“He Will Be Great”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her the news that she, a virgin, would give birth to a Son, one of the things that he told her was very simply this: “He will be great” (Luke 1:32). The child who would be born to Mary and Joseph would one day be a very great man. But just how great?

Jesus is great because he brought atoms and planets and galaxies into existence (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16).

Jesus is great because right now in this instant he upholds every created atom in the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus is great because he is the Word of God who both was God and with God in the beginning (John 1:1-3).

Jesus is great because in him are the life and light of men (John 1:4).

Jesus is great because when he shines into darkness, darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

Jesus is great because though he was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and was he in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwell[ed] bodily” (Colossians 2:9), he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

Jesus is great because he loved those who hated and rejected him most (John 1:10-11; Matthew 5:44-45).

Jesus is great because not only did the Creator humble himself to serve his creation, he also “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) that sinful mankind might be reconciled to the Father.

Jesus is great because he is the spotless “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) that we might stand in hope before a holy God.

Jesus is great because he faithfully finished the task his Father gave him to complete: to seek and to save the lost (John 19:30; Luke 19:10).

Jesus is great because he was perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Jesus is great because he never did any wrong (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is great because the name his Father has given him is great (Hebrews 1:4-5; Philippians 2:9).

Jesus is great because one day the knee of every created being will bow before him and confess that he alone is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

There is no one like him. Among the great men of history, he stands head and shoulders above the rest. No one is like him in power and in humility, in strength and in meekness, or in wisdom and in innocence. No one compares to him in purity, in righteousness, in justice, in self-control, or in self-sacrifice. He alone embodies all honor, beauty, joy, peace, gentleness, and kindness. No one holds a candle to this one who would be great.

He is the greatest because despite greatness he became the least. He is the highest because despite the lofty heights in which he dwelled, he became the lowest. He is the most glorious because despite unspeakable honor, he became the most dishonored.

Who can stand beside him? Who can comprehend him? Who can overtake him? Who can bind his hand?

Truly Jesus was great. No other human being to ever walk the earth comes close. This is the one I follow. This is the one who invites you now to follow him, too. He would be your greatest hope if you would have him.

The Inductive Bible Study: A Step-by-Step Guide

Yesterday I posted an introduction to the inductive Bible study method. Today I wanted to examine each of the three steps of this method in depth.

Step One: Observation
The guiding question for this step is What does the text say? You begin the inductive method by diving into the verse or verses you’re studying and making a list of everything you see or wonder about. Here you write down all your questions you might have of the text. Imagine the words of the passage you’re studying are inside a bag. Your job during this stage is to pull each word from the bag, lay it out in front of you, and examine each in detail.

Ask Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?  Try to determine the significance of words like and, but, so, therefore, because, so that, while, and as.  How does the first part of the verse relate to the second part of the verse?  Why does the verse start with the word and?  Why did the writer say ____ instead of ____?  Who is the “you” in this verse?  Who is the “he”? What in the world does that word mean?

And don’t shy away from any questions whose answers may seem obvious to you. By merely writing down the question, you’re causing yourself to slow down and consider that particular point more in depth. You might surprise yourself at all you’re able to learn from an “obvious” question.

Watch a walk through of the first step below:

Once you have a list of questions, it’s time to move on to step number two.

Step Two: Interpretation
Our guiding question for the second step is What does the text mean?  During the first step, we pretty much ignored context. During this second step, however, we pull in the surrounding verses, the previous and following chapters, the rest of the book, and even our knowledge of the wider Bible, and we work to answer the questions we made during step one in order to get at the intended meaning of the text. If we wrote down any statements during step one, we push into them to take away all we can. Use a dictionary to help you define unfamiliar (or even more familiar) words. Use a Bible commentary or other resources to help you nail down your questions.

Watch a walk through of the second step below:

When you’re satisfied with the answers you’ve found for your questions, you’re ready for step three.

Step Three: Application
James warns us that we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Thus the point of Bible study is to live out the truths that you mine from God’s word. The point is not to stockpile your brain with pretty thoughts and ideas. Live it, or it ain’t real!  The guiding question for this last stage of the inductive Bible study method is How can I apply the text to my life?

Once you arrive at this stage, the goal is to write down one or two things that you can take from all you’ve studied and put those things into practice. It will prove most helpful to you if the applications you make meet three criteria: that they be measurable, attainable, and timely.

