Focusing on Following Jesus in a Chaotic World

God continues to work out His purpose in history.


There is so much angst in the world today. First the corona virus and now the explosion of racial tensions. The political and worldview polarization we we have experienced in recent years have been magnified as political machines ramp up for another presidential election. It even threatens to pull the church apart.

I have recently written about black lives matter and white privilege from a biblical perspective, in an attempt to redeem those phrases from a biblical point of view.  I realize that those terms are loaded. The Black Lives Matter organization has a specific message and worldview that runs contrary to biblical principles at various points, but I tried to find the kernels of truth in those phrases through a biblical lens.

We run a risk in the church of getting off the narrow path of following Jesus by aligning ourselves too closely with a particular political platform, secular philosophy or other way of viewing the world that is not gospel focused. We also run a risk of falling off the narrow path the other way, by  reacting in opposition to everything a particular political platform, philosophy or worldview stands, just because some of it (or even most of it) is contrary to “off”.

Truth is truth, and truth is objective. No one person or particular view is apt to be absolutely true, because we are flawed beings with limited perspective. The likelihood of one person, one church, one theology being absolutely true in every detail is not likely.

At the same time, truth is truth. It is objective, and people can see it. That means that even people who may not acknowledge the truth of the gospel may, nevertheless, accurately see some aspect of the truth.

It’s like science, the facts and evidence must be interpreted. We are all looking at the same facts and evidence, but we do not all interpret it the same way. Still, the facts and evidence are the same. We continually discover new facts and evidence that alters our interpretations of the facts and evidence we previously knew, and we sometimes discover that what we thought we knew is not accurate.

God, of course, never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our perspective, knowledge and understanding, however, is finite and limited, and that requires we adopt a posture of humility in our understanding.

God’s Word doesn’t change, but our perspective of it changes. Think of the radical change of perspective Jesus introduced to the descendants of Abraham! God became man, came to His own people, and they didn’t even recognize Him!

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Meaning in the Metaphor in the Bible

God intertwines metaphor and fact as only the very writer of history can do


Imagine hearing these words in the First Century:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in youWhoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:47‭, ‬49‭-‬54‭, ‬56‭-‬58 ESV) (emphasis added)

The crowd asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”… and they were probably thinking, “Why would we want to it? That’s disgusting!”

They took him literally, but we understand that he was speaking figuratively. In fact, Jesus spoke figuratively all the time. In fact, Mark says that Jesus spoke in parables everywhere. (Mark 4:34).

To Jesus, the physical world was like one big figure of speech. He spoke about bread, and light, and salt, and a lamp, and a vine, and a mustard seed, and on and on and on. In this way, Jesus was continually challenging the people listening to him to think beyond the physical world they knew to consider spiritual truths that transcend it.

Many, like the Jews who asked how Jesus could give them his flesh to eat, had a hard time with the way Jesus spoke. Even the disciples, themselves, found these words the comparison of Jesus as living bread for people to eat hard to swallow (pun intended). (John 6:66)

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Metaphor for Heaven’s Sake (Literally)

Literal is not the right way to interpret the Bible when it “literally” means something else.


I have been writing and thinking about the odd similarity in the way atheists and fundamentalists interpret the Bible, which is the subject of Digging Deeper to Mine the Meaning from Scripture. At the same time, have been going through the New Testament in my daily reading. As I went through Matthew, I had been thinking about the ancient tendency to use figures of speech, like metaphor and hyperbole. Perhaps, that is why I began to notice how often Jesus used figures of speech when Jesus spoke.

We are well-acquainted with the frequent use of parables throughout the Gospels. At one point Matthew observed, “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.” (Matt. 13:34) He also used other figures of speech. A figure of speech is defined as “a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect”. Some of the more common figures of speech are hyperbole, symbol, simile, personification and metaphor.

For people who insist on reading Scripture literally, Jesus must be maddening. His words are full of figures of speech, and he interpreted the Old Testament by extrapolating on the figures of speech in the Old Testament.

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Digging Deeper to Mine the Meaning from Scripture

We have to dig a little deeper below the surface to mine the meaning of the Scripture. 


I have written on the subject of the similarity in the interpretation style of atheists and fundamentalists, or more specifically, perhaps, young earth creationists. Probably several times or more in fact. But, I am not the only who has noticed the similarity.

Among others who have made this observation is Michael G. Strauss, professor at University of Oklahoma. Strauss has been a research physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and more recently at CERN. Strauss has studied the interaction between quarks and gluons and the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics, and, most recently, the properties of the Higgs Boson and “the top quark”. Dr. Strauss is a pretty smart guy, and he is a Christian.

He writes in a blog article dated September 16, 2018, about A Shared Characteristic Between Atheists and Young Earth Creationists, observing that they interpret the Bible the same way. Both camps insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the creation narrative in Genesis. It’s kind of like the person listening to the announcer giving the play-by-play of a baseball game on the radio when he says, “The runner is hugging the base at third.” Should we imagine that the runner is literally embracing third base in his arms?

Of course not, because we know from the context of our modern culture and language what the announcer is saying. While his words may convey a certain literal meaning, his actual meaning is different. We all know exactly what he means. He means that the runner is holding close to the base. We call this a “figure of speech” among other things.*

We don’t have to struggle to know when to take someone “literally” and when to grasp the nuance of metaphorical meaning. We don’t have to think very hard about it, usually, because we are immersed in the culture and intimately familiar with language usage that gives us clues from in the context of the statements.

We have to use that same approach with the Bible. The only difference is that we are not so immersed in the culture and familiar with ancient Hebrew that we can make those same “common sense” connections with the Bible without a little help. But, it’s not that difficult either.

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Letting the Bible Speak for Itself


I have been coming back to a similar theme in recent months on how we read and interpret the Bible. I have noted that fundamentalists and atheists tend to read the Bible in the same rigid way. The only difference is that fundamentalists believe all of it, and the atheists believe none of it. They both assume and insist that the Bible must be read literally, even though everyone knows that many passages can’t be taken literally.

For instance, when Jesus said he is the vine, he obviously didn’t mean he was a plant. We have to use some common sense and understanding to determine when the text is intended to be metaphorical, and when it is meant to be literal. Sometimes, it might even have both literal and metaphorical meanings. We can’t rigidly assume that the Bible must always be taken literally if we are serious about understanding it.

Some people think that either the Bible must be taken literally, or not at all. This is a false dichotomy. We don’t read other literature that way. Frankly, when we approach the Bible in that way, insisting that it be read literally, we are doing the Bible a disservice, and we are failing to take the Bible seriously enough. We are insisting that the Bible speak to us the way we want to be spoken to, rather than trying to understand what the Bible is saying on its own terms, not ours.

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