If Jesus Was Really Human — So What?

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt, 1859

Christians believe that Jesus was both divine and human, expressing the one without diminishing the other. The reality of Jesus humanness is affirmed in four key markers of healthy human development, as follows:

Wisdom is a word having many applications: it means good judgment; prudence; the ability to foresee consequences and the self-discipline to respond appropriately; even prompting when to speak and when to remain silent; etc.

Stature in this case has to do with physical development. Normal children have a passion to grow up. I remember when I was a young lad I would back up to the kitchen door jam and ask mother to make a pencil mark to show my growth from time to time.

I had a driving goal to grow up to the full stature of manhood. God had put the passion there. It was so also with Jesus in his humanness — Luke notes that he grew physically toward manhood.

In favor with God : Here, Jesus’ earthly parents led the way. Their concern was that their son develop well spiritually. This was evident when, at twelve years of age, they traveled with him a five-day walk from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover.

In favor with man:  As an expression of his human nature Jesus developed socially. The Gospels show this to be so in abundance by the essence of his teachings, his wise response to opposition, his attractiveness to humble people, and in his obedience to his parents (Luke 2:51).

Some might fault Luke’s account for telling us so little about his childhood, saying a good biography deserves full details about the subject’s earliest years.

But Luke’s account is not a biography; it is a Gospel, requiring a different form. The Gospel puts together the story of how and why Jesus came, and the achievements of his time on earth, majoring on the purpose of it all. Thus Luke gives little about his childhood, but devotes five of twenty-four chapters to cover the events of a little more than one week — telling of his crucifixion and resurrection

With all that in mind, Luke’s simple four-point description of Jesus’ human development explodes with meaning. Jesus was not a phantom, an angel in disguise, or a failed prophet. He was fully God and fully man — God in human form.

As an ancient creed says: he was as much man as though he had never been God and as much God as though he had never been man. The New Testament glories in this conviction.

Jesus mentored his disciples across three years and, by means of his miracles and his teachings, revealed himself to them as authentically human. As they grew to understand the deeper truth of incarnation they saw him as the Son of God the Father who humbled himself and came in human form.

But they had seen more. When called to answer Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say I am?’ St. Peter answered, You are the Messiah of God (Luke 9:20) Still later, Thomas blurted out in conviction, My Lord and My God! (John:20:28).

That’s how we should worship Our Lord this Advent. He is God Incarnate! The Gospel is clear and convincing. But this Incarnate God is also fully human and thus our brother. He comes near us in our times of need as our high priest (Hebrews 2:17).

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How Tomato Soup and Psalm 23 Fill out the Menu at Our House Daily

When we sit down for a bowl of our favorite tomato soup we know we are in for a moment of pleasure. We never tire of tomato soup at our house.

Kathleen’s friend, Betty Johnston, from Tennessee gave her the original recipe more than 20 years ago.

We’ve gone back to this soup on occasion through the years but recently, along with a suitable side dish, it fills out the need almost daily for one of three healthful meals.

This morning it was time to make a fresh two-or-three-day supply, and I was pressed into service as a greenhorn chef. All my family and friends know that cooking has never been my thing.

I was not totally new to the procedure, however, because for some time I have chopped up the cabbage out of consideration for Kathleen’s right shoulder. Replacement surgery a few years ago helped her greatly, but she has to be careful.

This morning’s activity was nevertheless a huge step forward for me. It was my first time to make the soup from start to finish. That is, to wash, chop, assemble, cook and store.

Kathleen supervised every step closely and here is the sequence I followed:

1. Get out the big pot that holds several quarts of liquid.

2. Lay out on the counter the chopping board, then the freshly washed cabbage, several stalks of celery and three or four onions. Also have at hand two cans of Aylmers tomatoes (labeled no salt, and prepared with Italian spices). And don’t forget the hot sauce to add the zing

3. With Kay looking on I chopped the cabbage until the results nearly filled the cooking pot. I then chopped and added the celery and tear-jerking onions.

4. After adding several cups of water I carried the pot to the stove and cooked the vegetables until the cabbage was limp. Then I added the two cans of tomatoes and several squirts of the hot sauce and mixed it all well and let it cook.

5. The final step was to let the mixture cool and then puree the results about half a quart at a time in the blender, pouring the results into containers to store in the refrigerator.

Here’s how this delicious soup fits into our daily menu: After a nutritious smoothie for breakfast and a noon meal of meat, vegetables, salad, and dessert, for our evening repast this soup comes into play. We usually add a protein, like a cheese sandwich or poached egg.

In troubled times such as ours you may ask who should care about matters so mundane as recipes and food cooking procedures? Especially about so modest a dish as tomato soup.

My mind turns toward the end of the 23rd Psalm where  the author addresses this line to the Divine Shepherd: “You prepare a table before me …”  even when my life may be in danger.

Every repast reminds us that this Shepherd God we serve is all-provident and deserves our heart’s gratitude even for a humble dish of tomato soup.