Your application is measurable if it is very clear whether or not you’ve accomplished your goal. For example, it’s not as helpful to say, “I want to pray more.” What’s more? How will you know if you’ve accomplished your goal? Instead, say something like, “This week, I want to pray three times before I go to bed.” That way, at the end of the week, you can look back and count the times you prayed before you went to bed and know whether or not you completed your goal.

Your application is attainable if it is a goal that you are reasonably capable of carrying out. Don’t say that this week I’m going to run 100 miles a day. You won’t do it and will feel miserable for failing to meet your goal. Say that you’re going to walk 10 blocks this afternoon. Start small. God will grow you.

Finally, your application will be most helpful to you if it is timely. Instead of me saying I hope to love my wife better, I should plan something specific that I’m going to do for her this Saturday. Putting a time frame on your goal helps you to be more faithful in carrying it out.

Watch a walk through of the third step below:

As a word of personal testimony, I have reaped so much benefit from using the inductive Bible study method over these past few months.  I think this tool helps me focus my otherwise scatterbrained… um… brain.  Forcing myself to write out the questions I have for a particular text and then answering them is a very helpful way for me to keep myself on task while studying the Bible and for me to track my progress.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).  Grace and peace to you as you study your Bible.

Accepting the Unexplained: Hope After Sandy Hook

“Yet Listen Now”
by Amy Wilson Carmichael

Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs—Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.
For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before His peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony,—and hold us still.

There are things done in the world today, like the cold-blooded murder of 20 elementary children, that “would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.” That is, I would lose all hope and faith in God in light of such events were it not for the fact that Jesus walked the road of suffering first. There is “no path of pain” that anyone will ever walk that is unfamiliar territory for Jesus. There are no painful trails that any man will ever navigate on which Jesus is not already standing, waiting to embrace those who call on his name.

The reality of Jesus’ horrific death does not lessen our experience of pain. However, the cross does make it clear that pain and suffering do not get the final word. For though Jesus endured the worse death ever crafted by the wicked hearts of man—Roman crucifixion—he also rose again and in so doing offered that very same hope to all those who would believe on his name. The greatest hope any citizen of Newtown could have tonight is that of a crucified and risen savior who offers to them the same hope and joy that allowed him to endure the cross: the hope and joy of an assured resurrection.

May you know this hope, and may it help you “accept the unexplained, the loss.”

The Inductive Bible Study Method: An Overview

Today and tomorrow, I will be posting a two-part article about the inductive Bible study method that I learned over the summer from a dear friend of mine.  Toady’s article serves as an introduction to the method as a whole, and tomorrow’s post will dive into the specifics of each step.  It is my hope that you might benefit from this helpful tool as much as I have.

An Introduction to the Method
The inductive method is a way to study your Bible that “uses the Bible itself as the primary source of information about the Bible.  In inductive study you personally explore the Scriptures apart from conclusions Bible scholars and other people have drawn from their study of the word…. In inductive study, commentaries, books, tapes, and other information about the Bible are consulted only after you have made your own thorough examination of the Scripture…. Inductive Bible study draws you into personal interaction with the Scripture and thus with the God of the Scriptures so that your beliefs are based on a prayerful understanding and legitimate interpretation of Scripture—truth that transforms you when you live by it (How to Study Your Bible, Kay Arthur, pages 8-9, emphasis mine).

Arthur also says about this method that “The main requirement in learning to study the Bible inductively is the willingness to slow down and really look at what the Scripture is saying” (p. 8).

The inductive method consists of three steps: observation, interpretation, and application.  (These three steps will be spelled out in more detail in tomorrow’s post.)  By using this method we want to find out what a Bible passage says, what it means, and how we can apply it to our lives.

A Note On “Inductive”
Reasoning can work in two directions. Deductive reasoning moves from general statements to a more specific conclusion. Inductive reasoning moves from specific premises to a general conclusion. To read more about the difference between the inductive and deductive reasoning, click here.

I cannot overstate the importance of studying the Bible.  While it is true we can learn a lot about God by studying his creation, in the Bible God has spoken in human words–words that can comfort and encourage and terrify and relieve the heart like the galaxies never could.  May this simple tool called the inductive Bible study method inspire you to get into God’s word and get God’s word into you.

