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

In the Name of Jesus

Jesus was named as an infant (Luke 2:15-21). So what does it mean when we pray, “in the name of Jesus?” There is no single account of a prayer in the New Testament using that phrase in a prayer. We can pray in the name of Jesus without a rote phrase. Saying the phrase is not wrong, but it can lose its meaning, degenerating to a mere signal that a prayer is over. How then can we pray in Jesus’ name as he said (John 16:22-27)? The word for name also means reputation, authorization, power behind the name, in honor of and even for the sake of the person named. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are praying in honor of the most sacred name, with his full approval and in awe of his most wonderful reputation.

(Reference: Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. BibleWorks, v. 3.5.)

Circumcision of the Heart

Although Jesus was circumcised as an infant (Luke 2:15-21) he gave no command for Christians to be circumcised in the flesh. Yet, the Old Testament spoke of a circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:15-17; 30:5-7; Jeremiah 4:3-5) which applies to both old and new covenants. God uses outward things for a lesson about more important inner things. What happens when someone is circumcised in the heart? Physical circumcision pictured what God really wants, a change in heart and soul, a different attitude (Romans 2:28-29). This is a focus on the things of the Spirit, not the letter of the law. We look to praise from God and not human beings. Belonging to a church or a special ethnic group does not impress God as much as a heart that loves him and our fellow humans.

Circumcision of Jesus

Like most Jewish boys, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:15-21). We may think of it as a bloody practice and that opinion is not new. Over three thousand years ago, Zipporah accused her husband Moses of being a bloody man because of their son’s circumcision (Exodus 4:24-26). Some may even believe that it is a primitive practice that society should outgrow. Yet, modern scientific and medical research continues to show how far advanced the ancients were in this regard. The World Journal of Urology [1] concluded that positive benefits include decreased risk of HIV infection. Web MD [2] suggests that circumcision provides a 50% reduction in HIV transmission, threefold reduction in HPV infections which can cause cervical cancer, reduced syphilis and chlamydia, about 10 times less infant urinary tract infections, and virtual elimination of serious penile cancers.

[1] World Journal of Urology, Male circumcision and HIV infection risk, John N. Krieger, Department of Urology, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA, Springer-Verlag 2011


Political Salvation

When Jesus was born, the Jews were looking for political salvation from “corrupt and self-serving rulers” (N. T. Wright. Simply Jesus. 2011. Harper Collins. p. 55.). Does that sound familiar? People have not changed. We naively believe that salvation is within human ability. We look for a hero to be our national leader who can rescue us from government corruption and oppression by those with wealth and power. The only problem is that with each successive leader, we are equally disappointed, as they do some things right, but most things wrong. The whole world is ruled by highly educated, very intelligent people who cannot solve humanity’s problems. Luke 2:1-20 proclaimed a change that would make the difference. It was a birth in the most humble of circumstances, the arrival of a leader such as this world had never seen.

The Real Santa Claus

Nicholas, was born around 280 AD on the Mediterranean coast of what is now the Turkish Riviera. The only son of wealthy Greek Christians, Nicholas gave his inheritance away to the poor. As bishop of Myra, he suffered persecution under Diocletian. He was tortured and imprisoned. Emperor Constantine had the persecuted Christians released. One legend tells of a poor man who Nicholas gave three bags of gold as a dowry for his daughters, so they did not have to become prostitutes. Nicholas was also part of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD where he contributed to the Nicene Creed and condemned Arianism. Nicholas saved three innocent men from execution and reproved the governor for taking bribes to convict them. He became known for his secret gift-giving. The name Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch for Saint Nicholas.

Can those in Succession be Wrong

The Apostolic Succession:
In the First Two
Centuries of the Church
What is succession? It theorizes an unbroken line since the days of the Apostles. Some Baptists believe that there has always been a Christian group that practiced immersion style baptism. For seventh day churches it is the theory that there is an unbroken line of Christians who kept the seventh day Sabbath. For others it is the theory of apostolic succession, an unbroken line of ordinations from the early church. We don’t have to believe these theories, but let’s assume that one or the other is correct for the moment. Is there any guarantee in the Bible that someone in one of these successions would teach infallibly? Can those in succession be wrong? In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees succeeded Moses and sat in his seat of authority. He also said that they were wrong.

