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

Have we lost Jesus?

Just like his parents lost him when he was aged 12, sometimes I wonder if we in the churches have lost Jesus. He told his parents who had frantically searched for him for days, didn't you know that I had to be in my Father’s (Luke 2:41-52)? The last word in the sentence is left out in Greek. It could be mean either house or business as different translations render it. When the church wanders off track engaged in affairs of this world, chasing trivial material or political pursuits of mere mortals, making the house of God into a market place, doing anything other than God’s business, Jesus will still be doing his Father’s business. If we have lost Jesus, it is important for us to stop what we’re doing and get back on track. What is Jesus doing?

Lost family members

Legal immigration to the United States cost me about fifteen hundred dollars with trips half way across the country and paperwork like a doctoral dissertation. How does it feel for those that we separate from their families because of unfair immigration laws?

We were in a large department store in a strange land enjoying time as family when suddenly we realized that a child was missing. Panic! Where was he? We searched all over when unexpectedly an announcement came over the loudspeaker that a little boy in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a red western shirt had lost his parents. We went up to the appropriate floor where he was in the good hands of a customer service agent.

Can you imagine how it must have been for Jesus’ parents after he had gone missing for days (Luke 2:41-52)?

Finding Jesus

Germany in the 1980’s was an innocent society. We were there on church assignment. Village life was idyllic and peaceful, without crime, no school shootings and no gangs. We used to send our pre-teen son down the street for groceries. We felt perfectly safe. Perhaps that was a similar feeling in the society in which Joseph and Mary lived as they traveled up to Jerusalem for Passover season. Perhaps that’s why they were not so concerned at first about Jesus’ safety as we might be, thinking that he may be among relatives. Still, they must have gotten just a little frantic until they found him in the Temple, talking things over with the same group of people who would later falsely accuse him and demand his death (Luke 2:41-52). Who was this boy, interested in theology at age 12?

Advent’s message: fire

Among the many messages of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for Christ’s ministry was that people would be baptized by fire (Luke 3:7-18). The baptism by fire in Acts 2:1-4 is one interpretation of this passage. This is a problem for Baptists who believe that baptism must be a literal immersion, but this baptism by fire was only on people’s heads. That being said, Luke’s context reveals another side to the baptism of fire. The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Hell is pictured by many metaphors, outer darkness, blackness, eternal separation from God and fire. One picture is that those whose names are not written into the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). This is a baptism of fire that nobody wants in their future.

Advent’s message: share

Among the many messages of Advent and the Christmas season surely none can create a more joyful experience than to share. In Luke 3:7-18 John the Baptist encouraged a crowd of people to donate extra clothing. Many Christians follow John’s instructions today. The Volunteer Guide reports that in America 3.5 million homeless people need clothing, more than a third of them are children. Donating clothing helps the environment by extending their life. Many charities actually do not follow the spirit of John’s instruction. Rather than give clothing away, according to ABC News many actually resell about 10% of clothes in thrift stores and 90% to clothing manufacturers for recycling. For the Christian who wants to do more than support another charity scam, find one that actually gives to the poor without cost or give personally to the needy.

Extortion and a just price

Thomas Aquinas
In Luke 3:7-18 John instructed a group of tax collectors and soldiers not to engage in extortion of money. Today, extortion is more commonly found in the price of goods and services. The question of what is a just price was proposed by early church theologians like Thomas Aquinas to combat usury, apply the Golden Rule and create fair standards in the marketplace. The argument is that an unjust price is a kind of fraud. For example, when retailers raise building material prices to profit from a disaster, that is extortion. When bankers charge poor people higher interest rates than wealthy people that is unjust. When manufacturers manipulate international politics so as to profit up to 1800 percent from wars that is legalized racketeering.* Charging a just price and treating everyone fairly is the goal of every sincere Christian.