A Step-By-Step Guide
Click here for a more in-depth look at each step of the inductive method, including short video tutorials I created.

Related Articles from juleslapierre.com
Inductive Study Basics – Part One
Inductive Bible Study Basics – Part Two
Inductive Bible Study Basics – Part Three

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Sandy Hook Elementary

This story feels extremely close and personal to me for two reasons.  For starters, just over three weeks ago I was involved in an incident that, at the time, was believed to be a shooting in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Read my account of that night here.)  The terror of those dream-like moments remains all too fresh and gut-wrenching.

Secondly, I work as an English as second language teacher in a K-8 school in inner-city Minneapolis.  The majority of my students are between eight and nine years old.  The thought of encountering a crazed gunman intent on killing innocent children in my classroom is absolutely sickening.  From time to time I’ve thought about what my reaction would be.  I pray to God it would be a brave, self-sacrificial reaction rather than a cowardly, selfish one.

Watching the news, the question posed over and over again is “Why?”  Why did this happen?  How is it possible that someone could do something like this?  Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said it this way: “Evil visited this community.”  And in the end, that is exactly why something like this happened.  Evil is at the root of this tragedy.  Evil is real, and it manifested itself in a terrifying way in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

We human beings are a broken race.  God created us for glory.  God created us for joy at heights we are currently unable to fathom.  But as the story in Genesis goes, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God’s good and righteous rule.  They cast God off the throne of their lives and set themselves up in his place.  And in this way evil entered the world.  And it has plagued us ever since.  The singular cause of school shootings and broken families and fights with one’s spouse is found in the rupture that exists in mankind’s relationship with the God that created and loves them.  It is no small wonder that when we turn our backs on the Light we find ourselves in darkness.

So evil is not isolated to the hearts of psychotic gunmen in elementary schools.  It’s a universal reality that exists in the hearts of each and everyone of us.  Evil visited Sandy Hook on Friday to be sure.  But it also visited 10th Avenue South (my street) just this morning.  In fact, it lives there.  It lives in me.  The evil that drove a man to kill children in an elementary school in Connecticut is the same evil that lurks in the depths of my selfish, arrogant, rebellious heart.  And it’s the same evil that resides in yours.

As a result I need a Savior.  You need a savior.  And that may be the most incredible news of all.  There is one.  His name is Jesus.  The God-man Jesus Christ left his home in heaven and entered a cruel and violent world to be treated cruelly and violently and in so doing to make a way for sinful mankind like you and me and gunmen from Connecticut to be reconciled to their good and holy God.

Such evil will be repaid in full in one of two ways.  Jesus taught that either the perpetrator will pay for his own evil deeds in a literal, eternal hell, or Jesus himself would take the punishment on himself and pay it for all those who see him and believe in him.  Embrace Jesus today.  Come to him and submit to him.  Cling to what he did for you as your only hope for reconciliation with your all-satisfying Creator.

May God be pleased to shine the Light of the world, Jesus, into the darkness that looms over Sandy Hook Connecticut–the very same darkness that hangs over the heads of us all.

Peace to you.

Related Links:
“Shots Fired”
Huffington Post’s account of events
CNN’s account of events
The Good News of the Gospel

Behold the Lamb of God!

“Behold the Lamb of God!” was written by a dear friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous.  Thanks, friend, for your writing!

Behold the Lamb of God!

There once was a man named Abraham
Called by the great I AM
To sacrifice a lamb
His son Isaac

They went up to the top of the hill
Where a ram would be killed
And stood still
To wait for God

As Abraham raised his knife
To take his son’s life
He thought of his wife
And the promise

But Abraham believed God’s Word
Though it seemed quite absurd
Almost as if God had erred
In giving him a son

However, Abraham knew as he reached toward Isaac’s head
That God could raise him from the dead
Because of what He had said
About the nations

“Stop!” the angel said boldly
“Thank you for doing what God hath told thee
But do not slay your son, your only
The Lord will provide”

Although, it wasn’t through the ram that God made a way
For Abraham and his descendants to stand blameless on the judgment day
Because the blood of bulls and goats could never repay
The debt of love we owe

Instead it was his only begotten Son that God gave
To die on the cross, who then rose from the grave
His people to save
The true Lamb of God

