Category Archives: New Testament

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

A poor farmer followed Jesus.  He went out into the wilderness with him.  He expected a miracle.  He expected a revolution.  He heard that Jesus was the long expected king.  The Messiah.

Time had been rough for the farmer.  In fact, times had been rough for all Israel.  The farmer, like all of his friends resented the dreaded Romans.  They had the nerve to claim rule over the Holy Land!  They had the audacity to overtax God’s holy people.  The farmer knew that there would arise a promised one who would drive the dreaded Romans out.  And, now…he’s here.  This Jesus.  He’s going to do it.

So, the farmer walked away from his daily work to follow this man.  He became a disciple.  He was going to learn from him.  And, now the teacher has sat down to teach and to explain his kingdom.  His reign.  The reign of God.

And, the first words out of his mouth hit the farmer like a ton of bricks.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You see, the farmer had come to hear about God’s reign.  About the reign of the heavens.  About this man Jesus’ inauguration of that reign.    And, the first words out of the King’s mouth are a blessing that hit the farmer right in his heart.

You see, the farmer, like all of his friends was poor.  They had been working subsistence jobs all their lives.  They had been waiting patiently for God’s Messiah,  And, his first words are…the kingdom is yours.  It belongs to you poor, humble, contrite people who have been beaten down and trodden down and worked to the ground.

It belongs to you humble followers.  It’s yours.

And, so it begins.  The farmer hangs on every word.  It was what his heart longed for.

How I Completely Misunderstood Jesus and The Old Testament

It’s easy to get it wrong.  In fact, the prevailing notion on this is generally wrong.   And, when you get this wrong, you miss out on the beauty of the Old Testament.  You miss out on who God really is in the Old Testament.  Just think:  You could have been reading the Bible and going to church for years and completely misunderstood some basic thoughts about the Old Testament.  If I’m right about this, then we’ve got some serious thinking to do.  We’ve got to re-examine our thinking about the Old Testament.

Here’s where to start:   Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

“The Old Testament Law was mostly about the outward act.  When Jesus came, he gave us a whole new way of relating to God that is not just about the outward act, but is about our intent.  It’s now about our heart.”

Let’s see you how you answer after you’ve read this entire post.

Let’s start with the Sermon on the Mount.

It went like this:

“You’ve heard it has been said……, but I say.”

Jesus starts off with the teaching about anger:

“21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire,” Matthew 5:21-22.

Now, here’s the question.

Is this Jesus versus the Law OR Jesus versus wrong interpretation of the Law?

I am convinced that this passage is about Jesus showing them a correct interpretation of the Law (versus their incorrect one).

Here was the wrong interpretation:  They made it all about the outward act.

The Misunderstanding:

Now, what about us?  Have we gotten it wrong?  Have we gotten this idea that following God under the Law was all about the outward act? Well, I admit I have said it before.

Is it the case?  Is it true that the Old Testament Law was just about the outward act?  Did Jesus give them a completely new Law that said, “This is not just about the outward act…it’s about what’s in your heart”?

Well, let’s let the Old Testament answer that.  Read a little from the book of Leviticus (Law):

“17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord,” Leviticus 19:78-18.  

Wait, doesn’t that sound just like Jesus?  Isn’t that about the….heart?He said that it’s not just about the outward act of murder.  It’s about the inward thought of your heart.  It’s about loving your neighbor and not hating him.  Wait….so, that means…Jesus was simply pointing them back what the Law really said.

In fact, Jesus would later say that the greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).

Overarching Principle:  Fulfill the Law

In fact, the truth is, Jesus came, not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

In fact, before Jesus made all those “you have heard/but I say” pronouncements, he had just said this:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” Matthew 5:17-18.

So, let me ask you again.

Agree or Disagree:

“The Old Testament Law was mostly about the outward act.  When Jesus came, he gave us a whole new way of relating to God that is not just about the outward act, but is about our intent.  It’s now about our heart.”

Did you change your mind?  I suppose the question we’re really asking is whether God changed his.  I don’t think he did.

For further reading, check this out.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr/RickyRomero.

The Invisible Person

You can’t do what Jesus did until you see what Jesus saw. 

One of my favorite stories about Jesus is how he gave sight to the blind.  This post is the story of how Jesus used coffee to open my eyes.  It might do the same for you. 

