Is Jesus God? Part 3

What did the people closest to Jesus and those who were opposed to him think that Jesus was saying about himself?


Jesus said to his followers, in no uncertain terms, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8, quoting Moses Deut. 6:13) Why, then, do Christians have this notion that Jesus was God?

That is the question being addressed in this blog series. The question was introduced in the first piece: Is Jesus God? Part 1. The question is being posed as part of a series of questions, that is being discussed among over 800 churches presently in the Chicago area. (See exploreGod) In the second blog post, Is Jesus God? Part 2, I covered the things Jesus said about himself.

In this third installment on that question, I will review what others said about Jesus in his time, both those who followed him and those who opposed him. The statement Jesus made about worshiping and serving only God is important to consider in light of the claims Jesus made about himself as well as the way other people reacted to Jesus.

Surely Jesus would not deign to suggest that he was God after making such a statement, right? How could his followers be confused about his deity? (If, indeed, there was any confusion.) What did others say about him? And how did they relate to him?

Continue reading “Is Jesus God? Part 3”

God’s Love is Not Platonic

The love that God offers is relational, intimate and personal.


John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life. The other apostles died premature deaths, but John, a typical Hebrew, lived long enough to be elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.

John the one-time fisherman became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.

His gospel begins philosophically: “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos.  (John 1:1)  The word, logos, carried poignant philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.

This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message Jesus gave them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.

Though John’s Gospel begins philosophically, focusing on the loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside the Greco-Roman world and transcended it.

Continue reading “God’s Love is Not Platonic”

The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality

The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.


This morning I have listened to a podcast and read an article on the same theme: Christians who desire not to be defined by the things they are against. I didn’t go searching for themed material today, these things came together organically as I went about my daily habits of listening to a podcast first thing in the morning and reading throughout the day.

Early this morning, I listened to Justin Brierley interview Christian evangelist, Kevin Palau, and Sam Adams, the gay mayor of Portland, OR, on their unlikely friendship.  Later in the morning, as I was waiting on hold on the phone (for along time I might add), I read an article in Relevant Magazine: Don’t Be Defined By What You’re Against. I will add that the verse of the day on the Bible app is Psalm 90:12 (“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

While these three sources of material may not seem like thematic material, I assure you they are. Beginning with the interview, the evangelist, Palau, explained the motivation for engaging with the City of Portland in civic service. Palau recognized that Christians were known in the community primarily as people who were opposed to certain things, and not anything positive – let alone as followers of Jesus.

Palau also recognized that Christians were distrusted by the community, and so he set out to regain the community trust. The first thing Palau and his church did was to respond to the needs of a local public school that was failing. Not only did they show up; the showed up in such force that people took notice. What was supposed to be a day of work turned into an ongoing labor of love.

Palau and his church were so successful in making a positive impact that they inspired churches around the community to adopt schools, and the schools, in turn, embraced the church involvement. The involvement caught the attention of the mayor of Portland and his chief assistant, Sam Adams, who would later become mayor himself.

Palau and Adams are an unlikely pair to become friends, but that is what they are today. Adams is the first openly gay mayor of Portland. Palau is an evangelical evangelist. Adams confirms Palau’s concerns by agreeing that he previously only knew evangelicals for what they stood against, but now, he says, there are more things they agree on than disagree on.

Adams recognizes that they have some fundamental disagreements on key issues for both of them, but those areas of disagreement are no longer the defining characteristic. They now join hands on addressing areas in which they agree and have formed a long-term friendship as a result.

Palau has built a bridge without compromising his faith. As a result, Adams and the community no longer view evangelicals only for what they stand against; they also see what evangelicals stand for.  The community now knows that the Gospel means more than calling out sin. It means meeting peoples’ needs, loving people and offering hope. The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.

Continue reading “The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality”

Where in the World is God?

Our western view of God, heaven and the earth may get in the way of understanding where in the world is God.


I have been listening with some relish to the new podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with Justin Brierley the host of Unbelievable! podcast fame. NT Wright is currently the Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (Wikipedia) He is a renowned scholar and prolific writer and speaker.

In listening to the first few episodes of the new podcast, I have become interested in NT Wright’s view the kingdom of God, the ascension and what it means that someday Jesus will “come again on the clouds”.  calls westerners “innate Epicureans” who believe that “heaven is a long way away”. Thus, when we think of something like the ascension of Jesus, we imagine him rising up to heaven far away where He “sits at the right hand of the Father”.

This image of Jesus in heaven far away seems to be suggested in the passages from which we have coined the term ascension. The Gospel of Luke describes it this way: “While [Jesus] was blessing them, He parted from them [left them] and was carried up [taken up] into heaven”. (Luke 24:51 (NASB/ESV)) In Acts, the description is that “He was lifted up while they were looking on [taken up before their very eyes], and a cloud hid him [received Him] from their sight [out of their sight].” (Acts 1:9 NASB/ESV)

In Luke, the phrase, “parted and was carried” is a translation of the one Greek word, diístēmi, meaning literally “to set apart, to intervene, make interval” and translated as carried, parted and/or passed.[i] In the Greek, it appears (to me) that some interpretation is apparent in the English verb tenses used: “He parted and was carried [taken]”. The first phrase conveys action on the part of Jesus, and the second phrase conveys some action asserted upon Jesus, presumably from the Father.

The phrase is inserted as the interpretation of a single word so who undertook the action is really not implicitly expressed. It’s an interpretation (it seems to me). Further, the descriptor, “up” is added. That descriptor is not inherent in the Greek word, diístēmi. Rather, it seems to be a common sense addition to connect with the word translated “heaven”, which is ouranós. But is that an accurate translation?

