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Have you ever been talking to someone, gone off onto a rabbit trail which seemed to be related to the subject at hand, then forgotten why you went there? I do this sometimes. Others I have talked to have, as well. I don’t know if it’s caffeine, aging, or some glitchy memory thing, but it seems like a common human experience.

Jesus, however, never took rabbit trails and didn’t have a glitchy memory, although it seems sometimes that He did. The problem with our thinking when we read what He said is that we don’t understand His flow of thought. Often, unfortunately, our Bibles contribute to this misunderstanding. I like the English Standard Version, but they added incomprehension when they formatted the text of Luke 14. At the end of that chapter, Jesus laid out His sacrificial requirements for discipleship. These are very important for us to know because for so many Christians in the West, discipleship consists mainly of reading the Bible, praying, obeying the commandments, and attending church, none of which are sacrificial. We hear little about being willing to literally die and give up everything for Jesus. The Lord begins to conclude by saying,

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).1

Except He’s not done yet.

But here the ESV puts a subheading:

Salt Without Taste Is Worthless

Followed by these verses:

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34–35).

Why was the statement about “renouncing all” separated from the last two verses? Did Jesus take a rabbit trail and say something totally out of the blue so that we needed a heading break?

No, He didn’t.

Jesus doesn’t do random.

Jesus was giving us a smack upside the head—in love, of course—by telling us that unless we follow His requirements for discipleship, our salt is not salty anymore. It’s only good for the manure pile, which is His stark way of telling us our discipleship is useless.

There is no following verse containing His apology for proclaiming this seemingly offensive statement. Jesus is laying out the truth. He’s serious.

The point here is to encourage readers of the Bible to try to understand Jesus’ flow of thought. If a statement or passage seems to be a rabbit trail or from out in left field, we should push through and attempt to discover why this may not be the case. This effort will take some time and thought. The results may prove offensive. Yet, it will yield wonders of understanding, challenging as they may be.

Thank You, Father, for teaching us Your truth. Help us understand as we read.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2016). Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

Several years ago, the Lord began to develop the thought in my heart and mind that Jesus is not only the greatest in the kingdom of God but also the least. As with many of God’s truths, this seems self-contradictory. I can understand the resistance I have encountered about that truth. I wouldn’t have been able to accept it myself a few years back. Who wants to think of their Savior as the least? He can’t be. He’s the King. He’s the Master. He’s the Lord.

Yes, He is all those things, including the least, all wrapped up in who He is. To know Him fully, we must think about God the way He thinks about Himself, not the way we think about Him. Why? Because our human brains limit our understanding. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).1 This seems like a rather great distance. So, to make this seemingly self-contradictory “He is the least” truth clearer, let’s look at Matthew 11. I don’t see any way we can escape the logic of Jesus’ thinking here.

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

When Jesus said that no one else born of women is greater than John, that includes everybody, including Himself. But there must be more to understand here. Am I to think that Jesus isn’t greater than John the Baptist? This can’t be. Jesus is the Lord God Almighty in human flesh. It is not possible that John the Baptist is greater than He. Thus, Jesus’ next statement leaves us with only one option and thus gives us the answer. He must have been talking about Himself when He said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater” than John. “The one” must be Him.

I was pondering over this truth lately, and one morning this passage from the Book of Revelation popped into my head, although it was vague. It had to do with a slain lamb “in the midst” of throne of God. I looked it up. Here it is:

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6).

Putting aside the strange image of Jesus as a slain lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, it seems apparent that this lamb occupies a place of authority. Reading on in Revelation 5, we see He is the only one worthy enough in all of heaven to take the scroll from the one seated on the throne, who must be God the Father.

A lamb, standing, who had been killed. I don’t claim to have understanding of all this, but it reinforces the truth that Jesus, first of all, is a vulnerable lamb that had been killed. However, we must keep in mind that Jesus made Himself vulnerable. Our King, Master, and Lord did this on purpose. No one took His life. He gave it.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us that we have difficulty wrapping our heads around the Creator of all things being the least as well as a lamb, one of the more vulnerable creatures on the planet.

