It’s rigged!

When you hear the words, “it’s rigged”, your mind might go to the 2016 presidential election. Then candidate Trump made the phrase famous, infamous perhaps. Surprisingly, for Believers that extends well beyond the shady world of the political arena. While many of us fight for freedom, few of us have realized that we fight from freedom. Why? Simple. It’s rigged.

Paid in Full

Tetelestai. A Greek word meaning, “paid in full“. So, why would a crucified convict, with his dying breath, talk about accounting? It’s because of what our modern translation of “Tetelestai” would be. In our modern vernacular, we might say, without any degradation of meaning, “it’s rigged”!

“It’s rigged”. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that phrase in the past five years, I could probably retire by now. Whether it was candidate Trump or late-night comedians make fun of him, this phrase has gone viral. Perhaps it’s because there’s an underlying truth that we all have known for a long time. For example, too often we have watched the guilty walk free and the innocent suffer. Most infuriating is when it happens in politics. A crime that would send an “average Joe” away for life gets stuck in “committee” hearing just long enough for it to be forgotten.

Modern translation

However, as Christians, we should not despair. Of course it’s rigged! We’re the primary benefactors of such a system. Though it may not be in the here-and-now where we would like it you can rest assured. It’s coming. I know, sometimes you just want to scream at the top of your lungs. Other times, breaking a few dishes might be just what the doctor ordered. However, reality calls for a different approach. After all, despair Jesus teaches us is for those who have no hope. As Believers, we need to¬†show the hope that people want to see.

I invite you to listen to a small excerpt from our Good Friday evening service. Our fervent prayer is that you are encouraged by these words. Not just in your everyday life but also in your walk with God. If you are blessed, make it a point to share it with someone.

It’s My Prerogative!

What is love

Britney Spears and Bobby Brown agree, “It’s my prerogative”! So then the question remains, as per Night at the Roxbury: What is love?

Modern culture has been showing us these images of “happily ever after” ever since we were children. Since then, the campaigns for self-esteem and positive self-image have added a layer of complexity that has yet to fully play itself out in our modern-day lives. For example, today’s schoolchildren have never had higher self-esteem and positive self-images while displaying a total lack of actual skills according to internationally standardized tests scores. We’ve boosted children’s egos without appropriately nurturing their self-worth.

Baby don’t hurt me

The result, unfortunately, is a generation of individuals that have a distorted and misguided opinions of self accompanied by unrealistic expectations of others and relationships. When the novelty of the puppy love and the “honeymoon phase” wear off and things go don’t go according to what the romantic comedies taught us life should be, it must be the other person’s fault, after all…we’re perfect! Today’s society is full of such experiments gone awry. Broken homes, children’s damaged psyche, accompanied by the scourge of countless abortions and divorce, this last one increasingly more and more common even in the Church.

It’s my prerogative

The battle cry for all of this is the devil’s own words: “me, me, me!!!” People ask, first and foremost, “what’s in it for me?” while children tell their parents “you can’t tell me what to do!” It even goes beyond the confines of the home where teachers now suffer violent acts at the hands of their students. It seems these days that everyone has “it’s my prerogative” etched in their hearts. They are unhinged by any sense of allegiance or responsibility. Couples divorce because they’re “not happy”, pregnancies are “inconvenient” while others’ pains and struggles are “of their own making”.

But love, true Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, not self-seeking, nor easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

All you need is…

The only solution to a world gone mad is…Love. Not the la-di-da love The Beatles talk about but agape love God the Father shows through Jesus His Son. Add to that the brotherly love of the Golden Rule that Jesus taught us to practice with each other. Putting God first, others second and ourselves last is a sure-fire guarantee to find true fulfillment and J-O-Y: Jesus, Others, You!

King for a Day

Would you rather

When I was growing up we would play a game called “would you rather”. It went like this: one person would ask you to choose between to seemingly polar opposite. The most frequently asked was this: “would you rather be king for a day or live a lifetime as a slave”? You would answer the question and then the roles would revers or, if there were more people playing, the person that had just answered the question would now pose a “would you rather” question to the next person until everyone got a turn to ask and to answer.

Needless to say that your answer to this question spoke volumes of your outlook on life and, most likely, prepared the way for years of therapy. As you can imagine, not many kids were asking to be sheep for one hundred days: everyone wanted to be king, even if for just one day.

Triumphal Entry

Palm Sunday is the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem as a conquering king as the crowds shouted “Hosanna” and “Glory to God in the Highest” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD”! But where did we get this idea of Jesus as a conquering king? After all, He told a friend to bring Him a colt that had never-before been ridden. None of that, at least to us, speaks of king! When we think of kings we think of thrones and soldiers and barricades and escorts and stretch limousines and horses and knights! Nothing about Jesus’ entry, apart from the adoration of the crowd said “Make way for the King!”? Or did it?