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Photo credit: Erik Forsberg (via flickr.com)

Re-Post: Keeping Daily Prayers Alive and Fresh

Prayer is a discipline that enriches our awareness of the Living God and his care for us. Prayer is therefore bedrock for living adequately as believers.

Through the years I have kept distraction at bay, and centered my prayer using the five classic elements of prayer as follows.

1. ADORATION. The Virgin Mary began, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46, 47). That’s adoration. Taking our lead from the Psalmist we may say, “O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty,” and then let the reality sink in (Psalm 104:1).

Words of adoration, when thoughtfully offered to God, take us into the inner sanctuary of worship. This exercise can concentrate the mind and bring under control our scattered thoughts. The Book of Psalms gives many examples: (Psalm 108:5; 104:33; 145:1; 138:1,2; 111:1; 104:1; 103;1; Psalm 66:1,2).

2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it. However we fill in the blanks, confession must be a part of every honest prayer.

3. PETITION. To petition means to implore or to beseech. Often our prayers of confession lead naturally to petitions for mercy, grace, forgiveness, or strength to obey. Petitions may also have to do with our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small.

Keeping current in this way makes for soul health. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”

4. INTERCESSION. This means praying for others — family, friends, associates, neighbors, distant ministries, civic leaders. The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Its effects are often imperceptible but in God’s time come home to us as real.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists. It stretches our horizons. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

5.THANKSGIVING. This aligns with adoration as follows: In adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his benefits. It is good to let our spirits soar in daily thanksgiving.

During this part of our prayer, it is good to remember the smallest mercies alongside the great and grand ones.  And when we pray we give thanks above all else for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all!  He is our salvation and we walk with him as Lord!

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Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)

How Aging Takes You By Surprise

I was a college pastor, 37 years old, when a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment. She talked out her problem and we had prayer.

As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle-aged.”

Me? Middle-aged? It was a brand new and entirely unexpected thought. I pondered it for some time after she left.

I’m not middle-aged, I thought. I am young. Not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in and from that time to the present, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious that the aging process is real.

For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s.  Crossing the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, I saw Maurice coming toward me.

He stopped, put his hand on my forearm, and in a most solicitous voice said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

On another occasion some time later my wife, Kathleen, and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside.

I asked the usual questions: Do you have a nonsmoking room for two — preferably on the main floor? The desk clerk studied his charts and then, smiling as if he had found the right match said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.”

It was another jarring moment. I wondered, Do I look that infirmed?

But the coup de grace came later that summer, from the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion.

We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

Many observant seniors are aware of the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: Sales clerks seem to show diminished interest in giving service; con artists treat the aged as easy prey for their schemes; people in a group may ignore the comments of the elderly.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. This is not politically incorrect because my stories are about me and my own age group.

One story my wife and I both enjoy is about the elderly couple driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going and I’ll try to remember who we are.”

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to growing old. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, creaks and aches become regular companions.

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle anxiety, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this high speed new world.

The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Ps. 71:9).

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.

Faith says in one ear, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).

That verse doesn’t need to apply only to our future resurrection. It can also mean that even the closing years of this life can be infused with special energy from God’s Spirit.

And hope says in the other ear, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Rom. 5:2, NLT).

In the meantime, the people of God — the church — can do a wonderful thing for those in their midst who are of advanced years. It can counter today’s tendency to diminish and devalue the aged.

I think of this when I read one of my at-present favorite chapters in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out His holiness in community.

One verse says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

(A version of this piece was first published in Christianity Today)


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Boys Must Become Good Men

Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for several weeks. It appears that he used his powerful position in the entertainment industry to abuse in unspeakable ways women striving to rise to stardom.

Close associates of Weinstein claim complete ignorance of his offenses, but a large number of women believe his abuse was widely known by them but was protected, not rebuked.

Similar scandals have erupted at Amazon, Fidelity, and NBC News, but we don’t have final information on any of these.

As the stories unfold, however, we are likely to hear counselors explain rightly that the evil conduct of these men is driven not by sexual desire but by an excessive need to dominate women in cruel and humiliating ways.

If charged, these men are likely to experience long days, even months, in court leading in some cases to jail time or other punishments.

For the offended, it will take years to achieve justice and some measure of healing. The expertise not only of lawyers, but also psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation centers, therapy groups, ministers, priests, and rabbis will be called upon. Such wounds go deep.

It seems to me that parallel to all this two questions deserve the attention of large numbers of citizens: First, when do grown men take their first steps towards character-grounded respect for womanhood? Second, What are the resources Judeo-Christian understanding provides?

First, the training for respectful conduct toward women begins unconsciously with what boys learn in early childhood — particularly what they learn from how their dad treats their mother.

But the boys’ learning is cumulative over time from a great variety of sources such as: the strength of family cohesion, what goes on at the playground; the influence of a kindergarten teacher; what their friends laugh at; what they learn in Sunday School; the friendships they develop: print media; endless television; and pornography. The influences are numerous.