This another of God’s upside-down truths, like the one about the rich being poor, and the one who is poor, rich. The one who humbles himself will be exalted. The one who exalts himself will be brought down. The strong are weak, and the weak are strong. This is how God does things. So, we must deal with the biblical reality that the one who spoke the universe into existence is a “I choose to be least” servant. And whom does He serve?

You.

Well, hey, then, Jim, are you saying we can order Jesus around like a household servant?

Give that one a try. Of course not. Jesus is the Almighty God as well as the “least in the kingdom” sacrificial servant. This is His character, not just a position He took upon Himself more than two thousand years ago. He has been a servant forever, since before the foundation of the world.

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20–21).

What a glorious, mind-blowing, incomprehensible, loving God. What a blessing, honor, and privilege to know Him and be known by Him.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

The more I think about Jesus, the more I continue to be astounded. What follows is just one example that makes me shake my head in wonder: When Pilate had Jesus punished, the Roman soldiers were whipping the Creator of the universe.

What a mind-blowing thought.

What is this Jesus, whom Christians follow, like? What are His characteristics?

As stated above, He is our Creator. He created you in the womb. As you were being formed, He gave you whatever talents and gifts that you possess. You didn’t design yourself in your mom’s tummy. You didn’t decide anything at all about your looks, intelligence, or giftedness.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).1

Not only did He create you, He created everything that exists. Mass. Space-time. Gravity. Electromagnetism. Energy. Quantum particles. Light. Should I continue? Sunflowers and eagles and butterflies and jellyfish. Everything.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15–16).

And, of course, we know that Jesus is the Savior. In His death and resurrection, He conquered sin. Believers are washed clean of their sins. They are righteous. Spotless. Without blemish. Forgiven. Holy ones, saints—not because of anything at all that they have done but only because of Jesus. He conquered death. You will never die, if you are a Christian. He conquered hell. You won’t have to live in that awful place, if that can be called living. He conquered the grave. One day, He will raise up our bodies. Death no longer has dominion over Him, and death will no longer have any dominion over us—no vestige or aspect of it. He conquered the devil. We are no longer his slaves.

However, this Creator and Savior is also our King. He is not just a king, He is King of all kings. King of all rulers, presidents, prime ministers, and dictators forever. There will be no other sovereign head, no other government during all of eternity.

We are brothers with this Creator, Savior, and King.

Jesus said to Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).

We are friends with this Savior, King, Brother, and Creator—if we are obedient, I should add.

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14–15).

Finally, our Friend, Brother, King, Creator, and Savior is our servant. Read this passage in Luke and be astounded once more:

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37).

Don’t think that Jesus just took this servant role for the brief time He walked on earth. No, Jesus has always been a servant. That is part of who He is. If we don’t let Him wash our feet, we have no share with Him (John 13:8)

Our God, our Jesus, is beyond our comprehension. How can a Christian not glorify Him? Not praise Him?

Lord Jesus, we praise You. You are the almighty, living God, Creator of all things, the One who took away the sins of the world.

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

I trust those reading this article had a celebratory Easter. Jesus’ resurrection was the victory of all victories. What an amazing God.

I was wondering about the following scenario as we approached the celebration of that day: Someone says to Him, “Lord, merchants are celebrating your resurrection by putting furniture on sale. And they are selling lots of rabbit and chicken candy. Candy eggs, too.”

“Rabbits and chickens.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Reducing the price of furniture.”

“Yes, Lord.”

It is at this point Jesus does an eyeroll.

However, Jesus wouldn’t do that, so I guess I’ll have to do it instead.

Regardless, it does give us some insight, doesn’t it, about how the world views the most important, the most significant event in the history of the universe.

“Wait a minute,” someone might say. “It might be the most significant event in the history of the earth, perhaps, but not in the history of the universe.”

I would reply, “What do you think about this verse?”: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).1

That “revealing of the sons of God” that all of creation waits for will be made possible only because Jesus, God-in-the-flesh and the Savior, died for sins and came back from the dead.