* Butler, Smedley. Major General, USMC. War is a Racket. Speech. 1933

Repentance old and new

The Greek word for repentance means a change of heart. The Hebrew word shub means to turn back, but the Greek meaning focuses on the mind, not mere outward actions. It highlights a major difference between the Old and New Covenants. The Greek word comes from meta meaning after and nous meaning thought, so any definition involving actions alone is not sufficient. That being said, a change of heart is only genuinely proven by relevant outward fruits (Luke 3:7-18). The end result is the same even if the way we get there is now new. The problem with an outward repentance is that we can start in the wrong place. A change of actions can be from a wrong heart. Without a change of thinking in relation to sin, we have mere outward conformity and not real lasting change.

Advent’s message: snakes

I have often lamented that pastors are paid by those to whom they preach. It can be blackmail. “Don’t you dare preach against my political parties’ sins, just the other guys.” “Don’t you dare tread on my toes, just the lady across the room. She needs to hear it.” Eventually, if pastors are browbeaten enough, it’s either time to move on or the congregation gets over it and grows. We never will agree on everything, but we must love each other anyway. Loving our neighbors includes our pastors, even disagreeing lovingly. If we are offended by our pastors sometimes, imagine having John the Baptist or Jesus as our local pastor. Jesus told Peter get behind me Satan and John told one of his audiences, “You brood of snakes, who told you to flee from God’s coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7-18)*

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Advent’s message: repentance

When we think of fruits of repentance what comes to mind? Some churches speak about dancing, alcohol and card-playing none of which are explicitly forbidden by the Apostles and one of which Jesus even engaged in on occasion. In Luke 3:7-18 John the Baptist gave some examples which would show genuine repentance. Specifically, he mentioned donations of clothing and food to the less fortunate, not taking advantage of unjust government regulations for personal gain, not extorting money or being a false accuser. When I think of the trite rules that men make up as examples of godly principles, they are often easy outward forms, looking good externally without really needing to change our hearts. Biblical examples of what repentance looks like usually involve something deeper than a silly rule. Those examples of repentance involve real change from the heart.

Advent’s message: Nicholas

Who is the most popular Christian outside of the Bible? We may think of famous theologians or reformers but the most popular is Nicholas of Myra, who was loved by many in his time and those who read his story today. The fiction surrounding him has grown to the point that he is the second most important Christmas character after Jesus. Why is he so popular? Though he was very wealthy, he spent his life giving it away and touched the lives of thousands. He saved many from financial ruin, helped out in disasters, defended people in court from false charges, provided food during famines, saved children from slavery, travelers from murder and prayed and saved sailors from shipwreck. The real Saint Nicholas is loved because he made crooked roads straight and rough ways smooth (Luke 3:1-6). Shall we?

Advent’s message: small things

Some pastors enter politics. Most say that would be a demotion. They are already doing the most important work on earth today. Luke compares political and religious events to what would take place in an insignificant corner of Israel. Small things are often of far greater significance than what’s in the news headlines. Making things straight and level and smooth (Luke 3:1-6) may seem like small things, but they are far more important than who has the political power in the world’s capitals or who has what religious titles today. When we get about doing the Lord’s work, we find that he is often involved in small things in this world’s eyes, things far away from the fame and fortune that this world seeks. The big things of this world are insignificant compared to the small things of God.

Advent’s message: significance

What are the most significant events taking place on earth today? Is it the stuff that makes the news? Is it what world leaders, national leaders or even regional leaders are doing? What about the things being done by bishops and other religious leaders? If we compare the history described in Luke 3:1-6, we will see that at that time, none of those things was significant compared to a much more important event. At this time of year, we also see many things which try to crowd out the Christmas message like insipid politics, religious pomp and commercial sales. What is the message of Christ’s birth? It is a message that is far more important than any: prepare the way of the Lord, make things straight and level and smooth. All people will see the salvation of the Lord.