Second, the primary Christian resource is the Bible and the primary classroom is the home. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything that exists.

It is God’s world, and he is everywhere present and all-knowing. Little boys can grasp early that he sees our every thought and action. Thus, conscience is reinforced and respect for others engendered.

The recent news has been dark, and impresses upon us that we have an oncoming generation of little boys to train to show respect across gender lines.

The oft-repeated saying, Boys will be boys usually used to excuse some mischief — needs to be changed to Boys will be men — fine men — because that’s where we should be leading them.


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Photo credit: Frank Boston (via flickr.com)

Learning to Fire the Bright Spots

When I was just out of seminary and beginning to lead my first church as a full-time pastor, a retired minister, the Rev. C. P. Stewart, told me a story I have carried with me throughout my life. Here it is:

Back in the days when steam-driven locomotives pulled 100-car freight trains across this continent, a westward bound train was laboring up a pass in the Rocky Mountains.

Its pace gradually slowed until finally it came to a standstill. The fireman in the engine cab was young and found himself defeated and helpless.

Riding the caboose at the end of the train was a retired fireman. He walked the length of the long string of boxcars, climbed into the locomotive’s cab, and offered his help.

The young fireman was glad to let him take over.

The retired fireman started methodically shoveling coal into the firebox. The steam gauge began to rise and when it registered that pressure was adequate he signaled the engineer to open the throttle.

After a couple of sharp tugs the train began to move again and this time made it up the grade of the mountain pass.

Amazed, the young fireman asked his senior what he had done differently, noting that he himself had been shoveling just as hard.

As the train moved forward, gradually gaining speed, the older man opened the door of the firebox. First he pointed out a couple of clinkers — residue of burned coal — lying dead in the ashes, then pointed to places in the bed where the fire was burning brightly.

Pointing out this contrast with his long poker, he said, “If you want the train to move you have to fire the bright spots.”

Rev. Stewart was giving a young pastor a tip on how to go about leading a congregation without becoming a casualty of stalled initiatives.

Local churches are complex and lots of activities are going on at the same time – children’s programs, choir practices, committee meetings, some of which can at times be stalled by a variety of conflicting opinions.

While helping a church grow, gaining momentum and depth in ministry, Rev. Stewart intimated, one must take courage from the programs that are thriving, reporting this good news to the congregation whenever possible.

But the story fits many situations: the highly energized family, the public school classroom, the student striving to work her way through college, to name a few.

Things in life go better when one learns to fire the bright spots.

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Consider Jesus at Twelve

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by WIlliam Holman Hunt, 1860. Public Domain.

In our culture we don’t make much of the age twelve.

Sixteen is important because at that age a person becomes eligible to learn and be licensed to drive a car.

In Canada and the United States eighteen brings the right to vote. And twenty-one has long been considered the age of maturity.

Each is an important year, but not twelve. However, it was different in Jesus’ Jewish culture.

St. Luke tells us in detail about the birth of Jesus including the wonders that attended it. Then he skips to age 30, when Jesus’ public ministry began.

The years between Jesus’ infancy and the beginning of his ministry are sometimes called the silent years.

St. Luke breaks into that silence to report one important event in Jesus’ life when he was only twelve.

For background, Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, were serious practitioners of the faith of Israel. For example, they brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life, as prescribed by Jewish law.

As well, they were apparently competent and committed parents since Luke tells us in passing that Jesus was obedient not only to his Heavenly Father but also to his earthly parents.

Also, during Jesus’ times a Jewish boy became known as a “son of the commandment” at the age of twelve. That is, a boy’s primary accountability was now to God through obedience to the Torah.

At that ceremony the lad would begin his speech saying, “Today I am a man.” — old enough to take part in religious services, to form binding contracts, and to testify before religious courts.

In Jesus’ times, a twelve-year-old could also attend his first Passover in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph took pains to make this happen, and Luke reports the event.

When Jesus’ first Passover was over and his parents had begun the long trek north to Nazareth he lingered behind, in Jerusalem, talking to the teachers in the temple.

His distressed parents had to turn from their journey and go back to search for him. When they found him in the temple and expressed their distress he responded, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

Was this Jesus’ first awareness of his purpose on earth? His surprising response makes it seem so — “my Father’s business.”

The consciousness of his divine assignment must have grown for in the later full stride of his ministry he was accepting of titles such as Savior, Redeemer, Master, Lord, and the very God incarnate — “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Think of it: all this was possible at twelve years of age — a rich knowledge of God’s law and an awakening awareness of God as his Father in a unique way!

It makes one think more seriously of the capacity a twelve-year-old can have for religious knowledge, spiritual understanding, and the experience of the living God!

And, as well, like Mary and Joseph, think of the accountability of today’s parents to the demanding spiritual task of laying a Christian foundation for their children’s lives.

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