A whole lot of shaking

“See that you do not refuse him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven’” (Hebrews 12:25-26).

A recent Facebook post from a young Christian in Nepal read, “Another earthquake, already?!” This was in response to a moderate quake which once again shook that Himalayan nation. Readers may remember the massive earthquake of April, 2015 which devastated much of the country and resulted in almost ten thousand deaths and much structural damage. The population has strong memories of that event and even the slightest tremor causes deep anxiety and even terror.

The Hebrew writer contrasts old religious institutions of Israel with that new system inaugurated by Jesus. When it was time to begin God’s covenant relationship with Israel he brought them to Mount Sinai where he spoke to them, revealing his laws (Exodus 19 20; Hebrews 12:18-21). Though the Old Testament account does not specifically mention an earthquake, the description of “thunderings and lightenings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud” (Exodus 19:16) is consistent with the Hebrew writer’s comment, “Whose voice then shook the earth” (Hebrews 12:26). Continue reading “A whole lot of shaking”

Actions and words

As we see the kingdom of God expanding in the first century, we are amazed at how the good news of Jesus was spread as well as the people who became Christians. Although most of the teaching was initially in Jerusalem and Judea, with the increased persecution from the Jewish leaders, Christians began to enter areas farther away.

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4-8 NIV)

The precise town where Philip went is not specified in the text. Scholars have suggested at least two possibilities including Sebaste and Gitta. Sebaste was the main city of Samaria at this time, having been rebuilt by Herod the Great. This was a few miles northwest of Shechem, Jacob’s Well, and the burial site of Joseph. Gitta is said to have been the hometown of Simon the Magician according to Justin Martyr. Continue reading “Actions and words”

We Won’t Hold Our Breath

There have been endless books written, lecture series taught, and sermons preached on “The Hard Sayings of Jesus,” but did anyone ever cover “The Easy Sayings of Jesus?”

In my own study, and in writing (albeit, irregularly) this column on the sayings of Jesus (“Jesus Said”), it has become my opinion that there aren’t really any “easy sayings” of Jesus. Some seem easier on the surface, but in reality, the more you listen to his voice, the more you realize how difficult it is to achieve Jesus’ ideals. But it is not just the ideals of Jesus that challenge us.

Even the worst among us are knowledgeable of lofty ideals, and capable of enunciating them. People before Jesus knew “the golden rule” – or some variation of it. Through the years, I’ve read some who attempt to discredit Jesus because he was not the first to state some exalted truth. So here is an admission: not everything Jesus said reeks of pure originality. Additionally, not everything Jesus said was of a higher moral caliber than had ever been proposed before (to be perfectly clear: Jesus’ moral caliber is not lower than anyone else’s either). Continue reading “We Won’t Hold Our Breath”

Scripture – make it a daily habit

As a leader, the apostle Paul needed to address big yet simple questions. How do Christians prepare themselves for godly service? His first letter to Timothy reveals one of his solutions.

Given our hectic American lifestyle, we need a simple practical plan for embedding his solution into our daily routine. We need more than simply knowing what is helpful.  Continue reading “Scripture – make it a daily habit”

A little strength

“You won’t need that many, this is enough.” This is not something you usually hear from a salesperson, but my customers often hear it from me regarding plants that they are about to purchase. Sometimes, all you need is a little bit and it grows into a lot more!

The strawberry plants that have spread out to cover much of our yard are a prime example. Five little plants from a sweet lady at a local church have turned into a never-ending supply of strawberry plants for dozens of my friends and relatives. We even get a few strawberries when we are diligent about picking them before the birds do! 

Several times, I have decided that the trouble of picking them wasn’t worth it, so I’ve given them “all” away. Of course, there were always one or two baby plants that didn’t get dug out, and now (again) we have hundreds.  Continue reading “A little strength”

The King of the Jews

The events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus make for a great drama. We can see the hatred of the Jews but also the attempts to save Jesus by the Roman proconsul Pilate. Some of it may seem to be harsh, but this is the world of the Romans.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged severely. The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe. They came up to him again and again and said, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck him repeatedly in the face.” (John 19:1-3 NET)

Why did Pilate have Jesus flogged? From what we can see from the writings of this period, the usual outcome of a trial would be either the person being cleared and released or the person being punished. Punishment could take one of three forms: flogging, exile, or execution. Continue reading “The King of the Jews”

The other “I am” statements

Through seven great “I am” metaphors, John powerfully communicated Jesus’ purpose. Jesus’ claims are readily recognizable: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door of the sheep, I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth and the life; and I am the true vine.

Yet, these are not his only “I am” assertions in John’s Gospel. On several other occasions Jesus simply said, “I am” without completing the predicate. Perhaps the most well-known example of these is “Before Abaham was, I am” (John 8:58). Continue reading “The other “I am” statements”

Facing opposition

Have you ever wondered why people treat Christians and what they believe with contempt? Why does this happen, even though we have not done anything to them? Before his trial and crucifixion Jesus explained this to those who were with him.

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too.” (John 15:18-20 NET)

What was Jesus saying to the eleven apostles? He was reminding them of the cost of following him. Did the Jews of his day think that he was wonderful? Absolutely not! As Jesus spoke these words there was a plot to have him killed – and it was already moving towards what would be his crucifixion. If they did this to Jesus, can his followers, even today, expect anything different? Continue reading “Facing opposition”

The household of God

Communication is wonderful as well as a bit tricky. Our understanding of what others communicate is partially shaped by our experiences and prior knowledge.

So, when Paul described the church as being the household of God what do we understand? Perhaps what comes to our minds revolves around our relationship with other Christians as brothers and sisters. Yes, we are all in this together.

Does anything else come to mind? Would someone in the first century comprehend additional nuances? Probably yes. Continue reading “The household of God”

Family is everything, unless Jesus is

Michael J. Fox is quoted as saying, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” Mr. Fox is not alone, this is a common refrain among many.

Family is important. Some disregard, ignore, or abuse their family. Many give themselves over to their work, their hobbies, or their friends at the expense of their children or spouse. Many of the most successful people have chosen business over family. Continue reading “Family is everything, unless Jesus is”