Advent’s message: giving

forensic reconstruction of
Nicholas from his bones
Nicholas was born of wealthy Christian parents in what is today southern Turkey. It was a Greek area at the time. He followed Jesus’ comments to a wealthy young man (Matthew 19:16-30) to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. He spent the rest of his life doing just that and is known for his generosity to those in need. One story tells of his providing a dowry for three daughters who, without it, were bound for a life of sexual slavery. Little bags of coins were tossed in a window landing in stockings and a shoe, giving rise to several Christmas traditions. As we think of making crooked roads straight and rough ways smooth in preparation for Christ’s coming (Luke 3:1-6), it is good to follow a wonderful example of giving like Saint Nicholas’.

Advent’s message: involvement

Social justice is not just a liberal issue but also conservative. Repenting of injustice is part of the Gospel. Prophecies of the coming Messiah speak of making a straight path (Luke 3:1-6). We may not be able to do much in this world, but many churches believe that we must relieve suffering as we have opportunity. Jesus did. In preparation for his coming we are to make straight paths, fill in the valleys and level the hills, straighten what is crooked and smooth what is rough. We take an interest in the natural world, nurturing others into the fullness of what God intended, esteeming others as valuable in God’s sight, fighting for human rights, for those who are economically and politically oppressed, against unjust wars, exploitation and greed. What are you doing to prepare the way for Jesus’ return?

Advent’s message: justice

Americans hoped for an equality that has never been achieved. There is no level playing field. John the Baptist preached an old prophecy of the coming Messiah (Luke 3:1-6; Isaiah 40:3-5) about a time when justice will come. He preached it in the context of Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias who are symbolic of the inequality of all human governments. The high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas is symbolic of the injustice in all human religions. We are only capable of creating crooked paths and rough roads of injustice. Even a recent strike highlighted a large corporation’s inequality. The company’s owners increase their own incredible profits into the billions and yet lower employee wages and benefits. Jesus will repair this world’s injustices, lowering mountains or greed, raising valleys of despair, straightening out crooked ways and smoothing rough paths.

Advent's message: nearness

A constant message of the gospel is the nearness of the kingdom of God. While we look to world events for signs of the coming kingdom (Luke 21-25-36), we can easily miss the nearness of the kingdom now. That is part of the message to watch or be on guard. While we wait for the fullness of the kingdom to come at Christ’s return, let us not let go of that part of the kingdom that we have now. Let’s not allow the cares of this life to take that away from us. Let’s not get so discouraged or careless that we do something stupid like is so often the case with a worldly approach to Christmas, shopping, partying and getting drunk. Let’s remember the nearness of Christ and his reign in our lives, watching and praying at all times.

Advent’s message: trees

A message of advent is in the trees, no, not the Christmas trees, but all trees. Luke 21-25-36 contains the parable of the fig tree but, the actual wording says, behold the fig tree and all the trees. So, at least “all the [deciduous] trees” make leaves some time before summer. Our modern definitions of seasons are very rigid. And so we officially define a season’s beginning by our calendars rather than weather or other variables. However, conversationally, when it snows, we sometimes say that winter is early or when the crocuses pop out of the ground we say that spring is in the air. According to nature’s clock, we can never really be sure when a season will change. So it is with the return of Christ. Yet, there are clues that a change is just around the corner.

Advent’s message: signs

In the Advent season we look backwards to the first coming of Christ and forward to his second coming. What are some of the signs preceding his second coming? The Bible warns of astronomical signs, wars, violence lawlessness, droughts, famines, earthquakes, natural disasters, disease epidemics, the rise of those a great false prophet and those who follow him, the rise of a great world power called the beast, the gospel preached into all the world, persecution of the faithful, a world crisis centered in Jerusalem, the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation unmatched by any in history. All these things would come to a culmination in one generation and experienced by the entire world. We must be alert and pray always that we may be accounted worthy to escape and even more importantly to stand before Jesus (Luke 21-25-36).

Advent’s message: prepare

In the midst of the commercial chaos and pressure to buy and exchange gifts is a very important reminder for Christians: prepare. The Advent season is a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. The custom of the Advent wreath is one example of such preparation. We use the four weeks leading up to Christmas to visually remind ourselves of stories surrounding the birth of our Savior. In my experience, three red or purple and one pink candle surround a white one. Others use four red candles surrounding the white one. The first Sunday a candle is lit to remind us of important events. Then a second candle the next Sunday and so on until finally on Christmas Day the central Christ candle is lit. Preparation also reminds us to prepare for his second coming (Luke 21-25-36).

