The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 3



We left the rich young man after hearing Jesus give him the terrible diagnosis of his life: in order to follow Jesus he must discard his competing loyalties. In his case it was wealth. In our case it can be any one (or more) of a vast number of things: anything that puts something else before our loyalty to Christ.

But let’s go back one step in this story. The young man has just claimed he is living what he considers to be a good enough life; he maintains he has kept all the requirements of the Jewish Law. He wants confirmation from this rabbi that he can claim eternal life as his just deserts.

How does Jesus respond? Here in Mark 10:21, Mark describes Jesus’ reaction from a point of view that invites us right into Jesus’ heart. It is a moment that deserves our full attention, because it is the story of humanity in a nutshell. We, too, each live our lives by an ethical scale of sorts; we have either transposed it from the principles that our families, our traditions or our society have established, or we have created it from an eclectic collection of any of the above. We may even claim we reject any concept of right and wrong, but honestly, we don’t live that way do we? We all live by some internal classification system of right and wrong.

So here is Jesus, God in the flesh, the One whose character is the basis for all moral excellence —listening to this young man’s proud assertions that he has followed moral law to the letter. How will He respond? –By congratulating the young man? –By slamming him for his pride? –By laughing at him?

We’re told, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This is how Jesus looks at each of us. We may prattle on about how good we are, or we may keep silent about our personal convictions. We may regularly leave hints for others to observe and come to the conclusion that we are pretty good people. Or we may march in parades proudly displaying our ideologies and daring others to contradict us. It doesn’t matter. Jesus still looks at each of us and loves us. Does that mean He condones our self-made rules for living? No.

Jesus knew that not many days after this meeting with the rich young ruler He would be walking the path from Jerusalem’s Praetorium, his back in bleeding shreds from a scourging, his scalp dripping from the piercing, humiliating crown of thorns. He would be walking toward the most egregious form of execution the Roman Empire could devise, and He would be taking the punishment the totality of humanity deserves for the crux of our moral flaw—our hatred of God and His sovereignty. He would be buying our freedom from an eternity of self-destruction each of us face upon our own deaths. And it was in this knowledge that Jesus looked at the rich, self-satisfied young man and loved him.

What do we do with this? How do you and I respond to this same Jesus who even now looks at you and me, and loves, loves, LOVES us? This is the quintessential issue of life. Nothing else matters but this. Jesus knows about our foolish attempts at morality (mostly used by us to earn a sense of self-esteem). He knows only His ransom-paying death and death-defying resurrection can supply us with the eternal life we all ultimately long for. And He longs to love us into His kingdom of eternity.

But it comes down to this: Do we look at Him and love Him in return?


Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 23


‘Sin and Shin’

The Vulcan hand salute is well known by Star Trek lovers. What few might know, though, is that Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock) borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish priestly blessing, a blessing he had seen as a child performed in an orthodox synagogue. The blessing shapes both hands to represent the Hebrew letter Sin/Shin representing the initiating letter of God’s name, El Shaddai—Almighty God. It recognizes God’s omnipresence and His genius for affecting the lives of people.

“Always, everywhere, God is present,” observes A.W. Tozer, “and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” How does El Shaddai, the Almighty God, affect people’s lives—your life and mine? How does He discover Himself to each one? These are the questions the psalmist explores as he pens the stanza he entitles with the Hebrew letter ‘Sin and Shin’,

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. / I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. / I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. / Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. / Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. / I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. / I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. / I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you”(Psalm 119:161-168).

Worldly regimes, observes the psalmist, tend to be fundamentally opposed to faith. Eventually, all ideologies—even those founded on rights and freedoms—degenerate into special, privileged interest groups using government power for opportunistic reasons. The God-centred worldview and practice of believers becomes abhorrent to worldly regimes, whose laws, bemoans the psalmist, “persecute me without cause.”

Yet something unexpected occurs within the man or woman of faith, something that has happened throughout history, regardless of the believer’s age, race, sex, or socioeconomic status when faced with persecution for their faith. They stand and rejoice in the Promise of God.

For one thing, God’s intentions for people are not to persecute them but to bring them good. God doesn’t rule by external pressure but by internally transforming people who joyfully submit to Him. His plans are to give us hope and an eternal future. This, says the psalmist, is the source of the believer’s joy. Persecution takes on as much importance as a tiresome insect.

For another thing, a relationship with God is based on reality, on deep, enduring truths, rather than on the falsehood, corruption, folly and situational ethics to which earthly rulers fall prey. God is the author of truly righteous laws because He made us and understands the core of our being.

