I know that this choice for Q may seem a bit quixotic but reflect with me on the number of times in conversation Jesus asked questions. It appears that his questions were not so much to serve his own purposes as they were to stir the other to think more deeply about an important issues.
In the Gospel of Matthew alone we see how often Jesus put questions to various individuals and groups. For instance: Of the Pharisees who came to watch him baptize Jesus asked, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (3:8). Once during a storm at sea he asked his disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (8:26). Of the teachers of the law who were offended that he was blaspheming, he asked, ”Why do you entertain evil thought in your hearts?” (9:4). Of the Pharisees who complained about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath he asked, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” (12:3).
Jesus used questions to stir the minds of those who came to hear him teach. For instance, in his teaching on anxiety in Matthew 6 he asks 8 separate questions in 6 verses (25-30). His ministry wasn’t limited to telling people what they didn’t know; it constantly encouraged them to think about issues of significant importance. I believe there is something of vital importance here for those involved in the educational task. How can we involve students most effectively with the information we present? My career has been in education all the way from helping first graders learn how to play the violin to an honors only graduate class in a state university on the Search for Meaning. At every level the goal is to get the student genuinely involved in the process. There is probably no better way than to present an issue with questions that draw the student in and arouse their curiosity. Jesus used questions. The important issues of life are not facts to be memorized but adventures to be experienced. We remember those things that move us most profoundly and that depends upon personal involvement. The good student is not saying, “Tell me;” but, “Involve me.” And I believe that is why Jesus kept asking questions wherever he went.
So Q is for Questioning, the first step in the quiet pleasure of learning. For those who stand outside what we might call an existential contact with reality I would ask, “Will you join me in the journey that leads to truth?”
Powerful may seem a bit different as a way of describing the life of Jesus and the message of the gospel. The word power usually brings to mind such things as explosives, tornados, and nuclear explosions. By definition it describes anything that exercises great force. A good public address may be powerful in that it moves people to action. Patriotism is powerful in that it moves people to give their lives on the battlefield. It is in this same way that the Good News of Christ’s redemptive entry into this world is powerful – it continues to exercise a dynamic influence in the lives of men and nations.
As Jesus walked among us he had an enormous influence on the crowds to whom he ministered. The sick were brought to him and were healed, demons were cast out, withered limbs were restored, the mute could hear, and on more than one occasion the dead were restored to life. Without fan flare he went through Galilee, not calling attention to the dramatic events that kept happening in every town and village, but taking care of human need.
What about today? Is the gospel message as powerful as it used to be? Part of the answer is to look at the influences of the Judea-Christian in western civilization. It is not by accident that educational institutions began in connection with the gospel. The now independent Princeton University was founded as a school to train men for the ministry. Hospitals began out of Christian concern for the sick and disabled. Humanitarian groups were founded by men and women who wanted to be of significant help to the society. The power of the gospel through out time is incredible.
And in what way is Jesus and his message powerful in our current secular culture? One example will illustrate the power of the gospel. We’ll call him Jim. He was born in poverty in the Kentucky countryside. He told me that he was fourteen before he ever slept in a bed. Beds cost money and with some 8 siblings not everyone could have such a luxury. No one in his family had ever gone to school beyond grade school but Jim decided to do that any way. Somewhere along the line Christ came into his life and now natural inclination was supported by a brand new power. It’s a long story but after paying his own way through college he went into Campus ministry and continued graduate study. For some 30 years he has been sharing the powerful message of Christ to a countless number of young college kids. Almost forgot to tell you, along the way he earned a PhD and now lectures on leadership.
How did that happen? The answer is simple. As Paul puts it, the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). There is no doubt about it – when it comes to the Good News made possible by Christ, P is for Powerful.
Thoreau represents a segment of society that believes that “disobedience is the true foundation of liberty” and, consequently, “the obedient must be slaves.” And while that may be true wherever injustice controls a nation, it is obedience, not disobedience that provides maximum freedom for mankind. This is especially true in the spiritual life of the believer. It is when we obey God and his Word that we receive the greatest rewards. Thomas a Kempis wrote, “The more humble and obedient to God a man is, the more wise and at peace he will be in.”