The religious types of the day. the scribes and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, Knew all too well the passage in Zechariah 9:9 that specifically foresaw this very scene:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Prophecy fulfilled

Surely, this did not escape them in the least! Great, so now we have proof that the Jews knew He was the coming Messiah. After all,¬†anyone could prance in on a domesticated donkey. A unbroken colt? Let’s just say that the first time on the colt would not have been sooth sailing for anyone…That is, of course, unless you’re God Himself! Besides the fact the the Old Testament if full of precedence where kings rode on donkeys as a sign of peace (rather than on a warhorse as a sign of conqueror).

But what about the gentiles? And the Romans in particular, what would they have thought to themselves of such a scene? The layperson and the foot soldier both had vast knowledge of customs and behaviors. They would not have given the donkey thing much thought. The leaders, however, like Pontius Pilate and others, would not only have been aware of these not so subtle Scriptural reference to Zechariah but would have also brought in their own understanding of Semitic culture of the surrounding area.

Asinine Traditions

On top of that, Romans had a few traditions of their own when it came to donkeys. When Romans conquered a stronghold, they would parade the captured king on a donkey bound and facing backwards. The overthrown king would be made into a spectacle. His former subjects encouraged to take out their frustrations at him for losing the war would throw produce at him as he passed by.

But not so with Jesus! Jesus was neither bound nor put on the donkey against His will. He entered the city, with the whole of Jerusalem watching.¬† A whole host of foreigners from the Diaspora also found themselves in the Holy City. The people shouted “Hosanna”, which means “save now” or put more explicitly “set up your kingdom now”. These same people that chanted Jesus’ name and called Him Messiah one day would soon find themselves chanting “crucify Him” in less than a week’s time!

Jesus had, in fact, been “King for a day”! The terrible misunderstanding, if it can be called such, is clearly shown by Jesus. Approaching the city, Luke 19 tells us the following:

41¬†And when he drew near and saw the city,¬†he wept over it,¬†42¬†saying,¬†‚ÄúWould that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now¬†they are hidden from your eyes.¬†43¬†For¬†the days will come upon you, when your enemies¬†will set up a barricade around you and¬†surround you and hem you in on every side¬†44¬†and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And¬†they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know¬†the time of your¬†visitation.‚ÄĚ

No king, especially Jesus

Unfortunately, the Israelites of the time wanted nothing to do with peace. In fact, they were praying for and expecting a violent overthrow of Roman rule over Judea. So they welcomed Jesus as king. However, not as the sort of King He had been preaching to them throughout His ministry. In fact, in Luke 23 Pilate asked Jesus “are you the king of the Jews”? Jesus replied “you have said so”. Pilate is satisfied. He turns to the chief priests and says “I find no guilt in this man”! Pilate was a shrewd politician and had quickly read the situation.

Maybe he saw Jesus as another misunderstood religious fanatic. Pilate wasn’t in the mood to make any more martyrs. With so many criminals around he wasn’t interested in shedding innocent blood. He quickly tried to remove himself from the equation. But the priests and the people wouldn’t have any of it!

King for a day

They welcomed Him as King and crucified Him as a blasphemer! But the story doesn’t end there. As many of us know and have experienced in our own lives: Jesus is alive! Jesus lives and will return one day soon and this time He won’t settle for a donkey. My most fervent prayer in this time of hardship is that, if you have not yet had a personal encounter with Him, you meet Jesus, the risen Savior. I encourage you to seek Him now before the Grace period expires.

Every day is King Day

Friend, if you’re reading this now and have not yet made a personal decision to make Jesus the Lord of your life I ask you that, if you are willing, repeat these simple words with me. Just say:

Dear Jesus, I repent of my sins, I acknowledge you as Lord of everything and Master over everything. I ask you that you come into my heart and that you take your rightful place as Lord and Savior of my life and of my soul!

Welcome Home

If you repeated this simple prayer with your heart, you are now “Born Again”. Your sins are forgiven. God no longer holds you responsible for them. You’re washed by the blood of Jesus. His blood was shed in your place on the Cross of Calvary two millennia ago. Pray that the Holy Spirit lead you to a Bible-Believing, Spirit-filled church. Then, be faithful¬† where He plants you. Ask Him to show you how He wants you to serve and do it diligently.

Greater than the Temple

Greatest of all times!

How many times have we heard someone claim to be the “Greatest of all Time”: from Mohammad Ali to Will Smith and to countless others; both famous and infamous. It’s such a common occurrence that we even have an abbreviation for it: G.OA.T.! People have shirts printed, specialty stationery and various other things here and there to point to their greatness. As Christians, we shy away from such claims, or at least from actually believing them. We know that if any one individual could claim to be a G.O.A.T. it would be Jesus. In fact, Jesus made several such claims. He claimed that He was “greater than the Temple”, “greater than Jonah” and “greater than Solomon”. In this upcoming 3-part series, we will look into what those claims mean and how Jesus is, in fact, greater than all three.