So provide the Lord did by sending his Son
The almighty, majestic, glorious, holy One
To do what no Isaac, ram, or earthly lamb could have done
Free us from our sin

Fear Found Deep

There’s fear found deep behind those gentle eyes,
One fierce and raging ’neath a soft disguise
That’s been well practiced and refined, now played
As naturally as wind plays trees—fear weighed
In tons not ounces—fear acquired young
Though you’re not twelve—youth’s song now left unsung.
Like rust to a once well-sharpened knife your fear
Has dulled your wit and left your joy austere.
What ill, unblossomed flower, has wilted you
Before you’ve bloomed? What demon thing has tied
Your heart in chains of fire-wrought fear undue
For ev’n hell’s foulest beast? What judgment’s wide
Enough to turn hell’s black to heaven’s hue
And free your captive heart? God will decide.

© 2012 Eric Evans

Pleasing Santa, Pleasing God

“You’d better watch out. You’d better not pout.
You’d better not cry; I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!”

So goes the famous Christmas song. Now, I’m not about to knock the song or the jolly ol’ elf that the song’s about. (I enjoy belting it out as hardily as anyone whenever they play it on the radio. Just ask my wife. In fact, here’s a link to the song on YouTube in case you’re in need of a quick Christmas fix.) I would, however, like to make a crystal clear distinction between Santa’s take on morality and God’s.

As the Christmas song so clearly spells out, to please Santa, all you’ve got to do is tip the scale slightly towards good, and he’s satisfied. Ensure you’ve told more truths than lies and that you’ve been nicer to your sister more times than you’ve been mean to her, and you’ve got it in the bag guaranteed. It does not work that way with God. It cannot.

To understand the reason for this, you’ve got to start to think in a way that, perhaps, you never have before. I beg you to at least hear me out. You see, Santa merely requires 51% good behavior for you to make it on his nice list. Your good must merely outweigh your bad. God has much higher requirements. To be accepted by God—that is, to make it on God’s good list—you’ve got have 100% good behavior 100% of the time.

“But that’s not fair!” you object. “No one is that good! What kind of God would condemn someone to the naughty list for 1% bad behavior?” Well, let’s examine for a moment the true extent of even 1% bad behavior. Any bad behavior is in its essence bad because it’s an affront to God. That is, when you or I do something wrong, the reason it’s wrong is because it is an act of rebellion against the King of the universe. Wrong is wrong because it violates what God has declared to be right. God is a good King. His laws are good. His decrees are perfect. To look him in the face and say that you’ll do whatever you darn well please regardless is an infinitely heinous crime because God is infinitely worthy of complete love and obedience. It only takes one act of rebellion to be a traitor and thus find yourself on the naughty list. So 1% bad behavior is not as light an offense as we often think. Any wrong deed—from fudging on your taxes to cold-blooded murder—is at its essence a flouting of God’s law. Any sin is tantamount to spitting in the very face of the very King of the universe. No sin, not even the smallest of them all, is to be taken lightly.

“But isn’t God a God of love and forgiveness?” Yes! To his very core! The way he accomplishes forgiveness, however, is not by merely sweeping your bad behavior under the rug of the universe and letting it go. He can’t—better said, he won’t—overlook such blatant rebellion against his good laws. The reason for this is that he’s just. If a judge looked into the eyes of a convicted killer and said, “I know you’re guilty, but you know what? I’m going to let you go. I’m going to forgive you regardless of what the law says,” that judge would not be a just judge and would immediately lose his seat on the bench. So it is with God. Crimes so atrocious demand retribution. Every moral fiber in our bodies confirms that.

So God provided another way. God made a way for him to be both just and merciful at the same time. Enters Jesus. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, came to this world and lived a perfect life—a life 100% pleasing to God. Then he died on a Roman cross. There God poured out upon him the just punishment that wrong deserves. The innocent died for the guilty so that the guilty might be made innocent. Think of it as a great exchange. Jesus takes your sins upon him and endures the punishment that they deserve, which is death (Romans 6:23), and in the place of your sins, he credits to you his perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). He offers you the 100% perfect life that God requires of you.