Christianity is not a Harsh Religion

Christless Christianity:
The Alternative Gospel of
the American Church
Some teachers of Christianity require members to adhere to strict man-made rules about clothing, obligatory rituals, religious titles, ban certain foods or drinks, ban dancing, cars with any color other than black, ownership of a television or radio and other burdensome obligations. That was the kind of religion that Judeans had under the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12). All this gives outsiders the impression that Christianity must be a harsh religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our interpretations of the Bible that are often harsh, not Christianity. The religion taught by Jesus Christ, when rightly interpreted is free and generous. The faith taught by the founder of Christianity frees us from heavy, cumbersome loads. It is a religion of humility where the greatest among us are not those with grandiose titles but those who serve.

Pure Religion is Living the Gospel

Living the Gospel
A misunderstanding is that the Gospel is not about religion. But that contradicts the definition in James 1:26-28. Pure religion is living the Gospel not just preaching it. It takes the Gospel seriously by loving our most vulnerable neighbors in very practical terms. Most people think that religion is the heavy burden of tradition, rituals, special clothing and holy-sounding titles. It is that “religion” that people react against when they claim that Christianity is not a religion. Let’s not be swayed by popular definitions that contradict the Bible. James’ definition of pure religion is the opposite of the religion of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12). Pure religion puts the Gospel into action by relieving people of burdens. The most religious among us are not those who love rituals, but those who humble themselves and live the Gospel by serving.

Release from Heavy Burdens

Jesus on Leadership
When we read how the scribes and Pharisees burdened the people, do we then leave it as a warning for church leaders and not the rest of us (Matthew 23:1-12)? Is that fair? Could the truth be that what we see in the scribes and Pharisees is true for every human being? Our humanity brings the burden of sin. Jesus encouraged us to come to him if we are heavily laden (Matthew 11:28-30). His ministry is to give rest to those who are burdened. He will give rest to our souls. There is no rest in gossip, slander and politics. There is no rest in all the promises of infomercials on television. There is no rest in false gospels. There is rest in Jesus. He invites us to join him in a ministry of release from heavy burdens.

We are the Pharisees

Holier Than Thou:
When Faith
Becomes Toxic
Do we love to read the Bible? Do we pray? Do we love to live according to the teachings of the Bible? So did the scribes and Pharisees. If Jesus were here on earth today, would he address his criticisms of the scribes and Pharisees to us (Matthew 23:1-12)? I believe that he would. What can we learn from his penetrating assessment? Do we practice what we preach? Do we unburden people and release them from heavy loads? Do we believe that clothing is unimportant? Do we take the less important seats and offer others the better seats? If we have a title, do we not demand it or allow others to treat us the same as everyone else? Do we emphasize that we are all taught by Jesus and have God as our Father? Are we humble servants?

Bad Church Leadership

Healing Spiritual Abuse:
How to Break Free from
Bad Church Experience
How might church leaders learn from Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12? Bad church leadership is no different than bad Jewish leadership. The Protestant Reformation was a protest against bad leadership, but it did not solve the problem, nor did it prevent Protestant churches from also having bad leadership. Bad church leadership is hypocritical. It places heavy and cumbersome loads on peoples’ shoulders. It crushes people with unbearable religious demands. Instead of teaching God’s word as food, it loads people down like pack animals with the rules and traditions of mere men. Bad church leadership focuses more on distinctive clothing, titles and public adulation than on saving and helping people. What kind of leadership does Christ expect of leaders in the Christian community? The greatest among us are those who humbly serve and relieve burdens.

Bad Leadership Everywhere

The Dictator's
The examples of bad leadership in Matthew 23:1-12 are not exclusive to the Church. Self-centered leadership that places heavy burdens on others is everywhere. When a bank CEO takes a quarter billion dollar bonus, a bailout from the government but asks employees to sacrifice bonuses and pay raises, that is bad leadership. When a congressional leader asks the poor to pay higher taxes than the wealthy, that is bad leadership. When the medical community demands high titles, earns among the highest incomes in our society, charges Americans twice as much as the rest of the world, yet cannot provide health care for the poor and cannot guarantee insurance coverage for every need, that is bad leadership. Bad leadership is all around us. The Church is called in the midst of all this to provide good leadership individually and collectively.