Greater than the Temple

It is difficult to overstate the significance, gravitas and importance of the Temple of Solomon in the lives of Jesus’ contemporaries. To the Jews of those days, the Temple was the center of the Universe, not just metaphorically but literally: it was the place where God’s presence met and communed with men on Earth. The Temple was God’s House on Earth, making Jerusalem the most important city in the world past, present and future.

The Temple was truly a sight to behold: it literally shined in the desert sun! When the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70 they left “not stone on top of another” (Mark 13:2); this was because there was a king’s ransom and more in molten gold that had seeped in between the cracks from the arson fire set by the Roman Legions: imagine how much gold there was?! There was so much gold the Romans minted commemorative coins from the booty they removed from the Temple of Solomon to immortalize their abject repression of the Jewish Revolt. All in, the temple has been calculated to have been worth well over a half billion dollars!

Roman Coin Minted With Gold Seized From Temple of Solomon during the Judean Revolt of A.D. 70.

Blasphemy!

So how could Jesus, knowingly, make such a claim: to be “greater than the Temple”? Let’s take a closer look at the context in which the statement is made:

1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‚ÄúLook, Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.‚ÄĚ

3 Jesus replied, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to eat, but only for the priests.

5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.

7 If only you had known the meaning of ‚ÄėI desire mercy, not sacrifice,‚Äôa you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.‚ÄĚ

Send in the clowns

The Pharisees come and attack Jesus on what would amount to be a technicality: picking heads of wheat to eat; since it happened to be the Sabbath, the Pharisees were hoping to ensnare Him somehow. Jesus’ reply, as it always did, came straight from the Law and the Prophets. Not only did He compared His disciples to David’s Men of Valor and likened His disciples to the priests on Sabbath duty in Solomon’s Temple: they work on the Sabbath but are regarded as innocent in regards to the third commandment.

Jesus says to them that the Law requires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). This is a recurring theme that he brings to the calloused Pharisees that think highly of themselves because they keep even more than the Law requires. Jesus reminds them that they lack mercy. They would rather someone starve and keep the Law rather than break it and live. In this, He accused them of constantly condemning the innocent.

True Temple priests

Jesus is making the positive claim about His disciples. They are innocent on two counts: the lesser point is that the hungry must eat, regardless of whether it is the Sabbath or not, similar to the Parable of the 100 sheep (Matthew 12:11). The second and more important point is that the disciples are serving “something greater than the Temple”.

What could be greater the the House of God? Where is there a better place to meet and worship God if not the Temple He Himself commissioned? Where could one go, on Earth, that would bring you closer to God than the Temple of Solomon? All of these questions can only be answered in the person of Jesus Christ: What’s greater than the House? The Owner! What’s the best way to communicate with God? In the flesh! Where could one go to be closer to God than the Temple? Wherever Jesus is!

Lord of the Sabbath

But what would give Jesus the authority to claim that His disciples were innocent? Surely, the Law itself exonerated them¬† because it was not considered unlawful to do good on the Sabbath, something the Pharisees knew all too well. However, Jesus goes one step further and says¬†“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.‚Ä̬†What does that even mean?¬† Essentially Jesus was claiming and proclaiming that He was¬†greater than the Laws¬†of the Mosaic Covenant. As God in the flesh, He is the Author of the Laws. The Pharisees had made¬†themselves¬†“lords of the Sabbath”: they had instituted a intricate system rules and regulations and bylaws that made keeping the Sabbath practically impossible.

In all, there were 39 categories of forbidden and unlawful activities. Many of them can still be found in existence today. For example, the “Sabbath Elevator”. If you live in New York, you either have one, know someone who does or have experienced it as some point. Among some Jewish communities, pressing the button on the elevator on the Sabbath is considered work! Once Jesus proclaims that He is Lord of the Sabbath, He strips the Pharisees of the authority they had usurped away from God.

Third eye blind

Jesus is¬†greater than the Temple and therefore Lord of the Sabbath. The same God who commissioned the Temple instituted the Sabbath. God instituted the Sabbath¬†for man, not man for the Sabbath. This is a lesson Jesus repeats often. However, the legalistic Pharisees refuse for fear of their power diminishing over and among the people. But the message of Jesus is that He is the Temple! He challenges the Pharisees and the Scribes to “tear this Temple down”, speaking of His own body. He would raise it up again. However, their spiritually blinded minds could not understand of what He was speaking.

Jesus is¬†truly greater than the Temple. His body became the new Covenant between man and God and we commune with God¬†in the body of Christ: His blood shed for us and His body broken for us give us access to God the Father through Jesus the Son. When Jesus died on the Cross and the Veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the Holy of Holies was open to the priests in the inner court and, to their surprise….no one died! How can that be? Only the High Priest ever accessed the Holy of Holies, and only once a year! To anyone alive at the time, to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hears, to anyone educated and instructed in the Law would have seen, that very day, that Jesus is Greater than the Temple.