Why I don’t believe in a secret rapture

The word rapture summarizes 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, being caught up in the air. People confuse this “rapture” which all Christians believe, with the doctrine of a “secret rapture” which most Christians do not believe. There are many weaknesses in this doctrine, but a main reason that I do not believe it is because Luke 21-25-36 says that men shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds. The popular “Left Behind” video series builds upon the idea of the rapture being a secret coming of Christ, but this contradicts the plain statements of many Bible texts which reveal that Christ will come visibly, not in secret. Every eye will see him (Revelation 1:7). He will come back in the same way that he went (Acts 1:11). The second coming will be obvious to the whole world.

Republicans, Democrats hypocrites!

Why is Jesus’ kingdom not of this world (John 18:33-37)? What many people may not realize is that the criticisms that Jesus made towards such parties as the Pharisees and Scribes, were criticisms of political-religious parties. In the Jewish state there was no separation of church and state as we experience in modern western democracies. The church was the state and the state was the church. So when Jesus said such things as Scribes, Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23:13), he would probably have said something similar to Republicans, Democrats hypocrites, if he were on earth today. The more that we compare this world’s politics with the benevolence of the kingdom of God as seen in Israel’s law and in the self-sacrifice of the king of kings, the better we understand why Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.

A kingdom not of this world

Jesus’ reign is not of this world (John 18:33-37). What is the difference? Israel could have been a land of mutual assistance and equality. Lending in hard times without interest, no one need be poor (Deuteronomy 15:7–10; Leviticus 25:35–37; Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19–20; Leviticus 25:36–37). They were to celebrate festivals as equals (Exodus 23:10–12; Leviticus 25:1–7, 18–24), land was to be returned to the original owners, debt written off, and slaves released (Leviticus 25). Farmers were to leave some of their crops for the marginalized (Deuteronomy 24:19–21; Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Ruth 2). There was a poor tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22–29). Debt was to be forgiven (Deuteronomy 15:1–3), slavery to debt fully paid in six years (Exodus 21:2–6; Deuteronomy 15:12–18). No country of this world is like God’s kingdom.

Reference: Barrera, Albino. Economic Compulsion And Christian Ethics. n.p.: Cambridge University Press, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 Nov. 2012. p. 82

Who was Pilate

Who was Pilate? John 18:33-37 shows Pontius Pilatus (his Latin name) to be important during Jesus’ last days. He was a prefect, an early title similar to procurator, lower in rank than king. His job as prefect was primarily military with around 3,000 soldiers under his command. His duties also included tax collection and limited functions of judge. Charges of blasphemy against Jewish law would have held little interest for a Roman military governor, but twisting Jesus’ own words of being king, could have posed a political threat against Rome. Pilate remained unconvinced of the charges and probably saw right through the Jewish plot. When allowing the crucifixion, he insisted that the trumped up charges be posted above the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth. The king of the Jews”, probably indignant for being manipulated by the Jewish political-religious leaders.

What is the church

The church is the assembly of people called out by God. The church is not the building that we rent or own. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13:1-23 is a lesson for us today that the building is not that important to God. When the Temple destroys people, it is no use. When the Temple is a center of corruption and bickering, it is no good any more. If a building stands in the way of God’s work, then it is no longer needed. Throughout the Bible the voice of the widow and the orphan cry out for justice. The poor and the alien shout for good news. A building serves no purpose if those voices are not heard. Buildings come and go, but the the assembly of the saints, and its purpose remain.

