One night I dreamed that a group of friends was sitting in the warm summer grass beside a stream, being taught by Jesus.

“Lord,” said one, “I believe you’re God’s Son, and that you know all things. I go to church most of the time, if there’s not something else I have to do or I’m not just too whacked. I pray. I help out at church and I try to be nice to everybody. I just can’t fit reading the Bible into my day right now. I don’t understand a lot of it anyway. That doesn’t make me a bad person, does it?”

Jesus answered, “There was a woman who had a sickness that left her weak and tired. After a long time, she went to a specialist who was known for curing this illness. ‘If you want to get well,’ said the doctor, ‘go and buy this book, read it and do what it says.’ So the woman went out and bought the book, but she never had time to read it. So her condition remained unchanged.

“There was also a man who had suffered an injury and couldn’t walk without hobbling. He went to a physiotherapist, who prescribed daily exercises to strengthen his legs. He decided they took too much effort and he could get along alright without them. He continued to hobble.

“Be careful,” Jesus said, “that you are not like the reluctant patient or the hobbling man, for my Father has given his Word to teach, guide and protect you. You can’t absorb it by osmosis; it takes effort, just as anything of lasting value takes effort. This is soul food, not fast food, but it’s the only food that truly nourishes. Don’t take it for granted and don’t treat it lightly, for your heavenly Father surely doesn’t. Remember, it’s better to build a guardrail at the top of a cliff than a hospital at the bottom.”

“Lord,” said another, “I would go to church more if it weren’t so long and boring. I mean, really, do they have to go on and on and on about things – all this ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’? I’m a good person. I’ve never killed anybody. And this business about hell – give me a break! A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell. I may not know much about the Bible, but I do know that.”

Jesus answered: “There was a student who often cut class. When she did go, the professors were far from entertaining, the seats were too hard, and the rooms too cold. The classes were full of jerks and losers. Even the color of the classrooms was nauseating. She wasn’t about to put up with all that. Her tuition had been paid in full, but she continued to cut most of the classes and ignored the textbooks. Her parents were good friends of the university president, and she was sure the profs wouldn’t dare fail her. But when she got her transcript at the end of the year, she flunked out big time. She was outraged and loudly blamed outdated curriculum, miserable facilities and lousy instruction for her failure.

“Be careful that you aren’t like the entitled student and grab the wrong end of the stick. It is you who owe God, not God who owes you. My Father is not interested in coddling or entertaining you so you won’t sulk or stomp off. I have paid an enormous price so that you would be eligible to grow in your knowledge and worship of God. I didn’t take that on that kind of suffering and death to save you from the threat of do-whatever-you-want-with-no-consequences. Chuck the class, disrespect the teacher and your fellow students, ignore the text, and you can be sure you’ll fail the final exam. Your parents can’t pass you; your own choices will determine your mark. God is fair, but he’s not feeble. He says what he means and he means what he says. He’s told you up-front how things are and will be; it’s your choice how you respond – your choice, and your consequences.”

“Lord,” said another, “I agree with everything you’re saying. I wish you’d come to our church and straighten a lot of people out! They’re not doing things right; I’ve told them and told them, but they don’t listen. I know how you want things done, and you can count of me to keep squawking until I get through to those knuckleheads. Call themselves leaders! They couldn’t lead a horse to water.”

Jesus answered: “There was a rookie who signed up with a major league baseball team and got through spring training no problem. But as the season went on, he started to make his own decisions about how to win games. He would often ignore the manager’s signals when he was at bat or on base, and go with what he knew he should do. He struck out frequently, and managed to steal one base in 16 attempts, but that one resulted in a win. He was vocal with other players about how many mistakes the managers and coaches made. Morale took a nosedive, and so did the team’s place in the standings. Soon the rookie was sent down to the minors.

“Be careful not to be like the independent player, thinking you have all the answers and not playing with the team. God has called his people to work together for His purposes, not ours.”

The friends fell silent. They no longer seemed to know where to look.

“Be careful, dear ones,” said Jesus. “Wisdom, meaning and contentment in this life belong to those who keep their eyes on God.”