I AM...

Did you ever notice how often the phrase "I am" comes up in the Bible?  Do you know where it originates?  You have to go way back to Exodus where Moses asks God His name to understand its origin and significance.  In this week's Gospel John the Baptist distinctly says, "I am not" several times before saying "I am".  Read on to find out why.    

A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.  

And this is the testimony of John.  When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, "Who are you?"  He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, "I am not the Christ."  So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?"  And he said, "I am not."  "Are you the Prophet?"  He answered, "No."  So they said to him,  "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you have to say for yourself?"  He said:  "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'make straight the way of the Lord,'" as Isaiah the prophet said."  Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?"  John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."  This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  John 1:6-8, 19-28

John the Baptist's presence caused a stir and the religious elite wanted to know who he was.  As they question him John first clarifies who he is not; the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet.  The Jewish people were always looking for their promised Messiah.  John eventually does say, "I am..." as the messenger who tells them that they aren't recognizing the one among them who is...I AM. 

Further along in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the Jewish leaders directly.  "...before Abraham came to be, I AM.”  His use of God's name first spoken to Moses at the burning bush was pure blasphemy to the Jewish leaders.  They never even spoke these words out of reverence to God and His Name, I AM.  For this man, Jesus, to not only speak God's Name but to also refer to himself as I AM caused a fury and they tried to stone Jesus.   

It is in the context of these two words that John the Baptist's announcement to the Jews was that I AM had already come.  The same is true today, but we pause to acknowledge a profound truth...

We need to celebrate that I AM came to us as a baby to die for our sins so that we might be with Him forever!

Our Broken Sidewalk

Our house is about 50 years old.  The sidewalk to the front door is made of flagstone that over the years has broken down.  Because this is the main walkway to our front door it gets a lot of use.  Each year I find myself needing to replace one or two of the two foot by three foot stones to ensure a safe path to the entrance of our home.  This week's Gospel speaks of a different kind of path.      

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:  Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.  A voice of one crying out in the desert:  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."  John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.  He fed on locusts and wild honey.  And this is what he proclaimed:  "One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."   Mark 1:1-8

This narrative at the beginning of Mark's Gospel tells of the preparation of a path for Jesus' coming.  Let me give you a breakdown on what I think it means to you and me.

  1. John the Baptist was responsible for laying down the path to repentance that made a way for Jesus and His Spirit to enter the hearts of the Israelites.
  2. We are called to prepare our hearts at this time of year so that when Jesus arrives at Christmas we can receive Him and His Spirit.
  3. We need to hear John the Baptist's call to repentance and we need to live our lives accordingly so that others are also led to Jesus.

Oh, and as for our sidewalk... when I repair it next spring I will be reminded that this "way"into our home is a tangible example of how we are called to live.  Others should recognize the welcoming path we have laid that point to life with Jesus.

What Are You Watching?

Last night instead of retiring to my favorite position on the couch to distractedly flip through the channels looking for something to watch, I opened YouTube.  Not really a big difference you might say.  However it was the content of what I "watched" that mattered.  This week's Gospel focuses on watching as well.

Jesus said to his disciples:  "Be watchful! Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man traveling abroad.  He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.  Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"  Mark 13:33-37

This passage in the thirteenth chapter of Mark's Gospel is the last of several prophetic descriptions Jesus gives His disciples of what is to come.  From the destruction of the temple to a description of the end times and the coming persecution along with the great tribulation, the disciples are given ample warning that they are to be alert and ready for...

The Coming of the Son of Man!   

In this first week of Advent we begin the journey to Christmas and... the coming of the Son of Man.  During Advent our preparation is for the coming of the Christ Child.  At this time of year it is often a challenge to avoid the distractions of life and Advent reminds us of our need to watch for Him.  

I wonder if our struggles with distractions during the busy time prior to Christmas is indicative of a larger malaise that causes us to lose our general watchfulness?!?  Jesus' second coming that is referenced in this week's Gospel is something we all must be "watching" for.  What we do while we are about our "own work" is critical to how we remain watchful.

As for my YouTube time last night, I watched worship videos.  It was a minor thing but it made a big difference for me.  Instead of watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory I was focused on the one who initiated the Big Bang in the first place.  In so doing I was much more alert to God in my life.  The grateful feeling I carried to bed allowed me to look forward to the start of another day where I expectantly watch for His coming in all things.  

