Category Archives: Knowing Jesus


Bewildered and distressed, standing beside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus.  But when she did, He spoke these words:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   (John 20:17)

I got curious about His wording, the “my Father and your Father and to my God and your God” business.  Why did He say it like that?  Looking back through John’s Gospel, I discovered he never quoted Jesus talking about God in that inclusive way.  Matthew quotes Jesus saying “our Father’ and “your Father,” but, for John, Jesus always said, “my Father” or “the Father.”  That is, until after He had been resurrected.  Then, He said His Father is theirs, too.  His God is oursYours.  Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way for that connection to be established solidly and eternally for all who believe Him and receive it.  As John wrote in his first chapter,

“Yet to all who did receive Him [Jesus], to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…”   (John 1:12)

By his wording, I think John is aware we cannot truly become children of God until Jesus’ work of atonement for sin was done.  And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, God is able to receive us as His own, as children in His family.

Think about those possessive pronouns.  He is your Father, your God.  Consider how much it means to have the Creator and All-Powerful God of the universe declare Himself to be yours.  Your Father.  Fathers are fathers forever.   Good fathers love, protect, provide, guide and nurture.  Almighty God is the perfect father.

And, if you will receive Him through faith in Jesus, He is yours.

Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)


“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

Maybe Closer?

My brother is named Dave, so we call him Pete.  Don’t ask.  He has a  great sense of humor and a deep passion for the Lord.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  Last time, in a post called Not Even Close, I reflected on how, as I get to know Jesus better, I sense I hardly know Him.  He’s so much more than I can wrap my mind around.  Here is Pete’s response, somewhat tongue in cheek:

I appreciated your blog, Not Even Close, about the impossibility of figuring out Jesus.   Well, I did some research and, thanks to Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I think Jesus can be understood easily.   You see, Paul uses words like “love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  And in Romans 11:33 he says the depth of His wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and His ways unfathomable.  So, if you want to truly know Jesus, all you have to do is get out a stronger telescope or a longer ruler.

I like dwelling on the words of Eph. 3:20 –  that He is able to do not just what we may ask or think, and not just more than we ask or think, and not just beyond that, but “exceeding abundantly beyond”.  Or, immeasurably , or, another translation, super excessively.

And, now, if your brain doesn’t hurt from thinking about that, look at Eph. 1:19  “and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength”, and the rest of the chapter boils over with his power and might.

And if you get that figured out you’ll know Jesus.

You know what?  I’m going to stop trying to explain it.  It’s too great, too overpowering, too wonderful, it’s immeasurable and unfathomable.  And I can’t see the keyboard when I’m on my face.

Thanks, Pete…

Not Even Close

Now what?  Within a few days, most retirees ask themselves that question.  I also asked God and was startled by His specific answer.  No, I don’t hear Him audibly but am occasionally sure Who is speaking.  His answer?  “Spend time getting to know Jesus.”  What???  I had spent the last 25 years doing just that, I thought, in seminary and serving as a pastor.  I felt a bit offended, felt like saying, “Hey, God, I’m a professional…”  He didn’t budge.

I can’t say I embarked on an orderly, intense process of study; it’s not in my wiring.  But, over the last several years, His assignment has been on my front burner.  Here’s what I have learned: I don’t have even the slightest sliver of a clue of Who Jesus really is.  Not even close.  The magnitude of Jesus is beyond my capacity to understand.  Like, as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Speaking about worship, Annie Dillard asked, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we blithely invoke?” and suggested, if we did, we’d wear crash helmets and life preservers in church.  I’m beginning to see how right she is.  John spent the better part of three years in daily contact with Jesus.  And yet, when he encountered a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, he could hardly comprehend what he was seeing and cowered in fear.

Here’s how Paul tried to express the magnitude of Jesus.  Take time to ponder the full impact of each phrase:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”


It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.