In Jesus’ death, God’s demands for justice were met and God made a way for amnesty to be held out to traitors. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” Jesus said (John 6:37). “This is will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

What must you do to enjoy God’s favor? “Look on the Son and believe in him.” To believe in Jesus is to receive him (see John 1:12). It’s to embrace him like a hungry man embraces bread. Do you see what Jesus has done to pay for your bad behavior and do you believe in that Jesus?

You’ve really got no other options open to you. Every time you’re even slightly mean to your sister, you’re acting in open rebellion against the God who said to love others as you love yourself. But God has made a way for estranged traitors to find themselves again reconciled to God. And it’s not through 51% or 75% or even 99% good behavior like Santa requires. It’s through the 100% good behavior of the 100% good Son of God who died in your place and who credits his perfect life to your account in order that you might live before a holy God. Reach out and embrace him today.

To read more about the good news of God sending his Son into the world to save sinners, click here.

Behind the Poem: “The Weight”

Behind the Poem: “The Weight”

Click here to read the poem “The Weight,” published on this blog on November 27, 2012 .

The Meaning
In his book Conflict or Connection Levi Keidel recounts the remarks of a seminar speaker he went to hear at a Christian conference: “‘Many men don’t want to be happy,’ he said. ‘They’d rather be mad than glad. They’d rather nurse a rankling grudge. They cling to their misery and love it…. When a man harbors a grudge like that for 20 years, it becomes as precious as an heirloom—a prized possession. Every so often he takes it out, dusts it off, looks at it; he couldn’t do without it. To give it up is the supreme sacrifice” (p. 12). What an absurdity—and yet what a striking reality!—that the very things that work our death are the things we so often cling to with all our might.

Keidel later went to talk to the speaker privately and was told, “Pull your grudges out into the open and expose them for the sin that they are. Hebrews 12:15 warns us that harboring a root of bitterness within you will trouble you; it will cause you to fail of the grace of God; it will defile those around you” (p. 12). If a man does not relinquish the bitterness he holds within his soul against another human being, that bitterness will sever him from God, destroy his life, and work woe in the lives of those around him. In short, if you don’t kill sin, it will kill you, and it will kill those around you.

Bitterness is an enslaving weight that I all too often carry unnecessarily. Freedom from this burdensome, back-breaking load is as simple as forgiveness, and yet forgiveness is the last thing I want to do. Probably because forgiveness means I have to let go. Probably because forgiveness means I hand over the fate of those who’ve wronged me to another, and deep down, I’m afraid He’ll show them as much mercy as He’s shown me. How can one guilty yet pardoned murderer rightly call for the execution of another? Both equally condemned. Both equally redeemable.

And so by the power of the Spirit I put to death the bitterness that consumes and enslaves me to my primal passions, and as I look around, it’s truly as if the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. That weight is what this poem is about. My hope is that it encourages you to experience freedom for yourself.

Technical Stuff
This poem is an Italian sonnet written in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme reads ABBAABBACDCCDC.

The turn, or volta, of the sonnet comes in a very traditional place: at the beginning of the ninth line. After building a very pitiful image of some poor sap under the unbearable strain of what appears to be a rather enslaving burden, the beginning with line nine I introduce a rather striking truth: The man doesn’t really want to be as free as he makes out.

The poem ends without a clear sense of resolution. The present tense of the last two lines indicates that whether or not the speaker does flee his captive’s domain is still in question. His mind is not made up. Would to God that you might glimpse his plight and settle your own.

Read other installments of “Behind the Poem” here:
Behind the Poem: “Unrestrained”
Behind the Poem: “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained”
Behind the Poem: “It is Enough”
Behind the Poem: “As For Man”

Have you read any poems on this blog that you’d like to hear the story behind? Leave me a comment and let me know.

The Weight

There is a weight that bows and breaks my back,
A mass too bulky for these arms to raise,
And there atop my weary frame it stays,
A dreadful bulk of binding brown and black.
Oh, would to God that one might grant me slack
From my poor plight and come in pow’r to raze
My load and trade it with a joy that weighs
A trifle yet fulfills my deepest lack.
Yet herein lie the subtleties of pain—
That that which burdens so and works my harm
Is also that which I would soon retain—
As if to cast off bondage were insane!
I hesitate beneath my captive’s charm
And count the cost of fleeing his domain.

© 2012 Eric Evans