Grateful

God's provision never ceases to amaze me.  I am grateful to Him for so many things.  I simply share this week's Gospel on Thanksgiving weekend with a grateful heart. 

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Come, you who are blessed by my Father.                 Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 

Jesus said to his disciples:  "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food,  I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'  Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'  Then he will say to those on his left,  'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing,  ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'  Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'  He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."  Matthew 25:31-46

Are You Wasting Your Talent?

Have you ever used the phrase - what a waste of talent?  I've been using it a lot recently but not because of this week's Gospel.  Check out the Gospel and then I'll tell you what I've been doing with my talents.  

Jesus told his disciples this parable:  "A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.  

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.  The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five.  He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.  See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master's joy.'   Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21

Jesus shares this particular parable directly with His disciples.  In it Jesus makes clear reference to talents which in their most basic form are a measure of weight.  A Roman talent would have weighed about 70 pounds.  When this measurement was done using precious metals there was potentially great value in the talent.  Jesus' message was that the servants are expected to increase the value of the Master's talents.  In so doing they are affirmed by the Master and given even more talents.

As is typical in Jesus' parables there is explicit meaning as well as deeper meanings. In this case the explicit is that Jesus is talking about a financial "talent" that is meant to be invested wisely.  There is also the implicit understanding that talent can be understood as ability.  Carrying that analogy through, points you and me to our God-given "talents".  And that is where I have been spending a lot of my time lately.  

I just recently certified as a Strengths Finders coach.  It is an assessment that identifies a person's strengths, ordering them from 1 through 34.  Most people start with the basic assessment that identifies their Top 5 strengths.  I coach people through their Top 5 strengths so they understand how God has equipped them.  I use this graphic to explain exactly what a Strength Finders strength is:  

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You can see here how having talent isn't a guarantee that we produce a return on our Master's "investment."  Talent can be wasted!  We are all called to invest in our God-given talents in a way that builds the Master's kingdom.  The coolest part of Strengths Finders is that in each of our Strengths (talents) there is a uniqueness that God has hard-wired into us.  Mathematically it is a 1 in 33,000,000 chance that you will meet someone with your same Top 5 strengths in the same order.  As Psalm 139 says, "You are fearfully and wonderfully made."  

We are all called to invest in the talents that God has placed within us.  When we do we can look forward to hearing our Master's words:  'Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master's joy.' 

Wait For It!

19 years ago as I was beginning to open up to God's call on my life He used a particular verse to get my attention.  Over a period of several days this verse popped up in three different places.  When it happened the third time I thought, "Hmmm, maybe I should pay attention to this."  Wanna know what it was?  You'll have to wait for it.  In the Gospel we have a story that is similar in content and meaning to that verse I received: 

Jesus told his disciples this parable:  "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.  Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.'  While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'  But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."  Matthew 25:1-13

Foolish and wise.  Jesus makes it clear from the start who the winners and losers were going to be in this parable.  Surely the disciples all felt that they were wise and would "bring their oil" with them so they could enter into the wedding feast.  As Jesus proceeded through the parable He makes it clear as to why they need to be prepared.  "...the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him."  The wise were prepared ahead of time for his coming. The foolish, who were not prepared, found a locked door.   

Imagine finding the door to the Kingdom of Heaven locked!  Yikes!  I don't know about you but that scares the bejeepers out of me.  How do I know that I'll be ready?  We find the answer in Jesus' response to the foolish.  "I do not know you."  Entrance to the wedding feast is gained by knowing the bridegroom.  In other words, the door to the Kingdom of Heaven is opened for us by the bridegroom because He knows us.  The message of this Gospel is that once we enter into that relationship with Him we recognize the need to be prepared and ready to meet Jesus, the Bridegroom, when He comes.  That preparation is an ongoing, lifelong process and it requires nothing less of us than our whole body, soul and spirit seeking to know Jesus.    

