God and the Impossibility of Goodness

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be good enough for God.

The story of the rich young ruler resonates with me today in the seeming impossibility of living without sin. I suspect that I am not alone in the experience of certain sinful inclinations that I just can’t seem to shake. Try as I might, I fall into the same traps of temptation over and over again. I get angry at myself. I ask for forgiveness. I renew my resolve, but I inevitably trip and fall. And sometimes I despair.

God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Gal. 6:7-8)

I know this, but it doesn’t seem to help. My sinful flesh often overcomes the spirit within me. While the spirit is often willing, the flesh is weak; and sometimes, let’s be honest, my spirit isn’t as willing as it should be.

I think, “If I could just resist more and try harder and find just the right combination of thoughts and habits and resolve, I could lick this thing.” But, days come and go. Things change: busyness, or worry, or distraction, or boredom, or some dryness in my spiritual life, or difficulty, or disappointment or any number of things (or a combination of them) sets in, and when my guard is down, temptation comes and catches me off guard in a moment of weakness.

I truly believe it is possible to overcome the sin within me. Scripture seems to require it of me. What I reap I will sow. Yet I fail. I fully identify with Paul, who said:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15-19)

Continue reading “God and the Impossibility of Goodness”

The Resurrection from the Point of View of Mary Magdalene

In the resurrected Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female. We are all one.

Mary Magdalene, Mary, & Salom walking up to the bright empty tomb of Jesus Christ early Sunday morning

Three days and two night ago, Mary’s entire world came crashing down. The earth opened up and swallowed it into an abyss of darkness and confusion, leaving only soul crushing grief that compounded the darkness and confusion that threatened to swallow her up with it.

There was barely enough time to get him down from that tree on which he had died and find a place for body before the Sabbath began. (John 19:42)

The crash and whirl of those events that came upon them in a rushing torrent so quickly that they were overwhelmed, reeling, barely able to breath from beginning to end, ended with his death, leaving only an oppressive emptiness of profound grief.

All the men abandoned him as their world began to unravel. The petty squabbling that broke up dinner the night before left Mary confused about what Jesus had been saying. Jesus was trying to tell them something important, but she could only remember bits and pieces….

Something about a cup… and pouring out his blood and…. It was all so unreal. It was like Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. She could see it in his eyes. He was resigned to it.

Jesus wouldn’t even let anyone try to defend him. He just gave himself up.

And those men who were always arguing about who was the greatest: they didn’t do anything. Jesus asked them to stay awake with him and pray, as if Jesus really did know what was happening, and they couldn’t. They couldn’t even do that!

They were nowhere to be found when Jesus needed them. Mary even heard they denied knowing Jesus, but Mary and the other women would not leave him. They saw the whole unimaginable thing.

If it wasn’t for the Joseph, who knows where his body would have ended up. They barely had time to get his body down off that tree, no thanks to the guards. It’s a good thing that Joseph owned a tomb nearby and was gracious enough to let them use it. (Luke 23:50-53)

They had no time to prepare him properly. It was the Sabbath, and night was upon them.

The hours were a whirlwind. They seemed like an eternity. Jesus lay there through the night. It weighed so heavily on Mary’s heart. She needed to get to him.

Mary waited for the Sabbath to end before she prepared the spices and ointments. (Luke 23:56) She couldn’t sleep anyway. Tears came in waves. She could hardly see at times, wiping them away with the back of her hands, and in between they fell from her cheeks into the mixture of ointment and spices.

Mary remembered the day she was able to show the deep gratitude she felt for Jesus after he rescued her from the demons that tormented her nearly all the days of her life. She didn’t care what anyone thought. Nothing had been more precious to her than the ointments she collected… until Jesus set her free. She would have spent her entire life pouring her very self out for him…. It was the least she could do.

If only there was more time.

Continue reading “The Resurrection from the Point of View of Mary Magdalene”

The Cup of the New Covenant Poured Out for Us


Imagine being a close friend of Jesus in the 1st Century, reclining at the table with him, eating a meal. It’s been a roller-coaster three years! Your whole world is buzzing about him. He is absolutely the talk of the town.

You are still not quite sure what all he is talking about, but you have come to believe in him. If he is not Messiah your ancestors have talked about for many generations, he is certainly a prophet. Maybe he really is the Messiah?!

Your people have held on to hope for hundreds of years of returning to former glory. This Roman rule is not the way it is supposed to be. God rescued your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and He gave them the promised land. God drove out all the inhabitants of the promised land before them. He could do it again! Certainly, He would do it!

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, it seemed almost so real you could taste it. This really seems to be it! The people are behind him. Everyone is waiting to see what’s next. A new day for Israel seems to be right around the next corner!

But, you never know with Jesus. He is anything but predictable, and he says some really weird things sometimes. Hard things. You don’t completely understand what he is getting at when he talks about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days. What does that have to do with anything? All of those statements about being the Bread, and the Living Water and the Vine….

As you sit at the table, the talk is excited. It is Passover. Expectation in the air. This Passover is particularly poignant with all that has been going on, but Jesus is quiet.

Not that it’s unusual for Jesus to be quiet at times. They had gotten used to it. He often went off by himself, and he would often seem to drift into deep thought, especially lately.

Jesus had left all of you instructions about preparing the Passover meal. No one knew where Jesus was, but everything was left for you as he said it would be. He finally showed up and watched as you finished. You didn’t really notice his silence until he finally spoke as everyone was finally reclining at the table.