And we could also consider those verses in the Book of Revelation that tell us that the Lord will create new heavens and a new earth. Here’s an example:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).

Yes. The entire universe will be changed because Jesus came back from the dead.

So, today, this Monday following that incomprehensibly momentous day, let me cut to the chase and praise His glorious name. He is the Truth. He is Life—eternal life. Every knee shall bow to Him. Every tongue shall confess that He is Lord. Yes, every tongue, including those deluded and foolishly self-confident atheists. He shall reign forever and ever.

That’s a long time. And Christians get to live within the reign of that eternal King.

Yes, reign. All nations gone. They are, the Lord said through Isaiah, less than nothing.

He has conquered sin, death, hell, and the grave. Those who believe in Him become sons of God and have been given the very righteousness of Jesus Himself. All sins forgiven. No punishment for sins committed. No guilt.

Thank You, Father, for Your great plan of redemption. Thank You that You wrote my name down in the book of life before the foundation of the world.

Thank You, Jesus, for leaving heaven and coming here, knowing You would be rejected, whipped, and crucified so that we might have eternal life and be transformed into the image of the living God. Help me love You as I ought. Help me serve You as I ought. To You be glory forever and ever.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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I am disappointed that I was so ignorant about reading the Bible in context for such a long time. That is not to say that at present I am learned and competent. Not at all. I have such a long way to go. Should I blame that early illiteracy on my teachers who quoted scriptures out of context when they preached? I can’t blame them for my laziness and inattention. It’s all on me. As for them, the Lord is their judge, not me. My elders didn’t teach me to be a foolish Christian. I was able to do that all by myself.

Quoting scriptures out of context in not necessarily bad in and of itself. For instance, this verse from Isaiah is well-quoted out of context: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).1 However, this one, taught to us in our early years, is potentially dangerous when quoted out of context. “And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’”; (Isaiah 33:24a). Can you imagine how you would censor your speech about your physical illness if you were in the presence of an influential pastor who taught this? This verse engenders bondage and was part of the positive confession nonsense—perhaps it still is. However, if one reads the portion of Isaiah in context from which this verse is taken, he or she will discover that it speaks of a glorious time to come. “Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (Isaiah 33:20). In other words, there will be no sickness in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

There are many examples of verses that have been taken out of context from the Bible, and some are so common that even the secular culture has appropriated them; and they have the same meaning for unbelievers as they do for Christians. This is a famous one: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6).2 I have addressed the false understanding of this verse before, but I invite the reader to investigate it himself. It may not mean what you think it means.

It’s sad when we bungle along in ignorance of the precious words of God.

Another truth that the world has appropriated—part of it, anyway—is in these two passages: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

So, quick quiz. Which one of these verses can be applied to keeping our bodies in good health and used to admonish people to lose weight, exercise, or stop smoking because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?

The answer is, “Neither of them.” Why, then, we should ask, do so many Christians believe this untruth? I don’t know. Me-centered, evangelical Christianity? The passage from 1 Corinthians 6 is perhaps less vital to our growth in understanding God’s Word because the Lord is commanding men to “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and not to join themselves to a prostitute because he becomes “one body with her” and the two become “one flesh.” I say it’s less vital because Christians are commanded in other places not to be sexually immoral, and Proverbs is packed with warnings about prostitutes.

Our ignorance about the other, from chapter 3, however, is much more troubling. Do you know what Paul was addressing in those early chapters of 1 Corinthians? Believers attaching themselves to dynamic speakers. Paul told the Corinthians that because they had done this, they were “infants in Christ,” “people of the flesh,” and “merely human.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 4). They were boasting in men (vs. 21). The price for this infantile behavior is that it was dangerously possible that they were destroying God’s temple and in danger of being destroyed themselves (vs. 17).

I trust I don’t need to explain to the reader how pertinent this is for evangelicals today. It’s not enough that many of us have skimmed over these texts in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 like a flat rock skipping over a smooth pond, thinking that the Bible was telling us to take care of our physical bodies because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, but that we have been blind to the danger of boasting in and attaching ourselves to dynamic speakers and leaders.

