Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees’

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Yoke © Image created by Ross Cochrane using Blender

Matthew 19:1-12 – E-MAIL FROM JESUS ON MARRIAGE

1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, He left Galilee and went down to the region of Judea east of the Jordan River. 2 Large crowds followed Him there, and He healed their sick. 3 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap Him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ 5 And He said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 7 “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.  9 And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” 10 Jesus’ disciples then said to Him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” 11 “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. 12 Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”   

E-MAIL TO JESUS FROM ME

Jesus, You are so old-fashioned. You think that from the beginnings of creation and probably beforehand (very old-fashioned), God invented marriage. If that’s the case, then modernity can only try to interfere with it or break it, but will fail since it is firmly established by God. You are saying that His original intentions remain unchanged. So no court or government can change the nature of what God has established. 

This makes sense to me, Lord. If marriage was designed by human beings and particularly by our present cultural hegemon (ruling class) who commandeer the social commentariat (media) we would see the downward annihilation of the basic union that holds society together, the family.  

But what I love about You, Jesus, is that although You are still being as vigorously questioned by the religious Pharisees of our day, You still show Your love for all people, while not buying into all of the popular cultural norms we try to justify. 

I recall that Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-33, that God created marriage to be a picture of Your love for Your church. It speaks to me of Your absolute faithfulness. Jesus, You are not going to write us a letter of divorce. You, at least, are faithful to Your Bride – the Church. We are not always as faithful to You as time and time again we choose to conform to the world around us.  

It’s easy to see then, why You hate divorce, Lord. It’s because You love marriage. Especially since marriage is designed to reflect the relationship we can have with You. But through hard-heartedness, many remain divorced from You, Jesus and from eachother.  

It occurs to me that divorce and other invented marriage anomalies, even unwittingly, picture a war on the beauty of the gospel, God’s grace, and faithfulness and on the basic unit of our society, the family.  

It seems to me that You make Yourself clear. God has designed marriage, so we don’t need to redefine it. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant relationship, as is our bond with You, Lord Jesus. 

Lord, it’s difficult to stand up against those who feel they can decide what the cultural position should be. The vitriol concerning gay marriage is an example.  

Nevertheless, as a Christian, I am compelled to stand up for my faith and to proclaim the answers from the Bible for living a life as God intended from the beginning.  

I’ve been reading some history, Lord. When You taught these principles, Jesus, women were regarded as property to be possessed by men. They had no rights. Women were abused: used and discarded, neglected and violated. Divorce was common. And the principles outlined clearly by Moses were often challenged and twisted to mean whatever the hegemon decided.  

The social commentariat that You spoke with would come up with all the loopholes or blatantly disregard God’s original intentions to proclaim their views as law. Leprosy and childlessness became reasons for divorce and along with countless other complicated reasons to break the marriage vows that God intended for a lifetime.  

Jesus, You didn’t side with Shammai or Hillel, respected Jewish scholars, but to what God originally intended and to God’s Word. As always, though not forever, You extend Your grace and forgiveness to those who respond to Your Word and Your love by entrusting their lives to You, Lord Jesus, in relationship. 

“Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together. I love the way You use the imagery of a yoke (joined together). Two oxen are yoked together, and they work together and are more effective in their work than they are separate. This is the picture of a man and woman united as one. Adam Clarke says  when persons (a man and a woman) were newly married, they put a yoke upon their necks,  to show that they were to be one, closely united, and pulling equally together in all the concerns of life.”  

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NLT) 

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT). 

Thanks, Lord. I value my marriage and love my wife. I also value and love my relationship with You. Help me to live out these principles.  

Yours, 

Ross 

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One © by Ross Cochrane – Created with Blender

Matthew 19:7-11 – EMAILS TO JESUS – About Marriage and Divorce – Part 2

 

The Pharisees Write to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

We are offended and insulted. You don’t seem to realize that Your words are the source of misunderstanding and can significantly damage our standing in this community. You have impugned our character with Your accusations and implied that we have flagrantly disobeyed the law concerning divorce. This amounts to hate speech and Your public ridicule amounts to defamation. We take offence and have no intention of turning the other cheek. Your slanderous, libelous or defamatory comments have caused us to consider legal action.  

Pharisees Investigative Group Surveillance (P.I.G.S) team.

 

A Man Who Has Considered Divorce Writes to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

I have seriously been considering divorcing my wife for a younger woman I am interested in. You got my attention today when You said ‘a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 

As a potter, I was reminded of a deep brown clay and a light yellow clay I mixed together recently to make a pot. After it was fired, my customer dropped it on the way out and it broke in half. Although it was broken in two, the 2 halves will never be the brown and yellow clay again, but each half will always retain the substance of the other. The image has disturbed me since You spoke.

I guess that’s why I was interested in how you responded to what the Pharisees said to You concerning divorce.  They asked You, “… why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?”  

I was hoping you would say something which would back up what I intended to do, to show me a way to make it a little easier to divorce my wife. But You were more concerned with keeping the marriage relationship strong. I must admit, You masterfully cut across the attack of the Pharisees and that’s why I am writing this letter. 

I thought the Pharisees had You cornered when they spoke about what Moses said, but you didn’t flinch. You replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.”  

You also made me think when You said rather forcefully, “And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.”