Bad Leadership Characteristics

Bad Leadership
Two main characteristics of bad leadership from Matthew 23:1-12 are that it is burdensome and self-centered. When leadership places heavy, cumbersome loads on people’s shoulders, that is bad leadership. It crushes people with unbearable demands. Instead of making life a joy, bad leaders seem to take pleasure in watching people stagger under heavy loads without lifting a finger to help. Bad leadership is also self-centered. It focuses on its own self instead of those it is called to serve. Bad leaders love to get dressed up in clothing that emphasizes their position. Bad leaders love the places of honor instead of the places of service. Instead of focusing on those they are called to help, bad leaders love to be greeted with their titles and be noticed in public. We are called to selflessly release people from their burdens.

Religious Titles

Recovering from
Religious Abuse:
11 Steps to
Spiritual Freedom
In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus appeared to ban religious titles like Rabbi and Father. Is that true? The Gospels refer to Abraham several times as Father Abraham and Paul referred to himself as a Father in the faith. There is no contradiction here. Let’s understand that Jesus often employed what we call hyperbole, an exaggeration to make a point. In comparison to God then, no man is our father and in comparison to Jesus, we have no other teacher or rabbi, and we ought not idolize any such teacher. Jesus was condemning those who love religious titles for the purpose of self-aggrandizement and adulation. On the other hand, he recognized certain believers as spiritual fathers of the faithful. The issue here is not to create a new rule banning titles, but showing the proper honor to whom honor is due.

Burdensome & Biblical

Healing Spiritual Abuse:
How to Break Free from
Bad Church Experience
The other day I drove past a number of Bible churches and asked myself what it could mean. It could mean that the Bible is taught. But don’t all churches teach the Bible? They do. Sometimes it seems as if Christians who cry the loudest about believing the Bible are the most oppressive and burdensome. How could that be? Yet sometimes all churches, which claim to teach the Bible add cumbersome loads, heavy burdens, bundles of rules, unbearable religious demands over and above what the Bible teaches. Jesus said that his burden would be light (Matthew 11:28-30) and later contrasted that with the heavy burden of those in his day who taught the Bible (Matthew 23:1-12). Teaching the Bible does not guarantee less burden. In the hands of hypocrites who love power, it can be a greater burden.

Burdensome & Overbearing Leadership

12 Steps for the
Recovering Pharisee
How should we approach burdensome and overbearing church leadership? In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus addressed that in the religious leadership of his day. The scribes and Pharisees sat in seats of authority which had descended from Moses. Jesus encouraged his hearers to follow what they said when they cited the Bible, but not their interpretations which were fatally flawed. Why? Because their interpretations and applications of the scriptures tied up heavy burdens upon people and they used their positions not for service but for show and prestige. The Pharisees began with good intentions, to return Israel to covenant faithfulness so that they could be blessed and freed from oppressive Roman domination. This is a warning to all who would lead churches — that Pharisaic tendency exists in all of us to turn the freedom of God’s way into a heavy burden.

When Government Fails

Render unto Caesar
I come from a capitalist country, that did not experience a recent recession, which has private and government programs to cover 100% of people with affordable health care. Now I live in America where a quarter of my income pays health care insurance and my grown working children cannot afford health care coverage. If they have a major health crisis, what will they do? The government cannot solve the problem and the privatized health care Caesars demands high tribute. Sooner or later human government fails. Thankfully, we are not under an even more oppressive regime such as the ancient Roman Empire. Jesus was, and in Matthew 22:15-22 he was asked whether or not it was right to pay taxes, implying to a government that was a miserable failure in human rights. His reply? Render to Caesar what is Caesars.

Heavenly Egalitarianism

Different but Equal
In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus spoke a parable of heavenly egalitarianism. In an age when people clamor for equal pay for equal work, it may seem unjust for a vintner to pay workers the same no matter how many hours in a day they had worked. But this is not a parable about wages. It is a parable about the kingdom of heaven and the gifts of heaven. The obvious gift that is the same for every Christian is heaven itself. However, there are other heavenly gifts that are also given equally. Each one of us is equal in these gifts. The best gifts in life are free. No matter how long we have lived or what good deeds we have done, we all have the same gift of human life and will have the opportunity to choose eternal life..

Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic Expectations
When we pray do we expect God to do things our way, or do we pray like Jesus, not my will but yours? Unrealistic expectations include ideas like God will always heal and if we tithe he will bless us with wealth. Psalms and Proverbs look at that side of things, but Job and Ecclesiastes provide some balance. Sometimes good people will suffer. Peter was also like us. He expected a conquering Messiah in the tradition of Old Testament heroes, but was shocked when Jesus predicted his suffering, death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21-18), especially ignoring the prophecy of his resurrection. When we suffer, we should not count it as strange. Suffering can be a great victory because we are accounted worthy to suffer like Christ. Remember the promise of resurrection, the only permanent solution available to any of us.