Lord, please open our eyes to see the truth of Your Scripture.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, unless otherwise noted.

2The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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Perhaps you’re surprised I would ask the question in the title.

Please allow me to explain myself.

Jesus was and is God Almighty incarnate. The Creator of everything: time, space, gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and all creatures that exist—in the body of a human being. This Creator God, innocent and holy, chose to come to Earth to be mocked, sacrifice Himself, and suffer punishment to free from slavery and sin the people He had created.

Yes. The Creator of all things purposed to be hated and die.

The birth of Jesus is a wonder-beyond-words event, unlike any other in the history of the world. How would you have announced it? Don’t hurry to answer this question. To spur your thinking, how would you announce that a famous speaker was coming to your church? Would you drive out into a rural area and tell some people who were harvesting strawberries or picking apples? Who were wrangling cattle? Well, that’s something like how the Lord did it. After an angel appeared to a group of shepherds out in a field and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10–12)1, this happened:

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13–14).

Just another night in shepherd paradise, right? Can you imagine? This had never happened before and would never happen again. A whole bunch of angels standing and praising the Lord right in front of the bewildered shepherds.

So, in our I-wouldn’t-do-it-that way scenario, the ranch and orchard laborers would be standing in a field or in a copse of trees seeing perhaps hundreds—we’re not told the number—a multitude—of angels praising God. That might change one’s perspective. You might lay down your work gloves, or climb off the ladder, or stop moving cows, and just let your jaw drop open.

This marvelous, beautiful, heaven-sent announcement and praising was in front of a few dirty, probably not-so-good-smelling shepherds.

Nothing wrong with shepherds. Scripture is full of positive examples, most notably David and Jesus. But, let’s be honest—these shepherds were poverty-stricken nobodies. They had voices, but they were small. They did not have the power to issue decrees, announcements, or proclamations. Just some guys with a boring job punctuated by moments of terror from the attacks of deadly beasts.

Why didn’t God choose a better method—from our way of thinking—of announcing this stupendous, world-changing event?

Really, Lord? Shepherds?

Yes. You’ve already thought of the answer. His ways are not our ways.

However, we should bring to mind the words the Lord put in Mary’s mouth when the fetus of John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Her praise included scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bringing down the mighty, exalting the humble, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55).

Is it safe to say that scattering the proud in their thoughts might include powerful economic, religious, and political leaders not being told their Creator was born?

So, where does this put Christian believers this Christmas?

In humility’s place, I hope. In understanding that the people the Lord chooses are rarely those of high esteem and more often people like poor, unknown shepherds. He didn’t want nor need the high and mighty for this task.

He wanted the nobodies.

That’s just the way He works.

Really, Lord? Shepherds?

Yes.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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Was Jesus happy?

Oh, I know, I know. Recent video portrayals of Him show Him laughing, joking with the disciples. Only problem is, no biblical evidence for this exists.

Ok, Jim, so now you’re going to advocate for a humorless, somber Christianity. Great, Jim. Just great.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I know it’s hard to hear—but Jesus doesn’t trust you—or me. Or anyone. We shouldn’t feel bad. If we stop and think about it, scripturally, why should He trust us? He knew what was in man: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23–25). 1

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This may seem like an odd title for a post, I suppose, but I’m endeavoring to add a note of truth to the beautiful account of Jesus’ birth in the stable; a fuller understanding of who this Baby was, in His immense glory. The impotent infant Jesus we read about in those accounts in Matthew and Luke left His home in heaven, more magnificent than we can imagine, possessing more power than we can imagine, to this dark, rebellious planet, so he could…die. He has called all Christians to enter into that self-denying-I-will-die-for-God-and-others life, as well. Please keep this in mind when someone tells you that you should live a purpose-driven life.

But I digress.

This God-in-the-flesh Man is called, among many other things, a Prince of Peace. Why is that?

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Last week, the question was asked, “Does everybody need a king, even one that some might consider oppressive?

The answer I offered: Yes, and no.

Read the rest of this entry »

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