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re in the Fresh Market (fancy grocery store).  It is a visual and olfactory cornucopia.  That is to say…it’s real nice, Verne.  People are in there that look like maybe they drove all the way out from the yacht club.  Some drove in from lesser country clubs, and you can sort of tell which ones those are.  Then, there’s the college students, the ones who are making daddy proud, as they wear “North Face,” tennis skirts, and drive their very own Mercedes.  Then, there’s the people like me who really are shopping above their socio-economic status, but really like premium pork.

Justin's Iphone
Justin’s Iphone

Anyhow, so there I am at the coffee stand…you know, the one where you can get coffee samples.  I was examining the Kona Blend and all the other varieties, and I saw a young woman reach in and refill the one closest to me, the Almond Amaretto.   I thought, “Great, that one is super fresh.  Better get it.”  Then, I realized something.   There was a person behind the counter.   Then,  it hit me.

I had seen the coffee, but not the coffee brewer.  I had missed the person right in front of me.  She was invisible to me. 

So, I spoke to her.  I asked her if she drank coffee…she didn’t, but, that one question lit her up like flipping a switch.   She was a thoughtful person and an excellent coffee brewer, and I am glad that I got to speak to her.  Then, I realized something…Am I the only person who has spoken to her all day?   I think she knew what I had just started to realize:  People didn’t really see her.

How many people are invisible to us?  Brain science tells us that we focus on the things that are important to us.  The things that our brains have said we need to see to survive.

Is it possible that you have missed some really important things, maybe the most important things?

Now, what in the world does this have to do with the gospels? 

Answer:  It has everything to do with them.

Jesus talks about us being judged by the way we treat the least among us.  He says that when you do good things or bad things to the least, you’re really doing it to Jesus.    Somehow he’s there.  His presence is there.

Have you ever known someone who only wanted to focus their energy and enthusiasm the “important people”?  Maybe it was an employee who is super nice to his superiors, but treats his peers and those he manages in a completely different way.  You can think of a student who treats the cool kids with respect, but won’t have anything to do with those on the fringes.  You see it in churches, you see it in rich,  and you see it in poor.  I sometimes see it in me, too.  After all, it took me months to see the person behind the coffee stand.

This brings me to a key point about the gospels.  There are these people in Jesus’ time that didn’t recognize him.  They try to trap Jesus.  They try to trick him into making a stupid mistake.  He, of course, outwits them in ways they couldn’t imagine, but the thing that I keep on thinking about is how these people could be so ignorant, so blind, so foolish that they couldn’t even see Jesus right in front of them.

Oh wait…but I couldn’t see him at the coffee stand. 

But something happened.  I saw the touch of his hand, and I opened my eyes.  I was jarred into the reality of his presence by the simple extending of a hand (yes, to refill the Almond Amaretto…but you get the point).  I didn’t realize it then, but I believe I looked up, and I didn’t just see the coffee brewer lady.  I saw Jesus.  I saw him in a unique, beautiful, valuable, human being.

So, I wrote a post about how you can read the gospels.  We talked about how the best way to read the story of Jesus is to enter the story by doing what Jesus did.

Here’s the thing.  You can’t do what Jesus did until you see what Jesus saw.    So, I ask you,  Have you seen Jesus my Lord?  He’s here in plain view.


Food for thought/Articles on Invisibility:

On the Invisibility of Black Women and Girls For Harriet                      The Invisible Poor Global Policy Forum


There’s a New King in Town (Mark 1:1)

There’s a hugely popular new TV series on Amazon called The Man in the High Castle.  It’s this very disturbing drama with an alternate view of history, as if the Allies had lost WWII and Japan and Germany took over the U.S.  It’s really a scary thought.  Imagine if the Eastern US states were under the rule of a Hitler, and the Western states were under a Japanese Emperor.  Now, history tells us that the Emperor was said to be the “son of God.”  It’s not surprising that in the series, Bibles were few and far between.  Jews worshiped in secret, and Christians were silent.

It really isn’t that different of a situation than what we see in 1st Century Palestine.  The Jews lived in their Promised Land, but they were a conquered people.  The first Roman Emperor reigned during the time of Jesus’ birth.

So, now it’s important that we take a lesson in numismatics (coin collecting).   Do you know was inscribed on Roman coins?

Well, let’s look at one example (source),







The front of the coin has Octavian (Agustus Caesar) with the inscription, “DIVIF,” which stands for “Divini Filiu” meaning “Son of the Divine.”  The back as the words, “DIVOS IVLIVS” or “Divine Julius,” i.e., saying the Julius Caesar was divine.

