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What Then Should We Do?

07/19/2020 Luke 3:10 “And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?” A crowd had gathered around John the Baptist as he spoke at the River Jordan. He was speaking of producing good fruit and changing their life ways. He gave the admonition, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” At this statement, the crowd shouts out, “What then should we do?” Some were probably afraid; others perhaps, were sincerely interested in changing their lives so they could walk more closely with God. John gave them a couple of short suggestions: If you have two coats, give one to someone who needs it. If you have food, share it with the hungry. Don’t extort money from people, and don’t accuse falsely. Be content with your pay. These were some simple things that John apparently thought the crowd needed to hear and consider implementing in their lives. His suggestions to us today may sound remedial. “Well, of course we need to give from the surplus of what we have to charities. Of course, we shouldn’t go around gossiping about others and saying things about them that is none of our business. Of course, we should be content with our pay and what we have to live on.” Some of this, even though it sounds trivial and obvious, is sometimes difficult. John didn’t say, “From your abundance of food, from your bountiful surplus, give to the hungry.” What he said was, “If you have food, share it with those that are hungry.” This is a different sentiment. It is not about giving when we have amassed an excess; it is about giving from what we have right at this moment. This is difficult for some of us, because we see ourselves in a state of lack … in love, or money, or food, or gifts, or friendships. We think that we are deficient ourselves, so how can we give from what we don’t think can even sustain us? The Spirit-motivated suggestions that John offers do not depend upon what we have; they depend upon who we are. How do we see ourselves - as a limited human being dependent upon only ourselves, a victim of circumstances beyond our control? Or do we see ourselves as a Child of God, a joyful, loving, and peaceful spiritual being free from the burdens of this world, and able to call forth abundance from our God in everything we need to survive? There are some of us who have not achieved the enlightenment of Paul, who wrote in Philippians 4:11-13: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. How we view ourselves determines how we give and take from others, and how we serve others. I think John, with all his strong talk, was simply trying to have people see themselves differently so that their giving, taking, and serving was more balanced, fair, and productive. He was trying to illustrate that there was a superior source for the strength needed to get through life; a Strength great enough to share with others. The Bible gives us other insights on what we should be doing and how we should be living. And all of it is how we should perceive ourselves. In Ephesians 4:29 and 31 we are instructed: Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. When we see ourselves as a Child of God, we can fully release the rage, anger, and malicious behavior. When we see ourselves differently, we think differently, and we act differently. Once we have released the negative, we fill with the positive. Here is another set of suggestions from Colossians 3:12-15 – “... clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. In my quiet times with Spirit, if I ever ask the question, “What should I do? What do you want from me, God?” The answer is always the same: “Patrick, be thankful for all that you have. Be loving, compassionate, generous, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Forgive yourself and others for every offence. Be filled with peace and use the talents I have given you. And finally, Patrick, walk with me every moment of your life; release the burdens and temptations of the world and be with Me.” When you are quiet something similar is whispered to your heart. It takes courage to listen to these thoughts; it takes a willingness to move from where you are right now and take the first faltering steps. We seem so small compared to what God asks of us. When we see ourselves through the eyes of Man, we see weakness and incompetence. But when we see ourselves through the eyes of God, we see Christ moving through us: unlimited, exceptional, capable, and worthy. From God’s perspective, we are not inferior or broken in any way. We are extraordinary, unique, and the perfect vessel for Spirit to move through. Each one of us brings something distinctive to Creation. No one else can give what we can give. No one else’s presence, personality, and talents are the same as ours. The danger is in comparing and judging ourselves and others. We may ignore or dismiss the talents that God has given us. We are so close to our own gifts that we fail to comprehend their value or function. If we can stop judging ourselves, we can understand that even with our small hands, our feeble back, our limited background, we can be of use to God by serving and giving of what we can do. It supremely unfair of us to compare our self to others and assess our value based upon our limited perspective. We will either overvalue our gifts, or more frequently, undervalue what we can offer to Creation. I cannot possibly perform the intricate processes that a doctor or dentist perform. I cannot possibly build an observatory as Brian had in his yard. I could not teach kids with the detail and dedication that Mary offered her students. There is much that I cannot do; but there are some things that I can do. We can learn to see others in this same manner; it just takes a leap of faith, a change in perspective, to see others as God sees them. It is easy to judge someone and overlook their gifts. But God sees them as a totality and uses the gifts that they possess. It is our own limited human vision that blinds us to the treasure that each individual is. We are admonished to love each other; part of the reason is that we are each individually extraordinary creations – fellow siblings in Spirit. But sometimes we forget, or don’t recognize the intrinsic value of someone or something that is recognized by others. When I was a child I had a bad experience with a cat. It came into our yard and hunted and killed all of our baby guinea pigs. The adults were large enough to either fend off the cat or escape. But the babies were slaughtered. It took me years to forgive the entire feline species for the behavior of that one cat. I could not see the value in the animal. Over the years, I have met person after person who have cherished cats as pets. They were seeing something in them that I had blocked. I was blind to what they saw, but their love for their pets made me realize that cats had more value than I was at the time able to give them. But I began to see. I finally came to recognize the fact that cats are creations of God and are worthy of love and respect and appreciation. I went for years unable to give it. But I have changed … at least I have moved in that direction. I can’t say that cats are my favorite pet, but at least today, unless they are hunting the birds in our backyard, I can tolerate them and actually appreciate them. My awareness has grown. The value of the cat has not changed; it is my perspective that has changed. The same is true for certain vegetables. Today I enjoy a wide variety of vegetables that I did not like when I was a child: squash, peas, eggplant, to name a few. The value and taste of these vegetables has not changed, but my perspective has changed. We see this happening on a global and social level. The value of all of God’s Children is being recognized more and more. Their value is not changing – our perspective is changing. I applaud this heightened awareness, but it is certainly incomplete. There are still people who cling to the old thought patterns. The greater their resistance, the closer we are to God’s goal of valuing all the same. How can I tell if I am not fully recognizing the value of God’s Creation? When I look at it, does it bring up any negative feelings? If I look at the cat hunting in our backyard and I start to feel anger, I am still struggling with that behavior of the animal. Yes, I can logically think, “Well, Patrick, that is what a cat does. They are hunters; they are predators. Yes, they are domesticated, but that characteristic has not been bred out of many cats. In another context that behavior is beneficial.” I can think logically, but still my emotions struggle. God made them the way they are. They cannot change what they are, so it is up to me to change my perspective and accept them for what they are; to see them as God sees them. Millions of people see the value they bring to this world, so I have decided that I can love them and at the same time forgive that characteristic. We are frequently given opportunities during our lifetime to love, accept, and forgive. We are called to lovingly serve, and we can only serve from whom and what we are. We may not be able to do all things, but we can do ‘some’ thing; we can do ‘our thing’. Each of us is a vital component in God’s plan. We are like one of those trace minerals found in foods: small in quantity, but essential to life. At the same time, we are not cats; our actions and behaviors are not dictated by nature. God has given us powerful brains, capable of reasoning, problem solving, and moving beyond animal instinct. We love at a deeper level than an animal, able to share experiences, goals, dreams, hopes and aspirations. So, it is my prayer that when we are consumed by confusion, anger, frustration or fear, let us go within and ask God, “What then should I do,” and listen quietly for the response, moving beyond the animalistic urges and egoistic whines. If we are still enough, the answer comes as a subtle whisper to the heart: “Remove your old garments of fear, anger, judgment, bitterness, and victimhood. Then clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Let peace rule your heart and allow My understanding to fill your mind. Be thankful for all things, forgive all things, and above all else, clothe yourself in love.”


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