The Most Important Ingredient

Lately I’ve been trying my hand at doing a little cooking.   The internet makes cooking a breeze!  Just look up a recipe and follow all the steps.  Although I have discovered that sometimes these recipes call for ingredients that aren’t always right at hand…  and I often don’t discover that I lack said ingredient until I am like, 3/4 of the way through.  And then sometimes I have the ingredient but there are so many that I just forget to add them all to the dish.  And when that happens, sometimes the results can really affect the over all taste of the dish.

For instance, I on Tuesday I thought I’d try my hand at making chicken and Spanish rice – and I found a great recipe but it had many ingredients – for instance – this recipe called for  Garlic Powder, Coomin, cayenne pepper, paprika, chopped onions, tumeric, and – well I thought I had added all the ingredients but when I finished I realized I forgot to add something.  Show Picture of the empty chicken plate

It’s understandable, really, because there were so many different ingredients – I mean, I only forgot one of the ingredients, but it turned out to be an important ingredient.  (Show chicken on plate) Arguably, Some might even say it was the most important ingredient. 

So on Wednesday night I thought, well let’s simplify things – less ingredients – so I decided to make a Kobe New York Strip Steak.  And less ingredients – I like to pan sear my steaks on a heavy duty, cast iron pan with good heat retention and I like to use lots of salt and pepper.

Well, wouldn’t you know – that about halfway through the process I realized I was missing one ingredient.  I thought it was in the fridge – turned out it wasn’t – I called my neighbor Charles to see if he had any extra and he said no he didn’t.  So I had to go without it, and can I tell you it really affected the overall flavor. (Steakless)

I don’t know why Charles couldn’t help a brother out – I gave him an egg one time.  Oh well.  If Charles DID have that one ingredient it would have turned out better, I’m sure.

So Thursday I decided to go super duper simple.  And I planned to have Lobster.  I have a very large grocery budget.  So Lobster on Thursday.  Nothing simpler than a lobster, right?  One pan of boiling water – one unsuspecting Lobster – 15 minutes later – shazzam!  Except – would you believe I forgot one ingredient maybe you can guess what I forgot.  Put up picture of lobster without butter.

You see what’s missing, right?  Butter.  If you don’t have butter – do not even try to eat Lobster – it’s like gnawing on an ocean rat.  If tuna is the chicken of the sea – Lobster is the rat of the sea, until you dip it in butter, then it’s a little taste of heaven.

So, I guess this week was a learning week for me – I discovered the importance of including the most important ingredient in every dish.  Chicken dinner without Chicken?  No.  Steak dinner without Steak?  Dumb idea.

We are in week five now of a series about Jesus turning us into New Kinds of Humans.  And the point is – The most important ingredient that goes into becoming a New Kind of Human – is love.   

Did you know that there is a portion in the Bible – written by the Apostle Paul – in a letter to some believers living in the city of Corinth in Greece – where it says that you could give all you own to the poor – but if you don’t have love?  You have gained nothing. 

According to this letter, called 1 Corinthians, (Put the verses on the screen)you can do all kinds of religious things – look at all of the religious performing one can do…  But if you are missing the most important ingredient, then you have nothing.   

Which brings us back to the sermon on the mount that we’ve been studying the past month.  The sermon on the mount, located in the book of Matthew chapters 5-7, is Jesus’ declaration of exactly what is so good about the Good News.   Remember that in Matthew 4 Jesus gathers a group of people that the religious world had largely discarded as unacceptable kinds of people – and he starts the message with “Good News”  I have some really good news to share with you.

What is the good news?  That the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven has been thrown wide open – so that anyone can walk through them through faith in Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven is wildly available – that right now kingdom where God rules and governs in love and wisdom – anyone who enters is immediately blessed.

So the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-11 are an announcement of exactly who is blessable – and it begins with blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, blessable are they though faith in Jesus.

It’s these kinds of people who are actually the salt of the earth.  This week, in all seriousness, I actually did cook dinner one night and you know what?  I didn’t put enough salt into the meal.  And I knew it as soon as I bit into it – because it was bland.  As soon as I added some salt – it was so much better. 

Jesus has a plan to save the world and YOU are part of the plan.  God made you to make life taste better. 

This week NY Times writer Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting article where he talks about the effects of religion in the world. 

This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

It is not the bureaucracy that inspires me… but rather a Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims, an evangelical physician achieving the impossible in rural Angola, a rabbi battling for Palestinians’ human rights — they fill me with an almost holy sense of awe. Now, that’s religion.

This is what Jesus meant when he said He will turn us into salt and light in the world.  And of course, and importantly, it doesn’t require being a doctor in africa to be the salt of the earth, Jesus has placed you in your workplace, your family, your neighborhood to be just what those places need.

