31 Days of Questions: Day 23


“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”  Matthew 18:1

When PB calls all the kids up for the children’s sermon, there is a stampede of little feet up the aisles.  The little ones love sitting up in front next to their pastor.  They are eager to hear a story from the Bible.

Or maybe it’s the Tootsie Pops.

One thing I’ve noticed through the years —

the right answer to every question in every children’s sermon is always “Jesus”.

“Whose birthday do we celebrate at Christmas?”  JESUS!

“What is Easter really all about?”  JESUS!

“Who loves you more than anybody?”  JESUS!

You can’t go wrong by answering just about any question at church with “JESUS!”

Which is why this question might have thrown the disciples off a bit.

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

It’s gotta be “JESUS!”

Or “GOD!”

One of those two.

Has to be.


The Master Himself answered the question by calling a little child to come and stand in the middle of twelve men who were jockeying for an exalted position in the coming Kingdom.

Here’s how to be great: be like a child.

Be humble.

Be honest.


Love unconditionally.

Be like Jesus.

31 Questions

Bread Crumbs

breadHe gives thanks for the seven loaves, hands the bread to his disciples, and 4,000 people eat dinner.

The disciples pick up the scraps, but somehow forget to bring any along for the boat ride home.

Well, there is one little loaf….but that’s not enough to feed 12 hungry men…..right?

There is a discussion.  “Why didn’t you bring some of that leftover bread?”  “Nobody told me to.”  “I thought he was getting some.”  “I thought you were.”

The Master asks the next question: “Why are you talking about having no bread?”  The embarrassed silence is followed by seven more rapid-fire questions.  The men manage to answer two of the eight questions.

The easy ones.

“How many basketfuls did you pick up when I fed 5,000 with 5 loaves?”


“How many basketfuls did you pick up when I fed 4,000 with 7 loaves?”


Now the hard ones:

“Do you have eyes but fail to see?  Do you have ears but fail to hear?  Are your hearts hard?  Do you still not understand?  Don’t you remember?”

I think I’m starting to understand.

Followers of Jesus are called to give and serve and feed and clean up after people.  The task can appear overwhelming and some days it seems impossible to satisfy the needs of so many.  And then Jesus speaks blessing over the paltry offering and a miracle takes place.  It’s amazing, but it’s also exhausting.  Servants go home tired and realize they didn’t get to eat the miracle meal.

Jesus says, “What do you mean, there’s nothing left for you?  What’s in your hand?”

I say, “A few bread crumbs.”

And He says, “Don’t you remember?  Don’t you understand?”

Jesus, the great multiplier, is in my boat, where crumbs become a feast.

I’m beginning to understand.

(You can read the Biblical account in Mark 8:14-21)

Lead the Way

jesus walking

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”  Mark 10:32

 This is the picture that has gripped me during Holy Week:

Jesus, striding up to Jerusalem, determined to carry out his mission….

which would involve betrayal, mocking, flogging, crucifixion and death.

He led the way.

Four times, Jesus told His disciples what was coming, except He always added the final part – resurrection — but they didn’t seem to hear it.

“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.”  And the disciples were filled with grief.  Matthew 17:23

Jesus lost them at “they will kill him”.

The twelve were full of fear, perhaps wondering if death was also waiting for them in Jerusalem.


They did it scared.

I must remember, when I am astonished at being led down the road marked with suffering,

that it’s a place He’s been before….

and He knows the way.

I can do it scared.

“The cross is never the end.  It’s only partway through. The cross is necessary, but the cross is always accompanied by the resurrection and the victory that comes from the resurrection…..that’s always true.”  Experiencing the Cross, Henry Blackaby

Lead the Follower

It’s frustrating for leaders when followers don’t follow very well.

Moses was an A+ leader, but those stiff-necked Israelites were D- followers, at best.

They grumbled, they whined, they rebelled.

Leading is tough when you have to hogtie your tribe and drag them, kicking and screaming all the way.

Across a desert.

For forty years.


But what if we flip that thought:

It’s frustrating for followers when leaders don’t lead very well.

What if there are people who would be willing to step out in faith, if only there was someone to take them by the hand and say, “Let’s go!”?

How long before followers are expected to do a little leading?

Jesus’ first words to the disciples were, “Come, follow me.”

His last words were, “Go and make disciples.”

The best leaders still follow…..

and the best followers, lead.



Follow Me

follow meJesus said, “Follow me” 20 times in the gospels.

He says it to me every day.

He has to, because I need constant reminding who is the leader and who is the follower.

Some days, I attack my to-do lists and productivity goals with gusto.  I catch a few waking moments to let Jesus know what we’re going to be doing in the coming daylight hours.  I picture Him barely keeping up with me, breathless, but proud of all my many accomplishments.

Other days, I shuffle out of sleep and dawdle through the early morning.  I approach the day with sighs and groans and no particular plan.  I picture Jesus with a bored look on His face, kicking at rocks as He plods along behind me.

Of course, I’m wrong on both counts.  Whether I’m energized or empty, His place is always out in front, never bringing up the rear.  He leads, I follow.

So why aren’t we taught how to be good followers? Type in “leadership” in a search engine and up pops hundreds of leadership courses, leadership training programs and leadership development books.  A quick search for “followership” offers a shorter list.  Interestingly enough, Harvard offers a course entitled “Followership” with sections on Hitler and Jonestown, but not one mention of Jesus Christ.  Can’t say I’m surprised, even though Jesus was the only one who came right out and said, “Follow me” and then millions did for thousands of years.  Still do.

During this season of Lent, I’m going to dig into the word “follow”.  To whom did Jesus say those words?  How did they respond?  Why did some say yes and others say no?  What does following Jesus include?  What does being a follower cost?  What does it look like to be follower?

