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

"Its" do not teach

Some people call the Holy Spirit it rather than He. Is the Holy Spirit a person or merely something like God’s energy? John 14:23-29 tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches. Other passages show that He makes choices (1 Corinthians 12:11), guides people into truth (John 16:13), reveals Jesus (John 16:14), convicts of sin (John 16:8), can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), can be blasphemed (Matthew 12:31), possesses a rational mind (Romans 8:26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:11-13) and can be lied to (Acts 5:3-4). All that is suggestive of a personality rather than a mere divine force. He is also distinguished from yet related to the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 13:14) suggesting a third personality with divinity. It is a divine mystery that we call the Trinity.

What the Holy Spirit teaches

John 14:23-29 is used to advocate a wide variety of ideas outside the Bible and yet supposedly from God. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father. Some say that the Holy Spirit taught also to pray to Mary. Others claim that the Holy Spirit told them to perform specific tasks which may sometimes seem unwise or of doubtful origin. What exactly will the Holy Spirit teach us? The answer is “all things.” Sometimes we doubt whether or not what someone else claims is indeed from the Holy Spirit. We need patience to wait for the Holy Spirit to lead all of us to come to a common understanding. That may not happen in this life. Notice too that the Holy Spirit will also remind us of the teachings of Jesus. Upon that there is remarkable consensus among Christians.

How can love be the answer

When things go terribly wrong in this world and terrorists strike or nutty foreign leaders threaten, vengeance and acts of aggression seem to be the answer. Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies seems terribly naive and impractical. Yet, in the midst of being betrayed by close friends who denied even knowing him, and being brutally murdered for daring to preach good news of a better world, his practical solution was forgiveness and love. Let’s take the Israelis and Palestinians. What solution have their unending rounds of retaliation provided? None. They have brought no peaceful solution. Military and business warfare have not brought about peace or solved economic troubles. Love and mutual respect are not the rules of Wall Street. Yet, Christians are called to live as examples of the only practical solution to this world’s problems, love (John 13:31-35).

Living in denial of denial

When someone betrays our trust in them of granting them citizenship by terrorizing and bombing us, we tend to act in denial that such things will happen. When someone turns their back on us denying our human dignity and right to live peaceful lives, we act in denial that such denials will exist. Perhaps it is time we face facts. In this world we will have troubles (John 16:33). How can we combat such horror, by perpetrating even greater injustices? By lashing out in anger? By bombing countries far and wide in an effort to eradicate things which will not disappear until Christ returns? Perhaps that is why Jesus said that instead of trying to erase the unerasable, or denying the undeniable, or perpetuating the betrayal of one another, we should consider an alternative answer, love (John 13:31-35).

Betrayal, Denial, Footwashing and Love

In the context of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and Jesus’ footwashing is the new command to love one another (John 13:31-35). Churches are filled with imperfect humanity and the weaknesses and mistakes that come with the territory. Every church will likely experience some form of betrayal especially of its leaders. Pastors know that being verbally crucified is part of their job description. Some people will also deny that Christ is in the membership of a local church. Yet in the midst of all this is also footwashing, where people serve each other in love. We Christians are a strange mixture of denial, betrayal and love. That’s the way it has always been. Betrayal and denial also exist outside the church. But, real pure love from heaven can only be found in one place as testimony to where God is.

Easiest and most difficult

What proves where God’s people are? Is it a keeping of the “right” rules of church doctrine? In John 13:31-35 Jesus discussed one of the most important of his teachings: love one another. It is evidence of who we are. It is one of the easiest doctrines to understand and most difficult to practice. None of us loves perfectly, yet we can and do love. It is also very difficult at times. The introduction to this topic is the act of washing one another’s feet. I have witnessed churches that do this literally, but never lift a finger to help their neighbors and other churches that do not literally wash feet but obey what it portrays. Jesus would not have asked us to do the impossible. It is possible and Jesus taught that love is the most important commandment.

How did gender neutral become feminine

How did gender neutral become feminine? We are taught today to use gender inclusive terms, yet I find a strange hypocrisy in all this. Rather than the doctor (neutral) doing something, we are told that the doctor [she] did it. In the church, we are told that God as Father is offensive to some who may have had an abusive father figure, as if it is only men who are guilty of sin against children. So, we can call God mother, but not father. I wonder how the man whose mother neglected or abused him as a child feels about that. Of course such is the hypocrisy of gender neutral terms. It is often an excuse for the feminization of everything and the neutering of masculinity. Some even refuse to pray “Our Father who is in heaven...” (Matthew 6:9)

I and the Father are one

What did Jesus mean when that he and the Father are one (John 10:22-30)? He called the angels his angels (Matthew 13:41) but they are God’s angels (Luke 12:8-9; 15:10). Jesus also said that he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). John wrote that the word [Jesus] was God (John 1:1). We also read Jesus as an exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:2-3, 8). Paul wrote that in Jesus the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9). Jesus is the judge (2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul also wrote that Jesus had the form or nature of God before his birth (Philippians 2:5-11). So when Thomas called Jesus my Lord and my God (John 20:28) he was stating a fact of Christianity.

No salvation in politics

Many Jews asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, the Christ (John 10:22-30). It was only natural at Hanukkah to desire political salvation. It is a festival that remembers the time when Jews were liberated from the Seleucids and Antiochus Epiphanes. They were now under Roman oppression, a system where an immoral minority could become fabulously wealthy while many Jews became desperately poor. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he acting so much differently than the Jewish leaders thought he should? His works of healing and preaching about a heavenly kingdom did not seem to fit this world’s politics. While they looked for a liberating warrior, God’s true sheep know that the solution is not political but heavenly. The answer is hidden in a ministry to the needy, by saving the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.

Breakfast with Jesus

John 21:1-19 shows how the resurrection works in our lives: restoration to God and real forgiveness. The disciples had all acted like cowards. They felt guilty and ashamed. Retreating to the familiarity of fishing with fruitless efforts. Jesus provided fish and invited them to breakfast. It was time to move on from their grief and fear. They were no different than any of us. We love Jesus, but sometimes are afraid. With three confirmations of his love Peter symbolically undid his three denials. Each time Jesus reminded him of the next step. There was a job still to be done. Like Peter we are forgiven and invited to start over. No need for guilt, shame and fear. The resurrected Jesus invites us to the mission at hand. Come and have breakfast with Jesus. Then, let us feed his sheep.

The eros-phileo-agapé myth

Lesser-educated preachers have perpetuated a myth that love in biblical Greek has three levels: eros (sensual), phileo (brotherly) and agapé (supposedly godly love). One example is a wrong explanation of John 21:1-19 where the risen Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Jesus' question was quite simple, not with the contrived assumptions sometimes preached. Depending on the context, agapé and phileo have similar meanings. Peter did not attempt to avoid the question, but replied quite plainly, "You know that I love you (like a brother)." Peter was not lessening Jesus' question to a lower level of love, as sometimes falsely claimed. Actually, Peter implied that he loved Jesus like a brother for whom he would die. "Greater love [agapé] has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [or brothers, philos]" (John 15:13)

The agapé lie

Some who are ignorant of biblical Greek claim that agapé is divine love and phileo is a mere human love. This is sheer fiction. The Greek word agapé can mean a wrong kind of love, like men who loved darkness (John 3:19), or loving the praise of men more than God (John 12:43), and one who loved this world more than Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Jesus shows that if Peter loved Jesus then he expected him to show that love through an act of brotherly love, “feed my sheep.” (John 21:1-19) There is no greater love than to die for our brothers [philos] (John 15:13). Jesus also showed that he expects his followers to show love to him in acts of brotherly love towards the needy, like foreigners, homeless, sick and prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Gospel of second chances

A preacher in a legalistic church once claimed that God did not give second chances, but then we have the Gospel story in John 21:1-19. Here we see Peter who had royally screwed up after three years of apprenticeship in Jesus’ personal training program only to blow it completely at the last minute. How many of us have completely blown something in life? Perhaps it was our children that we hurt deeply because of family injustice or a spouse because of a betrayal or a friend because of a confidence we failed to keep. Like Peter, we too have denied Jesus Christ. Forgiveness does not mean that we trust completely the one who has hurt us deeply, but it does mean that we give them a second chance if they are willing. If we want it, God is willing.

Without Jesus we all fail

The disciples of Jesus had failed to remain loyal to him during his trial and crucifixion. Highlighting that failure, when they returned to their trade they also failed (John 21:1-19). This world is run by incredibly intelligent and fabulously educated people, but world leadership continues to fail miserably. We are no different than Jesus’ first disciples. When they finally make an enormous catch, with Jesus’ help, he invited them put their bounty with his for a meal. This is one of life’s great lessons, that we must learn over and over. Whatever we accomplish, whatever talents we may have, it all comes from God and we need him every hour. Jesus then recommissioned Peter, as he denied Jesus 3 times, Jesus now reconfirmed his commission 3 times. We all fail many times and need Jesus’ reconfirmation time and again.

Trying a different approach with Jesus

The disciples went fishing after Jesus’ resurrection, but without success (John 21:1-19). They probably used a net made from flax, a circle net about 6 yards or meters across with small lead weights attached to the borders. it was thrown with great skill to open up as it hit the water. The weights dropped and the net encircled the fish. Men then jumped into the water to retrieve the net, so they often fished naked. The fish were then sorted into clean and unclean and counted so that each received a fair share and to pay their taxes. Day laborers usually helped with the duties. Fishermen probably knew the local Aramaic language, Hebrew and also Greek the language of trade. Jesus was not a fisherman but gave advice to the experts. Would we try a different approach with Jesus?