As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

Humble & Proud of It

I remember once visiting a church where everyone was known as brother this or sister that. The constant round of brother, brother, brother, sister, sister, sister became like a song that I had heard just once too often – irritating. I wondered if non-Christian guests found this rather off-putting too. I certainly understand the desire for humble forms of address. After all, pretentious and ostentatious religious titles can seem odd and sometimes even downright silly.

Can egalitarian titles also be a matter of conceit and haughtiness? Can such seemingly humble labels also be pride disguised as humility? It kind of reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek saying which, according to the grapevine is popular in the Philippines: We're humble and proud of it. Jesus' discouraged the proud and arrogant insistence upon titles. Whether or not we call each other brother this or sister that is probably not so important. The fact is we ARE all brothers and sisters. That's what Jesus said.

Religious Titles

In Matthew 23:8-9 Jesus instructed his disciples to call no man a Rabbi or a Father. What about other titles like Reverend or Pastor? What did Jesus mean? Patriarchs such as Abraham, David and Jacob had long been called fathers. Jesus was not banning honor for human fathers or ancestors or religious leaders. He was making the point that ultimately honor to God is supreme and leaders must have the attitude of a humble servant.

Paul called himself a father to the Corinthians. Father means an initiator, a promoter, a sponsor, a director, a forerunner or spiritual predecessor. Reverend means someone who is loved and honored. Pastor simply means shepherd. Mister coming from master can mean teacher.

Jesus then did not condemn titles per se, but the attitude of using titles for wrong purposes, such as self promotion and self aggrandizement. The greatest among you must be a servant. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. That's what Jesus said.

Approval Addiction

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being addicted to receiving praise. It was their adrenaline rush, their drug of choice. What happens to us if we are addicted to the approval of others? Our source of happiness becomes applause, instead of God. We believe that only when we are receiving honor, our lives are in control. We are nurtured by the admiration of others rather than by God. The shame of being reliant upon others to feed an approval addiction becomes unbearable.

Psychological dependence on the praise of others leads to spiritual, physical, social and emotional destruction. Dependency upon others' praise makes us people pleasers rather than God pleasers. In leadership, decisions are made to please people rather than God. Warning signs of this addiction in us are if we do all our deeds to be seen by others, love attention-grabbing religious garb, love the chief seats and to be greeted with religious titles in public places. That's what Jesus said.

Unbearable Religious Demands

I know a church, where the pastor places heavy burdens upon his flock. His people get up at sunrise several mornings a week and go to the church building to pray, and then they go about their daily work, while the pastor goes home to rest.

Other Christians also bear heavy loads. They have missed the boat on grace and mercy. For whatever reason, they have landed in the midst of Christian Pharisees who have taught them a touch not, taste not religion. They have learned all the rules they must keep in order to belong to their Ordnung or sect, but have learned little of the grace of Christ.

Such Christians have been given heavy burdens, hard to bear. Their pastors don't bear the same burdens that they expect their people to carry and they are unwilling to lift the burdens that they have laid upon their churches. That's what Jesus said. I say let God's people go free.

How Practice what we Preach

We are all inconsistent to some extent. It is embarrassing when someone publicly points out a contradiction in our lives. It's harder not to be a hypocrite if what we preach is overly strict obedience to petty rules than if we preach mercy and grace. However, we are expected to have a certain measure of credibility. We can't just talk the talk. We must also walk the walk, albeit imperfectly.

Legalism tends to make us hard on others and soft on ourselves, because we cannot keep all of our petty rules perfectly. It creates hypocrisy, a form of self-deception. Mature Christians acknowledge flaws easily and don't pretend. Their preaching is merciful. The best preaching is open and honest about our own vulnerability. Then we are sincere and not pretenders. We are not play-acting or putting on a phony facade. We are genuine. It's not so hard to practice what we preach if what we preach is grace instead of legalism.

Four Criticisms of Religious Leaders

Church leaders deserve our constant support, prayers and encouragement. It's a tough appointment being out there on the front lines, and often disparaged for everything from their private lives to petty issues like the color of their car or the way they comb their hair. Backbiting rumormongers and so-called friendly fire do a lot of damage to churches. They demoralize and dishearten those who are doing the toughest jobs in the church and consequently injure the whole church.

On the other hand, there are criticisms of church overseers which are legitimate. When religious leaders do their job badly and are not reprimanded for their sins, the result is far more damaging. Jesus mentioned at least four valid criticisms in Matthew 23. They don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands. Everything they do is for show. They love receiving public honor. When church leaders fall for these traps, then sorrow awaits them. That's what Jesus said.

Real National Leaders

Our real national leaders are not those in civil government. Those responsible for a nation's spiritual health are the leaders that God holds most accountable. The failure of religious leadership in Israel was so severe that Jesus did not have time for gentlemanly debate. In Matthew 23 his condemnation was blunt and severe.

Josephus records that the Pharisees were held in high esteem at this time in history, and some of them even became Christians, but the movement as a whole rejected God's Messiah and his divinity. Religious leadership had become corrupt beyond repair and it was time for change.

A nation's real leadership is among its spiritual heads. But, whenever religious leaders fall for the trap of an outward show to be seen by others, and the focus is on pious attire, when priests and pastors love the best seats, when they love public prestige and high titles, then a nation is in dire trouble. That's what Jesus said.

A Disapproving & Derogatory Jesus

When we approach Matthew 23, we do not find the genteel and encouraging Jesus of popular imagination, but a caustic, critical and condemning Jesus. Why? Who was he referring to in such polemical tones? This is not an anti-Semitic chapter, but one targeting hypocritical religious leadership. Jesus' confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders was not over their ethnicity, but their deceitful loopholes to evade the law on the one hand and burdensome additions to it on the other.

Jesus did not deal with this matter privately but rather addressed his denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees to the crowds and his disciples. Paul also encouraged Timothy to publicly rebuke sinful leaders. Jesus strongly urges his hearers to follow the teachings of Moses that these religious leaders expounded, but not to do as they did, play the hypocrite. Any of us deserves the same criticism if we are like them. They didn't practice what they taught. That's what Jesus said.

God of the Living

Belief in an afterlife is scoffed at by many. They don’t hold onto any hope beyond the shallow pursuit of fleeting materialism. Even if they believe in a God, they underestimate his unlimited power. Yet, if he really is God, if he really did create everything, why would it be impossible for him to put life back into people who have died? Raising the dead ought to be a straightforward task for the one who made everything in the first place.

A common phrase regarding God in the Old Testament identifies him as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Long after they had died, God said, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He did not say, “I WAS their God.” Although we know very little about the nature of eternity and the resurrection, we have quite a remarkable comment in Matthew 22:32. "He is the God of the living, not the dead.” That’s what Jesus said.

No Sex in Heaven?

When I was a young Christian bursting with procreative vigor, I was profoundly disappointed to find out that Jesus taught in Matthew 22:23-33 that there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the resurrection. I believed that one of life’s greatest delights would be denied us in heaven and was extremely disillusioned. Yet, it’s obvious that reproduction belongs to our mortal life not our eternity.

God’s intent for sex from the beginning was a man and a woman in an exclusive, life-long relationship. That quarantine guarantees the necessary protection for a family and the healthiest environment for nurturing the next generation. It is a deep bond with potential for the greatest human joy, yet surely what awaits us in eternity is even greater pleasure. Heavenly relationships will not be something less than marriage, but more. After all, our delight won’t be limited by a physical body, but we will be like the angels in heaven. That’s what Jesus said.

Xmas Myth #10 - Three Wise Men

No nativity scene would be complete without the three wise men, but it is historically vague. There is nothing in the Bible at all about there being three of them. There were wise men from the east that came to visit Jesus. The number three is speculation based upon the three types of gifts given – gold, frankincense and myrrh. There may have been more wise men. Some accounts give the number as four, two or even twelve.

The idea of these being kings may be correct based upon Psalm 72:10-11 where some kings were predicted to bring the Messiah tribute. The depiction of three kings in a stable is however, is probably not correct, because by the time they arrived, the family was already in a house (Matthew 2:11). Xmas is an opportunity to remember Jesus' birth and read the story in the Bible so that we can get it correct. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

(Although I could go on, I will stop here with #10)

Xmas Myth #9 - Wrong Date

Although early Christian scholars gave just about every month of the year as the month that Jesus was born, most today agree that Jesus was not born on December 25. Why was that date chosen? There are two possible answers. One is that December 25 was chosen as an evangelistic ploy to convert pagan tribes who already considered that date to be important. If so, it was a brilliant plan. Others say that it was chosen by early scholars who mistakenly believed that Jesus was born then.