More than that, God’s law is a law that produces in its adherents a deep, penetrating peace because it brings people into alignment with God’s ways—that which C.S. Lewis terms, ‘the grain of the universe.’ “Nothing,” insists the psalmist, “can make th(ose who love God’s law) stumble.” “Nothing,” concurs the Apostle Paul, “shall separate us from the love of God.”

How does a person access this uncommon relationship with God? By pursuing human law, by depending on personal rights, freedoms and identity? No. The psalmist says he waits; he follows, he obeys, and he loves everything about God. His confidence is not in his own devotion; it is in God’s devotion to him. God creates, God initiates the human-divine relationship, God loves, and God provides the salvation believers all come to recognize we need.

Which brings us always back to Jesus Christ, God-fully-contained-in-a-man, the One who personifies the “law” about which the psalmist cannot stop praising. Hearts that tremble before Jesus, who rejoice in Him, who love the core truth of Him and take Him as their sure salvation are hearts fully at peace. Come to Him and find the peace that breathes, “…all my ways are known to you.”


Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 5



Two forlorn characters shambled down the road leading away from the city. They were still disheveled from the events of the weekend. It had started as a party, but had ended in a lynching—and they were lucky, they figured, to have escaped. As they walked, they talked through the problem. And as they talked, a stranger came up and began to walk with them.

“What’s this you are discussing?” the stranger asked.

And they told him. They told how their hope had died with the man they thought was the long-promised ruler who would free them from their nation’s political bondage. That man had been lynched by a mob and now these two were confused. Their culture’s holy writ had disappointed them.

With that, the stranger began to explain to them what the Scriptures were really saying concerning the Man in whom they had hoped. The message flowing through every verse—he explained— was about Him. As the stranger opened their minds to this realization, their hearts began to burn within them with the truth they were hearing—the surprising story-within-a-story contained within their Law.

Suddenly they recognized the stranger. It was Him—Jesus—the one they had seen cut down, strung up, and tortured to death! He—more alive than ever— was speaking about Himself, the fulfillment of every hope, the message behind every word of Scripture, the life of that hope, not the death of it! (Luke 24:13-32, paraphrased)

But we’re here to look at ‘Gimel’ the third stanza of Psalm 119 aren’t we? Our first impression as we see numerous references to the personal pronoun I, me, and my, is that the message is personally relevant to someone. Then we notice each verse makes reference to the Word (also called law, commands, statutes and decrees) as if it is a key to something incredibly important for life. And a third layer shows us it is not merely a what but actually a who impacting human life—the creator and owner of the Word, unnamed here.

“Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. / Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. / I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me. / My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. / You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed and who stray from your commands. / Remove from me scorn and contempt, for I keep your statutes. / Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees. / Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:17-24).

This is where the event recorded in Luke comes in. How would Jesus have explained this passage, actually “opened the Scriptures”, as Luke puts it, so that His listeners’ hearts were burning? Where is He Himself mentioned? In these eight prayer-like verses we see the fingerprint of life-giving work that characterizes not only Himself, but each person of the triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Do good …” the psalmist begins, “and I will live.” Goodness, true goodness, is a characteristic of God the Father working on behalf of the world He created. “And it was good,” is the repeated refrain we hear in the Genesis account of creation. Later, the Apostle James explains, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” Goodness epitomizes the Father. The very core of Scripture is the Father’s purpose to bring goodness to people like you and me. The goodness of the Word is God the Father Himself.

This passage is also about the Holy Spirit of God. While the first verse references God the Father through goodness, the last verse references God the Spirit through the word “counselors.” In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples He revealed to them the plan that His physical presence with His followers would henceforward be replaced by His spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). The counseling aspect of the Word is God the Spirit Himself.

And finally, this passage is about Jesus. “Wonderful things in your law” is a veiled reference to the Messiah whom the prophet Isaiah explained would be called “Wonderful” (Isaiah 9:6). The plan of God to enter into His own creation as a human being to rescue a self-destructing world is nothing less than wonderful. The wonder of the Word is God the Son, Jesus Himself.

And so ‘Gimel’, meaning three or third-letter, gives us the message that God’s Word is really His threefold self, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit communicating with us so we may live. Really live. Try reading the passage again, replacing the phrases like “your word” with “You, Father”, “You, Jesus”, and “You, Holy Spirit.” Then let Him set your heart on fire.

(Photo Credit: By Dwight Sipler – After the rain, CC BY 2.0,



‘Aleph’ cont’d.