You made Your point crystal clear and went a lot further than I was willing to hear. You didn’t allow any leeway. I had never really considered directly what God intended for my marriage and, like the Pharisees, I was more interested in what Moses the lawgiver said about concessions for a divorce. 

When they tried to imply that You were setting Yourself above Moses, You kept bringing what God originally intended into the argument. This didn’t sit well with me at first but when I think of what God originally intended then I can see that God believes in my marriage more than I do. The master potter has mixed the clay and fired the pot to last a lifetime, … if well cared for.

So if God wants marriages to succeed, then He doesn’t want me to be looking for loopholes in the law to accommodate my failures in working on my marriage. I can see that He wants me to look for ways to normalize a strong marriage. He doesn’t want me to look for the exemptions to accommodate my sexual fantasies, but to find ways to enhance my faithfulness.

You have given me perspective. Lot’s to think about. All this time I have been blaming my wife for our marriage difficulties rather than addressing my own hard-hearted attitudes. 

When we married I never contemplated that one day I would consider divorce, but I have incrementally edged us towards the precipice, and deliberately tried to make her life miserable to justify my sinfulness. 

During one argument with my wife, I warned her of my intention to divorce her. It caused her such pain, and I can see why divorce is not what God originally intended. 

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that you have messed with my thinking. It’s too soon to give up on us yet. It’s better to just go with what God wants and see what happens, even when it would be easier to simply write her a letter of divorce.

Lord, thankyou for softening my heart. I’ve got a long way to go, but thankyou for helping me to look for the incremental changes that will bring healing grace and restore trust to my marriage.

A convicted follower

 

Divorced Wife of a Pharisee writes to Jesus  

Dear Jesus,

I was in the crowd today and heard what You said about divorce and adultery, but you didn’t go far enough!

Leviticus 20:10 (NLT) says “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.” That’s what you should be saying! Re-marriage wouldn’t be a problem. Further adultery wouldn’t be an issue then.  ‘Til death do us part.

The Scriptures clearly say that the penalty for adultery is the death penalty, but You ignored this. I know that since this was written, God seems to break His own rules and offers grace to those who deserve death, but why?

Why should grace be given to my scoundrel husband? Why should it be so easy for him to leave me? Moses wrote it clearly enough in the commandments, “You shall NOT commit adultery or covet your neighbor’s wife”. So why is it that my husband should get away with adultery and with leaving me for my neighbor’s wife simply by writing me a notice of divorce? You didn’t give any answers for this!

I’d be the one throwing the first stone at both of them. He doesn’t deserve God’s grace. Something inside me had died. Why should he live?

I overheard your disciples say, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”  I agree! Finally some sense. It’s not worth the pain.

If my husband wasn’t ready for the commitment, he shouldn’t have married me in the first place. It’s meant to last a lifetime, through the good and bad. Even You said that. And I agree. It’s a spiritual commitment. A gift from God that shouldn’t be split apart.

I know that King David got away with adultery because God was gracious to him.  He deserved death. Why is God so gracious? And Solomon was even worse. And don’t bring up Hosea and how he forgave his harlot wife, or talk to me about forgiving my husband. I won’t! I can be just as hard-hearted as him. I’m through with my husband, with Moses, and God and You too!

As far as I am concerned, God is far too gracious to adulterers and that’s all I have to say.

An Angry Divorced Wife

 

Divorced Wife of Pharisee writes to Jesus Again

PS  I’ve been meeting with some women who are all divorced. One of them is a young woman who once felt like me, but she has not remained bitter since becoming a follower of You. I envy her peace and even her faith. She was the one who encouraged me to write to You. Perhaps I’ll stay with her for a while, but don’t get the idea that I agree with the kind of mercy You are peddling to hard-hearted sinners like my husband.  

The truth is, I don’t really want him to die. I wish he would repent, but it seems I will now remain single for the rest of my life. You said some remain single. As You say, “Not everyone can accept this statementOnly those whom God helps.  My friend is praying that God will help me. …  

Dear Jesus,

After the explosive email I sent to You the other day, I thought I had better write to You and apologise. It was my hurt speaking. Somehow I know that you will forgive me. Something struck me about what you said about those who remain single all their lives. You said, “Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”  

For the moment I choose not to marry again, even though, according to the principles you have taught, I am able to remarry. You see, even as I write, I have decided to become one of Your followers, something I thought I would never do.

And I have chosen not to seek marriage again. Like those who remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, I have chosen to come under Your authority as my Lord and King; to serve the purposes You have set for my life. This is a radical but welcome change that has occurred in my life.  

I’ve been talking about my husband not repenting of his sins against me but not realising I needed to repent of my own sins towards God and that all of us need God’s grace if we are to be saved. 

Single for The Sake of the Kingdom

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Follow Button © by Ross Cochrane using Blender 2.78c

Matthew 19:1-2 – E-MAILS TO JESUS

The Pharisees write to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

We didn’t realize You were coming into our area but now that You have arrived we notice You are attracting large crowds. Proselytising is strongly discouraged in our community. 

We, the Pharisee Investigative Group Surveillance, will be on hand and will see to it that you and your followers are scrutinized with the appropriate checks and balances of all you say and do.

