Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees’

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.

 

 

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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

Matthew 13:33 – THE INCREDIBLE HULK AND YEAST – Part 14

Yeast and the Hulk

I’m thinking THE INCREDIBLE HULK! When Bruce Banner gets mad, he is transformed into a huge, out of control creature (I can’t help it. I have a grandson who loves cartoon characters and he always wants me to play the bad guy or the monstrous guy. I don’t know exactly why. I guess it’s the muscle power or maybe just the mass. To my grandson I’m incredible in all kinds of ways). I have always wondered how the hulk gets all his muscles. They just balloon from nothing. Just add a bad attitude, and you have instant bulk. TRANSFORMED!  

She leaves a lump of dough on the table as she goes about her household chores. The yeast begins to convert the sugars into carbon dioxide. The dough begins to expand and form tiny bubbles or gas pockets. Hulk type muscular formations begin to balloon from the dough. Just add yeast and it is TRANSFORMED!

When the dough has risen she breaks it into pieces and forms each loaf, leaving them to rise again. The yeast will die when she bakes the bread but the air pockets will remain. All she needs now is Vegemite and the transformation could be complete.  

Jesus also used this illustration (minus the incredible Hulk and the vegemite). He said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough”” (Matthew 13:33 NLT). 

Many seem to have a problem with this parable? The trouble is that whenever yeast is used figuratively in the Bible it is usually speaking about “the bad guys” and the influence of sin, hyprocrisy, or their false teaching, (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9, Matthew 16:6-12, Mark 8:15-21). Yeast has been regarded this way ever since Israel was asked to sweep every bit of it out of their houses before the Exodus (Exodus 12:39).

Does the woman represent false teachers, the yeast represent their false teaching and the dough represent the Church? The IMPLAUSIBLE HULK. Just add false teaching and the Church is TRANSFORMED!

Jesus warns in Matthew 16:6 (NLT) “Watch out! … Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Galatians 5:9 (NLT) says “… This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!” Clearly yeast is used in a very NEGATIVE way to describe the teaching and hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Sin has certainly infiltrated our world, transforming the original dough. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23 NLT),” but Jesus says “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast…” The only way that sin and the Kingdom of Heaven are alike is in their ability to INFILTRATE AND INFLUENCE the world.

To say that yeast is ONLY spoken of as defiling would be a FALSE ASSUMPTION. Look closer. In each passage it is the PERVADING nature of the yeast and it’s INFLUENCE that is being emphasised. Perhaps this is the only place in the Bible where yeast is likened to something good.

A similar analogy is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (NASB95) it says “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a THIEF in the night.” but this is not saying that Jesus is a thief. In every other place in the Bible stealing is spoken of as a sin, but here it is simply speaking about the ability of the thief to come UNEXPECTEDLY. A thief comes unexpectedly. Yeast has INFLUENCE.

Inherent in a small amount of yeast is the ability to completely transform a batch of dough. Not some flat pita bread existence.

Maybe you think you don’t have much to offer God. A small boy with some fish and bread probably thought the same way, but he offered God what he had and God made a miracle out of it. The disciples said in effect “We don’t have enough.” He said “Here, take what I’ve got!” and under the authority and rulership of Jesus it fed 5000, with some left over (Matthew 14:13-21).

When the Kingdom of God infuses my thoughts, my words, my actions, and resources then God can do something INCREDIBLE through me. He wants me to live a life enlarged by the muscles of His Kingdom purposes. Dream big! Live big for Him! “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NASB). I am “filled with all the fullness of God…according to the power that works within me” (Ephesians 3:19-20). Incredible impact and influence!

The Kingdom of Heaven transforms my life when I respond to the authority of Christ. I am changed incredibly when I accept what He has done for me on the Cross, where He paid the penalty for my sin.

The world will never be the same (Acts 1:8) as the gospel continues to TRANSFORM lives. Inherent in this parable, like yeast permeating dough, is the ever insistent invitation of Jesus to you today to be transformed, not by the kingdom of darkness, but by the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pastor Ross

Matthew 13:24-26 – Part 9 – TOXIC OR TRANSFORMED?

Wheat and Tares

He didn’t look much like a missionary to me. He was built like a tank in terms of muscles. Not the way I pictured a missionary should be. He should have been skinny from lack of support from his home church, with an old brown cardigan. He should have had an expression that indicated that he was near to a breakdown or had experienced one already.

This man however spoke without the pious tones I expected and without trying to make me feel guilty for not packing my bags and taking the next plane to deepest darkest Africa to preach to a lost tribe of pigmy cannibals for the rest of my life. “Here I am Lord, send me” wasn’t even his theme.

What he did do was to open up God’s truth in a way I had never heard before and I found myself inspired to study my Bible and apply it’s truth to my life. I found myself wanting to go into the world and represent Christ. I was shocked! I think I had Bangladesh in mind at the time.