How can we move ourselves onto the path of life and blessing when our natural tendencies draw us toward things that damage and destroy that option? This is the question the psalmist explores in this first stanza of his psalm. In his deepest, truest self he wants to be “steadfast in obeying (God’s) decrees” but knows from experience he is incapable. There is always that part of him that messes up, that unpredictably thinks, speaks and acts in defiance of God’s ways.

Here, in Aleph, the psalmist begins to answer this question in a theme that will fill 176 verses—an answer that for himself and his listeners becomes the seed of the greatest answer available to humanity. The key to the door of blessing, to the path of not only a flourishing life but one that fulfills everything God created it to entail, is immersing oneself in God.

Seeking and immersing ourselves in a god…isn’t this a bit too reminiscent of the religions of the world, the attempts of humans to seek something greater than themselves, and by focused desiring attempt to find meaning in life? Is it, then, all about our efforts, regardless of the specific god we have in mind?

No. The psalmist is very clear to highlight Whom he means. He shows the “LORD”—Yahweh, the Great ‘I AM’—is the locus of it all. People, he says, who “seek him with all their heart” are those who will find life and blessing. What the psalmist doesn’t fully know yet is that God is a greater seeker than we are. God originated the seeking by creating a world that, though it would go afoul of His moral laws by the abuse of its freedoms, would also be the womb out of which a rescuer would come.

Words like the “law of the LORD”, “his ways…decrees (and)…commands” referenced in the psalm are principally and at their core, descriptors of the One who embodies that moral law, the fully God and fully human solution to our problem, the eternally existent One born into humanity: Jesus Christ.

“In the beginning was the Word,” explains the Apostle John in the opening lines of his gospel account of the life of Jesus, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5).

There it is. “In him was life.” John will also later quote Jesus as calling Himself not only “the life” but also “the way”, “the truth”, “”the door”, “the vine” and many other metaphors to help us see that it is He of whom the psalmist speaks as the source of blessing.

So God first seeks, but then we seek too. This is the foundation of the solution to the problem the psalmist mulls over. A blessed life is one wrapped in relationship with God. Knowing the Father as our loving provider, Jesus as our redeemer and friend, and His Spirit as our internally-abiding comforter and confidante is the beginning and end of what the psalmist is trying to convey. God does, but we also do. God provides moral strength, but we must avail ourselves of it. God reveals His will for our thoughts, speech and behaviour, but we must obey it. God expresses His majesty in His creation but we must choose to recognize it and worship Him within it.

It’s a learning process. We don’s always respond as we should, even if we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus. The psalmist admits it is a process of “learn(ing) your righteous laws.” But God is patient, and everything in Him is encouraging us to learn and to seek Him, because when it comes to God, “everyone…who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8).

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 12

Translated Msg


When the HSBC’s slogan ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated as ‘Do Nothing’, business slackened significantly—it took $10M of rebranding to restore customer confidence in the misrepresented company. When Pepsi’s tag line ‘Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation’ was translated into Taiwanese as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ the company was left with a big promise to fulfill. And when the Parker pen company advertised ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ came out in Spanish as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’ more than a few eyebrows were raised. Knowing the intended message matters.

In contrast, Jesus was the perfect interpreter; His life on earth performed the unique task of interpreting God’s true intentions for planet earth in general and for the human species in particular. Chapter twelve of Matthew’s gospel describes for us some of the difficulties Jesus faced when the messages of the self-appointed interpreters of the day clashed with His message. A quick summary would be: The religious teachers of the day demanded the people obey the letter of the Law; Jesus taught His followers (through parables, teachings, and example) to be moved by the Spirit of the Law.

“Look!” scorned the Pharisees, following Jesus into a farmer’s field like vultures encircling their prey. They had seen Jesus allow His disciples to glean grain kernels from a field to take the edge off their hunger. “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

They followed Jesus into the local synagogue, finding an opportunity to bait Him. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” they challenged, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

When Jesus left the synagogue, the Pharisees also slipped out, dogging him like hounds on a scented trail. Hearing the people rejoicing over the healing of a blind and mute demon-possessed man, the Pharisees then grumbled, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

“Teacher,” they sneered, having missed the action, “We want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

For anyone else it would have been exhausting dealing with the bitter denunciations of the gatekeepers of Jewish Law and culture. For Jesus it must have been heartbreaking. He knew the heart of the Law like none other. He had come from the Father, having created all that is in existence; the moral standard by which His creatures were designed to live had been misinterpreted until the Lawgiver Himself had become obliterated by the power-hungry Law-keepers. The understanding of the moral nature of God was being deliberately twisted, distorted and skewed to benefit the ulterior motives of those who considered themselves experts of the Law. The Pharisees were mistranslating ‘Assume nothing’ into ‘Do nothing.’