We ask that you comply with the following

  • Do not speak against religious and government authorities, local customs and laws.
  • Do not share heretical teaching, or engage in defiling acts such as healing or associating with undesirable people such as sinners and those with leprosy or Gentile dogs, especially on the Sabbath.
  • Do not throw furniture or act violently in and around the temple or synagogues.
  • Do not leave food scraps around after meal times
    • Do not refuse to answer the questions of the Pharisees Investigative Group Surveillance group or hesitate in asking for any further legal advice.

Pharisees Investigative Group Surveillance (P.I.G.S.)

 

A Woman Writes to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

1 You finished teaching in Galilee today and You said You are going down to the region of Judea east of the Jordan River. Large crowds have been following You there and You have been healing their sick. I just wanted You to know that I am going with them.

It is difficult to make the adjustment of leaving, but I know that I must move on. One painful season of my life has finished. 

I almost left it too late. Making the right move depends on making sure you make the right choices. It’s not always easy, is it? I knew I had to go from here but I wanted so much to put it off. That’s partly why I am writing this letter.

Unlike me, You always understand the right time to go. When You finish saying what You want to say, You just move on, so resolute for some reason to move ever closer to Jerusalem. I am not sure why.

Jesus, I have noticed that You never stop people like me from following You. Even though I am all alone and have no right to expect anything from You, somehow I know that when You welcome the crowds, You are welcoming me too.

In fact, I have discovered that believing what You say for my life is a continual journey of following You, Lord. You say You still want to heal people like me on the inside and make me whole.

I feel safe with You. You will never turn me away or leave me to face the journey of life alone, but neither will You compel or coerce me to obey and follow You.

I am praying that God will help me in the next part of the journey but I know it will not necessarily be easy.

Jesus, You simply invite me to come, and in coming, I know that I must turn from all else, from the directions I could take to the directions You want for me to take. You say we have all gone astray from God and that You are the only way back.

I have found that this is what faith is all about. Simply turning around and following You, instead of trusting in the direction I wanted to go without You.

I just wanted to thank You.

Yours,

A follower.  

 

The Pharisees Write to Jesus

Jesus,

We warned you about associating with sinners, the sick, proselytizing and teaching about culturally sensitive issues. You will now be subject to the public questioning of the Pharisees Investigative Group Surveillance (P.I.G.S) team.

 

A Woman Follower Writes to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

3 Today, some Pharisees came and tried to trap You with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 

They seem intent on wanting to trap You, to set You up and discredit what You teach. They want to see You fail. You can speak freely but only if You agree with their point of view.

You are healing the sick but they are more concerned about a theological issue concerning divorce. Go figure.

I felt as if they were looking at me. Why did they choose this question? One of them looked at me with derision. Do they know my secrets, a Christ-follower who is divorced? I shrank back into the crowd. But I don’t feel rejection from You, Lord, only respect.

I think I know what the Pharisees are doing. That’s the reason for this letter. There is more to their question than meets the eye. Their question has political overtones.

That’s why I am warning You, Lord, but already it seems too late. I know You are not concerned for political games but I also know that Your forthright views won’t endear You to the Pharisees. The truth is that the Pharisees don’t only want to trap You, Lord, but they want to get You into trouble with King Herod. Herod does not tolerate those who say anything against divorce.

I was a friend to Herod’s wife, Phasaelis. King Herod has divorced her. I tried to warn her about Herod’s affair with his own niece, Herodias, and it was me who helped her escape to her father, Aretas, king of Arabia.

When my husband found out I had helped Phasaelis, he was furious. He did not want to be associated with me for fear of King Herod’s wrath, so he divorced me, and threw me out of the house. He threatened to turn me in to the authorities.

And that’s why I am hesitant to follow You now that you are moving closer to Herod. 

King Aretas has put a contract out on King Herod’s life for the shameful way he has treated his daughter. He has declared war on Herod and there is a bitter battle taking place on the Northern border.

And Lord, it’s not only Herod You should be concerned about. You should know that Herodias, Herod’s niece, and lover, is just as dangerous as Herod himself. She caused Your friend, John the Baptist, to be murdered.

When Herod arrested John the Baptist, Herodias sought to justify her relationship with Herod, but John the Baptist denounced her “marriage” saying that it was against God’s law (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21). John was just like You, anything but politically correct.

Herodias didn’t like anyone exposing her sinfulness. Her conscience was seared with a life of excess, and she had the political backing to get her way. With a heart as black as the dungeon wall in which John the Baptist was imprisoned, Herodias tried to rid herself of what she considered to be an irritation, this badly dressed and ill-spoken man, … and she succeeded.

Herod granted her request. It was quite a table that had been set. Adultery, incest, debauchery, seduction, murder and the macabre all sat together at the king’s table that night as John’s head was brought in on a platter. You see, it doesn’t pay to say anything about God’s views on the marriage relationship. It is considered to be hate speech.

I know You are not intimidated by the dangerous question the Pharisees asked. But Lord, they are trapping You into speaking against Herod’s incestuous, adulterous marriage, even indirectly, and this could get You into a lot of trouble and I don’t want this to lead to Your death, too.

I would recommend that You leave this place as soon as possible,

Yours,

A Concerned Follower

 

The Pharisees write to Jesus

Jesus!

How dare you question our theological understanding! Your narrow views about the Scriptures are not wanted here. Not once did you mention the views of our esteemed Scholars and experts, Shammai and particularly Hillel, who have interpreted the Scriptures to be more culturally appropriate? This matter will not end here.

Pharisees Investigative Group Surveillance (P.I.G.S.)