Political Jesus

Jesus was always political, comparing the values of the kingdom of God to the hypocritical leadership of this world. His prophecy in Mark 13:1-23 contains two imperatives: don’t be led astray by false religion and don’t be disturbed by wars. Roman and Jewish politics stunk. The people were oppressed and sinking into poverty. The political-religious leadership misused the Temple. Times would become more and more politically uncomfortable for Christians. Several of those loyal to the kingdom of heaven would be brought to court on trumped up charges and beaten up. Some would even be executed. Political loyalties would divide families and Christians would have to flee their homelands without time to take possessions. All this is preliminary to the good news of Jesus’ coming to take over the governments of this world and usher in the kingdom of God.

Warning for today

The “little apocalypse” of Mark 13 predicted the Temple’s destruction. It was a huge complex, five football fields long and three wide. The Temple was the center of national life for Israel. The marble was so white that from a distance it looked like snow. The gold was so magnificent that in the morning sun it was blinding. Yet this beautiful place also contained corruption that caused the nation distress. Part of Jesus’ early popularity was from his political criticisms of Temple leadership. When rebellion began in the 60’s one of the first things they did was to burn the Temple records of debt. There was no middle class, only the rich and the poor. Taxes on the poor were near 50% and tax debt was so high that foreclosure and unemployment were rampant. It’s a dire warning for today.

Prophecy in the language of grief

In the language of grief Jesus prophesied about events to happen within 40 years of his death and at the end of this age (Mark 13:1-23). His first warning was against deception by those claiming to be a Messiah figure. The First Jewish-Roman War, also called the Great Revolt, occurred between 66-74 AD. It began with religious tensions, growing poverty and unemployment, high taxes and corruption in the Jewish government. Many came saying that they would save the people from Roman oppression. Thus began an anti-tax revolt which spread to guerrilla warfare and eventually full-scale war. The Jews suffered a disastrous defeat, a terrible tragedy. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 and the last rebels were defeated at Masada in 74. We have similar issues today. Many rise up claiming to be saviors of the nation. There is only one Savior.

A time to flee

Mark 13:1-14 prophesied a time to flee. Living in the modern democracies of the Anglosphere we cannot imagine a time when we might have to flee from our countries. Yet, those who remember the Nazi time in Europe can well imagine it. Jews were among the most severely persecuted at that time. Many saw the handwriting on the wall and fled to freedom leaving everything behind. Others ignored the danger and stayed. Many of them were never heard from again after they ended up in one of Hitler’s concentration camps and died in the Nazi’s terrible “final solution.” Times of persecution are not new. Christians live it today in North Korea, China, in parts of the Middle East and Africa. Will we ever experience it here? Jesus seems to indicate that it will become widespread before his second coming.

A literal prophecy

The passage in Mark 13:1-13 prophesied the destruction of the temple and also looks forward to the second coming. Prior to his becoming Emperor, because of the fierceness of the Jewish revolt, Titus ordered Jerusalem and its temple to be demolished in 70 AD. The temple was built by Zerubbabel and Ezra. It was greatly expanded by Herod. However, just like many things dedicated to God, it had become an idol and God is in the habit of destroying idols. Some of the largest stones were 50 feet wide, 25 feet high, and 15 feet deep. They were cut, transported and placed with such precision that no mortar was needed. This prophecy was literally fulfilled, revealing to us that the rest of the prophecy is also to be taken literally. Before Jesus’ return other dramatic events will also occur.

The end is a beginning

When we read bad-news passages like Mark 13:1-13 we may be tempted to think that it is the end of us. But it is not. It is the end of the bad news and the beginning of the good news. It is the prelude to the kingdom of God finally becoming reality on earth as it is in heaven. Often times when an enemy is about to lose, he goes all out in an insane last ditch effort to win, like Hitler’s Battle of the Bulge in World War 2. The enemy of humanity, Satan will also attack us in a last ditch effort. That is the biggest battle before Christ returns. His offensive will involve deception, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, kangaroo courts, murder and betrayal. But that’s only the bad end before the good beginning.