How did Jesus respond?

To the issues of misrepresenting Sabbath Day requirements for eating and healing, Jesus replied, “(I am) the Lord of the Sabbath” and “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” We can imagine how that enraged the Law-keepers—who was this man, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath and telling them what was good?

But Jesus wasn’t finished correcting their misinterpretations. The hunted became the hunter as Jesus faced the Pharisaical pack and confronted them with the seriousness of their errors. Jesus would not take issue when people attacked Him personally. But when they went so far as to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in His miracles, assigning the power rather to the work of Satan, Jesus took exception. “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus warned, “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Jesus said much more to them, not mincing His words as He cut to the heart of their problem. Their hearts were cold to God. Everything that comes from a heart cold and closed to God results in misinterpretation of God’s words and God’s ways—worse, it ultimately results in that person becoming completely hardened and unable to accept the greatest miraculous sign given to the world—Himself, God incarnate, paying the debt for our moral crime by accepting an unjust execution at our hands.

We do well to take Jesus’ words to heart. How often have we misinterpreted Jesus by acceding to His goodness as a moral teacher while denying His ultimate sovereignty over our lives? We are often tempted to interpret His words in a way that preserves our autonomy, but is that what He intends for us? Let’s dust off that old Bible, crack it open, ask for His Spirit’s presence and wisdom to interpret for us what He means, and then obey Him. Then ‘Assume Nothing’ will never be misunderstood as ‘Do Nothing’.

(Photo Credit:

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus; Day 5



We’ve heard some strange laws in our time and read of bizarre rules in other places. Apparently in Thailand it is illegal to step on money; in Samoa it is illegal to forget your wife’s birthday; and in France it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon. Every culture, every country and every club has its profusion of laws. The list, in fact, is endless. Have you ever wondered why?—why we need to have any laws at all?—why we can’t all get along?

When we spend time with other people we begin to notice something about ourselves: we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, and, (generally speaking, of course) in issues of differences, we tend to think our way is best. Think of an example—like, what should I wear today? That’s simple enough. If we were to ask a hundred people that question, we would likely get a hundred different answers. But in the end, we would choose for ourselves what to wear. Why? Because we fundamentally believe we are our own bosses. But of course it only takes multiplying ‘we’ by the billions of people that live and have lived on planet earth over its history and multiplying that by the number of possible conflicting ideas and we come up with nothing less than chaos if a consensus is required.

As Jesus began His public ministry in a tiny corner of earth under domination of the powerful Roman Empire, he started by talking about this fundamental state of mind we all have. He was speaking to Jews, primarily, because he was one Himself. The Jews were a people solidified through their law. Rather than being created by a committee, the law was God-given, inscribed by the divine finger on stone tablets. Remember them?

1.Worship no gods but God alone; 2.Neither make nor worship idols; 3.Do not misuse God’s name or reputation; 4.Rest every seventh day; 5.Honour your parents; 6.Do not murder; 7.Do not have extramarital sex; 8.Do not steal; 9.Do not slander others; 10.Do not crave others’ property or relationships.

That sounds clear. No one could mistake the meaning of the Big Ten. Yet fifteen hundred years later Jesus stood among the descendants of those who had received the Law. He saw the moral bankruptcy of the race He had been born into. Every command had been broken countless times over the centuries. Not one person had been able to keep the Law with the impeccable integrity it required. And it wasn’t only the Jews who had failed. They simply typified the common experience of every person on this planet.

What the teachers of the Jewish Law had engineered, though, was a means of twisting the true intent of the Law by adding a plethora of traditions to veil the deficiency. Instead of loving God with their whole heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving others as those made in the image of God, the Law had become legalistic. It had become a form for maintaining the status quo and perpetuating the hierarchy of power among the people.

Jesus enters this milieu and says something entirely different. Does He say ‘drop the façade and just do what feels right’? That’s what would make us all feel much better about the way we live our lives. No. The fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew records Jesus saying something that turns our world upside down.

“Be perfect,” he instructs, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

What? That’s impossible! No one is perfect. No can attain that standard. Is Jesus a madman to even suggest the possibility?