Reviewing in our minds the earthly life of Jesus we watch one who lived a life of perfect obedience. As a boy of 12 he returned to Nazareth from an unusual experience with the rabbis in Jerusalem. Luke describes him as growing in wisdom and stature, gaining the approval of God and all who knew him (2:52). Obedience to parents and religious obligation marked his quiet growth to manhood. As we watch Jesus during his three years of public ministry we get the impression that he did everything exactly as it should be done. He was obedient to every valid expectation of him. At several places, where his actions seemed to depart from that standard, we find there was a responsibility of greater importance that called for his obedience. For example, when accused by the Pharisees of unlawfully picking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus responded saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What his disciples did was wrong only in the eyes of the religious leaders. In God’s sight there was no disobedience.
The most moving example of Christ’s obedience was his willingness to go through those dark hours before his crucifixion, especially Gethsemane. There has never been an example of obedience to God that could rival the experience of Jesus when, in great agony of soul, he prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36 NLT). From that point on in the narrative Jesus moves ahead with quiet submission to the will of his heavenly father. Scripture never records an act of obedience greater that Christ’s willing surrender to die as a ransom for sin.
But, as we mentioned earlier, obedience is not a stand-alone victory, but the pathway to the fullest joy. God never called us to do his will in order to restrict our pleasure. Every “law” he pronounced was that we, by obeying, might have a richer life. God is other-centered. He longs for us to have the fullest and richest life possible on our way to eternal joy. To accomplish this he lovingly tells us about the obstacles along the way. Obedience is maximal joy.
I rather think that the choice of “narrow” for a descriptive Good News Dictionary may have caught your attention. The idea of narrowness is held somewhat in dispute in our present culture where “everyone has his own true north.” Dictionaries define it as “having little breadth or width” and offers synonyms such as “restricted, definite, exclusive.” So how could narrowness be descriptive of the gospel? Lets take a look at several verses that deal with the subject.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus said (as recorded in Matt. 7:13-14) that while the gate to hell is wide and many choose that path, “the gate to life is narrow” (TEV) and “only a few ever find it” (NLT). If I understand it correctly, Jesus is telling the crowds that a lifestyle that leads away from God demands very little (it is “wide”) while the gate to real life is narrow and only a few go that way. Some will complain that that’s pretty narrow minded, and I guess it is, but I didn’t say it, Jesus did.
Another passage is Luke’s teaching on The Narrow Door in 13:22-30. One needs to read the entire section very thoughtfully to sense how serious Jesus was about how to get to heaven. Someone asked how many would be saved and Jesus replied, “Do your best to enter God’s Kingdom through the narrow door, because many will try but fail” (v. 24).
In today’s culture, narrowness is commonly viewed in a negative sense. It places limits on people’s freedom to do and think as they choose. But truth, by definition, is “narrow.” Two plus two will never equal five, no matter how many times you do the calculation. To distinguish your “true north” from mine gives each of us a certain pleasant tolerance but it won’t work in an expedition to the north pole. Once again, truth by definition is narrow. When it comes to matters of faith it is awkward in our day to say, “Gate A leads to heaven and gate B leads to hell.” Awkward? Granted, but true if scripture is one’s guide in matters of eternal importance.
So as we describe Jesus in our dictionary on the gospel let’s give him the freedom to be “narrow minded” where it is appropriate because, after all, he is the incarnate Son of God, the very source of all truth. What’s more, let’s stand with him in those issues that are not politically correct. John reminds us that Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (15:18). But don’t let it get you down. To know Jesus as personal friend and walk through life with him at your side on the way to heaven is an experience of incredible joy.
Sorry! Didn't notice I had aleady done an "L" (Leadership). So, here's another "L."
The greatness of God’s love goes infinitely beyond anyone’s ability to describe it. In the end it is better experienced than defined. Love expresses itself in relationships. The prime example of love is the widely known John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world . . . “ The question is what does the “so” mean as you hear it? The customary responses for most is that it speaks of the intensity of God’s love. “So” falls into the “just” category – it’s “just” so wonderful that it’s hard to express it. Of course it is, but that is not what the Greek text is saying. The Homan Christian Standard Bible is the only English translation that I know of that has it correctly: “For God loved the world:He gave His One and Only Son.” God loves by giving. The gift of his Son for the plight of man is the ultimate expression of his love. God’s love may also involve an emotion but there is no way for us to experience that.
What all this says is that love is primarily an act. To love is to do something about a relational situation that calls on us for a response. We were lost and something had to be done. Seeing the tragic results of man’s disobedience, the loving Creator God took action. He sent his Son to become one of us and die as a ransom for our sin. God did it, not because he felt he should but because he is the epitome of love. In a sense, he had no other choice.