All in for God

“All in” is a poker term of total commitment. Can Christians go all in with very faulty churches? As a jaded Christian who has have been offended, disappointed and deeply hurt by church leadership, I was once pleasantly surprised to hear a theology professor openly admit that he and other church leaders are the modern equivalent of the Pharisees. Rather than run away from the church, I have also come to the conclusion that this shows Jesus’ remarkable grace, in that he chooses to work through such a faulty instrument as the church and even calls it his special treasure and his bride. In Mark 12:38-44 Jesus revealed some of the dirty underbelly of the Jewish church and a remarkable woman who, rather than walk away, focused on God behind the scenes and went “all in” with her offering.

Sgt Mjr John Henry Quick

During the Spanish American War, Americans and Cubans fought together against the Spanish. During the 1898 battle for Guantanamo Bay, gunfire from the USS Dolphin had been misdirected and was landing on Americans. West Virginia Marine Sergeant Major John Quick found a large blue polka-dot cloth, tied it to a stick and without thought of his own life, climbed to the top of a ridge to signal the ship. He gave no regard to the shells and bullets flying all around him, but calmly faced the ship and did not stop until his message was complete. The ship answered and he returned to his place on the firing line. For his bravery he received the medal of honor, one of less than 100 West Virginians to do so. His is the name of one honored for sacrifice (Mark 12:38-44).

Power and wealth

Twin deceptions of power and wealth are central to the story in Mark 12:38-44. America has a low incidence of illegal corruption, but a high incidence of legal corruption like campaign contributions and lobbying. It is far worse in China, where crony capitalism goes hand-in-hand with party membership. In America, “Wall Street’s done a fabulous job of making the world safe for Wall Street.”* Powerful and wealthy people are usually more immoral than the average person because power and wealth corrupt. The problem of all our economies is to have a form of capitalism that creates wealth for all rather than for just a few. When the poor cry in pain, the wealthy often ignore them, but when the rich are asked to sacrifice they cry persecution. True Christians follow the example of the widow rather than the wealthy and powerful.

*Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats, Penguin Group, 2012, p. 219

Those who sacrifice

Why does a soldier do it, sacrifice his life in a faraway country for a complete stranger? That’s what Sergeant Dennis Weichel did in early 2012. A little Afghan girl ran into the road directly in front of a 16 ton truck and he ran to her rescue, saving her life, but sacrificing his own. He was run down and later died of his injuries. Soldiers are not given the moral choice between a just war and an unjust one. That’s for politicians to decide, but men like Dennis remind us of the morality of self-sacrifice regardless of politics. Christians are called to a life of sacrifice, something that even the ugly politics of church cannot erase. In heaven some names will rise above those with status or wealth. They are the names of those who sacrifice (Mark 12:38-44).

The monetized church

It seems that everything today is “monetized,” filled with annoying in your face advertisements. From the latest versions of software, to social media and news videos, we cannot escape the ubiquitous money-grubbing advertising. Even within the church there are those who have fallen prey to the false Gospel of Mammon. Just like certain ancient teachers of God’s law, some are not satisfied with the offering plate. In Mark 12:38-44 we find an ancient kind of the monetized church, those who devoured widows houses. Shamelessly cheating people out of property in the name of religion is nothing new. It is just one example of many ways to use religion as a scam for personal gain, to monetize the church. Jesus contrasted this greed amongst believers with those who are in it to follow Jesus’ own example by giving not taking.

2 kinds of Christian

Mark 12:38-44 reminds us of two kinds of Christian, takers who love power and wealth versus the givers. The description is a stark contrast. On the one hand are those who love fancy clothes, public acclaim, position and long verbose prayers, all the while exploiting the helpless. The contrast on that side includes the rich who give what seems to be generously but is a miserly percentage of what they could give. Both of these groups are contrasted with a poor and needy woman who gave extravagantly. A western pope once compared such giving from our abundance with giving of our substance. Giving a tiny part of our surplus wealth, even large amounts which would not be missed is puny compared to the woman who gave lavishly what she could not afford. To what would God compare our giving?