Oh, I forgot, you've been waiting for that verse that God reached out to me nearly 20 years ago.  It was from ThessaloniansIn it Paul was praying that the disciples in Thessalonica would be "ready" for the return of the Bridegroom.  My prayer for you today is the same:  

"May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  1 Thessalonians 5:23 

World Champion Humility

The Houston Astros won the World Series the other night.  Maria and I stayed up late to watch because we have become Astros fans.  Maria's favorite is Jose Altuve.  He is one of the shortest players in the game but has become one of the best players in all of baseball.  My favorite is George Springer who, like Altuve, plays with a childlike joy.  Watching these guys celebrate their victory made us a smile, especially in light of the devastation that the people of Houston have endured.  We see a lot of self-promotion and attention grabbing in the sports world so it was nice to see these men humbly pointing to the people of Houston as their motivation to win.  Check out an opposite motivation in this week's Gospel.   

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'  As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'  You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.  Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.  Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."  Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus singles out the scribes and Pharisees for their attention grabbing behaviors.  Jesus points to the many things they do to honor themselves, particularly in public.  Using them as examples of what not to do, Jesus teaches that humble service is the way to go.    

It is easy to see a lack of humility in people.  We don't need to look far in our media saturated world.  But the real question is, are we humble?  As someone who is in front of audiences frequently, I know how hard it is to not draw attention to myself.  I believe the answer lies in what motivates us.  Are we motivated by our love for God?  It takes a lot of work to get to the core of our motivations, even as we serve.  Humility is hard earned and it doesn't come easily.  True humility comes from a profound motivation to pursue God and live for His purposes.  

The Houston Astros are World Champions, for the first time in their history.  They achieved this through years of hard work.  Finding a purpose greater than themselves and their baseball team allowed them to bring joy to many hurting people.  That is what true humility does.

That Wasn't My Intention

Have you ever found yourself answering a simple question with a rambling tangent that totally misses the mark?  I have done that more times than I can count.  The look on the face of the person asking me the question usually lets me know I'm confusing them.  While that is never my intention I often feel like I need to provide background and support for my eventual answer.  I would have loved to see the faces of the Pharisees when Jesus answered their question in this week's Gospel:

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."  Matthew 22:34-40

The leaders of Jesus' day continue to ask Him questions that are intended to trap Him.  Jesus, always aware of their motivations, answers their questions in a number of ways.  In this exchange, Jesus' directly answers the question about the greatest commandment but he doesn't stop there.  He answers a second question of His own asking.  In doing so Jesus points to love of neighbor as a way to love God.  Then Jesus pulls everything together with His final statement.  "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."  In this statement Jesus puts an end to the discussion.  

In essence, the answer to every question is always, love God!  Simple, right?  Not so fast.  Even though the Pharisees, as lovers of the law, would have agreed with Jesus' first answer they would have stumbled on the second.  Imagine their faces.  "Dang, He did it again!"  They might have said.  "We do love God, but our neighbors?  And wait a minute we were trying to trip you up."  

Isn't it interesting and wonderful how everything truly does come back to these two commandments?!?  If we honestly look to our intentions we will almost always find that the deeper we look the more likely we are to find our true motivation.  Is it our love of God and neighbor or are we seeking our own selfish desires?  I can answer that one simply.

Love God first and neighbors second!  End of discussion!

What's Your Opinion?

When I check out the news feed on my iPhone I always skip over those articles entitled Opinion.  I am glad they are labeled that way because I'm not interested in people's opinions of the news.  I am just trying to discern what the real news is.  Now before you go all political on me I am simply trying to make a point, one that is played out in this week's Gospel: 

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.  They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status.  Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin that pays the census tax."  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"  They replied, "Caesar's."  At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."  Matthew 22:15-21

After telling Jesus that they know He doesn't care about other's opinions the Pharisees surprisingly ask for His.  Of course Jesus sees through to their true intentions to trap Him.  Jesus answers their question with a question of His own which in effect turns their trap back on the Pharisees.  Jesus' response to His own question and answer by the Pharisees pretty much puts an end to the discussion.  The wisdom of Christ far surpasses that of the wise of His day, the Pharisees. 

This is true today as it will always be.  God's Truth, embodied in His Son, is above all.  I believe that is how we as Christians are called to view today's news, not with our opinions but with the Wisdom of God.  I am not talking about using Scripture to make our points in the debate.  I'm talking about allowing our perspective to be illuminated by the Spirit of Truth so that our opinions are not included at all.  We must respond to the news of the day lovingly seeking God's wisdom in every situation.  

But that's just my opinion.