It is not really important, because Xmas does not celebrate a date, but an event. Most Christians are quite aware that Jesus was probably not born on that date, and that nobody really knows for sure when he was born. What most Christians celebrate is an event which took place some time in the year. It was the most important birth of human history. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #8 - Authority

Some Christians believe that the only festivals with authority from God are those celebrated in the Old Testament. They claim that the Christian church has changed the times and laws without God’s authority as Daniel 7:25 prophesied. Is it wrong to invent days to celebrate Christ, or must we only keep the worship festivals of Leviticus 23? Old Testament festivals basically celebrated Old Testament events. No Old Testament festival celebrated Christ’s birth or his resurrection. Are we supposed to ignore these important events?

Ancient Israel added Hanukkah and Purim to its religious calendar. These events celebrated God's intervention in Jewish history and they were acceptable to him. The ancient king David also added temple worship, something that the pagan nations about were doing, yet God approved of it. The church has the same freedom to add festivals that celebrate very important things such as the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #7 - Pagan Date

Some Christians avoid Christmas because of its association with ancient paganism. First of all we must realize that almost any date would have coincided with some pagan festival. Some ancient Christians actually believed that December was the probable date of Jesus' birth, as best they could calculate.

What if it was actually borrowed from the pagans? Before pagans stole December 25th for their vile practices, the day was God's. Every day of the year is God's. Even the sun which was worshipped as a god by pagan nations was also used by God to represent Christ (Malachi 4:2).

Was Christ's arrival on earth as God in the flesh a bad thing? Of course not! So then to celebrate it on what was once a pagan holiday is irrelevant. Christmas is Christian. Some people keep their Christmas like pagans with drunkenness and debauchery, but we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #6 - Commercialism

Many of us decry the commercialism of Christmas and there certainly are excesses which become a financial burden. However, there is also a good side to the commercialism of Xmas. It's not all bad. There is also something wonderful going on. Next time you go into a store around Christmas time, notice in the midst of all the trappings of tinsel, lights, reindeer, snowmen, trees and baubles is Christ.

Among the most popular Christmas songs are many that tell the story of the birth of Christ. Even in Japan, where barely 1% of the population is Christian, stores are filled with Christmas music. So, next time we think about condemning the kitschy and flashy commercialism of Christmas, perhaps we can realize that there is also a positive side to it. The materialism of Xmas has actually become an unwitting ally in carrying the most important message on the planet, the Gospel. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #5 - Pagan Worship

Some Christians avoid Xmas because they believe it came from paganism and God forbids us worshiping him like pagans. That is a Xmas myth. Whether or not Xmas came from paganism is open to question, but that it is forbidden pagan worship is a misunderstanding of Scripture. Deuteronomy 12:30-31 specifically commanded Israel not to adopt vile and despicable pagan things. One abomination was child sacrifice and another was ritual sex.

Nowhere does the Bible forbid other acts of worship that pagans performed. They prayed, played music, danced, raised hands in praise, made sacrifices and kept certain dates on the calendar. That kind of worship is also done by faithful Christians. The festivals of ancient Israel focused on Old Testament history. We are released from the old law (Romans 7:4-6) and are subsequently free to celebrate the events surrounding the most important event of history, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #4 - Xmas in the Bible

Did you know that Xmas is not in the Bible? Certainly, the birth of Jesus Christ is in the Bible. The most complete reference used for that is Luke 2. However, the celebration that we call Christmas is nowhere in the Bible. The earliest historic references to the celebration are in the 300's AD. Christmas is nowhere in Holy Scripture commanded for Christians and so it is an optional observance.

On the other hand, why wouldn't we want to celebrate it? Saint Nicholas was a kind historical figure, but he ought not to be the focus. The gaudy commercialism of the festival, drunkenness and excessive materialism put all of us off. But those are only worldly trappings and not Christmas proper. Christmas is a celebration of the most important birth in all history. Xmas is all about Jesus Christ, Immanuel (God with us), God condescending to a birth among human beings. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #3 - Santa

Were you disappointed as a child to find out that Santa Claus was a myth? Actually, the myth is a myth, because he really exists, or at least he did? He didn't live at the North Pole, but in what we call today Turkey, in the town of Myra. Santa comes from the word Saint and Claus comes from Nicholas. Saint Nicholas lived from about 270-346 AD in what was then a Greek-speaking province of Rome.

The most famous story about him was that a poor man could not afford the dowry for his three daughters to get married and Nicholas gave him the money. He became famous for gifts to the poor. Today in Demre, Turkey, near the ruins of ancient Myra, are two statues of Santa Claus. One is the real man and the other is the modern commercialized version. So you see Santa Claus was a real person. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #2 - Xmas Trees

Have you ever heard the Christmas myth that Jeremiah 10 forbids Christmas trees? It’s a bad Bible study technique to read our own ideas into a text. Good Bible study extracts from the text what it actually means. Jeremiah 10 describes a workman who has cut down a tree to be fashioned into an idol from the wood. The covering was not Christmas tree tinsel, but the wooden idol being overlaid with metal.

It is only a hasty and careless inspection that assumes that Jeremiah is describing a Christmas tree. The Bible neither encourages, nor forbids the Christmas tree. It is a strictly neutral thing which, like all things, can be used for either good or evil. We can use it to remind us of the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, or that a righteous person is like a tree planted by the waters, and so on. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

Xmas Myth #1 - Xmas

Some people think that if you abbreviate Christmas as X-mas, you are x-ing Jesus Christ out of Christmas. That’s actually a Christmas myth. It’s a simple misunderstanding of language. For centuries when making Bible study notes, our Christian ancestors used shorthand for the names of God and Christ using the first Greek letter of those names.

In Greek, God is Θεος (theos) and so a popular abbreviation for God has been the Greek letter Θ (pronounced either theeta, or thayta). Likewise, Christ in Greek is Χριστος (pronounced either Kristos or with a hard h-sound KHristos). So, the abbreviation for Christ is the first Greek letter X of his name (prounced either khye or khee), which looks like our English letter X. And so, a legitimate abbreviation for Christmas is Xmas. Rather than leaving Christ out with the abbreviation, I prefer to also remember the cross and Easter in the abbreviation Xmas. May your Xmas be one filled with every blessing!

You Don't Know the Power of God

Many modern liberal doctrines are really nothing new, but merely the latest attempt to water down belief in the Bible by people who don’t know the power of God. One such recycled teaching is that Jesus did not perform miracles such as bring people back to life, and so a resurrection is just mythology. The Sadducees were an ancient Jewish sect that likewise did not believe in a resurrection. Another party to the dispute, the Pharisees did believe in it.

In a classic war of words, the Sadducees tried to deceive Jesus into agreeing with their viewpoint. Their trap was in the form of a classic riddle regarding the resurrection – whose wife would a seven-time widow be? This was their flawed attempt to disprove the resurrection. Just as modern liberals do, they tried to minimize the power of God. How would we answer such people? Would we tell them, “You don’t know the power of God?” That’s what Jesus said.

Fallacy of Exclusion

A logical fallacy is to exclude knowledge which may help us know the Scriptures better. A good commentary gives insight from Bible experts. A lexicon helps us understand words in ancient Hebrew and Greek. Forming an opinion based merely upon one mediocre study source, such as an encyclopedia, is sloppy research. The logical mistake called the fallacy of exclusion means that we are missing vital facts. And because of this, we don’t really know the Scriptures.

Beginning in Matthew 22:23, some Sadducees tried to trap Jesus into stating his opinion without giving him the full story, excluding pertinent facts. Whose wife would a woman be in the resurrection if she had been married and widowed 7 times? The solution to this problem is the same with any fallacy of exclusion: fill in the missing information – there is no marriage in the resurrection. Jesus informed them of their fallacy: “Your mistake is you don’t know the Scriptures.” That’s what Jesus said.

Churchgoers, Hookers & Traitors

Christians are sometimes arrogant and sometimes humble, sometimes pompous and sometimes modest. We often confuse what is important, our position in a church or our faith? That is a question that Jesus pursued in his classic confrontations with religious leaders. They would not go into the kingdom of heaven first, despite their dedication and lofty positions, but lowly sex workers and traitors who simply believe would go first. How insulting! We can be in the same boat as the two sons in the parable in Matthew 21:23-32. One said yes and did nothing; the other said no but changed his mind and eventually acted. We have said yes to Jesus and others have said no, for now. Our natural bias is to look down our noses at those that live depraved lives outside the church. Next time someone with a dirty past comes into our midst, let’s remember: they may be the first into Christ’s kingdom.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is when we hold two or more contradictory ideas. We react by either changing our beliefs, living in denial, justifying ourselves or honestly admitting that we don't know. When we demand the original immersion baptism, but deny the original fermented communion wine, that is cognitive dissonance. When priests are coerced into celibacy without a sexual outlet and then fall into temptations that is cognitive dissonance. When doomsday prophets set dates that fail and they won’t admit to being a false prophet, but create an elaborate excuse that too is cognitive dissonance.

There is a really simple answer to cognitive dissonance. If we don’t know that something is true, then let’s admit that we don’t know. If we discover that we are wrong, let’s change rather than continue to justify error. One of the most refreshing things to my ears is to hear a fellow Christian say that they don’t know the answer to something. Now that is honesty!