His or Our Good News

Take up Your Cross
The Gospel is good news but can seem like bad news to our minds. That must have been Peter’s opinion when he heard Jesus declare that he would suffer terrible things (Matthew 16:21-18). His answer was an indignant rebuke of Jesus’ news. He had news of his own which he thought was good and Jesus’ bad. Our good news is often the easy path, the path to outward, visible victory yet spiritual failure. Short-term good news can be long-term bad news. It’s a loser’s way to success to only think of the immediate pleasure without the long-term consequences. That’s why sin is so appealing. The immediate news seems good but the bad news is that sin destroys lives. Jesus’ news is good news indeed because it's about abundant life forever. Which do we choose, his or our good news?

On Q

Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus
The necessity of two or three witnesses to something is an ancient legal precedent from Deuteronomy 17:6. The Bible contains four teaching biographies of the life and teachings of Jesus. A theory of literary forensics claims that Matthew and Luke used a common source document called Q, from the German word for source: Quelle. The theory teaches that John's Gospel came from a second source document. This is called the Two Source Hypothesis and is often used to discount the historical accuracy of Jesus Christ. It seems reasonable to suppose that there were two sets of original notes written about the events and that others who were there used them to compile their own accounts. We still have two or three witnesses regarding the life of Jesus and that legal requirement would stand in a court of law.

Tertullian’s View of Peter

Tertullian (The Early Church Fathers)
Tertullian was a North African Christian writer known as the father of Latin Christianity. He taught that Peter was the rock about whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 16:13-20, but it was Peter alone and not any exclusive successors. In other words, the whole of Christian faith is built upon Peter being the first to confess Christ. What about the keys? Tertullian believed that, ‘(Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ's baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom...’ He reasoned that it was Peter’s confession which gave him and any others who showed this faith the key to the kingdom, not human politics and a succession of popes in an exclusive church. Indeed, ‘from that time forward, every number (of persons) who may have combined together into this faith is accounted "a Church,"’

Peter was Rocky not Pope

Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims
Orthodox Perspective on
Roman Catholic Claims
Christ is the Rock of our Salvation. We are called Christians because we believe in Christ. We could also be called Rocks because we believe in the Rock. That is how early Church fathers saw Peter’s faith in the One who is the foundation of the Church. The Church would be built on Jesus Christ, but also constitute those who had this faith. (Matthew 16:13-20). So, Jesus nicknamed Cephas Rock (Peter) just as some of us are named Christian. There is absolutely nothing in the passage which says anything like Peter being the first of a long line of single men who would carry sole authority over the entirety of the Church. Nothing in the Bible or in early church writings support the idea of a Roman papacy as the sole Christian authority throughout the rest of Church history.

The Early Church had no Pope

The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary
Lives of the Apostles
When the Church began, the Apostles of Jesus Christ scattered far and wide. There was little possibility of communication between the Christians of India, Ethiopia, Turkey and Spain. It is unrealistic to claim that Peter could have had authority over all these lands in a time when such authority would have simply been a matter of practical impossibility. Yet, Matthew 16:13-20 has been used to support the papacy above all other Christian authorities. How did the early church view this passage? The early church fathers did not interpret this passage as Rome later came to. Indeed wherever the right faith is to be found, there are the keys to the kingdom. No one person has a monopoly on that faith. That is why Paul wrote that no other foundation than Jesus Christ can be laid (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Wild & Crazy Harvest

Parable of the Sower
Parable of
the Sower
In Matthew 13:1-23 we read two parts of a story of a wild harvest. The story is a parable with an explanation revealing certain secrets of the kingdom of heaven. These are secrets which are hidden from those whose hearts are calloused. This parable is a key to the thirty or more parables of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels. Other parables are not explained in such great depth for us, but left to our imagination, inspiration and discussion. We notice that Jesus’ teaching method was not usually to spoon feed his disciples with ready-made answers, but to give us food for thought. God wants us to rely on the Holy Spirit and use our brains. Jesus explained the kingdom of heaven as being like a harvest with different results depending on where the seed was sown.