I was reminded of this incident when I read Matthew 13:24-30. Jesus tells another simple parable about a farmer. He has already shared a story about sowing good seed on different types of soils in Matthew 13:3-9. The farmer in this parable is also sowing seed, but this time the seed doesn’t represent the MESSAGE of Christ but the SERVANTS of Christ. Jesus the farmer is sowing FOLLOWERS of Christ into His field – the world.

Even before the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus was sending disciples into the world. In Matthew 10:5-18 (NLT) “Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “… Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received! …Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. … this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about Me…” 

Someone said that the greatest mission field we have today is in the Church. Matthew 13:25 (NLT) says “But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.” WEEDS sown amongst the wheat. Apparently there’s plenty of weeds in the Church. Titus 1:16 (NLT) says that “Such people claim they know God, but they deny Him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.”

It is called “Bastard wheat” because in its early stages it cannot be distinguished from real wheat. “When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew” (Matthew 13:26 NLT). I’m sure Jesus was looking at the Pharisees when He told this parable.

According to Matthew 13:39 Jesus says that the weeds are those who are not followers of Christ, and He lays it on the line by describing them as belonging to the devil. Prophetically they are people down through the ages who have not given their lives to Christ. They have not believed in Him and His work on the Cross for them. The Kingdom of heaven, Christ’s rulership, is not present in their lives. They therefore belong to the other kingdom. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NLT) says “If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 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.”

The miracle is that any seed that Jesus touches is wheat, born again, a new creation with all the potential to make a difference despite the opposition we may face in the world. The invitation of this parable is to assess from whose hand I have been sown into the world? Is what I contribute going to end up being toxic. Weed or wheat? Pharisee or follower of Christ? God bless you as you respond to the touch of Jesus today. Are you TOXIC or TRANSFORMED?

Pastor Ross

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Matthew 13:1-17 – MAYBE IF I ACTUALLY LISTENED FOR A CHANGE! – Part 1

Ears to hear?

In the middle of an argument, my Mum would say something like this – “Maybe if you LISTENED for a change, you would understand what I am trying to tell you!” So often I am not so much LISTENING but simply waiting for the other person to finish so that I can get across my point of view. Not really a very teachable position to be in. Ears to hear but unwilling to listen.

Joan is 99 years old and she feels that her world is so isolated. Even with hearing aids, she has to listen carefully to pick up anything I am saying. Ears that don’t hear well but more than willing to listen.

In Matthew 13 Jesus says “LISTEN!” with even greater authority than my Mum and with a voice that even Joan can understand. He addresses this problem of how different people are responding to Him. I can get caught up in all the arguments, but the real issue is to do with LISTENING. MAYBE IF I LISTENED…

Just a simple story. Jesus is obviously speaking about something important, but as I read, it doesn’t seem all that significant. The question is “Am I going to miss what He is trying to tell me because of my preconceived ideas about Him or because I insist on my own points of view?” Maybe if I listened….

It’s been a BUSY DAY for Jesus. He has been doing some amazing miracles and teaching with incredible authority. He has been bombarded with a steady barrage of artillery from the Pharisees by way of insults and challenges. It’s usually the religious people who criticize Jesus the most. He does not allow this to distract Him and encourages others to stay on track and LISTEN. Ears to hear.

He says in effect that listening is like a “farmer” who has seeds to plant and he goes into the field and scatters them. The seed that falls on the “FOOTPATH” is eaten by the “birds”. Other seed grows in “SHALLOW SOIL” with “UNDERLYING ROCK” and it wilts because it doesn’t have deep roots. Other seeds grew too, but they grew in a THORN infested area. They grew up and the thorns choked the tender plants (Matthew 13:3-8). We’ve got some thorny weeds in our garden like that.

It seems that this farmer does have some “FERTILE SOIL” in his field and it is the only ground that produces a crop worth harvesting. Even then he doesn’t get a very good crop in terms of his overall investment in seed. The crop he does receive from the fertile soil doesn’t all give him a 100% return. Some of it only yields 30%, and some 60%.

Just a simple story without explanation. In fact Jesus doesn’t seem as if He is going to give me an explanation at first.

But He goes on to tell me that anyone with EARS TO HEAR should listen and understand (Matthew 13:9). So this is not meant to be just a nice story. It has significant meaning and implications that are worthwhile for me to understand and apply. Is that the FIRST CLUE to being FERTILE SOIL – having EARS TO HEAR?

Is He talking about faith when He says “He who has ears to hear”? I don’t know yet. One thing is clear. There are those who don’t hear and don’t understand (Matthew 13:11-17). Apparently it takes an INTENTIONAL HEARING if I am to understand anything Jesus says. Or, like the Pharisees, I can remain far too intentional about not listening to anything He says.

So the invitation Jesus gives me is “Listen!” God bless you today as you respond to Jesus by saying “What would my world look like if I listened to what Jesus is saying here and spent time intentionally seeking to understand how it applies to my life today.”

Jesus looks to me as He speaks to the crowd in Matthew 13:9 (NLT) and says “Anyone with ears to hear should LISTEN AND UNDERSTAND.” “OK Lord, You’ve got my attention. I’m listening?”

Pastor Ross