Loving God with all our strength

When an emergency happens we can exhibit super-human strength, what science calls hysterical strength or adrenaline strength. Mothers lift cars to rescue children and warriors go berserk to accomplish heroic feats in battle. Using all our strength also makes us very tired very quickly. Can we love God with all our strength (Mark 12:28-34)? But what happens when our strength fails? Paul encouraged the Ephesians and through them us, to be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). We may be weak, but if we remain in God’s city we will be strong (Isaiah 26:1-2). The Lord is our strength and song and salvation (Exodus 15:1-2). God is our strength and power (2 Samuel 22:33). Let us not be discouraged because God will strengthen us even when enemies attack us for serving him (Isaiah 41:10).

Loving God with all our souls

Why ought we to love God with all our souls (Mark 12:28-34)? The word translated as soul here is psyche which can also refer to the life of a person. What good is it if we gain the whole world and lose our souls? What can we give in exchange for our souls (Matthew 16:26)? If we love things more than God, we are lost souls. If we find our lives, we lose them. If we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we find them (Matthew 10:39). The Magnificat is so named because Mary sang, my soul magnifies the Lord. Do our lives magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46)? Why would we not want to love the one who is the shepherd and overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25)? He  provides everything that we need.

Loving God with all our hearts

How do we love God with all our hearts (Mark 12:28-34)? It is a two-way street. We have our part. We are to seek him wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy 4:29-31). Joshua 22:5 explains that it involves walking in his ways, keeping his commands and holding fast to him. The first few of the Ten Commandments are specific principles of showing love to God: have no other Gods, no graven images, not taking his name in vain and taking a specific day to rest and assemble to worship him. God directs our hearts into this love (2 Thessalonians 3:5) and the Holy Spirit pours the love of God out in our hearts (Romans 5:5). We also show love to God in how we love the least of the brethren, so have we done for Jesus. (Matthew 25:31-46).

Loving God with our minds

How do we respond to those who hate God and teach that belief in him is only for people with weak minds? They call Christians stupid for believing in the most obvious of all forensic evidence, that what exists demands an intelligent creator. King David challenged that kind of thinking by writing lyrics about morally deficient fools who say in their hearts that there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Some Christians seem to encourage the idea that believers are brainless by fostering a blind acceptance of their beliefs as if intellectualism and worship are incompatible. But that contradicts what Jesus taught us (Mark 12:28-34) to love love God with our minds, from a Greek word meaning thorough reasoning, using our intellect. Belief in God is not for simple fools, but for those who love him with their minds.

Do we love God

The great neglected commands are to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). Do we love God if we don’t accept his weekly invitation? Let’s not forsake the assembling together as the manner of some is. Do we love God if we ignore him in daily prayer? Pray without ceasing. Do we love God if he gets only a few dollars in the offering plate? Where our treasure is that’s where our hearts are. Do we love God if we fail to support those faulty human beings that he has placed in office? Esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake. Do we love God if we fail to show interest in his opinions on things as revealed in the Holy Scriptures? Study the Scriptures because they testify about Jesus, the way to eternal life. Do we love God?

Knowing and loving God

One of life’s great secrets is learning to love God (Mark 12:28-34). Who is God? He is the great spirit, personal, living in eternity and unchanging. He is good, holy, righteous, loving, just, faithful, benevolent, gracious, merciful and persistent. God is also very near at every moment, yet at the same time high above us in every respect. He is one God, but also Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a mystery which we call the Trinity, that is beyond our human understanding. God is also creator of everything and continues as provider of all things. His rulership is loving and he provides through prayer, as we ask, yet always what is best, making special provision through miracles. Knowing about him makes more sense to obey the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Corporate greed

Boycotting one particular company is naive when there is evil on all sides. All companies sin to some degree. One of the evils of corporate business is greed. “Corporate pork is a truly bipartisan dish” as both sides of politics are guilty of favoritism via tax perks, trade protection and government subsidies. Businesses build protective moats around their corporate castles, not to benefit the consumer, but to favor themselves. Microsoft has been sued by governments and Apple tried to force us to buy its inferior map application. Big businesses only give lip service to a free market while they try to monopolize markets and bully competitors. Most lobbying in Washington is to protect existing businesses and not to promote a truly free and open market. Righteous corporations use a business model of love of God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).