When God does Something All at Once

Have you ever had one of those overnight change experiences? How about an amazing and instant change in your life? One minute you have a certain set of circumstances and then very quickly your whole world changes. That can happen for the better or the worse. One minute you have a good situation; the next you don't. One moment you have a difficult and threatening situation; the next you don't.

When God decides to intervene in our world, sometimes the result is instantaneous. When Jesus destroyed the fruitless fig tree in Matthew 21:20, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?" The change from Old Testament legalism to New Testament faith was radical. It involved the death of the old way and the uncertainty of the new. When God brings change in our lives, it is amazing. Are we stuck in a prison of the past, or ready to move forward in faith?

Accumulating Useless Junk

Jesus' destruction of the fruitless fig tree in Matthew 21:19 was so immediate that it made me think. He didn't waste time on a useless junk tree. How many times have we held on to things thinking, this could come in handy some day, or maybe it could be useful? A lone fruitless tree could have been an ornamental tree or a shade tree in a hot Jerusalem summer, but not to Jesus. Its purpose was to bear fruit. It had none, so it was destroyed.

In a world of global nomads, most of us have moved house perhaps several times over. Isn't it a blessing to get rid of all the accumulated things crowding our lives! Isn't it wonderful to get out from under burdensome time commitments! Why do we allow our homes and our precious time to become so cluttered? Why wait? Why not just get rid of those things now, immediately, and be free from useless junk?

Fruitful Faith

In Matthew 21 Jesus destroyed a fig tree saying, "Let no fruit grow on you ever again." Why? He was hungry. The tree was full of leaves but no fruit, not even any buds. A leafy but fruitless tree appears promising. It is really useless and better off cut down. In the Old Testament, the fig tree prophetically symbolized the blessings of a faithful life. Yet next to the context of Jesus’ overturning the tables at the temple, a fruitless fig tree here could symbolize a fruitless people. Like the fruitless fig tree, God’s people had shown promise but not delivered.

God is hungry for a people who will bear fruit. What kind of fruit? Faith! God wants a people who will have faith and not doubt – faith to do great things – to move mountains. How does God respond to such faith? Jesus taught us that, “whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Publicizing Christ

Why is it that the worst examples of Christianity seem to have either the best marketing or the most publicity? Why do scheisters, abortion clinic bombers, promoters of perversion and preachers of false gospels seem to get public attention, while true Christianity goes almost unnoticed? Do those who spend a lifetime studying the Gospel need to get off their duffs and make public what they know? Perhaps so, but how?

As Jesus prepared for the cross, he changed tactics from keeping his mission quiet to preparing the public to notice the world's most important event. What can we learn from his publicity actions prior to his suffering? They are found in Matthew 21. One involved a whole crowd of people and one was a lone action. Let's look at them from a publicy perspective.

Timing: Jesus' procession into Jerusalem came at the most popular time of year for pilgrimage, Passover, when the city population would have been perhaps 6 times normal. Is timing of publicity for the Gospel also critical?

Provocation: A noisy procession of mostly Galileans who would have been perceived as a takeover threat to authorities in Jerusalem. The purposeful addition of a donkey fulfilled a well-known prophecy of the Messiah. Would provoking the public also work well in promoting the Gospel?

Cause a Stir: The Hosanna's and exuberance of the Galilean pilgrims entering Jerusalem caused quite a stir among Jerusalem's inhabitants. Religious authorities felt threatened and civilians were afraid that the proclamation of a king might cause trouble from their the Roman occupation forces. Should we cause a stir to further the Gospel?

Limited Radical Action: Jesus' actions against the traders in the Temple market are controversial even today. His drastic actions against the use of worship facilities for financial scandal were a one man protest demonstration. Is limited radical action within reason, rather than wimpy Gospel efforts, a consideration worth making?

I am personally saddened to see the poor marketing skills of those with a healthy Gospel message. Do we Christians need to think about timing, provocation, causing a stir and taking appropriate radical action in order to promote the most important message on the planet?

Domineering vs Sacrificial Leadership

The new Mercedes Maybach Landaulet is perhaps the best luxury car ever made. One option is to have accessories encrusted with diamonds. It gives the greatest among us an opulent self-indulgent ride in almost total silence. Wait! Did I say the greatest? I'm sure you picked that up right away. Few of the greatest among us care for such things as boring self-indulgence. The great care for others.

In Matthew 20 Jesus compared James and John's ambitions for high positions in the kingdom to the domineering rulers of this world. Every nation from antiquity has sought to rule roughshod over its peoples with extortion (excise taxes), curtailment of freedoms (ostensibly for national protection), and discrimination towards those who do not blindly follow.

"Greatness, honor, and prestige in the kingdom of God are reckoned by a completely different standard in the community of Jesus’ disciples" (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (581). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

Jesus said to his disciples that in his kingdom, the first are to be slaves of all. Now that is strange to our ears. How can two seemingly contradictory polar opposites, exaltedness and servitude both be greatness? How can the ignominy of the cross be the greatest act of true leadership in all history?

Wait! I'm not done yet. Now I want you to imagine a family kidnapped in Mexico City, apparently a popular revenue stream there. In this case, they will take as ransom the servitude of a billionaire family member upon whom they wish to have revenge. Can you envision, a man who may own a fleet of Maybachs, stepping out of his luxurious lifestyle to become a slave and die at the hands of his family's kidnappers, so that they can be free? It's somewhat similar to what Jesus did. In Matthew 20:28 we are told that he gave his life as a ransom for us. In this ancient biblical analogy, a ransom was the price paid to set a slave free. That setting free for a price was called redemption.

Why did Jesus mention this topic of sacrificial leadership so often? Could it be because we just don't get it? As I read these passages, I see how addicted I am to this world's definitions of prestige, and how utterly depraved my understanding is of what true greatness actually entails. Self-sacrificing leadership is what I want to learn, rather than the self-indulgent leadership that is so over-promoted in our world. How about you?

Why I Believe that Jesus is God

A recent announcement by a leading pastor in Australia's third largest church that Jesus is not God, but merely a great man, has not caused him to be disciplined as a heretic. The reason given was that no action could be taken unless someone made a formal complaint. A number of church leaders have left the path of orthodox Christianity and the view that Jesus is God the Son. They have zero credibility to represent Christianity in my opinion. So, why do I believe in the Trinity?

First of all, I do believe in God's oneness which is supported in Deuteronomy 6 and Exodus 20. God is described as the Father in 1 Corinthians 8:4,6. Christ is also described as equal to God in Philippians 2:5-11; the Son is described as being the express image of God in Hebrews 1. He is also described as God with us in Matthew 1:23. The most convincing argument to me is the fact that we call Jesus Lord. In the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament that Jesus often quoted, the Greek word for Lord was used to describe YHWH, God. This is most specifically addressed when Jesus is called my Lord and my God in John 20:28. What about the Holy Spirit? He is spoken of interchangeably with God in Acts 5:3-4. Jesus was God the Father's Son yet that which was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit according to Matthew 1:20.

So how do we get three in one? It is important to note that no serious scholar uses 1 John 5:7 to prove the Trinity, because it is of doubtful origin. There is plenty else to support the logical conclusion. Linguistically, we can also see from Genesis 2:24 that a man and a woman are spoken of as one. This is the same word describing God as one in Deuteronomy 6:4. We also note that in Matthew 28:19-20 the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are given one name. Even more convincing is John 1:1 where Jesus, the Word was God.

So how does all this work? We are human and cannot fully understand God, but there have been a number of Trinity theories over the centuries. The so-called economic view is that which we find in Scripture, where details are left to logical analysis. Modalism was also a theory that God is one person with three names. This was rejected because of examples such as Jesus praying to Father. God the Father would not need to pray to himself. He is not schizophrenic. Tritheism, the idea of three gods was also rejected because it basically contradicts the idea of God being one. The Orthodox position logically summarizes a 2,000 year long discussion on the topic as "one ousia in three hypostases" – one Godhead indivisible and yet three persons.

Why is it important that Jesus is God? If a mere man died for you and me, then our faith is in vain. Christianity is not a philosophy like some eastern religions. It is not about a man entering a cave without witnesses and claiming to be God's prophet. It is our self-sacrificing God entering our world to show us his love in a very impactful way, by dying for us and rising the third day with thousands of witnesses. If Jesus was merely a godly man and not Immanuel, God with us, then that sacrifice and resurrection save nobody.

Why God Hates Church Politics

The incidence of James and John seeking the first and second top positions in God's kingdom is not the first example of church politics and won't be the last. Church politics stinks. It was church politics that caused Rome to think of itself more highly than the other four ancient centers of church leadership. It was the arrogance of self-proclaimed superior authority that saw the western church add filioqué to the Nicene Creed, ignoring the sensitivities and concerns of the eastern church. It was authoritarian church politics not good theology that allowed an ancient pop cult of Mary worship to take on the the dogma of infallibility.