But if that’s going to happen, then we need to become different kinds of people, who display a different kind of rightness than what the religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees – displayed.  Jesus tells us that our rightness needs to surpass the wrong kind of rightness they displayed. Matthew 5:20 

This verse is key to understanding the rest of chapter 5.  The rest of the chapter compares and contrasts the wrong kind of technical rightness of the pharisees, with the right kind of rightness that comes through faith in Jesus.

The differences that were most prominently displayed when one compares and contrasts the Pharisees and Jesus.  Both were rabbis.  Both followed and obeyed the law.  Then why were the Pharisees despised and Jesus so adored?  What was the missing ingredient?

And the answer is love.   It is love that makes the difference.

Religious activity, even if the religious activity done in soup kitchens and homeless shelters – religious activity done without love is nothing.  The wrong kind of rightness is loveless obedience to the letter of the law.  That’s the wrong stuff.

And someone might object and say – didn’t Jesus tell us to teach his new followers to obey?  Doesn’t the bible say that obedience is better than sacrifice?  And the answer is – of course!  Of course obedience is important but if you obey the letter of the law without the transforming power of God’s love in your heart and soul, then you too will become, as the Pharisees – no better than whitewashed tombs. 

The most important ingredient of a New Kind of Human – is love.

And so, to make his point, Jesus is going to compare and contrast, loveless, technical obedience to six different aspects of the law.  And he is going to show how empty it is apart from love.

The rest of Matthew 5 illustrates the difference between a life of loveless obedience to the law versus a life of love.

In effect, Jesus says, let’s look at these examples through the eyes of the law – and then through the eyes of love. 

So first he talks about what do we do about people who make us angry.  If we look at those people through the laws eyes, we ask, what am I allowed to do.  Well, just don’t kill them.  Okay.  Is it really enough to technically not murder someone but lay awake at night wishing terrible harm on them.  That is empty loveless obedience.

Instead, Jesus gives us a picture of what changes when you are infused with Love.   And what happens is you become so loving towards other fallen human beings like yourself, that you do whatever you can to bring blessing instead of harm. 

Second – Jesus looks at adultery.  What do you do when you are filled with lust for another person?  Through the laws eyes, we say, do not commit adultery.  But Jesus says, yeah, but it’s not loving to lust after another person. 

And he points out that it is not enough to proudly and lovelessly proclaim that you are technically innocent of adultery.  Not, Jesus says, while you are still in your mind taking and using and degrading people with lust filled fantasy.

If we look at people through the lens of love we will get people who actually lovingly stay committed to their spouses, both mentally and physically and emotionally.  God can make us loving people through and through and the primary beneficiary of such a transformation is our spouse and/or family.

By the time you get to the end of Matthew 5, Jesus takes his claims that love changes everything – and puts it to the greatest test of all –  what to do about enemies.

How do we respond to the person who injures us? 

Now if we put the lens of the law on – what do we get?  We find out how much pain can I inflict back upon my offender?  What am I legally allowed to do? 

Before we read it, knowing where Jesus is going with this love thing – how might you think Jesus would have us respond to someone who seeks to cause you pain or harm.  How might Jesus describe the kind of person who is at home in the Kingdom of Heaven when they are personally injured?

Now before we read this passage – I again want to remind you and warn you – do not read these passages as laws.  Jesus did not come to bring you more laws that you will break.  He is describing the kind of person who has been transformed from the inside out.  He is, in effect, describing himself.  And by doing, describing those who are being changed into his image day by day.

Author Dallas Willard in his book Divine Conspiracy writes,   It is these statements, more than any other statements in the Sermon on the Mount, that cause people to throw up their hands in despair or sink into the pit of grinding legalism. This is because they can only imagine that Jesus is laying down laws about what they have to do regardless of what else may be at issue. 

Matthew 538 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?

They cannot be laws because they don’t cover every situation.  We end up in a bottomless pit of caveats – well what about this situation.  What about that situation?

It’s the 15th anniversary of 9/11, are we really going to listen to a sermon about loving our enemies?  Does God really want us to turn the other cheek and do nothing in response.  Should a nation turn the other cheek? 

If we turn these into laws then we are going to have to answer and parse every possible situation so that we know if we are breaking these laws. 

Is it ever okay for a Christian to go to war?  We have many people at Journey who are in the armed service right now – have they chosen a sinful occupation?   

What if I turn the other cheek and that one gets slapped too?  How many times do I need to be slapped before I say enough is enough?  May I never defend myself?  May I never defend my loved ones?

It’s understandable for us to want to turn to these questions because – for one thing Jesus appears to be laying down more laws and we want to find out exactly what is a sin and what isn’t.  Which goes back to technical rightness. 

They aren’t laws because laws will inevitably be turned into loveless obedience and we are right back in the situation we started in, right?  After all, It’s possible to turn the other cheek but internally wish a terrible death upon our attacker, and then what does that accomplish?  Loveless obedience.

If you can take a punch but have not love, then you have gained nothing.

Instead, we have to ask ourselves, not “Did I do the specific things in Jesus’ illustrations?” but “Am I being the kind of person that Jesus is illutrating?”

Now, that said, allow me to speak freely about some of these questions that do come up – that deserve answers.  I remember having a dialogue back in forth with a former student of my youth ministry who announced he was all done with Jesus.  And when I asked him what specific teaching of Jesus he thought was wrong, he pointed to these verses.

These laws of Jesus promote abuse, he said.  Do they?  Does being a follower of Jesus mean we have to be willing to be taken advantage of?  And the answer, I suppose, depends on the situation.

What is the most loving thing we can do? 

Believe it or not, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to take up arms and fight an enemy. 

For instance – let’s take Gandhi as an example.  The reason non-violence worked for Gandhi in India is because he was dealing with Britain which was operating on a semblance of Christian morals.  In that case, where violence would have worked against justice.  Harming others would have been unloving – and in line with an eye for an eye retribution theology.

However, what would have happened had Gandhi’s attempted a non-violence response to, say Hitler’s Germany?  In that case, non- violence could have led to countless innocent lives being lost.  So in that case the most loving thing is to take up arms to defend the defenseless.

Now there might be a pacifist in the room who would want to argue that I am twisting Jesus’ teaching.  I am not.  I am trying to unplug them from being lovelessly obeyed and turned into the wrong kind of rightness.

What needs to happen to, say Isis in the Middle East and their wholesale slaughter of Christians?   There is such thing as a just reason to fight back.  It’s not always easy to figure out – which is one reason why we are called to pray for our leaders in government. 

These words that Jesus are referring to though, they apply to individuals.  How does one person who has been infused with the most impotant ingredient of love, respond when wronged?

And you know, Jesus gets to the heart of it.  Just because someone slaps you doesn’t mean you must slap back.  Sometimes, in love for another, we chose to lay down our rights.  We are the kind of people willing to be wronged rather than strike back in vengeance. 

Here’s a thought for all of my friends who are concealed carry people.  You have been trained, hopefully, about when you may legally shoot someone.  When you have the right to shoot someone.  And I’m glad you have that gun – there may come a time when you need to use it.  God forbid. 

But might there also come a time in your life when you might be legally allowed to shoot someone, but you shouldn’t?  Might there be a time when it is better to be slapped than to shoot them dead? 

See, honestly, it’s easier to live our lives by laws.  This is why the Pharisees had a list of 600 plus rules- it’s easier to live life wearing the laws lenses.  But God is freeing us into a larger, better, freer, fuller, more abundant kind of life.  And He is asking us to wear the love lens in our life and respond to situations, even difficult situations, with the most important ingredient.  Love.

How do you know how to respond?  You and God together, working on being a person of integrity in the thousand little things leading up to that moment, so that when the big moment comes you can ‘automatically’ by second nature, make the right call.  Like Sully, in the airplane – after 30,000 hours in a plane and simulator, when the time came when he needed it most, he knew what to do by second nature.

When injured, our world doesn’t need to become our injury.  We become the kind of people no longer controlled by anger and contempt – we are able to step back and see the larger picture of life in the Kingdom.  We see our injurer as someone who is a human being, dearly loved by God and we respond accordingly.  And sometimes the strongest thing, the most loving thing we can do is to refrain from striking back. 

We can be the kind of people who, in love, can turn the other cheek.

We become the kind of people who go the extra mile, willing out of love for others to do more than is required by the law to do. 

We are no longer caught up in the technicalities of obedience.  We respond with the most important ingredient – a loving heart.

The most important ingredient is love. 

I want to finish up with this quote again from Willard, who writes,

Is it then hard to do the things with which Jesus illustrates the kingdom heart of love? It is very hard indeed if you have not been substantially transformed in the depths of your being, in the intricacies of your thoughts and feelings, in such a way that you are permeated with love. Once that happens, then it is not hard. What would be hard is to act the way you acted before.

When Jesus hung on the cross and prayed, “Father, forgive them because they do not understand what they are doing,” that was not hard for him. What would have been hard for him would have been to curse his enemies and spew forth vileness and evil upon everyone.

He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him. 

Jesus intends to turn us into the kinds of people that are permeated with love.  Because that’s the most important ingredient in this new kind of Human.

We become the kind of people who can love even people in our life who don’t deserve it.  Anyone can love people who love them first.  Jesus infuses us with a love for people who don’t have anything to offer us except that they are human beings.  And for that reason and that reason alone, receive the love of God, and also receive the love of God’s people.

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