After hearing NT Wright, I think not. Our western worldview filter may be to blame, and removing this worldview filter opens up a more accurate view, perhaps, of what the kingdom of God is, the ascension, and the second coming of Jesus.

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Christmas Thoughts: Ruth & God, the Kinsman-Redeemer

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
maxresdefault REFUGE CHURCH Copyright © 2016. My Christmas thoughts have taken me to the genealogy in Matthew of the lineage of Jesus and the curious inclusion of five women in that patriarchal history. They stand out, not only as women in a patriarchal society, but as examples of faith…


Have you ever wondered why the genealogy of the lineage of Jesus in Matthew includes five women? The inclusion of women in the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, from the First Century account of the life of Jesus by one of his closest followers, Matthew, should stick out as a curiosity to explore. At least it did for me.

I am reblogging a series of articles I wrote last year leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas on the women in the genealogy of Jesus. Their stories are interesting and reveal something about the heart of God that shines through them precisely because they are women in a patriarchal society.

Some of these women are not even descendants of Abraham! Yet, they are included in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah from the root of Jesse’s seed of the people of Abraham. What does that say about God? About His plan of salvation for the world?

The story of Ruth is such a tale. Ruth isn’t a descendant of Abraham, yet her timeless story is part of the lineage of Jesus. Her story has central significance in the story of God’s redemptive work through Jesus whose birth we are about to celebrate.

Navigating by Faith

maxresdefault-refuge-church-copyright-2016 maxresdefault REFUGE CHURCH Copyright © 2016.

My Christmas thoughts have taken me to the genealogy in Matthew of the lineage of Jesus and the curious inclusion of five women in that patriarchal history. They stand out, not only as women in a patriarchal society, but as examples of faith and of God’s redeeming love.

Tamar and Rahab, the first two women in the list, were unlikely examples. Tamar prostituted herself with Judah, and Rahab was actually a prostitute. That God would use such sinful and lowly women is shocking, if not remarkable. Their stations in life and their choices before the encounters which defined them were humble and base.

Their faith, however, is the story. They believed God. They made a choice to trust God and His promise. Though they were both flawed and of low station in life, they are remembered in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the…

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Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view…


Families and Christmas can be messy. The vast majority of us do not live in a Hallmark world. The fact that Christmas season always sees an uptick in the incidence of suicide is testament to the fact that the gap between Holiday cheer and reality can be a big on

But there is hope! Christmas is the remembrance of God stepping into world like a light shining in the darkness.

Last year at this time, I began a series of blogs on the women listed in the genealogical lineage of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. That a total of five women are even listed in his genealogy is kind of mind blowing. Genealogies, especially in the First Century patriarchal world, are dominated by men. What are these women doing there?

It occurs to me that maybe God is saying something particularly important by including five women in the genealogy of Jesus.

For starters, God’s view of women, I believe, has always been higher than patriarchal history gives them credit. After all, God made us, male and female, in His image. Men are only half the image of God if you do the math.

But something else is going on as well. When you dig into the stories of the people in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, surprises are plentiful. His lineage isn’t particularly saintly. It’s “complicated”.

Jesus came not only as a light in the darkness of the world; he came as a light in the darkness of his own lineage. The story of Tamar is just one such example. She is the first woman listed in that lineage.

Navigating by Faith

 (c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view that today?

We can gain insights by looking at the women who are listed. The first woman listed is Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38, and it is a wild one for people of polite sensibilities.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It might seem odd that Judah, the fourth son, is the one from whom Jesus (the Messiah) descends, but that is only a minor oddity compared to the rest.

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Questions of Greatness and Goodness

Jesus wrote no books, created no great art, built no monuments and spent only three years as a public figure two millennia ago.


“The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow? Did he help men think about new ideas with a vigor that persisted after he was gone?’” H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells, the great English writer considered “the father of science fiction”, was a forward thinker, believing in the progression of man in the vein of the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. He was no friend of orthodox Christianity, nor of any religion. (See Wikipedia) “None of his contemporaries did more to encourage revolt against Christian tenets and accepted codes of behaviour, especially as regards sex….” (See Britannica).

It’s ironic I suppose, then, that I am thinking about Jesus as I read his words.

Wells expressed a hope in his writing “that human society would evolve into higher forms”. He believed from early on in the “doctrine of social progress”. (See Britannica) World War I impacted the idealistic hopes of youth, but Wells continued to believe that humankind could progress through knowledge and education.

I wonder what Wells would say today? How much have we progressed? Would his waning optimism have shriveled altogether if he had lived long enough? His last written work, Mind at the End of its Tether, written at the outbreak of World War II, suggests some further erosion in the hope of his youth, painting a very bleak picture of the future of mankind in which nature itself rebels against the evils of men.

Though H.G. Wells visited with both Lenin and Stalin, he probably didn’t know all the details of the atrocities that Stalin (particularly ) committed. A grim estimate of people killed at Stalin’s direction is 40 million! (See ibtimes) What would Wells have thought about the progression of mankind if he knew the truth? What if he knew of all the genocides that occurred and would occur in the 20th and 21st centuries alone? (See The worst genocides of the 20th and 21st Centuries)

Should H.G. Wells’ test of greatness by changed to include goodness?

An atheist friend of mine challenged me to prove to him that the world is a better place with religion (and Christianity in particular). I don’t recall exactly how I responded to him, but I have thought about his challenge since then.

We can’t deny that bad things have been done by people in the name of religion, including Christianity. I would not deny it. But what of the good?

H.G. Wells poses a question about greatness. My friend poses a question about goodness.

Continue reading “Questions of Greatness and Goodness”