Category Archives: Jesus

Sarah, Jesus, and James.

Carol kept explaining the parable of the beaten man. “The first two people to walk past the man were people who would have known what the law said about helping your neighbor. They were a priest and a Levite, both employed in the temple, both aware of the commands to love. But both were also aware of the risk in touching someone sick. They would have been ceremonially unclean if they had helped him. They would have been kept from their work for God for several days.”

“But how do you resolve that?” Sara asked. “If making God happy means going to church all the time, but when I go to church all the time I don’t have time for doing what might make God happy, what do I do?”

“That states the question that James raises very well.” Carol said, referring back to the beginning of their conversation. “James was looking at the tension between saying that you believe God and then acting as if you don’t. He’s already given the principle by talking about the royal law. If we love our neighbor, we are doing right. If we are favoring the rich and ignoring the poor, we are not.”

Carol sipped her coffee. “Then James tells a story, like his brother Jesus had. Imagine that you know a person from your church that is hungry and cold. You are both people who follow God, who know the spiritual things to say. And imagine you say to the person, ‘be warm and well-fed.’ And then you turn back to your life without given them a sandwich or a coat.”

“Imagine you are like the priest or the Levite,” Sarah said.

“Exactly.” Carol nodded. “Which takes us back to the story Jesus told. Jesus offered another alternative. He creates a third person in the story, a Samaritan. A person separated from the Jews by culture and by religion. There is no one we hate more than someone we think has a warped practice of our religion.”

“It’s in every newscast from every part of the world.” Sarah sighed.


[to be continued]


Burning hearts

(First published March 6, 2015.)

It was just three days after Jesus had been killed. Two of his followers went for a walk to be with other followers. They were passionately discussing all the earth-shaking events surrounding the loss of their friend and leader. (This story is in Luke 24.)

Suddenly, a guy started walking along with them. He didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about. And they didn’t recognize him, so they explained the events surrounding Jesus’ death.

They talked together for a long time. It’s comforting to me that though they didn’t know the Scriptures about what was going to happen to Jesus, He was patient enough to explain it to them. He talked in a way they understood. Yet he did not use soft words to ease them into the truth – as usual, he talked without any candy coating: “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.”

I love that. They had a hard time believing the Scriptures! I don’t always believe. I need Jesus to explain things to me.

I’m not sure why God kept Jesus’ identity from them for a while. Maybe it’s a picture of how God sometimes reveals Himself to us slowly. We want to see all of God now, but God knows that’s not what we need.

I love how they finally recognized who Jesus is when He broke bread. Eating together was such an important part of their relationship that they knew how He broke bread. That’s a good reminder to me that I need to spend a lot more time with friends breaking bread together. And talking.

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” I love that burn.


Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Moths and rust

I tend to forget a basic truth that Jesus shared in Matthew: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.”

I grab satisfaction out of getting a thing I can hold, something that works well and doesn’t break. That satisfaction lasts a while, and then that thing becomes just another part of my life. It blends into the background, and I forget the initial thrill.

Worse, even though it’s higher quality than many of its lesser brethren, it breaks. Then it’s either impossible to get it fixed or it costs as much to fix as buying a new one that isn’t made quite as well.

Jesus knew that, even back before my thing was invented. The tax collectors he ate dinner with must have had pretty nice couches. They didn’t want the couches that lesser mortals had – they requested the nicer fabric option with stronger wood frames.

We never read about Jesus questioning their couch choices nor the cost of the fine wine they served. Instead he just relaxed with them and enjoyed the fine meal they offered. We don’t know what paths their conversations followed. I’m sure there were several moments when they thought, “Maybe I need to look a little closer into that part of my life.”

When Jesus spoke of treasures, he was talking to a large crowd of people – not just tax collectors. He went on to say where we should store up treasures – in heaven. I think his dinners with tax collectors were one of the treasures that he was storing up. Matthew, the man who wrote down Jesus’ words above, was a tax collector. Those dinners paid off by creating lasting relationships. And lasting words that we learn from today.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

How do I start living like Jesus?

The simplest answer is to take a time machine and travel back and start following Jesus around. That’s how the first disciples learned.

Peter and James and John. Mary Magdalene. A bunch of other people. They went where Jesus went. They ate what Jesus ate. They wore what Jesus wore. They listened to what Jesus taught and tried it out. When Jesus gave them a project, they tried it. They learned to live the way that Jesus lived.

These days, there are people who think that living like Jesus means robes and figs and kosher. And eating fish and not taking showers. And not drinking coffee. Because the original followers of Jesus didn’t drink coffee.

But at the end of his time on earth, Jesus gave a summary of what to do, a kind of a commissioning that happens when you finish boot camp or police academy or college.

I’d like to paraphrase it. (But read the original.)

“Make more followers of me the same way I made followers of me. Spend time with people, showing them how you live. When you do, make sure that you are choosing to spend some of that time with every class of people. The kind you fit with, and the kind you don’t.

follow“And the ones that decide to follow me, baptize them. Just like you’ve been doing. And teach people how to obey everything that I’ve taught you. Don’t just tell them what to do, live them what to do. That means you don’t tell people to love, you love. You don’t tell people to forgive, you forgive. You don’t tell people to love God more than money, you love God.

“You’ll have my Spirit with you. With the voice that will remind you of what I said and will teach you what I meant.

“I’ll be there, too.”

And then he disappeared. Leaving the disciples to start obeying. And setting an example for us.


This is building on my post about HOW last week.

And a great book about learning to live like Jesus is Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living Like Jesus: My journey of discovering what Jesus would really do.


What Jesus said he was doing.

IMG_0521Sometime before Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus summarized his work. And when John writes the story, he puts this summary between the time Jesus walks away from the crowd and walks into the upper room, the place where he’s going to eat supper with his disciples.

You can read it in John 12:37-50.

It’s a soliloquy, the “To be or not to be” kind of moment. Whatever we as readers think about what’s happened in this story up to now, John wants to make a clear statement. So that in the drama that follows, it’s not just about the injustice. It’s about something deeper.

John starts the section with prophecy. He quotes Isaiah, the authoritative prophet in Israel’s history. This Jesus, John says, is who Isaiah was talking about all the time. We’ve been reading it for generations. And when it happens in front of our eyes, when the scroll comes to life, we missed it.

And then Jesus talks. He cries out loud to no particular audience. John give us no help. He doesn’t say, “Jesus called his disciples together” or “Jesus went on a hillside to teach.”

I’ll let you think about this as you read John 12:37-50, but I wonder if Jesus is standing by himself, on a hill, with the wind blowing, telling the rocks and himself and God that he didn’t live as a freelance artist, as a creative preacher. He wasn’t improvising, he wasn’t adapting to the moment.

He was doing what his dad told him to do. No more. No less. No spin.

You would do the same. In that last moment between and before, when you want to be sure that going forward you have nothing to regret, you get things right with God. And in this case, God’s affirming to God that they are good.

Which will be important the next day.