the essentiality of grace in salvation. But ignoring it does not make it go away.  Grace surrounds, strengthens and gives foundation to the other five (or six).  The first five (or six) place the responsibility squarely on man.  In fact, I recently heard a preacher say, and I quote, “Salvation is an individual responsibility.”  But grace gives God the final say.  

That pleading group of doomed “Christians” had gone through the motions.  They had prophesied, cast out demons, done mighty works all by using the name and authority of Jesus.  They had followed the program.  They had checked off the boxes.  They would have had all five (or six) steps in place.  They had surely earned admission to Heaven.

“Not so fast.”

When it comes to salvation, the bestowing (or withholding) of grace is the deciding factor that supersedes all others.  That Jesus would pointedly condemn these obviously religious people (who made a show of following him, no less) should show a disappointing contradiction to those who support a universal application of grace to save everyone.  Certainly, if God wanted to do that, he could.  However, this passage does not suggest it, nor does it support that overly optimistic doctrine.

Who, then, can enter the kingdom of Heaven?  Those who do the will of Jesus’ Father in Heaven.  Not just the father.  Jesus’ Father.  In this, he stressed his own divine nature.  He also emphasized more than box-checking.

But what else is there?  Surely the five (or six) steps must cover the admission requirements.

Matthew 5.20 really gets to the heart of the matter.  Law-keeping was, of course, good and expected of any righteous practicing Jew, and no one was better at rule keeping than the Pharisees.  But Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  There is more to getting it right than just getting some of the parts right. 

G.K. Chesterton admirably observed, “God is not a symbol of goodness.  Goodness is a symbol of God.” But that goodness does not merely depend on following a set of instructions.  For example, I have very limited musical ability.  But I understand that there is a difference between getting the notes on a page played correctly and making those same notes truly sing.  I can buy everything on the grocery list, but as long as the ingredients stay on the pantry shelf, there is no feast to enjoy.  In the same way, I can get some steps right, but getting the heart right is essential to entering the kingdom both now and forever.  When we do that, we will not pervert justice or fail to provide mercy.  Those are also key elements of doing God’s will, and have been since the very beginning.

To every person who may stumble upon these words as you search for one thing or another, I make a heart-felt plea: don’t just stop at checking off the boxes.  Let your commitment be deep and your actions selfless.  Let your mercy define you, not your dogmatism.  Let your humility be your lasting impression, not your arrogance.  Let yours be the goodness of God, not self-righteousness born of pride.  Be a living conduit of grace, not a barrier to it.

It takes more than just five (or six) steps to get into the kingdom of Heaven.  Not only must we humbly receive grace and demonstrate our faith by humbling ourselves symbolically in compliance with received directives, we must become beacons of that grace to others.  When people see us or hear our names, they must be able to consciously or subconsciously equate us with goodness, service and humility.  That is what Paul was getting at when he wrote of “putting on Christ”; unlike other garments, the mantle of Jesus comes in one size that really does fit all. 

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