How to Avoid Being Herod

And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. — Mark 6:25–26 ESV

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’ve never been even slightly worried about being Herod.” You probably think this post is like one of those infomercials promising to fix problems you never knew you had. Well, except for the $19.99 price tag, maybe it is. But I’m asserting that it’s easier than you think to be Herod. In fact, if you don’t pay attention, like Herod, you might find yourself starring down at a head on a platter in your own life (metaphorically speaking) wondering to yourself, “How could this possibly have happened?”

Wouldn’t we all like to avoid that? Well… here’s how. Continue reading

Imago Dei

Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. AR Denarius (19mm, 3.7 g). Lugdunum mint. Struck 15 BC

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. — Mark 12:13–17 ESV

Here in Mark we see Jesus facing another unannounced pop-quiz. This was the kind of thing that Jesus might as well get used to. This particular question was a concoction of some Pharisees and Herodians, strange bedfellows to be sure. But if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then I suppose stranger things have happened. Continue reading

Ethnic Humility

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me
     to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
     and recovering of sight to the blind,
     to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” — Luke 4:16–21 ESV

Jesus returns to his home town. He’s been gone for a while having relocated to Cana. Relocated is an exaggeration since in reality Jesus had been wandering around Galilee for months. This was after causing a scene in Jerusalem by chasing out temple vendors with a homemade whip. He had even found time to take his disciples through Samaria where the first town he preached in wasn’t even Jewish, at least by Jerusalem standards. Continue reading


Image source

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” — John 20:25 ESV

The world is full of skeptics. I know because I’m one of them. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were good and loving people for which I am always increasingly grateful. Even so, from a very early age I saw the angry, noisy, pettiness of my mother, and the morose, silent, petulance of my father, and concluded (like only an adolescent can do) that hypocrisy was everywhere. I reasoned that if my parents, who in my mind, exemplified good Christians, could behave with such duplicity, then perhaps everything they taught me was suspect, including who and what Jesus was. Continue reading

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” — Matthew 23:23–24 ESV

From our enlightened twenty-first century vantage point we can look back on the period of history that Jesus lived and cheerfully take our pick of horrors and injustices perpetrated by a host of groups starting with the Romans, Herodeons, Zealots, unjust tax collectors, and numerous other rapscallions and scalawags. They were known for murdering innocents, enslaving the helpless, brutalizing women, and worse yet — they mistreated defenseless animals! Now one would think, with God walking among us, daily exposed to this repressive and brutish world, we would at the very least, expect stern indignation expressed toward these hellish outrages.

But Jesus never overtly deplored slavery, never publicly decried the plight of women, and much to our surprise, never expressed support for animal rights. Continue reading


Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” — John 11:21–27 ESV

The organism that you describe as you is, in itself, an ecology of organisms. In addition to the roughly 40 trillion or so cooperating cells that you like to think of as yourself, there are just as many microbes that live on you and inside you that call you home. Altogether, those 80 trillion cells go along for the conjoined ride called life and, literally, none of them are aware of the thing you describe as consciousness. Continue reading

Spirit and Truth

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” — John 4:16–26 ESV

Here in John, we find Jesus is alone at a well in Sychar. It seems that Jews who were taught from childhood to avoid interaction with Samaritans, still found a way to purchase food when they were hungry, so the disciples wandered off into town. The disciples would learn that if you wanted a day off, you couldn’t safely leave Jesus alone. They get back with food and find him having a conversation with a woman. Continue reading

Looking Back

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:57–62 ESV

When I’ve had opportunity to discuss these passages something interesting usually happens. I’m usually treated to a discussion centered around what Jesus “really” must have meant. Curiously, that isn’t what he actually said. Continue reading

In Plain Sight

Orange Oakleaf (Kallima inachus)
wet season, female, underside

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” — John 3:1-8 ESV

My dad once said to me, “The man who calls you an idiot is reliable for the same reason that the guy who gives you a compliment isn’t.”

It seems to me, Jesus was a hard man to compliment. Continue reading

Light and Dark

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” — John 3:19-21 ESV

Light is something. Darkness isn’t. As John noted, “…God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all”. Darkness is simply the absence of God.

With graceful and delicate movements plants bend into the sunlight. In so doing, they perform a little miracle as they sit in the sun and absorb red and blue wavelengths of light. They use that energy to add a little phosphorus and a hydrogen ion to a couple of molecules in especially useful ways. This little trick makes our life possible. That’s not an exaggeration. All of the food we eat gets to our plates in just this way. There is no other source. Humans walk around all hours of the day and night, something plants would consider biologically extravagant, and remain blithefully confident that plants will do the hard work of making food for us. Plants turn a little light, a little water, and a bit of CO2 into sugar. It’s a miracle.

It’s what we choose to do in the dark that Jesus makes note of here in John. Continue reading