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

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?