Saint Peter's Bascilica in Rome stands as a monument not to Peter but to corrupt church politics, paid for by one of the greatest financial scandals of church history and stands as a memorial for the separation of northern European Christians from their southern brethren. It was intolerant church politics that caused Calvinists to persecute and murder Catholics. It is brutal and arrogant church politics that causes the Russian Orthodox Church to incite persecution of Evangelical churches today.

In my lifetime I have seen church politics close down churches, destroy good pastors and their families, destroy people's finances and drive people out of the church. I have seen people steal congregations for their own selfish ambitions, preach popular rubbish to make money, abuse church members as slave labor to build pastors' private homes, destroy families and marriages and withhold the truth in order not to lose numbers. Church politics almost destroyed my family and is the reason that some very dear loved ones do not attend church to this day. I pray that they will someday look beyond selfish human politics and come to see Jesus weeping for them.

We are all guilty of church politics by the way. When we push and shove and gossip and tear down and manipulate, we are as guilty as others. No church is immune to these sins, because every church contains us. Our church politics only destroys. Yet, we are called to build up the church, heal the sick, comfort the broken-hearted, tell the good news of God's grace and love one another.

In Matthew 20, it is clear that James and John wanted the first and second positions, overlooking the fact that they would have to remove Peter in their ambition. How about us? Do we turn a blind eye to the bodies we walk over when we play church politics? God forgive us! God help us to love and build and not play destructive politics!

Honor without Suffering

We are all the same. We want the health and wealth and glory and honor of God's kingdom now as well as forever, but we don't want the suffering. Isn't it interesting that in Matthew 20:20-22 the mother of James and John seemed to have completely ignored Jesus prophecies of his suffering in order to ask him if her sons could have positions of honor when he came into his kingdom. I think that we are the same. We focus on the comforts, the blessings, the good stuff and not the suffering.

One time I asked my father-in-law if he was ready to enjoy life now that all the struggling to raise a family was over. He implied that I was naive if I believed that all of life's struggles are over once the nest is empty. Eventually, we all become orphans as our parents die one by one, and then we must pass through the time of one or other spouse dying before the other. Life has its blessings, but there are also struggles for our entire lives even for the most blessed of us.

What was Jesus' answer to James' and John's mother's question? He replied, "...You [plural] do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?..." (Matthew 20:22 NASB) After the two brothers said yes, Jesus then went on to confirm that they would indeed drink the same cup. Next time I drink the cup of wine at communion, I want to ask myself if I too am able to drink of the same cup of suffering that Jesus did. I hope that we are not among those naive Christians who believe there is no suffering for the righteous?

Only in eternity is there honor without suffering.


We all naturally like status. It's part of our nature. We can't help it. Yet, the question of who is the greatest has already been raised and answered. Jesus clearly portrayed those who choose low status as the greatest in his kingdom. Strangely, the disciples didn't get it. Not so strange, we also don't get it, really. Deep down inside we all still want status as defined by the standards of this world.

In Matthew 20:20-28 James' and John's mother wanted Christ to give her sons chief positions, status by this world's standards. Status-seeking is one of those fundamental lusts that we must overcome. I recently visited a factory outlet mall and was frankly appalled at the uselessness of fashion. People suckered into status were everywhere throwing away good money for clothes and accessories that gave them the "look" which fashion gurus have deceived them into thinking gives them status. What a sad world!

Mixing our lust for status and religion must surely be one of the most subtle deceptions. Britains did it, and Americans used to do it. What's that? Mixing Christianity and idolatrous nationalism began with Britains claiming the status of God's kingdom on earth and more recently among American Christians often takes on a religious form of nation-worship. Don't get me wrong! My heritage is both American and British. I love those nations, but there is a difference between love of country and one-eyed, blind jingoism.

What we see in egotistical nationalism plays out individually as well in everything from choice of car to house and the constant introduction of ourselves by our job status. Even at pastoral conferences an often asked question is, "How many attend your church?" Small church pastors sadly lament that when they say 30 or 100, they are often politely but quickly side-stepped by those with larger churches.

Status is a scourge, nationally and privately. I don't care whether we live in a Democracy with what we define humanly as relative political freedom or an oppressive Communist dictatorship. The saying of Jesus is true no matter what kind of human government we live under, "But Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.'" (Matthew 20:25 RSV)

Several times I stood at the Berlin wall and marvelled. There were guards sitting up in high towers watching me. Barbed wire was everywhere and I could feel the threat of death if I had tried to cross. At the same time, I saw birds flying back and forth without a worry or care. What a contrast!

Are we much different under Democracy? I frankly don't think so. Our nations also oppress and use authority to lord it over others. We are naturally arrrogant and superior about the status of our democratic traditions, our fashions, our job titles, our social standing, and even our church prestige but somehow I think that Jesus is not all that impressed. The values which we are learning, those of the kingdom of heaven, are totally different.

Thinking about Death

When my dear grandma was alive, I remember her talking often about her impending death. It seemed as if she had a morbid fascination with it and that she was often thinking about death. She was a Christian lady and it was her example that first exposed me to a living grace.

Jesus also seemed to think a lot about death. At least we see recorded often that he spoke of his impending crucifixion. Much to the chagrin of anti-semitic types I'm sure, Matthew 20:17-19 is the third record of such a conversation and the first time that he included Gentiles among those responsible for his death. He gave a pretty detailed prophecy of the cross, including being mocked, flogged and rising again the third day.

Do we think about our death? I pray that I have the opportunity that one of the patriarchs of old had, to be on my death bed, with my sons around me, and give them my last blessing. I pray that I can look back and say it is finished. I was so glad to have spent some time with my father before his death. We parted with a good relationship. Perhaps if we thought about the day of our death more often, as Christ seemed to do, we will spend more quality time doing the right things now.

God's A-List

The A-List seems to be a big thing in Hollywood, and if you're not on it you are nothing, at least according to those who are. Yet what about God, does he have a heavenly A-List, and if so, who would be on it?

As Christians in a now society, we so easily forget eternity as all our focus is so often on this present world. Yet, Jesus promised so much in the kingdom of heaven, hyperbolically a hundred times what we may have had to give up now in order to follow him. In our world a common saying is that he who dies with the most things wins. But in Matthew 19:30 Jesus says the exact opposite, again contradicting this world's way of thinking.

So, how is it with us? Are we among the first or do we count ourselves among the last. Imagine if Hollywood paraded the homeless, manual laborers, janitors and others that people may put on a Z-List and made a big fuss over them. Woudn't that be rather strange? No familiar names, no big egos and the typical paparazzi fawning over "personalities" but instead, a red-carpet welcome of those who are the last in our society.

That is how it will be in heaven. Many who are the last will be among the first, because God's A-List has nothing to do with Hollywood or any other of this world's standards. "Although the demands of discipleship are great, the eventual rewards will be far greater." (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (566). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

What's in it for Us

A friend of mine was a missionary in Africa for 13 years. He returned home to a lower than average standard of living, without a retirement plan and without any equity in a house. You may know others who have sacrificed abroad or at home for the gospel's sake seemingly without anything material to show for it. Occasionally, we see bitterness in similar circumstances and hear the natural question, "What's in it for me?"

After hearing Jesus' exposé on wealth, the disciples also asked, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" (Matthew 19:27 NIV) Unlike the rich young man earlier in this chapter, it seems like the disciples had left wealth behind, but not sold it. We know that Peter owned at least one house. Yet Jesus promised to reward them for their sacrifice with unique positions, a hundred times what they had left behind and eternal life.

In order to understand the promise of verse 29, I think it is good to understand a little bit about what property ownership really means. Most English speaking countries and 49 of the 50 US States use English Common Law as the basis of property ownership. I think that French Common Law used in Louisiana is similar. This gives us a right to property as tenants in common, joint tenants, or tenants by the entirety, but tenants nevertheless. We really live under an occasionally used law, the law of eminent domain or similar name. This means that the government can take our land any time they want for the greater public good. We are after all, tenants and not permanent owners at law.

I can see the positive side of that, because that's also the reality with God. He is the ultimate owner of everything. In other words, when Jesus said that we will receive a hundred times the houses, family and lands that we may have left behind, that is for this life as well as the next (Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30). We don't have to own something to enjoy it. In fact we don't really own it anyway do we? So what am I getting at?

Since being a Christian, I have enjoyed many people's farms and lands, have been a guest in hundreds of homes and count hundreds of Christians as friends and family. And this was just this present life in this world. That's why I believe Jesus meant it literally when he said to his students, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:29 NASB)

Easy for the Rich to Enter Heaven

Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism, 1815-1860A popular message implies that it is easy for a rich Christian to enter heaven. Jesus said just the opposite (Matthew 19:16-28). False teachings imply that wealth is God's blessing. Then why did Jesus say it is hard for a wealthy Christian to enter heaven? It is a battle. "The wealthy are generally held captive by their wealth." (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (562). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.) Are poor Christians cursed and wealthy Christians blessed? The Jews also believed this. It is impossible for rich or poor to be saved, except for the greatest miracle of all time, God's grace: "where humanity is helpless, God can." (The Gospel of Matthew New International Commentary on the New Testament, NICNT, by: R.T. France, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)

Must You too Sell all that You Have

Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, and not Peter, who owned at least one house? Jesus had other wealthy followers as well -- Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, Zacchaeus and perhaps even Matthew. We read nowhere of them being told to liquidate their assets. So why the rich young fellow? Jesus did not specifically say why, and so we can only speculate. But, we are given a few clues in the following parable where we are told that being wealthy can make eternal life impossible.

So what does this tell us about our salvation versus that of someone else? One thing that it does tell us is that our paths to the kingdom of heaven are individually tailored. We naturally tend to judge people based upon their material accoutrements and their perceived status. However, we cannot do so. God may require one to give up everything and not another, based upon their individual spiritual needs. Perhaps some few are indeed able to have great wealth, and not let it distract them from a "full, undivided commitment to Jesus in discipleship." (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (562). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

If you want to be Perfect

Perfectionism is a typical characteristic of firstborn and only children, yet it can afflict any of us to varying degrees. A perfectionist will typically try extremely hard and yet give up when failure is evident. In Matthew 19:21 Jesus gave some individual advice to a perfectionist, who had come face to face with the fact that no matter how hard we try, we can never be as good as God. What was his advice?

We can summarize Jesus' counsel to the man by the verbs he used: sell, give, come, follow. How could Jesus tell someone to sell everything they have and completely divest themselves of a perfect life, in order to become perfect? Perhaps in this man's case, he was not living the perfect life after all. Perhaps he was actually a slave to money and living a very imperfect life. Jesus offered him perfection, which is embodied in the words "come and follow me."

It is important here to note that voluntary poverty does not earn eternal life. Rather, it is a release from the bondage of materialism. I can relate to that. One time we lost our house, car and my job all in the same day. Strangely, it was like a great burden lifted from our shoulders. Also, whenever we move and divest ourselves of the mill stone of accumulated material goods, it is like a breath of fresh air, a relief. Materialism becomes a burden and we don't even notice until we get rid of all the stuff we collect.

The Simple Life

As is so often the case with Jesus' teachings, he used an extreme example of voluntary poverty and a monastic lifestyle, to teach a lesson for all of us. Not everyone is called to poverty and the itinerant ministry that Jesus offered the rich young man, but it is true for all of us that the simple life is a far richer life. However, it is not by itself the perfect life. What it can do is free us up so we have time to follow Christ and learn more about the perfect life that only he can offer us.

We all know how much time lawncare, gardening, housework, pool maintainance, interior decorating, horse management, boat cleaning and vehicle maintainance can take. We generally become slaves to what we own. The more we own, the greater degree of slavery we experience. When we simplify, it's amazing how much more time we have for the things of God and the pursuit of real perfection.

Which Commandments

When Jesus instructed a rich young man to keep the commandments if he was to enter into life, he asked which. To us that might seem strange, because we assume in our culture that "the commandments" means the Ten Commandments. Yet, in Jewish culture it is and was popular to understand that phrase as all 600 plus commandments contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Many count that as 613 commandments, a whole lot more than ten.

Indeed, in Matthew 19:17-19 Jesus then quoted several of the Ten Commandments, but added one not specifically contained within the decalogue. He said to love your neighbor as yourself which comes from Leviticus 19:18 and is not quoted in the Ten Commandments. The commandments that Jesus quoted summarize how we are to do good towards our neighbor.

Saturday Sabbatarian churches love to quote these verses when claiming that we must keep the 7th day Sabbath, even though neither Jesus nor the apostles made any such command for the church.

A great number of the 613 commands from the Old Testament are flatly ignored by all Christians, at least in the flesh. Why? Christians do not operate by the letter of the law but by the spirit. Our sacrifice is in Christ, our circumcision is of the heart, and our rest is in Jesus for eternity.

Don't Let Jesus Speak

I heard that Jesus is coming to speak at our church this week. For goodness sake can't somebody do something about it? We don't want HIM to come. He might do something embarrassing like turn water into wine, and we don't allow any alcohol at our church. He might actually heal somebody and we don't do that Pentecostal stuff. He might say that God created everything and we have grown out of that mythological nonsense. He might ask us to repent of our sins, and we don't want anyone going from preaching to meddling.

If we allow Jesus to preach in our church, why he might tell us not to be so materialistic and give to the poor. He might claim that he is "God with us" but our pastor teaches that Jesus was just a man like any other man. He might tell us that our leaders do not teach infallible doctrines, and instead of praying to Mary, why he might teach us to pray to Our Father in heaven. And tongues? Why he might not even mention them. He might tell us that we're not spirit filled unless we also repent.

And worst of all? Why Jesus might tell us that he didn't use the King James Bible. No please, let's not have Jesus speak this weekend at church. He just might turn our world upside down.

How Good is Good

When a rich guy asked Jesus what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life, Christ's reply in Matthew 19:17 was rather contrary. He simply said that there is only one good person, God. Was he just being picky?

Now we carelessly use the word "good" for all kinds of human endeavors. We say that somebody did a good job, or that so and so is a good person, or that we live in a good country. So, what was Jesus implying here? Was he just the kind of guy none of us likes to be around, because he is always correcting our grammar or vocabulary?

Actually, all of our human efforts at doing good are inadequate for eternal life. Ultimate good can only be done by God who began teaching righteousness via the commandments and because of our lack of capacity for good, concluded it in the cross.

Little Ones and Rich Ones

Isn't it interesting that Matthew contrasts two stories in the same chapter. The one is how Jesus took a little child and blessed it. The other is about a rich young man who was disappointed by Jesus' teaching on wealth. Jesus' welcome was the exact opposite to each as to what they probably normally received. The little child was welcomed and the rich young man was told to give to the poor and follow Jesus.

We may have all witnessed people pandering to rich people in churches, and being rather dismissive of children or others of similar low social status, who may have little or no money to contribute. Our natural tendency is not to follow Christ's example, but to think of the financial consequences of offending a well to do contributor. It's probably the same story in just about all of our churches. Status counts with us, but Jesus set a different example.

Our culture also often has certain built in presuppositions, assumptions. We often assume that a poor person is that way because of some fault of theirs and that a rich person is blessed by God because they have done something right. Yet, the opposite can also be the truth. A poor person may have suffered loss at the hands of unscrupulous people and the rich person may figuratively have blood on their hands. We simply cannot judge.

In Matthew 19:16 the question asked by the wealthy young man was about what he could do. That is often a problem not just for the wealthy. Rich people in particular can tend to want to salve their consciences by doing something. Perhaps that is one reason why some people, after having climbed over the bodies of others to accumulate, spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for it by philanthropy. Yet, we know that salvation is not gained by what we do, but by following Jesus Christ and allowing him to teach us a new way.

Even Greater Treasure on Earth

Now along came a man who approached a popular televangelist with the question, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do in order to have eternal life?"

The televangelist replied, "If you want to enter into life keep the commandments."The young man replied, "I have kept all these. Where do I fall short?"

The televangelist said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go and give thanks for all you have, send a tenth of it to me, and you will have even greater treasure on earth."

When the young man heard this he went away with great joy, because he already had great wealth and the televangelist had promised him even more.

Such is the delusion of popular health-wealth teaching which is foisted upon naive and unsuspecting people. If we want the truth on this parody, it is found in Matthew 19:16-26.

Children Unwelcomed

After living for some time in Germany, where our children often seemed unwelcomed, imagine our surprise to visit Poland, where our children were not only welcomed, but publicly praised and made the center of attention. Perhaps a lack of child friendliness in religious matters was the reason that the disciples shooed them away from Jesus in Matthew 19. However, Jesus made one of his usual countercultural statements, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people.

Children matter in the kingdom of heaven. Yet, how often have we heard in church, usually little old ladies complain about children and their noise! It seems that children are often not made to feel welcomed in our churches. What a contradiction! Children do not conform easily to formalities, and perhaps that is one reason why Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people. Perhaps our stiff and unbending not so child-friendly formalities also have very little to do with the kingdom of heaven.

This experience is often seen as a forerunner of the dedication of children or the baptism of infants. Yet, this informal experience itself seems to totally contradict such later formalities. The laying on of hands as a blessing was certainly widely used throughout Bible history, but this in no way indicates a formal ceremony that now needs to be scheduled into the liturgical life of a child.

Rather than holding any special significance for later church ceremonies like child baptism or infant dedication, perhaps we ought to simply take the lesson at face value, and learn to treat children as Christ would have us do.

Is it Better not to Marry

After Jesus taught the disciples that generally speaking divorce and remarriage was adultery, they asked the natural question. Is it better then not to marry at all, than marry and be imprisoned in an bad marriage? Yet Jesus answered their wry comment by stating that celibacy is a real option. However, it is not for everyone.

Many Catholics criticize their own church's teaching on celibacy. Although it claims that celibacy is an option, the Catholic Church then adds that in normal circumstances pastors are only chosen from among the celibate, in effect forcing someone who wants to be a priest to start by being celibate. This goes against the grain of biblical teaching on the topic, which make one qualification for eldership, being the husband of one wife. Of course that qualification does not preclude legitimate celibates, who were not coerced into that choice, but does include the presumption that most elders would be married.

However, there is a legitimate choice, made without pressure, to become celibate. Marriage is the norm, but another exception is sometimes described as the gift of celibacy. Coerced celibacy is nowhere supported in the Bible. However, some choose the single lifestyle legitimately, and that choice to remain single for life has the full support of heaven.

Jesus' Grounds for Divorce

Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving AgainIn recent news from Germany a female legislator wanted to create a legal "trial marriage" of sorts, one that expired after 5 years or so. I don't think that the idea passed, but it shows the attitude of our world towards this sacred institution. What grounds are legitimate in our fallen world then? Although this is not the only passage on the topic, I want to focus on Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:9. Here the only legitimate grounds for divorce are porneia in Greek, broadly translated by sexual unfaithfulness. Divorce in Jesus' day was apparently as easy or even easier than it is today, so we cannot really excuse their society or ours. The only difference was perhaps that in their society, divorce was more often a male prerogative. What is important is the comparison between the phrases "one flesh" and "sexual unfaithfulness." One or other marriage partner has broken the sacred bond. What Jesus did here was demand a complete rethink of what marriage is. The failure ought not be the norm. Divorce ought always have the status of being a lesser evil, never an ultimate good.

Reference: The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament, NICNT, by: R.T. France, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007

Moses vs God

Why did Moses permit divorce, when that was not God's original intent? Did Jesus mean to say in Matthew 19:7 that Moses' divorce rule was not inspired by God? Did Moses go against God by allowing divorce?

The passage in question is Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Even though it was not the created ideal for marriage, it was a concession made by God through Moses because of sin. Divorce was allowed so that people could make the best of a bad situation. The problem was not that an exception was made, but that people were making the exception the rule. Sounds a lot like our society today, doesn't it.

Our divorce and remarriage merry-go-round ought not be the norm, but what Jesus stated in Matthew 19:6 "...What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

Blessing of Lifelong Marriage

If you were God and wanted to bless human beings abundantly, how would you create them? Would you ever in your wildest imagination, think to make them male and female? Imagine creating two loyal lifelong companions designed for perfect compatibility in every way, producing children together, planning a life together, being there for each other in good times and bad, lifting each other up and working as a team within broad based created roles. How much of a blessing would that be?

There is no more powerful union between human beings as that made by God between a man and a woman. One biblical description of marriage is "one flesh," meaning that we are metaphorically glued or welded together. Our bond with our parents is not as strong as that.

Imagine then if that union was broken by disloyalty, disharmony, selfishness, fighting, lust, greed, etc. What are the implications of breaking a bond that God himself describes as the most important physical union in the human family? Marriage is not just a human convention. The reference to the creation means that God joins a man and a woman as one indivisible unit. "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:6 NKJV) From creation, no other human relationship has ever had such a unique bond or status.

Sadly, the ideal is not lived up to by everyone. Jesus reluctantly gave one ground in this chapter for legitimate divorce, marital unfaithfulness -- a very destructive failure. The marital bond is such an integral part of the created fabric of human society, that to break it destroys humanity at its very core. Have I exaggerated? I frankly don't think so. I wouldn't trade my marriage for anything in this world.

Hard Hearted Divorce

In Matthew 19 Jesus discussed the subject of divorce and remarriage with the Pharisees. They asked him why if divorce was so wrong, did Moses give the people permission. His simple answer was that Moses allowed it because the people were so hard-hearted. Why is divorce as prevalent in the Christian community as outside? Are we in the Church as hard-hearted today too?

Marriage is the intended sexual union and chastity before and during make the best marriage. Yet today, are we so hardened that we no longer desire the pure, faithful, lifelong union between a man and a woman that God intended? Granted, some choose to remain celibate singles and that is also a good choice. If the only person you have ever had sex with is your spouse, you have had the best sex on the planet. Ignore the hard-hearted Hollywood propaganda! It is one of the biggest lies on the planet.

How hard are our hearts? Whose morality counts with us? Are our hearts tender enough to listen to God, or do we prefer to listen to stubborn and impious humans who want any excuse for irresponsible and socially destructive divorce?

Original Intent of Marriage

In Matthew 19 some religious leaders came to Jesus asking him to interpret Moses' law on divorce. Jesus cut right through the Gordian Knot of legal technicalities, and went right back to a time before the law, to the original intent. There are many questions that we could ask today that are really answered by the same principle.

Are multiple marriages okay? Is same sex marriage okay? Is premarital sex okay? Is having a mistress okay? Is polygamy okay? Rather than give a legalistic answer to such questions, perhaps if Jesus were here today, he would answer in the same way, by going back to first principles. "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female...for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Matthew 19:4-5 NASB)

Perhaps we could expand the discussion beyond marriage to dozens of other topics. What about alcohol, anointing the sick, baptism, church government, communion, dancing, ethics, infallibility, Mary, nuns, prayer, sacraments, tongues, versions of the Bible, worship, xmas, etc. Perhaps a good place to start is not with Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, or Billy Graham. Pehaps a good place to start is in the beginning, and ask the question, "What was the original intent?"

Jesus in Our Midst

One of the toughest decisions that a church will ever make is to disfellowship or excommunicate someone for a grievous sin. Some are so averse to this procedure that they avoid it altogether, prefering that no accusation of the brethren ever take place. Yet, this is not what Jesus instructed in Matthew 18. In fact he taught us to make the accusation but use appropriate caution, by making sure that before it was brought to the church, there were at least two or three witnesses. The demand for two or three witnesses when an accusation is to be made, was also a safety feature under the Old Testament law.

In verses 18-20 Jesus concluded the topic by stating that where those two or three witnesses would be gathered together, he will be in their midst. In another place, Jesus said that he would never leave us nor forsake us. It is especially comforting for Jesus to emphasize that he will not leave us without his help in times when very grave decisions like this have to be made. A similar statement was made to Peter in chapter 16. In this case, the church has the authority from heaven to either forbid or permit someone to attend church based upon such a gross sin.

What wonderful encouragement in times of such awful decisions! Jesus himself will be there among us to help us make the right decision. He is also concerned for the unrepentant sinner, and will be there in our midst throughout the entire disciplinary process. This does not mean that the decision will therefore be infallible, but that, given the safety measures employed, the best and fairest decision possible will be made.

A Neglected Ministry

A church that I know has what they call a reconciliation ministry. It is certainly a good cause to reconcile the races, but there is an even more important reconciliation ministry that does not seem to be on the agenda of most churches that I know. That is the ministry of leaving the 99 and chasing the lost one.

In our previous conversations, we discussed how Jesus describes the little ones, those who take the lowest positions in our churches, and who in reality are the greatest in the kingdom. In Matthew 18:11-14 there is one small addition to this topic, that of the precious "little one" who goes astray.

On a personal note, when I left a particular church after decades of service, nobody came calling to see if I was okay. I was not, and the pain of that neglect, of that seemingly "we don't really care" attitude lasted for years. So where are those among us who leave the 99 who are in safety to chase after the one who is in trouble? As the Good Shepherd, Jesus chased me, but nobody else did. I hope that there are some among us who actually follow Christ's example in this regard.

Certainly this would be a difficult ministry. It might mean dealing with depression or anger or messy sins in the lost ones. It also might mean that a church would have to face its own sins and apologize or seek forgiveness about certain issues. It would take courage and a willingness to repent. I knew of one such ministry in a Baptist church where former pastors who had been mistreated by their congregations were brought to healing and restoration. Sadly, I know of no other such formal efforts. Yet, it seems that a ministry to lost "little ones" ought to be a high priority.

A Great Compliment

We Christians have our own way of speaking. I noticed that recently on a trip to the Bible belt. It seemed that Christians were everywhere, if their language was any guide. One phrase that is a part of the in-speak of Christianity is "little ones." If I called people little ones outside of the church, somebody might punch my lights out, thinking that I was insulting them. However, in the church, it is a great compliment.

Let me conclude this discussion of Jesus describing who is the greatest. He warned us not to offend or look down on the little ones, the truly great. What a contrast! Even those who Jesus considered to be the greatest can be caused to sin or fall away from the church. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts. These people that we don't naturally recognize socially, are actually the greatest and their guardian angels are always conducting business before God in heaven.

To be called "little ones" is among the greatest of compliments. Now that is deep.

Take the Lowly Position

When Jesus took a child into his midst in Matthew 18, we often pass quickly over the words that he spoke, to humble ourselves as this little child. In our language, perhaps we miss the point that this means to take the lowly social position of a little child. I don't know about you, but I like having a good seat, or being recognized as a valuable adult, or being a part of the "in crowd." I don't like taking the place of no importance, or being treated like I'm a nobody, or being that person in the background who appears to be of no consequence. But, that's exactly who Jesus says is the greatest in the kingdom. Our "grown up" sense of self-importance puts us "out of sympathy with God's value scale." (The Gospel of Matthew New International Commentary on the New Testament, NICNT, by: R.T. France, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. / 2007)

I don't know about you, but that really speaks to me.

Causing Others to Fall Away

A familiar passage in Matthew 18:5-10 warns us not to cause little ones, humble believers in Christ to stumble. That is not refering to leading someone astray into dancing or card-playing as is sometimes preached, but genuine sin, sin that would lead someone out of the kingdom of heaven. It refers to causing someone to fall away from faith and the gospel. None of us wants to be responsible for such a grievous harm. How can we avoid it?

1) Be Hospitable: Jesus, gave his first clue by saying that we ought to receive the little ones, the humble people who have faith in him. I for one, am quite guilty of not doing this very thing, because I find so many such people to be totally off-putting. How about you? Do we receive someone who has a slant on Christianity that we find to be totally obnoxious or even wrong in our eyes? Do we look at their faith in Christ and receive them for that alone? Jesus gave no slant except that they are humble and believe in him.

Jesus said that if we welcome those who put their faith in him, we welcome him. Wow! What about that Catholic down the street, who prays the rosary daily? What about that over the top Pentecostal who is always naming it and claiming it? What about that Puritan who is so tight that he could turn coal into diamonds? What about that loosey goosey liberal pinko who seems to believe that just about anything goes? Many of us know people of all these descriptions who also love Jesus. Do we accept them?

2) Not Tempting: A second clue that Jesus gives is not tempting these little ones, these humble Christians to sin. Yet, none of us would surely do that would we? There are thousands of ways that any of us could cause a humble, faithful person to fall away from Christ, starting with the very smallest of offenses.

3) Don't Look Down on Them: Wow! Does that convict you like it does me? Do I look down on a number of people who believe in Jesus? Yes. Do you? I'm sure I'm not alone. Jesus is not saying that we should accept heresy, or that anything goes. What he is saying is that we ought to accept the person, even as we may reject their doctrine. Why should we not look down on even heretics or othewise wacky people who believe in Jesus? Because Jesus said that such humble believers have guardian angels and their angels are always in the presence of our heavenly Father. Wow!

Why Humility

Positive thinking coaches rarely extol humility as a key to success. They will tell you to pump yourself up and the "universe" will reward you. Nobody wants a sports star with an attitude of humility. You have to act as if you know you will win.

Imagine a politician who was humble, stating that he did not know much about economics, trade, international affairs or energy -- that nobody ever has been nor could any human being ever be really qualified to lead, but that he would seek the best advice from real experts in each field where a decision was to be made.

Imagine on "The Apprentice" telling your potential boss the absolute truth about your abilities, no exaggeration. I don't think that Donald Trump or his equivalent on the British version, Sir Alan Sugar would be impressed.

So, why is humility so important? In Matthew 18:4 Jesus said that whoever is humble like a little child is greatest in God's enterprise, the kingdom of heaven. Why is God so impressed with humility and why are business, entertainment, sports and political leaders so unimpressed with it?

Just as Jesus' disciples were so fundamentally wrong about true greatness, so is our world and so are we. A simple comparison will perhaps provide some answers. This world with its power, position and pride has hurt and destroyed. We do not need more people who walk all over others for gain. What this world needs is more people who will think in a radically different manner.

Humility is merely brutal self-honesty, a square facing of the truth that we really don't have a clue, don't have a hope, and that all our human efforts, political, religious, judicial, educational or business, only lead to failure. It is a simple facing of the reality that only God's way works and no other.

The Greatest

When it comes to our Christian experience, who would you say is the greatest? Many would pick a Billy Graham type. My heroes have always been missionaries who give up a comfortable western lifestyle to serve in some third world rubbish dump. Still others may choose a Mother Theresa type person. Many would choose their pastor or a great preacher they know. Those who are more astute may pick a quiet widow who is known as a prayer warrior.

Jesus picked none of these people, when asked who was the greatest. He picked a child. In Matthew 18:1-4 Jesus said that we must repent of our sins and become like a little child if we are to even enter the kingdom of heaven, and that whoever was humble like a little child was indeed the greatest. Wow! So, "greatness in the kingdom is a matter of humility, not power or position." (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (518). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

Religious Tax

When we lived in Europe, paying a 6% tax was normal for those who belonged to a state church. In one country where we lived, there are about half a dozen official state churches, including Catholic and Lutheran. We belonged to a non-state church and asked for and got exemption from paying this church tax.

In a similar manner, ancient Jews were to pay a temple tax. This was a significant exception to Roman law at the time, because most often subject nations were not allowed to tax their own people, but had to pay tax to Rome. Even among the Jews, not everyone believed that the Torah supported this particular church tax.

Perhaps as a teaching device, Jesus asked Peter in Matthew 17:24-27 what his thoughts were on paying this tax. Peter replied saying that people only tax those whom they have conquered, not their own people. The difference to our modern tax laws is remarkable. Jesus' reply indicated that as citizens of another kingdom, his followers were free from paying temple tax to a passé religion, yet Jesus was willing to pay it in order to avoid unnecessary offense.

This theme of freedom with voluntary sacrifice is common to Jesus' teachings. He voluntarily gave up a freedom so that others may benefit. Yet, Jesus' sacrifice would make that very temple totally unnecessary. This reminds me of the dozens of faithful preachers whom I know, who are well aware of the total emptiness of their own denomination's rituals, practices and traditions. Yet, these men are better than me by far. They overlook the unnecessary and use it as a platform from which they may preach the necessary, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Me, I tend to offend. These examplary people seek not to offend, that the gospel may have free course. What wonderful Christ-like people!

Betrayed into the Hands of Men

Jesus predicted his death several times during his ministry. In Matthew 17:22-23 he particularly emphasized his betrayal. His own submission to the humanity he loves is highlighted by the contasting words of the Son of Man (anthropou, ανθρωπου) being delivered into the hands of men (anthropon, ανθρωπων). His prediction ended with his resurrection but, his disciples were greatly dismayed.

Betrayal and dismay -- two very normal human experiences. Have you been betrayed -- even in the church? It's to be expected. It's even normal. It will never change. Sorry, about that! There is one thing that we can change. That is, not to be dismayed when betrayed. Like Jesus, our real hope is not this life, this church, that politics, this career, that investment, this country, or even that relationship. Ours is a living hope in this resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.


PS. On a personal note, I have been betrayed many times, often, sadly in the church. Although I have the blessing of a faithful spouse and a loving family (Wow! What a blessing that is!), I have been betrayed many times in other areas. I have been stabbed in the back by people in business and understand what a viscious world business can be. In the church, I've had many people try to steal influence over congregations from me so they could get things done their way. I'm so jaded by church politics, that I trust only one man in that regard, a dear friend who once told me that if I ever moved to town, he would step down in a minute and offer me his pastorate. I really believe he would. He pastors a small church in upstate New York.

I have been betrayed by ministry supervisors who when I was suffering through one of the worst trials of my life, couldn't even be bothered showing pastoral care. Finally I have been betrayed by denominational leaders, who did not have the guts to back me up when they found out how I had been wronged. So, if anyone wonders if this little puppy doesn't know betrayal, well, I do. My logical decision has been to forgive them all. My emotional struggle has been to do so even with a heart deeply in pain. My spiritual hope is only in one thing. There is nothing else -- no nation, no politics, no investment, no church, no relationship (even the beautiful family ones) -- nothing that compares to that eternal hope!

Where in the Bible...

Where in the Bible does it say that Peter was the first pope, that we must pray to Mary and that priests must be celibate? It doesn't! Where in the Bible does it say that we must never have a glass of beer or wine, never play cards or dance, and that we must wear strange clothes? It doesn't!

If we are interested in the traditions and rules of men, then let's follow men, but let's not call it Christianity. If we are interested in real Christianity, then let's read our Bibles. Is it any wonder that owning a Bible in our own language was once banned? I suspect that the real reason was that, in the Bible we would discover a completely different Christianity than that promulgated by men and their traditions. In the Bible we discover the Christianity of Christ.

The Jesus Paradox

Many people see their political salvation in having a Christian elected to national office. Many of the flags of Europe are decorated with the cross of Christ and testify to past Christian leadership. History shows that it did not work out so well for them and therein is a paradox. We Christians often get our focus on political leadership more than the cross of Christ. We want an "Elijah" who will restore family values.

