Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alexandros Megos

I am fascinated by Alexander the Great, so fascinated that — one of these days — I am going to write a novel about him.  I know Mary Renault already did a fantastic job of this with her series, but it bothers me that Alexander died without having fulfilled his dream of reaching the ends of the earth.  So I plan a sequel.  It's all written out in my head already, and will appeal to sci-fi buffs (I hope).

No one has had a greater impact on history than Jesus, of course, but Alexander's contribution shouldn't be minimized.  Sadly, Alexander isn't really studied much nowadays, and although his exploits have been required reading in military academies for centuries, most people know very little about him.  (Oliver Stone's fanciful movie Alexander did little to enlighten the general population.)  Ignoring his battles and strategic genius for a while, I'd like to acquaint you with a few

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spiritual Tats

Several of my friends have had in-depth discussions with me about this Law versus Grace thing and know my heart-attitude on the subject. Some of them think I'm on the right track ("spiritual growth"), some of them think I'm heading backwards ("Pharisaical legalism"), and some of them just think I'm weird and they're waiting to see what crazy thing I'll do next ("Dee's gone off the deep end again").

It usually comes up when I get invited to dinner.  "Want to join us at Sonny's this Saturday? They're having a special on baby backs!"

"Sorry, sounds like fun, but I don't eat pork anymore."  Or shrimp.  Or catfish.  And I don't go to restaurants on Saturday.  I used to say, "Sorry, I can't," but that isn't strictly true.  I can, but

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 8: Surpassing Righteousness

"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 5:20)

Bill Gates, 2011's 2nd Richest Man
As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, this statement is the moral equivalent of saying, "Unless you are richer than Carlos Slim and Bill Gates . . ."  Jesus SEEMS to be saying here that no one can get into heaven. Period.

Just one verse earlier, however, he said that anyone who set aside the least of the commandments would be called "least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).  In that case, even a lawbreaker can get in.  He'll be "least," but he'll be in.

So which is it?  Verse 19, or verse 20?


Please don't make the mistake of thinking that Jesus was so stupid he could contradict himself in the space of a breath and not realize it.  Please don't compound that error by assuming Matthew was also stupid enough to include such gibberish in his gospel.  And, while you're at it, don't

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jesus Never Claimed to Be God

I hear this one a lot. "Jesus said he was the SON of God. He never claimed to BE God."

These people have a point, actually. If you go to a concordance and comb through the New Testament, you will not find one single verse where Jesus says, "I am God."

"I love thee . . ."
Likewise, if you read "Romeo and Juliet," you will not find one single verse where Juliet says, "I love you" to Romeo. Nor will you find one verse where Romeo says, "I love you" to Juliet. (I know... I've done this. If you don't believe me, go to and use the "find" function on your computer to scan the entire play for yourself.) In spite of this, no one questions the fact that these two kids love each other -- perhaps not too wisely, but definitely with great passion! That's because everything else they say and do shows their love for one another.

So, simply pointing out that Jesus never said, "I am God," proves nothing. Instead, you have to look at what He said and did... in CONTEXT.

Sermon on the Mount Part 7: How I Love Your Law

Psalm 119 is a love song! "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (vs. 97)
This is the theme of the entire psalm - the longest chapter in the Bible - being IN LOVE with God's Law.

The Law has gotten a bad rap in the church lately.

"Oh, we're not under the Law," people say. "We're under grace! Don't be so legalistic!"

We're missing the point.

True, we are not UNDER the Law. To the one who has been set free by Christ, the Law is no longer an oppressor. Instead, it has become

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 6: Abolish vs. Fulfill

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

The first sixteen verses of the Sermon focus on what it means to be a disciple.  In this passage, however, Jesus shifts gears for a moment and turns the focus back on himself.  "Do not think..." he begins, and then proceeds to state very clearly a message that flies in the face of an all-too-common teaching today: the idea that Jesus lived according to the Law and this means we no longer need to; or in the more extreme version of this teaching, that we no longer should, that it is somehow sinful even to try to keep God's Law.

"Legalism" is the word most often used to attack those who believe the Law should still be kept.  "Cheap Grace" is the phrase frequently shouted as a counter-attack.  Somewhere in between lies the truth, so let's wave a white flag long enough to go looking for it.

What does it mean to abolish something?  And what does it mean to fulfill something?  Since Jesus said he came to do one and not the other, it's probably a good idea for us to

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lessons from the Tour Guide

The kingdom of heaven is like . . . a kayak tour.

No, it isn't in the Bible, but that's only because there weren't any kayaks in ancient Israel. There are, however, kayaks aplenty in Florida nowadays and—after leading tours for six years—I can state with confidence that, if Jesus had ever taken a kayak tour, He might have used the experience for one of His parables.

The tours I lead are guided, on-the-water excursions around parts of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 150,000+ acre federally managed refuge adjoining the Kennedy Space Center.  They are rated "beginner level" so anyone is welcome to join one of the tours.  By my count, I've taken approximately 5,000 people paddling.  I've paddled with a woman in her nineties and I've paddled with a six-week-old infant. I've paddled with people from Japan, China, Germany, Israel, England, and New Jersey.  I've paddled with people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, diverse sizes and shapes, diverse languages and creeds.  I've even paddled with people who

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 5: Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 5:13-16)

So many sermons have been preached on these verses.  We like these verses.  The metaphors are cool, aren't they?  I mean, who doesn't want to be "salt" and "light"?  Well, okay, in our culture, "salt" has become a bad word, but "light" is still good, right?  (Why am I suddenly thinking about potato chips?)

In the ancient world (or any culture which, unlike ours, eats real food rather than processed "food"), salt is a good thing.  It is something without which a human being cannot live ... a true salt-free diet is actually fatal!  Salt not only keeps a body functioning properly, but