Beans, ping-pong balls, and Jesus

esus at prayer in the desert

Christ in the desert / Ivan Kramskoi (1871)

Perhaps you have seen this object lesson: Before starting his sermon, a preacher asked for a volunteer from the congregation. He had a jar of beans and three ping-pong balls, and asked the volunteer to put the ping-pong balls into the jar. He couldn’t do it.

The preacher emptied the beans into a pitcher. The balls easily fit into the jar. Then the preacher asked the volunteer to see how many of the beans he could get into the jar. They all fit with some room to spare.

The ping-pong balls represented time with God.… Read the rest

Jesus’ neglected commandment

Christ Enthroned : Vivarini

Christ Enthroned / Bartolomeo Vivarini (1450)

In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (NASB). What commandments?

Just a while earlier, in John 13:34, he had said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Does that seem new?

Jesus had earlier said that the greatest commandment of the law was to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second was like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34).

With this new commandment, Jesus raised the standard. … Read the rest

Jesus’ humility, Satan’s pride: whom do we follow?

Jesus' humility

Ecce Homo (Behold! The Man) / Antonio Ciseri, 1871. “The humble king they named a fraud, and sacrificed the Lamb of God.”

God is all-powerful, but when he chose to use his power to become a man, he also chose not to use power like other men. It is Satan who turns power into something coercive and egocentric.

It would be nice if we could say that Christians understand the situation and exercise power as Jesus did. Unfortunately, we can truthfully say no more than that some do, and they successfully imitate Christ maybe only some of the time.

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Universal brotherhood?

Interfaith unity?

Interfaith unity?

Many people in the church today simply assume that all humanity is one large family, with God as its Father. They take offense at the thought that maybe some people are not God’s children.

Do they realize that they are taking offense at Jesus himself? Oh well. Religious people have always found Jesus offensive.

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Comfort from false religion

Bull idol

Bull idol

One of the odder little stories in the book of Judges concerns a man named Micah (Judges 17). He stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mother and then confessed. When he returned it, she dedicated 200 pieces of it to the Lord took it to a silversmith.

She commissioned a graven image and a molten image. Then she gave them to Micah. He promptly set up a shrine and consecrated one of his sons as priest.

Lest anyone think this ancient story has nothing to do with us in the 21st century, today’s newspaper has a story with the headline, “Atheists find solace in prayer.” I’ll be thinking about that a lot and have more to write later.… Read the rest

Remember Jesus

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

Does it seem odd that Paul wrote “Remember Jesus, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8) to a dedicated minister of the gospel?

Earlier he had testified that no one on his staff was equal to Timothy. Why should a man like that need a reminder? Remember Jesus? Timothy must have spent most of every day either teaching his church about Jesus or sharing Jesus with the unbelievers in his city.

If we step back a little, though, and consider the history of God’s own people, it doesn’t seem so strange.

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Pilate and the Truth

Jesus and Pilate

What is Truth? / Nikolai Ge, 1890

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth” and turned away without waiting for the answer. He had no inkling that Truth stood in front of him. He had no inkling that he was about to condemn Truth to crucifixion.

Fulfillment of Scripture demanded that Jesus be crucified. The ordinary way of executing prisoners under Jewish law was stoning. Only the Roman governor, Pilate, could authorize a crucifixion. He was initially unwilling.

Pilate thought he was in charge of the situation. He was wrong. Jesus was in charge. In the face of many obstacles, he had to insure his own crucifixion.… Read the rest

The household of God and a mystery

God's household

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs / Fra Angelico (about 1423-24)

In 1 Timothy 3:14-16, Paul explains his purpose in writing. Although he planned to visit Timothy and his congregation in person, he realized that he might be delayed. So he wanted to make sure that Timothy had clear instructions on how people ought to behave in the church.

But notice how Paul describes the church. It is the household of God. I suspect not many people nowadays understand what that means. On the other hand, I suspect any modern Christian would quickly agree that “godliness” makes a good one-word definition of proper conduct.… Read the rest

How can we rest from our labor?

Faster! Faster!

Faster! Faster!

Lewis Carroll wrote, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Through the Looking Glass, 1871). Wouldn’t he be amazed at now much faster we have made the world in the nearly century and a half since he published his observation?

No one literally has to run any more. We have fast cars and superhighways. Communication must be instant. We have made computers that can multitask and expect that we can and should as well.… Read the rest

The Christ Peter misunderstood

Peter's confession

Unknown Master. The confession of Peter, from Martin Luther. Kercken Postilla, 1563

No one has any trouble understanding Jesus as a man. It’s the concept that Jesus Christ is God made man that causes problems. Peter, the first person to declare that Jesus is the Christ, had the same trouble.

Jesus first asked the disciples who men said he was. They could have mentioned that the Pharisees and others thought he was a menace to the community and unqualified to teach on Scripture, but apparently they didn’t.

All of the gospels record what the disciples had heard from the adoring crowds that had followed them.… Read the rest