Care to follow?

Jesus Wept

“Jesus wept.”  It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, and one of the dearest.

In typical biblical fashion, we don’t get a parenthetical commentary or a voice-over narration explaining what is going on in the mind of Jesus in John 11:35.  Although there are myriad reasons why Jesus might have gotten choked up at the grave of his friend Lazarus, the gospel writer saw fit to keep it simple with just two words: Jesus wept.

PB is often asked to perform funeral services for people who have no church home.  In many instances I am asked to play the piano and sometimes to sing a solo.  In our church, the piano player faces the congregation, not far from the front pew.  It’s a great set-up for leading praise music on Sunday mornings, but at funerals I find myself face to face with weeping mourners.  That’s what happened this week.

I didn’t know the elderly gentleman who had passed away.  I wasn’t acquainted with the family.  But right in front of me sat a young man who was deeply sorrowful and he couldn’t contain his tears.  Briefly looking up from my music, I caught a glimpse of his grief and I knew I was in trouble.  Suddenly, the notes on the pages of “Amazing Grace” became blurry.  At the funeral of a total stranger, I reached for the box of kleenex under the piano bench.  “Mourn with those who mourn” is an easy command for me.  I can’t seem to watch anyone cry without feeling the need to join in.

A friend of mine, who is going through an unimaginable time of deep sadness, came the other day.  I met her at the door, we hugged, then I grabbed the tissues and we sat down and cried together.  Sometimes it’s the only thing we can do.  Sometimes it’s the best thing we can do.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus doesn’t just see our tears, or hear our cries, but that He actually joins in and weeps with us in our times of sorrow.  As Joanna Weaver says, “Though Jesus knows our triumphant outcomes, though he sees the joyful ending just around the bend, he still gets down in the middle of our sorrow and holds us close, mingling his tears with our own.”*

You keep track of all my sorrows.
      You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
             You have recorded each one in your book.   Psalm 56:8

*Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, page 134

Judging the Judgmental

For the law was given through Moses;  grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17

Continued from the last post:  I guess my 4th grade teacher was right.  When I point my finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at me.  This judging business is tricky.  I looked at those self-righteous Pharisees in John 8 and judged them for their judgmentalism, self-righteous person that I am.

What is astonishing to me is the way Jesus brought grace and truth to this sticky situation.

Truth: Jesus knew the truth about the woman’s sin and didn’t make excuses for her.  He didn’t debate with the Pharisees about the law or the punishment the law required.  In fact, Jesus challenged them to go ahead and stone her, which might have thrown them off a bit.  Except no one could meet the qualifier: being without sin.  Jesus was the only one there who actually met the requirements to cast the first stone, but he didn’t pick up a pebble.

Lesson:  Sin is sin and Jesus is the only one who can do anything about it.

Truth:  Jesus knew the truth about the Pharisees’ hearts: they were not motivated by a desire for righteousness, but by evil.  When Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were, the Greek word for “accuser” was the same word the rabbis used for the devil.  The religious professionals weren’t even aware that they were “caught in the act” of sinning as well.

Lesson:  Only Jesus knows what’s in the heart, good or bad.

Grace:  Jesus didn’t pass judgment on the woman.  He was careful not to bring added shame to her in front of the Pharisees and the people looking on.  Jesus only spoke to her after her accusers had left, saying, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Although he knew what the law said, Jesus didn’t enforce the punishment, perhaps thinking, “It won’t be long before I fulfill the law and die for that sin.”

Lesson:  Casting shame, guilt and condemnation onto others is not in my job description.

Grace:  Jesus did not cast judgment on the Pharisees.  In a masterful move, he forced the religious leaders to judge themselves.  As they stood there gripping the rocks in their hands, Jesus politely bent down and wrote in the dust.  He didn’t stare them down, preach them a sermon, or embarrass them in front of the people; he allowed them to leave quietly with a little bit of dignity.

Lesson:  Grace causes people to drop their rocks.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what Jesus wrote…

What Would Jesus Write?

“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.”  John 8:6

PB preached on John 8:1-11 on Sunday.  There’s a lot going on in those eleven verses and I have a whole string of questions that are stirring in my heart and mind.  But one of the most intriguing parts of this scene is when Jesus wrote something on the ground with his finger.  It is the only instance in recorded scripture of Jesus writing anything.  The Word became flesh, but didn’t write a single word of scripture.  That’s fascinating.

A woman (the sinner) caught in the act of adultery stood before Jesus, as her accusers (the church folks) beat her up with Bible verses.  Meanwhile, Jesus stooped down and doodled in the dirt.  Or did He?  What would Jesus write?  Well, I read about 25 commentaries on this passage and they all started out by stating, “There is no way of knowing what Jesus wrote on the ground, but it’s possible that….”  And so the conjecture begins.  Here are some theories:

1)  Jesus stooped down and scribbled in the dirt to collect himself because he was so angry with the Pharisees and because He didn’t want to bring further shame to the woman.

2)  Jesus wanted to give the Pharisees a chance to stop their vendetta against Him at the expense of this woman.  He was hoping they would hear themselves and recognize how evil they sounded.

3)  Jesus began to write a list of sins that the Pharisees had commiteed and were now committing.

4)  Jesus began to write a list of woman’s names and addresses – the name of each accuser’s girlfriend.

5)  Jesus was just following proper Roman judicial practices by writing out the sentence before pronouncing it.

6)  Jesus drew a picture.  (However, the Greek makes it clear Jesus wrote words.)

7)  Jesus wrote out the 10 Commandments.

8)  Jesus wrote the Pharisees’ names in the dust along with Jeremiah 17:13.  (“O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water”)

Care to weigh in?  Cast a vote?  What do you think Jesus wrote?