 

A Woman writes to Jesus

Dear Jesus,

I’ve been thinking about the way You answered the Pharisees when they asked You about divorce. You answered their question. 4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” You replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ 

They wanted to argue and impose their thinking upon You, not read the Scriptures in order to understand what God was saying to them.

You cut across the plans of the Pharisaical social engineers, beyond all the popular opinions of the Romans and Jews, beyond all their justifications and You went back to what God has already declared in the Bible. I love the way You said, “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?”

The simplicity of Your statement struck me. You said that God created them male and female for the purpose of marriage. I am a Roman woman and I am so aware that we Romans practice polygamy, homosexuality, adultery, incest, keeping of concubines, prostitution, and divorce. But you made it clear that the original blueprint God made for marriage involves one man, one woman, who become one in Marriage.

5 You said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ 

I’ve been thinking about this Oneness. You seem to be suggesting more than just the physical union but a oneness like a spiritual glue that God uses to bond us together as a husband and wife and this eventually leads to us to become a mother and father ourselves.

My husband and I had a son. You said a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife. But Your words only remind me of the pain I feel.

When my husband divorced me, he took our son. Our son, the miracle of the oneness of our marriage, torn from me. 

You expressed it well. 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 

My divorce at first left me with less than I started out with. I felt bereft in every way, split apart from the oneness I experienced with my husband and torn apart from the expression of our oneness – our only son. I miss my son with an unbearable pain and all I can do is ask God to protect him.

Yet, despite the devastation and pain, my relationship with You has somehow made me whole. If only my marriage had the oneness I experience spiritually as I trust in You. If only my husband knew that it was God who joined us together.

Yours,

A Reflective Follower

Matthew 16:5-12 – BEWARE OF THUMP-BACK WHALES AND STREET SHARKS!

AND THIS IS ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS? Photo by Ross Cochrane using effects with iPad apps and Filter Forge and Paint.net

THE THUMP-BACK WHALE. THIS IS ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS? Photo by Ross Cochrane using effects with iPad apps, Filter Forge and Paint.net

It has small beady eyes, a huge gruesome head bearing shark-like teeth and body of a muscled figure with large fists. My grandson tells me that he is one of the good guys but I can’t see how. I know, it’s just a small toy in an armoury of monsters, but I have to laugh as it bites at my memory and reminds me of various people I have known; perhaps a genre of people; various political figures and dominant power-hungry people; puffed up with pride, biting away at anyone who threatened to relieve them of power, determined to win petty and worthless causes at all costs.

Matthew 16:5-7 (NLT) says “Later, after they crossed to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring any bread. “Watch out!” Jesus warns them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (and Herod)… At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread.”

When Jesus speaks of the “YEAST of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and of king Herod in Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15 He is warning us. Yeast causes bread to ferment, enlarging and lightening it with swelling air pockets of gaseous matter. The religious pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees and the dirty politics of Herod is expressed in hot air; no real substance, just a pervading influence like yeast. Gas bags! Poisonous, toxic gas bags! Religion and Politics; a hazardous mixture of hot air at the best of times, often polluting and blinding the minds of the people to the message of salvation found only in Christ. What use is Politics and religion if it falls short of God’s intentions for my life?

STREET SHARK - BIG HEAD, SHARK-LIKE TEETH AND FISTS. Another good guy?

STREET SHARK – BIG HEAD, SHARK-LIKE TEETH AND FISTS. Another good guy?

Shark-like they seek to encircle Jesus and bear their teeth with fists ready for a fight to maintain their dominance. Street Sharks and Thumpback Whales. Jesus spends little time with them and crosses the lake to those who are more willing to respond to His lifechanging presence.

His disciples don’t understand. They have tasted forbidden leaven. Orthodox Jews are careful not to buy bread made by Gentiles. It’s not clean if touched by a Gentile! The leaven (yeast) of the Gentiles infects everything around it. So His disciples are astonished that Jesus would say don’t buy bread from the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day! Surely the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees would be Kosher.

Then Jesus says something that makes me wonder. Matthew 16:9,10 (NLT) says “Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up?”  

Notice Jesus mentions both miracles. They participated in the miracle of provision, yet they don’t get it. They left the Pharisees and Sadducees behind in the wake of feeding well over 9000 people. But it’s the leftovers that interest me. Why the leftovers? Was it because the Pharisees and Sadducees and others refused to eat their portion? Jesus provided but they refused? The miracle of the leftovers alone should have been sign enough for the Pharisees. Interesting thought. One thing is sure – their rejection was like yeast.

They refused the bread and fish. Jesus refuses them. They were wary of the bread of Life. Jesus says beware of their teaching. Be less concerned with bread and more concerned with leaven. Be less aware of what I lack and beware of taking on what I don’t need for my life; those deceptive cultural, religious, intellectual, philosophical, scientific and political attitudes to feed my ego but not my soul. Beware of what feeds my self-image but leaves me less Christlike and starving for spiritual truth. Beware of Street Sharks and Thumpback Whales!.. well, you know what I mean; the yeast of an empty life without Christ.

In John 6:31-41 (NLT) Jesus says, “…The TRUE BREAD of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” … Jesus says, “I am the BREAD OF LIFE. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty…. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent Me, not to do My own will… For it is My Father’s will that all who see His Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” 

Pastor Ross

P.S. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of Above the Storm, my new e-book on the ancient book of Job, full of short stories to help you understand some deep truths. This is a creative exploration of Job. You will not read another commentary like it. All royalties for the e-book, if any, will go to Hope Street in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

Matthew 15:12 – THE UNMASKED CRUSADER AND THE SCANDAL OF GRACE

KNOXIE, THE MASKED CRUSADER

KNOXIE, THE MASKED CRUSADER

My wife writes in her blog called life-times-two, “This morning my 2 yr old grandson, Knoxie, came to me and asked for my help. He was trying to put a mask on his face. Knoxie’s toybox has all manner of superhero masks, but this wasn’t one of them. This morning Knox had found a different kind of mask to wear. It was one of those masks you are given on aeroplanes to help you sleep. He had the right idea about placing this mask across his face, but he just couldn’t manage to get the elastic bands over his forehead and positioned around the back of his head. So I bent down and helped out. “There you go!” I said as I stood up. Knoxie turned around, poised to walk off down the hall.

“You can’t walk around with that on Knoxie,” I said, “You’ll bump into something.” “No, Nanny”, was his response as he set off down the hall. It came as no surprise that about 5 seconds later I heard – THUMP! Followed by –  “WAHhhhh….” The Masked Crusader had hit the wall. I found him sitting on the floor in tears, still masked. I picked him up, hugged him and repeated my earlier advice, “Knoxie, you can’t walk around with that mask on. You’ll bump into something.” Taking the mask off his poor little head, I put him down on the floor and looked at the egg that had appeared on his forehead.

Still sniffling, he took the mask out of my hand and attempted to put it back on, once again asking my help. So I obliged, repeating the same warning, with added emphasis. “Now don’t walk around Knoxie or you’ll bump into something again.” “No Nanny,” came the reply, again. Off he went. Before I could stop him he tripped over the pram which was lying in the hall. And this time he cried even louder. One of those I’m seriously hurt cries. I went over and picked him up. My poor little masked crusader cried like his heart would break. He buried his little face (still masked) into my neck and sobbed. I felt his pain. Tears welled up in my own eyes … but I’m rather ashamed to say at this point that the tears flowing from my eyes were not the result of empathy. Rather they were caused by a desperate attempt to stifle an incredibly irresistible urge to laugh hysterically. Heartless grandmother… So funny, yet so sad.” (http://life-times-two.blogspot.com.au/) 

Knoxie, the Masked Crusader reminds me of a more serious blindness that Jesus confronts in Matthew 15:13-14. The disciples are concerned that the Pharisees (Religious Leaders) are offended by what Jesus is teaching (Matthew 15:12 NLT) but Jesus makes it worse. He says, “They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:13-14 NLT). They have an inevitable destiny with a ditch, and to align myself with them is to align myself with their destiny.

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NLT) says “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.”

John 3:18-21 (NLT) says that to follow Christ is to have 20/20 vision and walk in the light. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s One and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” 

Better to be an Unmasked Crusader. We get our word “scandalised” from the original word translated as “offended”. Are you offended by Jesus like the Pharisees, blinded to the truth of the ditch? The invitation Jesus gives is to be unmasked and to see instead the offence of the Cross. Songwriters Matt Crocker and Joel Houston from our Church home @Hillsong have written these beautiful words,

THE SCANDAL OF GRACE

Grace, what have you done?
Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong
My sin washed away in Your blood

Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place
So my soul will live…

Death, where is your sting?
Your power is as dead as my sin
The cross has taught me to live
In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and it’s trouble shall come
I know that Your strength is enough
The scandal of grace, You died in my place
So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like You
(To) Give all I have just to know You
Jesus, there’s no one besides You
Forever the hope in my heart
 

It’s all because of You Jesus!

Pastor Ross

 

MATTHEW 15:1-20 – CATCH 22

Catch 22Image created by the author

Catch 22
Image created by the author

The door is open as I knock but the curtain is pulled across. I don’t know what to expect as I walk towards him but find him sitting beside his bed. He looks up with a welcoming smile and says “And who might you be?” As I sit with John he confides with me about his life as a soldier and a decorated officer. He is a respected man who saw the horrors of war. Now he wages a battle with cancer with brave dignity.

We laugh and talk together for some time with easy conversation, though his breathing is laboured. Then, when he knows that I am willing to listen he opens up to me concerning his dilemma. John (not his real name) received a visit from his family yesterday. They took the news of their father’s cancer with pragmatic stoicism, but it has been 3 years and he has lingered until the cancer has spread throughout his body. He is now in palliative care, breathing from only one of his lungs. On finding out that it is now difficult for him to eat, his sons tell their father that it is time for him to give up and accept that he will die. They have had enough. They don’t want to see him suffer, or is it that their inheritance is being eaten up by the cancer too? “Stop eating and fade away! It would be better for all of us. We have a life to live!” The registered nurse is asked to stop his meals but she refuses.

He wants to end the misery his family feels, but fights to hold onto every precious second of life. He cried a little when they left him with the extra weight of this problem and he is not a man who cries. Must he compete between family and eternity, life and love? Caught in a double bind, a false dilemma; forced to choose between two conflicting demands, he is left to question his very existence and becomes increasingly distressed. He is standing in no-mans-land and bullets fly at him from both directions. Is he ready to face God?