Unfortunately, we human beings are by nature takers not givers. Self-concern is an expression of our lost condition. Give me, not, Let me give, describes the history of man. Yet there are two other parts of the story. One is that in spite of a nature that is self-centered, we also bear the image of God. From time to time that incredible aspect of our humanity breaks through. The other thing is that in conversion we are given a new nature. The quality of life for the believer depends upon which nature is in control.
When we read through the gospels with an eye for what Jesus did in so many situations, we are reminded of his constant concern for the other person. He loved his disciples, the crowds to whom he spoke, the sick he healed, and finally on the cross the executioners for whom he asked that they not be held responsible. There is no question but that God as Jesus Christ loved the world! Why? Because God is love. I’m sure he feels a tender regard for us but his love cannot be limited to an emotional sensation. His love is his constant desire to do something for our benefit.
Although the word “marvelous” is broadly used to describe a number of things that are a bit giddy (a marvelous Broadway show, a marvelous dinner, etc.) its basic meaning is “something that causes wonder, admiration, or astonishment.” In that more reserved sense we can certainly say that the life and teachings of Jesus were marvelous. The gospel account of Jesus tells us that he was born of a virgin. From a normal perspective that is highly improbable if not incredible. He healed the sick, restored sight for the blind, and even raised some from the dead. Each instance is a marvel. Perhaps the most marvelous of all was his resurrection and return to heaven.
The Greek thaumadzo occurs 30 times in gospels. Men marveled when at Jesus’ command an angry sea subsided (Matt. 8:27), when a demon was driven out of a mute (Luke 11:14), when a fig tree withered at his command (Matt. 21:20). That kind of extraordinary power was most unusual to say the least. Not only was so much of his healing ministry totally outside of what we consider normal, but his teaching was “marvelous” as well. How unusual is the advice that if you want to save your life you must lose it first (Mark 8:35), or that to be persecuted for doing what is right is a blessing (Matt. 5:11). Scores of similar passages could be cited. What Jesus taught was marvelous because it was “out of this world” in terms of conventional thinking.
Another way in which we can describe the message of Jesus as marvelous is what happens whenever it is proclaimed. Lives are dramatically changed, the discouraged renew their zest for living, the lonely find a rewarding friendship. I believe that each of us can attest to more than one life that has been wonderfully renewed by the power at work in the gospel. These are marvelous events; they defy the ordinary. Let’s pause and reflect on how, for the past two thousand years, the gospel message continues to bring new life to those who believe. Ultimately what the Christian values the most are those issues that deal with the spirit. The work of God’s Spirit in bringing about our spiritual rebirth is truly marvelous.
It was difficult not to choose Love for this page in the Good News Dictionary; that quality is so central in the life of Jesus. But because so many other articles speak to that central attribute I have decided on Leadership. What does the good news story tell us about Jesus as leader? Certainly he doesn’t exemplify many of the gifts and abilities that are said to be important for a leader in today’s society. For instance, a recent article cites confidence, innovation, stoicism, wonkiness, positivity, and restlessness among the “22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader,” but somehow those seem to be somewhat missing in the life of Jesus. Then how can we consider leadership an important aspect of his life and ministry? The answer lies in our definition of leadership.
I once read that a leader is simply anyone who is followed by others. While that is true it doesn’t define the attribute. Why do people follow the pied piper and where is he going? I believe that in Christian circles there are a great number of people following some “leader” who may be taking them in the wrong direction. Authentic leaders know where they are going and would continue toward that goal even though very few were following them. In an immediate sense Jesus was that kind of a leader. Should his crowd numbers drop off he would not have an executive meeting with the disciples to decide on a more effective way to get people to show up every afternoon for the teaching session that preceded the healing.
When current leaders write of leadership you will find they emphasize those communication skills that have proven themselves in the commercial market. A presentation that informs and heightens desire for the product is said to work best. Jesus offers forgiveness, satisfaction, and hope for the future but the case doesn’t depend on his skill of delivery. People follow Jesus because in him they find authenticity. The goal is not immediate crowd size, but fidelity to the essential message. At the time of his death there were 11 disciples plus a few close friends who were his followers. Today there are more than two billion Christians in the world. He was, and is, a leader not because he was a hip spokesman but an authentic guide. History argues the truthfulness of his claims by the beneficial results that accompany him throughout time. Education, hospitals plus so many other philanthropic endeavors have followed the expansion of his cause. They would have never been had it not been for the leadership skill of the humble Jesus.