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.