Jesus was obviously waiting for just this time. His voice carried a certain weight to it. More than usual. There was a firm, but calm, urgency to his words. The excited tones of the men around the table fell immediately quiet as Jesus opened his mouth to speak. Continue reading “The Cup of the New Covenant Poured Out for Us”

God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering

God is not cold or uncaring or unaware of our pain and suffering. Yet, He has a plan, and He intends to carry it out.


“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. The progression in the beginning of John’s Gospel goes like this: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God; all things were made through the Word; in Him was life; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14) Then, John makes the statement I have recited above. No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is God.

The Greek word that is translated “one and only Son” in the New International Version of the Bible is monogenés, derived from the world monos, meaning one of a class (one of a kind) and genos, meaning only of its kind. A more literal translation of the word would be “only begotten”.

The beginning of the Nicene Creed[1] captures the idea as follows:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven….

These thoughts arise today in the context of a discussion between the great Anglican scholar, Tom (N.T.) Wright[2], and Justin Brierley[3], the Unbelievable? Podcast and Ask NT Wright Anything host out of the UK. They were talking about the corona virus threat that is plaguing the world.

Among other things, Tom Wright (who is an historian) observed that a pandemic like the corona virus is not unique in the history of the world. The Justinian plague is believed to have killed as many as 25 million people (6th century), the Black Death killed probably double that in the 14th century. The Italian Plague (1629-31), Great Plague of London (1665-66) and Great Plague of Marseilles (1720-22) took millions of lives in Europe, and the Third Plague Pandemic killed about 15 million people, hitting China and India the hardest.[4]

After a discussion of how Christians should respond to the threat (in the same manner as they always have – with compassion and self-sacrifice, helping those in need), Justin prompted Tom by asking him for a five minute response to the hard question: why does God let things like plagues happen?

Tom Wright’s response recalls articles I wrote on March 22, 2020 (Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus) and on March 28, 2020 (Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality). In the first article, I addressed the seeming incongruity between the picture of God we see in the Old Testament compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the New Testament. In the second article, I sought some perspective on the bad things that are happening in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating us and the world in which we live.

Tom Wright’s brief response (focusing on the raising of Lazarus from the dead) sits right in the middle. Right where we live. Let me explain.

Continue reading “God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering”

A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee

Inside of ancient synagogue in Capernaum – Israel

If the phrase, “mic drop”, had been coined in the First Century, Jesus would have cornered the market. One of those mic drop moments occurred the day his ministry began.

Picture this. Jesus walks into the church (synagogue) where he grew up. Everyone knows him well. They all knew him because he grew up in the community. Nazareth was a small-town place, so they knew him very well.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to the church. It was the church where he grew up and went to Sunday school. He was still very much part of the church community as an adult. When he attended church on that Sunday morning and stood up to read, he was doing what he had done many, many times before. Only this time would be different.

Jesus had been making quite the stir lately. His cousin, John the Baptist, was well-known for his unrelenting, uncompromising message about the coming of the one, the Messiah. (Luke 3:4-6)

Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.

Cousin John was literally quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 as if it were coming true out there in the countryside, outside of town where he spent most of his time. Crowds of people made their way out to hear him, but he wasn’t very popular among the church leaders. In fact, they rather despised him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. He even called them a “brood of vipers”!

Until recently, Jesus seemed more respectable than that. Though they were cousins, it wasn’t like they hung out together. They were each keenly devoted to their Hebrew lessens, Bible reading and participation in church from a young age, but John seemed to “go off the rails” as he got older.

John the Baptist was out there in the countryside baptizing people. Lots of people. He was attracting quite the crowd talking about one who was coming who was more powerful than he. Not that he had any power, really. That was the crazy part: he lived like a homeless person, eating bugs and shunning even the modest comforts that most people had become used to.

And John was attracting a less than reputable crowd too, including tax collectors. Tax collectors were sell-outs to the Roman occupiers, collecting Roman taxes from the people, often collecting more than they should, lining their own pockets. They were a unsavory and despised lot. Tax collectors were worse than the Romans. The fact that John was attracting tax collectors didn’t speak well for his efforts.

But, the common people loved John. They practically worshiped him. This was particularly galling to the faithful leaders in the churches who had given their lives in service to the Lord. Who did he think he was?!

Of course, many were the so-called modern prophets who came, claiming to be the Messiah spoken of old, stirring up the crowds, creating a tenuous hope that was always dashed when the Romans got tired of the charade. John was more or less harmless out there where he had retreated.

John was just like the ones who came before him, though his message was different. He was bold like the others, but in a different way. He wasn’t stirring people up against the Romans, like the others did. In fact, John seemed more interested in criticizing the religious community than the Romans, which hardly endeared him to them.

When Jesus attended church that day, the word was all over Galilee that Jesus had gone out to meet John, and it was apparently quite a meeting by the reports that were circulating. Jesus even let John baptize him. In fact, he insisted on it, and this is where things got a little sideways, if you could believe the reports.

People said they heard a loud voice. Some said it was the voice of God. Others said that a dove swooped down and landed right on his head. People were saying Jesus was a prophet. Some seemed to think he was the Messiah that John had been talking about. It seems that Jesus had gotten caught up in John’s delusion, and he was starting to believe it.

When Jesus stood up to read that day, these things were going through their minds. They knew something was up, but they weren’t at all prepared for what he was going to do.

Continue reading “A Mic Drop Moment in First Century Galilee”