After having revealed his glory to three of his disciples, in Matthew 17:9-13 Jesus told them to keep it a secret, to divulge it to no one. Why? The paradox of Jesus is that he was both the glorious Son of God and at the same time the suffering Son of Man.

It was the disciples' natural wish to see Jesus as a Jewish Messiah who would rescue them from Roman occupation. So too is it a natural desire of ours to see Christians in power as our political salvation. Most of us would probably vote for a Christian over a non-Christian any day, but that's not the point.

The Elijah that Jesus pointed to was not a political leader, but John the Baptist, a preacher who was put put to death because his political commentary was "inconvenient." Jesus focused the disciples' attention, not on his future glory, but back to his soon coming suffering and death. Our eternal hope rests in the resurrected Christ and his power and glory. Our present reality is in overcoming through the suffering and trials of this life. That is the paradox of life in Jesus.

The Coolest People on the Planet

Let me have the privilege of introducing you to the coolest people on the planet. These people are so sophisticated that, for the most part advertisers don't even bother trying to target them. They know that they can't often fool them, like they can most people. These people know the secrets of the universe. Most people don't even know what great wisdom and insight these people have and don't even bother to inquire. They will reveal their secrets, but only to those who ask.

Our world is in a real mess because most of us ignore the really cool people and treat them and their wisdom with disdain. Our criteria for listening to ideas are most often that a person be popular and young and beautiful. We think that celebrities are the coolest people, but they often lead us astray. We rush by the really cool people and shove them out of the way. We don't have a clue as to the depth of insight and wisdom that they could teach us, if only we took the time to stop and inquire. We don't have to go to the far corners of the earth to find them. These genuinely wise people are in your neighborhood and mine. How can we find them? They often wear an identifying sign that allows those of us who are smart enough to seek their insight to find them. That secret sign is white hair.

Yes, I'm talking about the elderly -- often spurned as out of touch, yet more in touch than anybody on a fashion runway -- often ridiculed as being slow, yet too quick witted for foolish advertising which so easily cons more naive people -- whose wisdom is often ignored by younger generations who are paying the consequences of doing just that.

Is it any wonder that anciently God required people to rise up and show respect to white haired people (Leviticus 19:32). Is it any wonder that white hair is refered to in the Bible as a crown of glory (Proverbs 16:31), yet our world is in such a stupor that we think that white hair is a sign of some one who is out of touch. Yet, it is our society that is totally out of touch, because it doesn't even recognize the coolest people on the planet.

Consequence of Loyalty

If we listen to a health-wealth preacher, we might be convinced that the consequence of loyalty to Jesus would be material success. In the Old Testament, Psalms and Proverbs do indicate material blessings for an honest and upright life. Tithing under the Old Covenant promised material blessings. However, when we read Job and Ecclesiastes we see that the righteous can also suffer, even if occasionally just due to time and chance. There is a balance. What about the New Testament? Are the health-wealth crowd really spiritual or perhaps overly materialistic? What would Jesus say?

After having predicted his own suffering, Jesus highlighted a different consequence of loyalty to him and nowhere promised material blessings. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus predicted that at least some of his disciples would be killed for their faith. If our hope is in the material pursuits of this life, we are of all men most miserable. But, if our hope is in heaven, then we rise above this material world and look for blessings that last forever. True life is not in materialism and self-preservation, but eternity.

What Jesus expects from his disciples is self-denial, taking up the cross and following him. That hardly sounds like a life of materialistic self-indulgence. In fact, the often overlooked but literal intent of Jesus' words was to take up our cross and follow him to our own crucifixion. To follow Jesus is a total life commitment. A physical life lost due to loyalty to Jesus is eternal gain.

Megalomania or Suffering

When I hear us in those overly enthusiastic moments, make statements like, "We're gonna take this city for Christ!" or, "We need to dream big dreams!" I can't help think of those poor souls who wander the halls of our insane assylums. The mental disease is called megalomania. Of course, even quite sane people can be sucked into this sort of delusion.

When I contrast that with Jesus' own statements in Matthew 16:21-23, and a similar reaction from the disciples, I see that our thoughts are not God's thoughts. The disciples were indignant when Jesus predicted his suffering instead of what they would think was a conquest. Our human thoughts are for triumph and big-noting our own gospel efforts. We see huge crowds and large incomes as greater victory than quiet faithfulness and steadfast overcoming in the face of suffering.

Jesus' thoughts were on suffering for this world. Peter's thoughts were on a more worldly, outwardly impressive victory. That's when Jesus uttered that famous statement to Peter, "Get behind me Satan!" Wow!

What would Jesus say to our puny efforts when we sound like loud strutting braggarts and circus side-show hawkers? The more we shout, "Victory!" do we look and sound more like defeat? When we have suffered and been rejected for our faith, and have scars to prove it, and yet been found faithful, are we not then the real victors?

Jesus did not talk and strut about like a megalomaniac. His victory was via the vehicle of rejection and suffering. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts. What often looks like defeat in our lives is often real victory in Christ.

Yeast Attack

I love rich, heavy, nutritious manly bread and am repulsed by wimpy white, tasteless, empty, junk bread. But, no matter what our preference, bread can teach us plenty. In communion, we partake of Christ. The unleavened bread of Passover pictured a sinless life. Yet, leaven can also picture the kingdom of heaven multiplying. on the other hand, the leaven of false teaching also propagates dangerously.

In Matthew 16:5-12 Jesus warned his disciples sternly about the yeast of two very different groups of ancient religious leaders. What was it about their teaching that was such a problem, when they actually taught opposing doctrines? Certainly, neither of them acknowledged Jesus and his teachings. We may have a similar problem today. Many Christians give lip service to Christ, but ignore what he taught. It is so easy to be diverted from digesting Christ to something else. The Christian market place is full of tangents and side tracks for those who are bored with Christ and have itching ears.

Many Christians who want to stay faithful are concerned that they do not have enough depth of knowledge, wisdom or discernment to know what is a false teaching and what is not. How do we sort through the incessant variety of Christian publications and media available to us today, and not get led astray? We do not have to become professional theologians in order to sort out the mess.

In Jesus' teaching to the disciples about avoiding the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he gave a simple key: remember the feeding of the two large crowds, the 5,000 and the 4,000. That was only physical food, but symbolic of the source of our true food, Jesus. When we get misled and confused, the best thing to do is to have faith that Jesus will also supply our spiritual food when we ask. That means that we also regularly digest the spiritual food that he has supplied. The more fully immersed we are in the life and teachings of the Master, the more easily we can discern between what is significant and what is an irrelevant distraction.

The Trusted, Empowered, Enterprising Woman

Set-Apart Femininity: God's Sacred Intent for Every Young Woman
Set-Apart Femininity
We hear two caricatures of our great grandmother's life. Feminists (gender-biased towards women) picture her as a "kept woman" trapped in housework. On the other hand, there are shall we say for equality's sake "masculists" (gender-biased towards men) who depict her as a woman of leisure sipping tea with the ladies' guild, while great grandpa slaved away to provide the physical necessities of life. An egalitarian approach is needed, where both sexes are truly treated equally. Neither distortion is an honest picture yet they are readily promoted by a world anxious to dishonor and abandon the wisdom of our ancestors.

In Proverbs 31, we find a woman who is neither extreme. She is neither the brainless bond-slave to a dictatorial husband, nor the lazy woman of leisure, living off her husband's blood, sweat and tears. The first rather impressive description is that her husband safely trusts her. Now what does that mean? Trust is a two way street. You don't earn trust if you also can't give it. So, reading between the lines, I perceive that this is a relationship of mutual trust.

What does trust entail? He trusts her enough to make a decision on buying a field. Now how much money is that? In most of our countries today, that is perhaps worth an annual income or maybe even more. In my retail experience, I have found very few couples who would make a decision over a week's wages in value without the other's input. For a husband to safely trust his wife over something that would entail such a huge cost means to me that this is an extra-ordinary woman in an exceptional marriage.

Another rather remarkable description is that this woman is not constrained by her home duties, but is very enterprising. She not only makes an income from the field that she bought, but also imports goods from afar, and has a rather successful cottage industry which swells the family's income abundantly. Remarkably, she also has employees, but is not the "career woman" who neglects her family, farms the kids out to babysitters or daycare, while she is off gallivanting all over creation, but she manages to personally attend to her family's needs. Granted, there are times when we cannot avoid babysitters or daycare and they become a necessity of circumstances. The Proverbs 31 woman is not however, the absentee wife and mother. She has found a way to richly blend all of these things together.

Some people are offended by such an intelligent and capable home-centered women. In a self-centered world, where family is allowed to rot for the sake of a career, or selfish ambition, the Proverbs 31 woman stands as an example, shining the way for today's citizens that have the highest divorce and family breakdown rates in history. She is not a brainless Hausfrau, nor a selfish, man-hating, family-destroying feminist, but an exceptionally intelligent and graciously dependable woman who is able to preserve and blend family and business life into one seamless, healthy whole. Wow!