So, the Roman Empire proclaimed loudly that there was a son of God, and it’s Caesar!  It was a dark world in which God’s people had been conquered and were subjugated and were longing for a Savior, someone who would redeem them and save them from Roman rule.

Well, the earliest gospel is the gospel of Mark.  It seems that it was written to a Roman audience, maybe even the city of Rome.  And, to these Romans, to these subjects of Caesar, Mark opens with words that might not mean a lot to a 21st Century American, but would mean everything to a 1st Century Roman:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, ”  Mark 1:1.

Mark’s good news is this:  There’s a new king in town.

This has huge implications for the way we read the rest of the book of Mark.  This post on RadicallyChristian talks about how this affects how we read the whole New Testament.

What does this mean to you that Jesus is the son of God?  What does it mean to say that Jesus is King?

More than a Story: 5 Ways to Read the Gospels

At my home church, Central Church of Christ,  we are starting 2016 with a reading plan that will take us through the New Testament in a year.   We’ll talk about these things together, read them together, and live them together.

When you think of the gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Christian New Testament), what do you think?  What are they all about?  How do you read them?

I believe there is one way to read them that is absolutely the best!  Read on to find out more.

The 5 Ways to Read the Gospels

1.  The Greatest Story Ever Told

I’m writing this on New Year’s Day of 2016.  We are in the second golden age of the Star Wars movies.  The new film, The Force Awakens, has debuted with greater sales than any other film in history.  Now, what’s the Star Wars series all about?  Spoiler Alert (if you haven’t seen the old movies).  The overarching theme of Star Wars mythology is that there is this battle between good and evil.  There is this chosen one who save the people who are in danger, but will do so at great personal cost and sacrifice.  Sound familiar?  Sound a little like the gospel?  I can name countless other movies and stories and even classic literature that sound like they sorta ripped off the Jesus story line.

“Jesus Christ” means “Jesus, the Chosen One.”  As the Chosen One, Jesus came and lived a perfect life, died to save us, and rose again from the grave.  Now, that’s a story…the greatest story ever told, better than Star Wars.

2.  Powerful Apologetic

No doubt one of the reasons for the initial writing of the gospels was prove that Jesus was the Messiah and that people should follow him.  This defense of the gospel, or apologetic, is something that still carries weight today.  Lee Strobel was an agnostic and investigative journalist who set out to dispove the gospels.  The more he dug into the gospels, the more he realized that there were historical facts that could be verified.  The one that caught his attention the most was the resurrection.  Christianity rises or falls on the truth of the resurrection.  Lee Stroble investigated the resurrection claims like a tough journalist, trying to find holes in the story.  He didn’t.  He became a believer.  That’s what has happened to many people when they looked deeply and critically into the gospels.

3.  The Life that Split History In Two

A.D. and B.C.  Or, ACE and BCE.  No matter what you call it, we count time from the birth of Christ.  His life split history in two.  Now, wouldn’t it make sense to know about that person, I mean at least from a historical perspective?

How could a person be educated and not know about the life that split history in two?

What kind of a teacher must he have been to have this kind of influence?

The story of his life has been the all time best seller.

Wouldn’t it make sense to get to know about this man?

4.  The Facts of the Faith

Any person can learn about Jesus simply for the historical facts, but a Christ follower will want to get to know all about the Teacher, the Master, the Lord.

What did he teach?  What was he like?  How did he interact with people?  How did he die?  Who were his friends and followers?   These are facts you’ll want to know, and you can find them in the gospels.

5.  The Story to be Lived

I believe the best way to read the gospel doesn’t really have to do with reading…it has to do with living.    You see, knowing about Christ isn’t enough.

The Pharisees knew the Scripture, but they didn’t know the Savior.

It’s possible to know a passage by heart without taking it to heart.

It isn’t how many Scriptures you’ve committed to memory; it’s how many you’ve committed to life.

And, when you get to know Jesus, you want to walk with him, you want to enter his Story.

John Mark Hicks puts this really well, so take a look at this:

We follow Jesus into the water. We follow him into the wilderness.  We follow him into ministry–to the tables of the marginalized, to the sick and diseased, to the broken and hurting. We follow him to the cross and die with him daily. And, one day, we will follow him into glory where our mortal bodies will be transformed into the likeness of his resurrected body.

The story of Jesus is our story. The Gospels are our narratives. They are not historical artifacts or pieces of mere evidentiary history. They are the story of our lives as disciples of Jesus.

So, I want to invite you to go with me, not only to read the story:  Let’s be the story.

How do you read the gospels?