A Wedding Invitation

As I reflected on the meaning of this week's Gospel I couldn't help but compare how the whole concept of wedding invitations has evolved.  Google 'wedding invitations' and you get 50,000,000 results in less than a second.  I narrowed my search to 'wedding invitation etiquette' and there were only 1,650,000 results.  Now that's more manageable!  To my surprise there were almost as many results for 'wedding invitation responses'.  This particular response from the Emily Post Institute caught my eye:  "A guest’s first duty is to respond promptly to any wedding invitation."  Responding to the invitation is where the Gospel gets interesting. 

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.  A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'  Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.'  The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  The king said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?'  But he was reduced to silence.  Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' Many are invited, but few are chosen."  Matthew 22:1-14
 

The chief priests and the elders must have loved this parable. (insert sarcasm)  Could they have been happy about the professed son of the King preaching at them with this story?  The answer is in the verse that follows this passage.  "Then the Pharisees* went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech."   Not only did they not get Jesus' message, they were turned off enough by it that they went away to plot against Him.  

They did this in spite of the fact that their decision to do so placed them squarely in the parable in less than a flattering way.  The chief priests and elders don't just ignore the message as some ignored the invitation to the wedding feast.  They behave more like those who "mistreat" the messenger.  Eventually these same men are complicit in the killing of the King's Son as they shout "Crucify him!"  They totally missed Jesus' point.  Now there's an understatement!

Where are you and I in this particular parable?  Surely, we aren't plotting to mistreat and kill the King's servants.  We aren't ignoring the King's invitation.  Are we?  What about the guest who comes to the wedding feast without a proper wedding garment?  Jesus' parable is meant for all,  just as the King's invitation is.  We must prepare our "wedding garment", ourselves, to attend the feast.  This is done each and every day.  Accepting His invitation as a prepared guest makes us one of the chosen.  Are you ready to attend?  

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A Holy Mic Drop

Perhaps you've seen the cheesy commercial where actor and Verizon spokesman, Thomas Middleditch, drops several microphones as he introduces Verizon's new Unlimited Data Plan.  The joke, directed at Verizon's competitors ends up being on Middleditch as his mic drops fail to produce the intended "impact" as they silently land on the carpet. 

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This weeks Gospel could very well have been an actual mic drop moment:      

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:  "Hear another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.  When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.  But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,  'They will respect my son.'  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'  They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?"  They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures:  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?  Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."  Matthew 21:33-43

In this dialogue Jesus takes the lead in the questioning of the chief priests and elders instead of the other way around.  Jesus' parable and subsequent question is ripe with messages that the chief priests and elders miss.  They obviously do not recognize Jesus as the son of the vineyard owner.  Nor do they realize that their answer to the parable question ends up condemning their own behavior.  Jesus follows that up with another question that references the cornerstone from their beloved Scriptures (Psalm 118:22-23).  And in so doing Jesus clarifies His message and thus condemns the "wretched men."         

Much like a comedian who drops the mic on a heckler, Jesus has the last word.  The question this raises for you and me is are we producing fruit for the kingdom of God?

CANNONBALL!!!!!

Two weeks after hernia repair surgery I got the approval from my surgeon that it was okay to enjoy our pool again.  To impress our four-year old Godson I decided to do a cannonball to make a "big wave."  I'd like your opinion on something important.  When is it too late to change your mind?  Well, in my case,  once my feet left the pool deck there was no turning back.  In this week's Gospel Jesus talks about people changing their minds. 

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:  "What is your opinion?  A man had two sons.  He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order.  He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go.  Which of the two did his father's will?"  They answered, "The first."  Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.  When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.  Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."  Matthew 21:28-32

The chief priests and elders quickly jumped in with the correct answer.  The son who changed his mind after initially rejecting his father had done the right thing.  He did what his father had asked him to do.  Jesus then rebuked the chief priests and elders by reminding them of their unbelief.  They had passed the simple quiz but failed the bigger, more important test. 

We can say we believe but we need to remember the original example Jesus uses here.  God the Father expects us to obediently go out into the vineyard for Him.  If we haven't made up our minds to do so, are we any different from the chief priests and elders?  Saying we believe and doing something about our belief are two different things.  Our faith in Jesus requires a change of mind that prompts us to actively demonstrate our obedience to God.  

It's kind of like doing a cannonball.  Once we leap for Him there is no turning back.  That is the way it should be in our relationship with God.