No again. Jesus is the ultimate realist. He’s laying the cards on the table to show us our true reality. We are all far from perfect. We cannot get anywhere near pleasing God by keeping even the most rigorous of laws. What Jesus is saying is that He will transform people from the inside out by His indwelling Spirit. We cannot keep any law perfectly, but the Law of Christ—His perfect and powerful law of grace and love—can keep us.

He speaks to the Jews to show them that their law had become distorted; He speaks to us to show us that our own attempts at social and political and moral law have all become distorted too. Only He can redeem the shadow of what we call law to become the perfect solution of restored relationship with God and people. As we invite Jesus to rule in us we learn what that means in ways more relevant to each of our lives than any external law was ever able to do.

“To him who is able to keep you from falling,” invokes Jude, another New Testament writer, “and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

(Picture Credit: [[File:Rembrandt – Moses with the Ten Commandments – Google Art Project.jpg|thumb|Rembrandt – Moses with the Ten Commandments – Google Art Project]])



Smoke or Sunlight.

Satellite photos don’t lie. Draped like a thick brown blanket over the land and seascape of the coast, smoke has invaded my town this week. Phrases like ‘air quality’ and ‘wildfire’ circulate through news stories and are the subject of everyone’s table talk. We think there is still blue sky and sunshine above it all, but we have little evidence from the ground to prove it.

The crossroads explained in Romans chapter Ten describes something similar to the strange phenomenon of smoke in the air we’ve just observed. The apostle Paul (58 A.D.) quotes Moses (c.1400 B.C.) as saying that there are two ways of organizing our lives. One way is to try to live by a set of rules (even if those rules include one that says, “There are no rules”). This way causes people to be caught up in a perpetual search for meaning to life. Some try to “ascend into heaven” – looking to things like astrophysical explorations, astrological predictions and ozone depletion solutions for meaning. Some try to “descend into the deep” – thinking that finding answers to earth’s carbon fuel shortages or marine pollution problems will provide meaning to life. We can each fill in the blanks of ways in which we have observed ourselves or others have tried to explore the reaches of human possibilities to make life meaningful. It’s all a smokescreen though. It’s a smoggy tabagie of ideas that distract us from seeing, smelling, and tasting life the way God intends us to live.

God’s way is to live by one word. That word is not some distant intelligence from outer space or inner earth. Paul says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” He’s talking about our attachment to Jesus as our one and only hope. Of course, as the Son of God, Jesus is vast. He is transcendent – beyond what we will ever be able to fully fathom. He is higher than the highest sky and deeper than the deepest sea. But He is also imminent – He is ‘God with us’, content with nothing less than His Spirit living within us. His purpose is to fill us completely with love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Against such things,” says Paul in another letter, “there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23).

It is ironic that those who choose not to follow Jesus use, as their reason and defense, the rationale that ‘following God is just a bunch of rules.’ Jesus says differently.

“My command is this,” says Jesus, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:12-14).

This way is no smokescreen. It’s as clear as a blue summer sky, minus the pall of this world’s confusing vernacular. We are to love God first. Then we are to love others truly – not pandering to their self-destructive demands, but laying down our lives for them in so many practical ways each day. We are to model joy by finding satisfaction in the presence of God even in the midst of our suffering. We are to experience peace, even when life takes away everything this world says counts. We are to express patience by giving others the space to grow even when it looks like they are making a mess of their lives and ours. We are to be kind, even when we think others don’t deserve it. We are to be good – something that only comes by spending much time with God. We are to be faithful to God, rock-solid followers in spite of our human inconsistencies. We are to be gentle – soft-spoken, tenderhearted toward others. And we are to practice self-control – doing as we ought, not as we sometimes feel like.

I’m not saying that science, environmentalism or any other intellectual pursuit in itself is wrong or futile. God made matter, so it’s all His and it’s all good. But it can be abused. It can be smoke and mirrors if we depend upon it for our ultimate meaning in life. The juncture we see in this chapter of Romans is a division between the smokescreen of a human-initiated search for life’s purpose, and the clear light of Jesus’ presence when we confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord”. That’s the difference. That’s the crossroads. When we’re in the midst of the smoke we don’t always know it, but when we take the bold step to move out of the smoggy atmosphere of faithlessness, the view is stunning. The air is clean and clear, and we can see for miles.

I want the fresh air of life with Jesus. I want whatever comes with it, even if it means having to live a life of real, sacrificial love instead of a ‘self-realizing’, self-identifying, and self-serving existence. I want to believe in my heart, live out with my life, and confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord every moment from here on. Are you with me?

(Photo Credit:  By Wing-Chi Poon [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons)