The Most Important … According to Jesus

It is so easy to get distracted.  Quickly drawn away by mental diversions, we wander off from many a task, intention or focus originally thought to be important.  Distractions can be external or internal, living or artificial.  In the external variety, we face a bombardment from complexity, the noise of technology and inevitable interruptions by those other humans or animals sharing our space.  Perhaps the most annoying distractions are the internal variety coming from our own mind.  No one to blame here!  Most of us sitting down to a quiet time exercising a little spiritual discipline honestly report admirable intentions clogged by internal distraction.  Things ravaging through my mind when I am attempting to connect with the Lord are often silly and trivial, shallow or rude, sometimes even crude.  Our task does not even need to be as noble as a spiritual exercise to be tormented by distraction.  Sitting down to work on the family budget, bills or other household duties and certainly vocational related deadlines are all subject to the demons of distraction.  We are too easily drawn away.  Inevitably, full-blown distraction results in a fog of confusion or frustration as symptomatic of losing our way off the path of the significant.   At some point we can be drawn back on the trail by asking, “Wait, what is really important?”  Certainly one of the greatest attractions to Jesus in the Gospels is the way he reduced distorted complexity to a healthy simplicity.  Jesus encouraged focus on what is truly important.

The apostle Paul recognized our disposition toward distraction by encouraging the believers at Corinth by his genuine concern that they would resist being drawn away from the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NASB).  So what is really important?   When asked the question, Jesus reduced everything down to a simple, great commandment: “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself”.  (Mark 12:28-34, NIV)  In one simple phrase Jesus reduced all that is important to sincerely loving God with our whole being and then loving others.  Reflecting on this truth means coming to understand the Kingdom of God is a relational kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of right relationships.  Vertically, loving God, and horizontally, loving others, is the backbone of the Kingdom.  Even the Ten Commandments are equally divided between the two frameworks of loving God and loving others. Herein lies our great quest as human beings.  According to Jesus it is what is truly important and thus worthy of intentional focus.  Eugene Peterson says it best,

The insistence that this credal love must be with “all your heart, and all your soul,               and with all your might” leaves no room for interpreting this love as anything less               than a way of life undergirds and permeates everything that we do.  This is not                     an option for those who are so inclined.This is not something we do after we have               first mastered something else we call “the basics.”                                                                 Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

The most important command to love God and others is simple, precise and difficult to master.  Contemporary poet, songwriter and singer Jack Johnson acknowledged this truth in a song,

Love is the answer,
At least for most of the questions in my heart
Like why are we here? And where do we go?
And how come it’s so hard?
It’s not always easy and
Sometimes life can be deceiving
I’ll tell you one thing its always better when we’re together.                                                Jack Johnson, Better Together

Something to keep in mind is that God, being the prototype of an excellent father, would never command his children anything outside their ability to comply.  None of us would seriously drag the power lawn mower out of the garage with the command to our three-year-old son, “Mow the lawn and sweep up as soon as possible.”  Such a “command” is beyond the realm of possible fulfillment as well as certainly identifying the parent as being out of touch with reality!  No votes for “Father of the Year” there.  The point is when Jesus indentifies the most important thing as loving God and others; he does so knowing full well that he and the Father believe we are capable of fulfilling the command!   The great command, according to Jesus, is doable.  In Matthew 7:24 Jesus taught,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is              like a wise man who built his house on the rock.                      Matthew 2:24 (NIV)

This indicates the confidence Jesus has in our fulfilling the great command to love wholeheartedly. Being within the realm of achievement does not mean it will be easy!  When is anything demanding all of our heart, soul, mind and strength ever easy?  Even the best of earthly parents nurture their child’s confidence, character and passion to achieve by giving assignments stretching their current ability.  So it is with the great command to love God and others.  It is a quest stretching the sinews of our very being, but it is within reach!  In the midst of complex anxiety, we are told by Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God.  Okay, terminology like “most important” and “first” makes it clear. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of right relationships and we are to seek it wholeheartedly first above all else.

There is a significant prologue or threshold to the great command to love God wholeheartedly and to genuinely love others.  We are not left as orphans trying to figure out important things our all on our own!  Simply put, we love because God first loved us!  The Apostle John penned the words burned into his heart by the Spirit, confirming his time with Jesus when he painted a clear picture,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1 John 4:7-11 (NIV)

The great command to love God and others is a realistic quest when I am deeply convinced, firmly embracing the overwhelming fact of God’s steadfast, intimate, personal love for me.  Note the threshold effect: “since God so loved us, we ought to love one another.”  Those deeply loved are empowered to love God and others; those knowing mercy are pleased to show mercy; and those coming to heartfelt grips with ridiculous grace are more than inclined to extend grace to others. God’s love moves us!   The incredible demonstration of God’s profound love is always the Cross!  We love, offer mercy and extend grace to others because God has loved us first with the finished work of Jesus on the Cross!  It is love that transforms, not rules.  Recognizing the Lord’s unconditional love draws us to his Kingdom of right relationships … rightly related to Him who loves us and rightly related to others whom also He loves through us!  Our life long quest is renewing moment by moment the focus on what Jesus called the “most important” … “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself”.  (Mark 12:28-34, NIV)

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“Letters to Rulers of People”

Keep a clear eye towards life’s end. Do not forget your
purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you
are in His sight is what you are and nothing more.
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take
with you nothing that you have received – fading
symbols of honor, trappings of power – but only
what you have been given: a full heart enriched
by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.

Francis of Assisi
“Letters to Rulers of People”

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Living on Holy Cross Place!

In the 1950’s and 1960’s I grew up on a street in West Los Angeles called Holy Cross Place. Imagine the number of times over two decades I spoke or wrote my address using the signature Holy Cross Place!  I cannot remember once using my address and thinking or even reflecting on  the real Cross that Jesus suffered and died on.  It never gave me pause to think, “Why did all that takes place?”  I never used the opportunity of my childhood address to ask, “What is the meaning of the Cross?”  This “blog” is dedicated to what Brennan Manning refers to as the “most dangerous journey” …  the human journey from the head to the heart.  It is the journey from what we know  to what we actually experience.  It is the the journey from belief to faith … the journey from information to transformation.  Perhaps my journey from living on Holy Cross Place in Los Angeles to actually depending on the fully on the finished work of Jesus on the Holy Cross will provide encouragement, perseverance and joy to fellow pilgrims in this life making progress toward our high calling in Jesus!

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