Third Day

There’s two kinds of people in this world. There are those who believe the story of Jonah and those who know someone that does. As Christians we form a special category. We believe the story of Jonah. We also know Jesus. He also believes the story of Jonah. Jesus saw it take place. In our second part to these series, we will explore Jesus’ statement comparing Himself to Jonah. I encourage you to follow along with us as we consider Jesus, greater than Jonah.

Catch 22? Meet God’s Catch 33!

A mission for the mindless

“We’ve all heard of a “Catch 22”. It’s a situation where no matter which option you choose, you’re always wrong, always in trouble, you’re still stuck. It was made famous by a novel with the same name. As the saying goes, “you’re d—-d if you do and you’re d—-d if you don’t”!

But have you ever considered the implications of the following: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8

The Apostle Paul, here, introduces us to what I like to call a “Catch 33“! Similarly to catch 22, in a catch 33, the system is also rigged. However, it favors Christians. It favors those who have put their Faith, Hope, and Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, life for the Christian is a win-win proposition. In living, we honor God, and in death we honor God. Now, we are in no means a death cult; Christians want to live abundant lives (John 10:10) but we do not fear death.

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Click To Tweet

Catch 22: The fear of the hopeless

The number one fear that all unbelievers have, and have in common, is the fear of death, as you can see from the rampant panic on tv. Newscasters continuously introduce all of us to all sorts of new boogiemen: a new disease that is going to decimate the world’s population or the next threat from Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, a food shortage, climate change, hurricanes, earthquakes, asteroids, the “wrong” politician for the job; in a sense, they’re disseminating fear over the one thing no-one has any control: the future.

Catch 33: The hope of the fearless

Christians, on the other hand, have “cheated” the catch 22 system: Jesus defeated sin on the Cross and Death by his resurrection and we are heirs of those victories. Life doesn’t startle us nor does the fear of death paralyze us. There’s a very beautiful secular Italian song where the lyrics speak directly to this phobia; the lyrics, translates literally, read: whoever is not afraid of death only dies once!

Chi non ha paura di morire, muore una volta sola. Click To Tweet

What a beautiful doctrinal Christian Truth! Jesus himself taught us not to fear the first death. The second death is the truly dreadful one: the death that leads to eternal separation from God! If you fear the first death, chances are you are not a Believer. Otherwise, there is something “off” about your walk with God.

Catch 22? Meet God’s Catch 33! Click To Tweet

What’s the catch?

Fear and anxiety will come calling your name. When they do, strengthen yourself in the Lord. In chapter 1 of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

As Spirit-filled, Bible-believing,¬† born-again Christians, it is our responsibility to live in the light of this truth: whenever those around us, whether at work, at home, at school, or (more often than not) at church, lose heart over the challenges of everyday life, we¬†must¬†be the people in their lives that they can look to and see someone who hasn’t, who isn’t and who¬†doesn’t lose not only their composure but more importantly their compass, their anchor, their focus, their Hope: Jesus Christ!

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Click To Tweet

Shepherd and Friend – Jehovah Rohi

Before he became king, David was a shepherd. Before David wrote the Psalms, he pondered them in his heart. For many years he observed the sheep and studied their behaviors.

Imagine David, out with his flock one day and, as a stroke of lightning, as he tended his own sheep, he pondered the following: (please read with emphasis)

Psa 23:1-6 BSB
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The realization that God is¬†his¬†Shepherd must have totally changed his perspective on… just about everything. I pray that, like David, you¬†too have come to a deeper understanding of¬†who¬†God is: Jehovah Rohi, God my Shepherd.

Why Sheep

If you were looking for a simple example as to why evolution can not hold up, consider sheep. Sheep are weak, easily confounded and without any natural defense mechanisms. Lambs are even worse. Without the protection of the shepherd, a small pack of wolves would put to death hundreds of sheep in just a few hours. Thankfully, God made Shepherds.

Why Shepherds

The Shepherd lives for the sheep. He defends the lambs, leads them to safety, collects the strays and puts their feeble minds at ease and if necessary dies for the sheep (John 10:11).

Neither Taxes nor Tithes – Part 1

I paid taxes for the first time when I was sixteen. I paid my “tithes” at the age of twenty-six. I’ve been looking forward to a time be without them ever since. Neither taxes nor tithes.

No one likes taxes. After death, taxes are the most hated part of life. Among Believers, tithes are a hot topic. No two Christians think alike. Between taxes and tithes, we have perhaps summed up the bane of most people’s existence.

Although taxes happen to everyone, tithes are not as universal. These topics are heavily debated in the Bible. In the Old Testament, Malachi 1 asks the question: “Are we robbing God”? In the New Testament, the Pharisees ask the question, “do we have to pay both”(Mat 22:15-22)? Ask most pastors and you’ll get a double affirmative; ask a layperson and you’ll find lots of space for debate.

As for Tithes

Full disclosure: I don’t tithe. As for taxes, I try limiting those as well. Let me give some context. Tithing is of the Old Testament. Anyone still bound by the Law tithes. Thankfully, I am not bound. My Bible teaches me that I am part of a Royal Priesthood. Some would argue that Jesus favored tithing. The Text and His teachings point elsewhere (Mat 17:25-27).

Exemption as Sons

Neither Taxes Nor Tithes

We have become children of God through adoption (Gal 4). We are no longer strangers but heirs. Earthly kings don’t tax their own children. They tax strangers. How much more does God not tax His own! At best, I am to receive¬†tithes on behalf of the Father. Levites didn’t own land to tithe from: their tithe came from the tithes that the people gave them (Numbers 18:21-32). As far as taxes, Levites only paid Temple tax. The Davidic kings never taxed the priesthood; they were set apart¬†unto the Lord. The poll taxes applied to the general population only.

Lady Tremaine’s Tutelage

Unfortunately, tithing has been used for centuries to shame Believers into submission. In a myriad of ways, intentionally misleading or genuinely uninformed church leaders have made Christians of every denomination feel as if they had robbed God! Imagine having something of worth that God could possibly want from you! Many critics of the Church point to the atrocities committed towards unbelievers. Upon closer look, greater violence transpired towards Believers. Where the Bible calls us sons and heirs and exempt, the Church took on the role of Cinderella’s stepmom. Whatever our Father left us as inheritance was quickly confiscated and reallocated.

The poster child for such violence was the Catholic church. In the form of the Papal States, Popes, bishops, and other church dignitaries lorded it over Believers to conform to their every whim. This is not an attack on the Catholic church. Rather the men that comprised its hierarchy. They taxed the poor to death with no sign of Christian mercy. All too often the richest and most powerful landowners in medieval Europe were members of the clergy. Very Jesus-like!

As for Taxes

While many think that the Pharisees only exist in Judaism. I disagree. The Pharisaical spirit is alive and well in the Church today. Similarly, the same machinations that brought the learned of Jesus’ day to hide behind empty adherence only to the Word still drives many in the modern Church.

As we have said before, everyone hates taxes. In a¬†perfect world, we would have neither taxes nor tithes. By the wonder-working power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been freed from the yoke of the tithe. But what will free us from the yoke of taxes? Not your accountant.

Give unto Caesar

In all fairness, Pharisees and penny-pinching Believers aren’t the only ones trying to skirt the system. Our modern capitalist western world is based on everyone being free to produce and keep what they profit. Nevertheless, their is a cost to capitalism. How much should a good¬†government cost an average citizen? I would like to propose that it was in this spirit that the Pharisees asked Jesus the infamous question, “it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar”?

The Pharisees’ motives were not well-intentioned. However, there is more room for growth here, I believe. No one wants to pay taxes! Some claim that it’s “patriotic” and the “right thing to do”. That may very well be. However, in my own selfish calculations, as a Citizen of Heaven exempt by God Almighty Himself from tithing, what power does a secular authority hold over me to separate me from my hard-earned money? Let’s examine.

Raw Deal

It is plain for all to see that the cost of government keeps going up. As of 2018, the average American needs to work until April 19th just to pay off his tax burden. Taxes go beyond tithes and cost us between a quarter and a third of our income. This is called Tax Freedom Day. This obviously varies by state and has changed over time. The most recent numbers are no better. Americans are having to work well into the second week of May to pay for the burden of government. Compared to other countries, Americans are golden. In fact, it would appear that Europeans are all de facto government employees since many of them keep less than 50% of what they make.

When Christians consider how often tax money gets spent on morally objectionable endeavors it is no surprise that we try to find loops and cracks and crannies to avoid the “Man”. Perhaps the most objectionable earmark is abortion. While Christians are busy preaching “life more abundant” to the world, the government is shoulder deep in blood guilt of 56 million children.

And a child shall lead them

Nonetheless, there is hope. In part 2 we will discuss the unimaginable future that awaits Believers. Regardless of the ideology brought forth to justify this Judaism-lite form of Christianity to what “legitimate” governments did with our tax money, change is coming. Redemption is coming. The “promise land” is near. The Millennium Reign of Jesus Christ will usher in an eternity free from the bondage of slavery to sin, an end to the impossibility of justification by the Law, and an existence where God-given potential is stifled by the fickleness of men. It will finally be an existence free from limits. Neither taxes nor tithes!

Why have you come? Are you not entertained?

Entertained by chance

I grew up in a small denominational church. On any given Sunday, we had about 110 people in the building. The church was full. The choir loft was full.  The pews were all taken. The hymns were old and the message was good. The pastor would hit you over the head with brimstone, slap a cross on your back, wash your tears away with the Blood, and have you rejoicing as Resurrection came at the end of every sermon. Entertained Believers was not the point. It was a happy coincidence. That was reality 25 years ago. As I fast-forward to this post-COVID reality, much has changed.

The church is still there; the hymns are still old, the message is still good but the passing of time exposes more and more of the blood-red cushions on the pews. Some have moved to different states where life is cheaper. However, too many, I feel, have moved on to other “bigger”, more hip, churches. No pews, just folding chairs. “Standing-room-only” is for the late comers. Choir lofts give way to concert stages. The hymns are replaced with modern music and the message has more in common with Dr. Phil’s self-help than Jesus’ self-sacrifice.

Entertained on purpose

In the churches where many have gone off to, pastors New York Times best-selling authors. The sanctuary is musically fine-tuned for maximum sound efficiency. The lighting is complex and computerized. the songs are popular and copyrighted by the church. The associate pastor is the pastor’s son and the message feels like a great big hug and a pat on the back for time well-served. You can’t help being entertained. In fact, the only real question everyone is asking themselves and each other is:

After all, who doesn’t like good music, young friendly faces, feel-good message, a light-hearted atmosphere, and a guilt-free conscience? My answer is “I don’t know, but I sure know who does“! I know what you’re saying, “there’s nothing wrong with…..”. And, begrudgingly, I would have to agree with you. God made it all: good music, good feelings, good atmosphere, etc. Consider this. Would anyone remember what the preacher said if the title wasn’t on the screen? Better yet: does anyone care what the preacher said? Another great question to get to the heart of the matter is: what are you here for?

The reason for the show

Don’t get me wrong, churches should stay relevant and people should feel “entertained”: as far as music and social media and architecture and all the rest: but not at the cost of the Gospel. You want no dress code: great; loud music: fine; you want a “come one, come all”: amazing; Jesus did too! But once you have them, hit them with the mind-numbing, Life-altering Truth of Jesus Christ. Give them the “streams of living water”; give them, the “Truth that sets you free”: give them the whole Gospel, not this new-Age “God loves you just as you are, and He made you just as you are”!

Yes, tell them God loves them, but tell them why God loves them. Tell them God loves them in spite of what they did and tell them what to do about it. Give them their current state of affairs and tell them of the amazing Love of God: But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Thirteen guys walking around together for three years, I am sure they were entertained! Click To Tweet

If anything in churches needs to modernize let it be everything possible but not everything imaginable. The Truth, as always, needs no compressor to smooth out the edges, no equalizers to make it universal, no filters to give it the right appeal, and no sub-woofers to give it the proper emphasis. If the message needs all of this then it’s not the Message that anyone needs. If they are to be entertained let it be on their way to heaven, not on their way to perdition.

The Anatomy of an Insult – Part 2

Sticks and Stones

In a recent post, we discussed how Nathaniel’s unthoughtfully sincere words were not enough to cause offense to Jesus. We also learned how something good can “come out of Nazareth”: whether it be in the natural realm, meaning Jesus Himself, or in the spiritual realm: the majority of the people that will read these words are “gentiles” by birth but Jews and Royal Priests by our adoptions as sons because of what came “out of Nazareth: the Nazarene and His disciples.

The last time you read the passage in John 1:43-51, what probably stuck out to you the most was Nathaniel’s “insult”. Nathaniel’s audacity to speak such a thing about Jesus is not a likely Sunday School lesson. But don’t forget, Nathaniel didn’t know then what he would know just a short time later. Although Nathaniel’s name doesn’t ever return to prominence in the New Testament accounts, his words would surely become the “faithful wounds of a good friend” in short order.¬†

Fruits worthy of repentance 

For too many people nowadays authentic Nathaniel-like sincerity is insulting. Unfortunately, all too often this is offense-taking sentiment is prevalent in the Church as much it is in the World. Thankfully Jesus shows us how to peer into the heart of the matter, overlook the “letter” of words and find hidden treasures in their “Spirit”. Jesus goes on to teach us the meaning behind “the faithful wounds of a friend”.¬†

When looking at the loving way Jesus answered Nathaniel’s sincere heart cry for the Truth, it couldn’t have been any more different than the total disdain He reserved for those who insisted they knew better but in fact these scholars and scribes and Pharisees but could not bear witness to anything resembling fruits worthy of repentance“.

One instance where the fruits worthy of such repentance were put on display immediately! In the account of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-29) lies the well-known encounter of Jesus and the disciple Thomas. This passage is where we get the expression “Doubting Thomas”, which we use when people are distrusting of any news, no matter the source. Thomas demanded proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas told his fellow disciples that he would need to put his finger into His pierced side and perforated hands. An empty tomb is one thing; saying that the body in the tomb is not dead elsewhere is a whole different story.¬†

Doubtful by default

The Greatest Insult is Doubt

To be honest, in a secularized modern world such as our own, no one blames Thomas for being so… rational. It is reasonable to imagine that Thomas had seen many people crucified in Palestine. The Romans had made crucifying enemies of the State into an art form. Thomas simply couldn’t conceive how anyone could survive such punishment. I’m sure that many other disciples had even shared his pragmatism until they saw Him in the flesh again. Thomas however, was bold enough and honest enough with¬†himself to speak it out loud.¬†

As they assembled there together days later, Jesus walks through the wall and puts His hands up for closer inspection by Thomas. He shows Thomas His chest wound where the spear had punctured all the way through to His heart. Thomas falls to his knees and bears witness that Jesus is truly the Son of the Almighty God. 

So, what was it that offended Jesus? Was Jesus even offended at all? Were the “faithful wounds of a friend” that Solomon was referring to the insult and offense that comes from those who are the best positioned to do the most damage and yet handle their words with the dexterity of someone with no impulse control? If Jesus really was offended by Thomas’ words there is little evidence here. However, He does make an example of Thomas and his secularist, materialist mindset. After all, believing after having seen is easy. Jesus takes the opportunity to pronounce a blessing on the billions of Believers that would come to Him throughout the millennia: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29). After all believing¬†after¬†seeing that no faith at all.¬†

Friends and their faithful wounds

Jesus was surely not pleased. After raising the dead, walking on water, feeding the thousands, silencing a storm, and healing the sick, one of His most trusted friends doubted this final triumph over the forces and the Laws of nature. Thomas’s doubt was unbecoming of a man that had spent the better part of 40 months together with Jesus.

Unfortunately, Thomas’ doubt and double-mindedness were not exclusive traits to this one disciple. Judas’ internal conflict brought to the end of his rope, it brought Peter to deny Him to a little servant girl and caused the majority of others to run, scatter and hide. In fact, the Gospel accounts only place John the Beloved at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Unmitigated Tamarity

Thomas, like Nathaniel, spoke from his honest internal dialogue. Unlike the latter, Thomas had a purely worldly view of his surroundings. Thomas was perhaps the kind of man that struggled with his doubts even as he witnessed the miracles themselves. Thomas had room for miracles in his mind and as his relationship grew closer to Jesus he struggled less and less. But there was just something about Jesus raising Himself from the grave that was too much for him to handle.  

Pearl of Great Price

It is therefore our greatest fortune that the “faithful wounds of a friend” are the ones Jesus bears on His body to this day. Jesus overlooked, covered, atoned, and erased the insults of both Thomas and Nathaniel. The blood that oozed out of His hands and gushed out from between His ribs paid for not only the insults of those that accepted His forgiveness; it lies in wait to be discovered as payment in full for the countless millions around the world that have not yet come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They unwittingly spew insults on Jesus all day long and bearing in their own lives the cost. It is our sacred responsibility to introduce the world to this magnificent Forgiver of wrongs. For those of us who have found this great Pearl, we too often discard it in the busyness of life.¬†

Professional Profaners

In an upcoming post, we will discuss antiquity’s best orators of calumnies and Jesus’ favorite hypocrites. When it came to this group of people, Jesus held back no punches. He hit back hard in their war of words. His replies were pubic in the form of plain language as well as in the form of parables. I hope you’ll come back for part 3 when we discuss some of my favorite passages from the Gospels. Also, if you’ve missed out, be sure to read Part 1 of this 3-part series on the Anatomy of an Insult.¬†

When Christians insult other Believers

When Christians insult other Believers

It seems these days that everyone around you keeps getting more and more thin-skinned. Total strangers get third-party offended. Family members that don’t like what you think of a particular behavior of theirs. Church members, deacons, and even pastors. None of them can take any criticism of anything they say or do with the same “sweet reasonableness” they preach that others should have (Phil 4:5). Needless to say that people are easily insulted these days and some make a profession of it. Now please understand that we are talking about Christians here.¬† Whether it is intentional or not Christians insult other Believers and, perhaps worse, Christians take offense at the words of other Believers.

Any cheek-turners in the room?

But what about Jesus, how did he handle Himself when people said unkind or insulting things about Him. Now, I’m not referring to the openly insulting statements that He received during His ministry, I’m referring to the little things along the way, the innuendos, the side jabs, the play on words, or simply the things that were not said in public where many would have heard and formed an opinion on. How did Jesus handle those?

The sin of sincerity

I’m sure our personal lives are full of instances where the words of other Christians have insulted us. By the same token, our own words have offended other Believers. Whether it was by sheer naivety or aimed with the intention to wound a friend, Christians have been as guilty at insulting other Believers as the “general population”. Fortunately, not many of Christiandom’s foot-in-mouth instances have been recorded in the annals of history. That is of course with the exception of the Biblical record.

One such comment that comes to mind is when Philip went and told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah. Philip told him that His name of Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathaniel, thought to himself and said the first thing that came to his mind and said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth”? When he finally came to Jesus, the Master turned and said to him, “Behold! An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”. Not only did Jesus know what Nathaniel had said and not only did He not take offense but rather commended Nathaniel for his sincerity of heart. You see, Nathaniel had his doubts. His doubts were sincere but he still had enough hunger for the Truth to go and find out for himself. When he finally arrived where Jesus was and heard Him say two things. He heard Him say that only was there no guile in him but He was aware of him under the fig tree beforehand, Nathaniel suddenly realized that he was in the presence of God.

Sincerity as a lifestyle

A little background may be called for. Why would Nathaniel blurt out at Philip’s announcement of the Messiah cause offense? In the Jewish custom of the time “nothing good could come from Nazareth”. This was a widespread proverb and this was for two particular reasons. Reasons that are intertwined and, if Jesus was and considered Himself a prophet, He should’ve known better. His (supposed) Nazarene pedigree would automatically bar Him from being considered a prophet by any self-respecting Jew.

The hometown of the thick-skinned

For starters, Nazareth is in Galilee. That’s significant because its border country. Samaria (of the Samaritans) is just southwest of Galilee. Nazareth was a fairly large commercial center. It would have lots of gentile influences (Greeks, Samaritans, Phoenicians, and all manner of other pagan cultural influences). Seeing as Galilee shared a northern border with Phoenicia (of the Syro-Phoenician woman) with cities such as Tyre and Sidon that, although had long outlived their glory days, were still important regional ports of call.

 

Palestine in the time of Jesus

Galilee was not the ideal breeding ground for prophets. With such strong gentile influence,¬† complicated allegiances to God, Israel, and Rome,¬† Temple Jews considered Galilee to be a backwater sort of place. Far removed from the Temple cult of Jehovah. The Galileans’ tolerance for outsiders living and working among them made them, for the most part in the eyes of the Temple Jews, ritually unclean. By definition unfit for the office of prophet. This confluence of worldviews created a a “peculiar” people. Galileans were comfortable with speaking their minds and quite accustomed to hearing seemingly controversial comments. The insults and comments simply rolled off their back. It’s the biblical equivalent to being a new yorker. If we were to take offense at everything a stranger said, we would never make it past getting the car out of the parking spot.

Biblical backwater

Along similar lines, in all the history of the law and the Prophets, not one single prophet had ever come from Nazareth. The great majority of them were of Judean descent and many of them with traceable Davidic and/or royal lineage. Jesus, in their eyes, therefore seemingly lacked both the proper stock as well as the correct birthplace to hold such office, whether it be prophet or Messiah.

Surely Jesus was well-aware of the cultural and religious stigma that came from being a Galilean. Although not recorded in the Gospels, many others would have already said or thought such things. Both before then and afterward. However, Jesus was able to see into Nathaniel’s heart and saw the sincere heart-cry of a Seeker. It was¬† “credited to him as righteousness“. When Philip came to Nathaniel he made specific references to the Law and the Prophets. Surely referring to the countless conversations they had together in the past. Perhaps they scoured the Scriptures together looking for a sign. I imagine many other would-be prophets and Messiahs had come before. As history tells us, many of them and their followers ended up dispersed, discredited, or dead.

An insult revisited

With all of this in mind we can take a fresh look at Nathaniel’s question. It was part incredulous and part hopeful. Nathaniel was open to the idea. He was also hopeful that he had misread or misunderstood something in the Scriptures. He hoped that with a sincere heart he had been sincerely wrong before. Perhaps the time had come for them to finally¬†find the Messiah. Hopefully, to be found by the Messiah.

Jesus revealed to him the condition of his heart. He was perplexed. He asked “how do you know me”? Skipping the actual question¬† He replies, paraphrasing, “not only do I know you, I even saw you under the fig tree”! Typical Jesus style. What Nathaniel responds tells us a lot about the situation that we, at first glance, are not aware of directly.

Low-lying fruit

Here’s the low-lying fruit here (pun intended). The fig tree must have been out of the line of sight for Jesus. It must have been hidden from from His view. Possibly over a hill or around a bend or something of that nature.¬† From this Nathaniel would see two things. Not only was the man before Him master over men’s inner thoughts but the forces (read “laws”) of nature. Jesus had correctly identified his internal personal state and his specific geographic location. His thoughts and location would only have been known to Philip.

Foregoing what else Jesus tells the men there assembled about what¬†else they will see and hear in the times to come, we learn a few things about both Nathaniel and the heart of Jesus.¬† Nathaniel’s eagerness and thirst for Truth pays off. His first answer is a resounding “yes!”. Good things can come out of Nazareth. By association, good things can come from Galilee. Specifically, Jesus and His motley crew of friends. Those men would go on to change history. He also answers his second question. Jesus knows Nathaniel (read your own name there) like a “wheel within a wheel”. Jesus knows our innermost workings even when we are not aware of Him.

Insult, the teacher

Perhaps the most astounding discovery we can take away is His early interaction with His disciples. We see that Jesus is available for questioning. We will study in upcoming posts the way Jesus responds to other sorts of inquiries. Here, we are assured that Jesus does not turn away anyone searching with all their heart (Jer 29:13). Also, He answers the underlying question regardless of presentation. Jesus has no interest in form. His interest is function. Nathaniel’s question may have been or sounded course but it came from a ready heart, from a heart that wanted the Truth, was earnestly seeking the Truth. In exchange for his childlike sincerity, Jesus paid him a truly beautiful compliment, one that we should all aspire to hear from the Master: “an Israelite (read: Christian) indeed, in whom there is no guile”.