Venice, case study in greed

Venice is a case study in greed. Once an affluent, open economy, the rich destroyed it through greed. Venice lost its wealth. America was formed to escape the restrictive social classes of Europe, but now ours are more restrictive than theirs. The poor and middle class cannot afford the educational costs that guarantee top jobs. The wealthy claim that too many people are dependent upon the government for help, when they have been dependent upon government for unfair tax breaks and government bailouts. Just like in Venice, today’s wealthy are destroying the system and the freedom that gave them their riches. More and more of us work as poorly paid serfs to the greedy. National salvation is found in Jesus and his command to love. Righteous capitalism uses as a business model love of God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).

Legislating love

I am disgusted. New Windows 8 applications are filled with nuisance advertising. Monetizing is the new business model. It’s software with built-in spam. But Microsoft is not alone. We can’t even watch Youtube videos or Internet news stories without wading through mandatory time-wasting advertisements. Selfish business models are making life miserable, but we can’t legislate love can we? Well, God did. He mandated that we love him and our neighbor. Unrighteous capitalism is driven by greed and causes destruction from within as our tragic human history proves. Righteous capitalism builds a nation. It uses as a business model love of God and love of neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). Windows 8 is only the latest example of a selfish business model. There is no human law legislating love, but there is a higher law which does. God commands that we love.

Sh'ma Yisrael

What is the first commandment, not the first of the Ten Commandments, but the first? Perhaps the most important prayer in any Jewish prayer book is the Sh’ma Yisrael. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The beginning of that prayer was quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:28-34 as the first commandment. “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad.” “Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one.” It contains the most basic theology about God, that he is one, not two Gods, not three Gods, not a pantheon but one God. The Trinitarian formula in Matthew 28:19 confirms this in the single name of the three in perfect unity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three Gods, but one God. It is not necessary to understand what humans cannot, but we are commanded to love God.

Blindness of heart

Jesus healed the blind (Mark 10:46-52). Can he also heal the blindness caused by self-flattery (Psalm 36:2) or foolishness (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12)? In the longest Psalm praising the law, David prayed that God would open his eyes to see the wonderful things there (Psalm 119:17-24). Paul also praised the law as holy, just and good (Romans 7) and declared that the fault was not with the law but our human inability to keep it. Therefore that perfect law could not make us right with God, but faith in Jesus Christ does (Galatians 2:16). Yet, some who have seen the truth have chosen spiritual blindness (John 9:35-41). Such blindness of heart would alienate us from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). A famous hymn is a prayer for God to “Open my Eyes.”

Mercy me!

A blind man came to Jesus and squawked, “Have mercy on me.” He cried literally, “Mercy me!” (Mark 10:46-52) or, “Pity me!” The crowd rebuked him and told him to shut up. The needy have little political weight then or now. The largest political contributors are the rich. We are a plutocracy, not a true democracy. Like the crowd, we do not want to hear from the destitute. We do not want to hear from Jesus about helping them. Should we show pity or be hardhearted like the crowd in this story? Mercy means God granting even to the unworthy favor, healing, benefits, opportunities and particularly salvation in Christ. Do we feel sympathy with the misery of others? A remarkable thing about Jesus is that instead of judging people for their plight, he was overcome with compassion. Are we?

I want to see

A blind man came to Jesus saying, I want to see (Mark 10:46-52). He is referred to as Tim’s son and he knew he was blind. Many times we are blind but don’t even know it because we have never asked Jesus the same request, I want to see. Martin Luther risked his life for incredible changes in the Protestant Reformation. What most of us do not know is that he preached his last sermon to only five people and in the end came to see reality as he angrily declared it a failed reformation. Germans declared Nazism a failure. Russians declared Communism a failure. Human efforts all fail. Only God’s way succeeds. We get so blinded by human efforts that we cannot see God’s way clearly. Let us make the same request to Jesus. I want to see.