In Matthew 15:3, when the Pharisees challenge Jesus about His disciples not practising ceremonial hand washing, Jesus responds by challenging their selfishness and the False Dilemmas they create. He begins by saying, “Why do your rules and traditions contradict what God is asking of you?” What’s the use of a habit, ritual or tradition that actually cuts off my ability to love God and love others?

Jesus says, “For instance, God says, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honour their parents…” (Matthew 15:5 NLT).

It seems even God can be used as an excuse to devalue our parents. Does Jesus agree with the death sentence for not honouring father and mother? So easy for me to misfire my focus with cultural ethics on capital punishment. That’s not the main thrust of what He is trying to say to me. Jesus accepts the extreme gravity of this law without wanting to water it down because it provides stark contrast with giving value to my relationship with my parents? Dishonouring parents by pitting them in competition with God leaves both our lives in peril if it came down to the law. In an age when taking care of our parents is not always valued, Jesus says, “…you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition” (Matthew 15:6 NLT). Our own selfish standards and demands bear a death sentence in so many ways, but especially when we carry them into our relationships.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NLT) 

Tears flow down her cheeks and helplessness is written into her expression. My wife looks at me after a phonecall to her parents who live in an aged care facility and who are becoming more and more frail. Her love for God translates into the honour she shows to them. She values them, visits them, cares for them without using God or other selfish demands as an excuse to abandon them. God is not pitted in competition with my responsibilities concerning other relationships.

Matthew 26:39 (NLT) says that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus “…bowed with His face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.”” Jesus faced His own Catch 22, wanting to bring forgiveness and eternal life to us yet understanding that the only way to accomplish this would be to die upon the Cross for our sins. Easter celebrates His victory over such a dilemma. His love and obedience to God the Father led Him to the Cross, and His resurrection from the dead defeated the power of the Catch 22 caused by our sin.

“Lord, so often You deal with the catch 22’s, selfish habits, behaviours, and self-imposed dilemmas I have established in my life by exposing my false assumptions and beliefs. Forgive me. Correct me. Let nothing get in the way of what You desire for me. Rid me of the false demands I build around my life and leave me with the simplicity of loving Christ and loving others. Thankyou Lord for loving me unselfishly enough to die for my sins, and bringing forgiveness to my life. Help me honour You from my heart and in my actions, words and thoughts as I relate with others today.” 

Pastor Ross

If this article has resonated with you, would you please pass it forward to those whose lives you think may also be touched by Words of Life. Thanks and God bless you.

Matthew 15:1-20 – INFECTION CONTROL! 

Infection Control!

Infection Control!
Image created by author using Morguefile.com, Paint.net and Filter Forge

I would have been horrified too! I know how essential something as simple as good hygiene can be. An infectious outbreak could end the lives of the elderly and frail in the Aged Care Facility where I work if not for staff taking care to wash their hands and actively minimising the possibility of contamination.

So it’s not surprising that the infection auditors; the Pharisees and teachers of religious law come all the way from Jerusalem to see Jesus (Matthew 15:1-2 NLT). They immediately get upset with the disciples for not washing their hands before a meal? I’ve completed the mandatory training in infection control so I’m with the Pharisees. What! Do you want the feeding of the 4000 to end up being a healing meeting for Gastro Enteritis, Multi Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, Influenza, Whooping Cough, Chicken Pox, Shingles, Fever, Conjunctivitis, Polio, or even leprosy! INFECTIOUS OUTBREAK! Everyone is a possible carrier! That many people in quarantine will be a nightmare! The disciples SHOULD wash their hands!

The Pharisees and Teachers of religious law have had Jesus under surveillance since He arrived, but not personally? They have their own satellite tracking devises and close circuit TV in the form of their spies who watch the activity of Jesus and report back. At the slightest breach of protocol, they race from Jerusalem with sirens blaring to confront Jesus. They want to nail this guy before the infection of faith spreads.

So the Faith Prevention & Control Police (FPCP) arrive on the scene to investigate Jesus and His Work Health and Safety standards (WHS). They come with their sterile plastic gowns, gloves and masks covering their hearts to target Jesus as a threat to religious control, but Jesus confronts them with the infection of their own malice.

Perhaps I don’t want to align myself with the Pharisees afterall. Yes, it would have been a good idea for the disciples to wash their hands because of good hygiene, but the religious leaders themselves have blood on their hands and they pollute others with their vitriolic poison. They try to protect themselves from Jesus by wearing the surgical masks of their outward righteousness but their righteousness is as filthy rags in His presence.

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6).

Pharisees try to vaccinate themselves with religious laws and traditions, but they fail to realise that they are the carriers of a deadly, resistant virus that has been draining the life from people for years. Jesus has the only cure.

Proverbs 30:12 (NIV) says that there are “those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth;”

I’ve known some Pharisees. At times I’ve been one. Pharisees and religious leaders, like a bad case of the flu often turn up to infect others with their contaminating words, like airborn germs, that cause hearts to fail and faith to falter. With acerbic seeds they come to challenge Jesus but refuse to be challenged or healed themselves. They are ceremoniously clean on the outside, but Jesus exposes the rancorous, festering wounds of their hearts. Faith is an airborne virus itself. Good bacteria. God bacteria. I am not immune to His words and He continues to challenge me with His claims.

All this handwashing. What’s the big deal? Do they have some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder? Do they have a right to demand anything from Jesus? Do I? Or is it that Jesus is demanding something of me? What has the tradition of ceremonial hand washing really got to do with it anyway? Jesus doesn’t buy into my confrontation without pointing out the blaring inconsistencies in choosing to live according to a set of man-made mores.

Psalms 51:2,7 (ESV) cries out “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” 

Today I refuse to be infected by religion. I take off my antiseptic, sterile masks which I have tried to use against the outbreak of my sin and accept the words of healing grace as Jesus says “You are clean”. He took my sin and disease on the Cross. He conquered death by rising again from the dead. He offers me eternal life. He cleanses my life and gives me a new spirit and responsive heart to God.

Pastor Ross 

Matthew 7:16-18 – CHRISTMAS TREE OR FRUIT TREE?

Christmas Tree or Fruit Tree? All is not as it seems.

Strange to chop down a tree, decorate it with fake fruit and place it in the living room as if it is growing. Smells real, but cut off at the roots and propped up. Replace the apples with brightly coloured baubles, fancy lights, garlands, ornaments, tinsel, ribbons and candy cane. Place a toy angel or star on top of the tree for religious significance and presents around the base. Then after a while, throw it out or burn it. Christmas trees are seasonally profuse and then of no use.

John Stott says “The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree.”

When Jesus speaks of false prophets in Matthew 7:16-19 I thought of John Stotts analogy with Christmas trees. They look attractive, exciting, different. They set the stage to get us emotionally involved but they don’t really have anything lasting to offer, nothing that will sustain. Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT) says “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions….”

WHAT IS BAD FRUIT? Rotten? Poisonous? Imitation? Baubles and bells – attractive alternatives? All the above. It looks good but has no life. Teaching which has dangerous consequences for my life and no correlation with what God is saying. In the context of Matthew so far, bad fruit is related to the negativity and judging attitudes of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy and reputation-driven public displays and wrongly motived “good” works, their legalistic unbending traditions (Matthew 3:10), their self-righteousness, and their unforgiving, rigid, harsh and pettyminded outlook on life, expressed in words and actions.

Sometimes it is what we say and begin to believe about ourselves which isn’t true. I can become my own false teacher. My own negative attitudes distort who I am in Christ and can be a powerful influence in my life. An over inflated view of myself is just as bad. Romans 12:3 (NLT) says “… Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” It’s always worth asking “What characterises my life? How does God see me? Am I living a fruitful life? What kind of influence do I have on others? What positive difference am I making in the world? Do I belong to a fruitful Church?”

WHAT IS GOOD FRUIT? Tasty, nutritious, useful, performs what it was designed to do, carries seeds of the same kind as the tree. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) speaks of fruit which is actively outworked in our actions and motivated by the Holy Spirit. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

Of course I know that a Christmas tree is just a traditional decoration. So at certain times in the year I tolerate counterfeit reality. What is disturbing is that there are times when I am also tempted to accept what amounts to false teaching of false prophets because at first it is so appealing, so glamorous and promises a candy cane, sugary kind of love, joy and peace which has no substance. It gives me an emotional high and helps me justify my sins with cheap grace. But long-term I discover no sustenance from the fruit these trees bear and I am left craving for the next quick fix.

I soon find that there are no Christmas tree substitutes for the Cross and repentance (Luke 3:8). No fancy lights to substitute for the light of the world. Jesus simply says “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). No brightly wrapped presents to substitute for the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. Romans 6:23 (NLT) says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” No candy cane junk food quick fix substitutes for developing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The invitation that Christ gives is simply to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). Christmas Tree or Fruit Tree?

Pastor Ross

PS You may not have seen the face hidden on the edge of the Christmas tree? Side on. Looking down. Not all is as it seems. Sometimes what is concealed is an important part of the picture.

Matthew 7:1-2 – BOOMERANGS, MIRRORS AND GLASS HOUSES

Boomerangs, Mirrors and Glass Houses

He turns right slightly, his sinewed muscles and black skin responding to the direction of the wind. Standing sideways with his feet-apart, his left foot forward, he points with his left hand in the direction of intended flight, just above the horizon. He holds the tip of a strange curved wooden object, his thumb on top and three fingers below. Cocking it back to ensure a good spin and stepping sharply forward with his left foot, he thrusts this carved, curled, curious object overhand as if he were throwing a spear, giving it a whip-like flick with his index finger just before it is released. With a smooth breathlike whoosh, the BOOMERANG takes a spectacular flight in a distinct curve to the left, climbing gently, levelling out and arcing back around toward him as if it is being summoned back to the origin of it’s journey and to the presence of the thrower. As it hovers for a moment he reaches out, deftly catching it. He is already aware of the prey that has been disturbed by it’s flight, and his spear is at hand.

Jesus says “Do not JUDGE others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT). Judgment boomerangs!

I launch judgments everyday on appearance, behaviour, speech, attitudes, promises, guilt or innocence, who I believe and who I don’t. When Jesus says “Do not JUDGE others…” He does not mean that I never use my DISCERNMENT! The word He uses and the context of this passage suggests judgment which is harsh and petty, given with loveless intention. The invitation He gives to avoid such judgment returning, boomerang-like, is for us to look at ourselves first. MIRROR, MIRROR on the wall, who is the guiltiest of them all? Are the faults I see reflected simply those that I’ve detected in the people I’ve rejected since they look too much like me? Projected judgments return with a vengeance.

So how do we address the sins we see in another person’s life? Jesus isn’t sweet and gentle when He calls the Pharisees “Hypocrites! Whitewashed tombstones! Brood of Snakes!” The Pharisees judge others in all the wrong ways. They are critical, negative, sharp-tongued slanderers whose standards are twisted and distorted by their black hearts. Jesus condemns them for being conceited, spiritually blind, showing a real lack of love, and for being hypocrites. And as He speaks to them, He also speaks to me about this issue. He is looking me directly in the eye and saying, “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 NLT).

People in GLASS HOUSES shouldn’t throw boomerangs! Luke 6:38 (NASB) says “… For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Haman discovered this when he prepared a gallows for Mordecai (Esther 7:9-10). Kent Hughes says “Very few of us dare to pray, “God, judge me as I judge my fellow men and women.””

Judgments become transformed from weapons of offence to instruments of healing when they are based on a relationship with Christ and a desire to show God’s MERCY and FORGIVENESS, not to condemn. James 2:11-13 (NLT) says “… There will be no MERCY for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when He judges you.” Even the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:12-15 (NLT) says “FORGIVE us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” …“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” When Mercy and forgiveness take flight they return, boomerang-like with a healing touch to our own souls.

The invitation is to look in the mirror, remove the impediments to discernment concerning others, and to see them through the eyes of the Cross. Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT) says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Pastor Ross

Matthew 7:1 – NEGATIVITY VULTURES!

Negativity Vultures

FAULTFINDING is the “VENOM OF THE SOUL” (Ray Pritchard). It verbalises defeat. It destroys joy, and vulture-like rips away at our hope and potential.

The PHARISEES are the religious leaders and they continually gather, like vultures, to communicate negativity to Jesus. NEGATIVITY VULTURES are scavenging people of prey, Condors of criticism, feeding on the carcasses of the wrongs of others. These sad individuals thrive on all that is negative, on what they see as the mistakes and sins of their victims. They hover over the social environment, keeping a close eye out for the dead, rotting flesh of the failures of others. They are SCAVENGERS OF SCANDAL. These RUTHLESS RAPTORS can smell defilement from a mile away and with their derisive cries they gather to the hunt in ever diminishing circles of flight until they land to tear the flesh off anyone with a flaw.

A group of Pharisees are very much like a WAKE of vultures. A WAKE is a ceremony associated with death and they speak WORDS OF DEATH. The only friends of a negative person are other negativity vultures who gather for nit-picking the rotting flesh of lost potential.

And by the way, not all of them are bald-headed old world vultures. They are found in every generation. The faultfinder feeds on the flaws of others and then, as vultures do, they vomit it up for their young so that the next generation learns their negativity. Unfortunately they are not an endangered species.  

My Pastor, Brian Houston, says negativity magnifies anxiety and distorts truth. It makes harsh judgments and sweeping, unfair statements. It sabotages potential. It turns molehills into mountains.

No wonder that Jesus says “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1 NLT). He’s not speaking against their discernment, but against their UNCONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, and their inability to discern their own shortcomings. He is warning them that JUDGMENT BITES BACK.

Tom Attridge shot his own plane down in 1956 when the velocity and trajectory of the rounds he fired decayed, and ultimately crossed paths with the plane’s shallow dive forcing Attridge to crash-land the aircraft. Destructive Negativity inevitably catches up with us and we SHOOT OURSELVES DOWN.

What is the spirit behind and the motivation of my judgments? Jesus commands me not to be hypercritical and negative and faultfinding towards others. He is saying stop being so annoying, petty and trivial! Stop being so objectionable, obnoxious and critical! Stop being so disapproving and disparaging! Stop being so scathing and severe! There is a spiritual gift of encouragement but there is no such gift as the gift of negativity.

What disturbs me is that I hear this verse used as if it is advocating that I ACCEPT any kind of lifestyle and teaching no matter what God’s Word has to say about it, and if I don’t then I am “not being very Christian”. Our culture cries out with insistent declarations against followers of Christ – “Do not judge! Do not make moral evaluations! Do not condemn anything!” Wrong! That is not what Jesus is commanding. He is not trying to water down evil in the world. He is not trying to excuse our sin. That’s NOT the emphasis of this passage at all. In fact to read it that way misses the whole point of what Jesus is trying to say. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR OTHERS DOESN’T MEAN UNCONDITIONAL APPROVAL OF OTHERS! You know the saying “Jesus loves me as a sinner but He doesn’t love my sin. He loves me too much to have me stay the way I am.” John 16:8 (NLT) says that the Holy Spirit comes to “…convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.”

Without Christ we are already condemned. The fact is that Jesus Christ is the only One who has come to save us from certain judgment. Conviction of sin, confession of our inability to save ourselves, commitment to Christ alone as Saviour = no condemnation. Jesus paid the price for me when He died for my sin. John 3:17-18 (NLT) says “God sent His Son into the world NOT TO JUDGE THE WORLD, but to SAVE the world through Him. There is NO JUDGMENT against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son…”

The invitation for us before diving in for the kill with our negative judgments of others is to ask “Am I being a NEGATIVITY VULTURE feeding on the faults of others or an INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S MERCY revealing God’s grace and patience? Is my aim to condemn or to express the love of Christ? Is my aim TO JUDGE OR TO SAVE.”

Pastor Ross