Serve Session 2 (What Serving God Looks Like and the Results of the Proper “Serve”)

In Session 2, we look at specific examples in the New Testament of what serving God looked like.  We also see what our lives will look like when we’re serving God with our whole hearts.  To view Session 1, click here.

Because this is a little longer session, here are some basic review questions to help recap the session and pray about where God may be speaking to you:

1. Am I purposefully spending time in the presence of God?
2. Is God leading me to “fast” or give something up for a period of time in order to lead me to prayer?
3. Have I been depending on my past successes, failures, or unique experiences to serve God, when all he wants is my whole heart devoted to him? Do I truly understand that Jesus in me is enough?
4. Does my life exhibit the results of the proper serve as mentioned?  Do I recognize Jesus? Am I grateful? Do I speak of God to others?
5. Are there areas in my life that do not line up with Hebrews 13?
6. What phrases in Revelation 7 comfort me at this moment in my life?

My Garden in Photos: April 12th Update

Today could not have been a more perfect gardening day.  Perfect temperature, light breeze, some shade.  Today was spent planting pole beans, corn, and cucumbers as well as preparing the ground for more tomatoes and other crops.  This week’s photos show even more growth!

Cabbage and Spinach: I picked my first spinach this week to use in Gouda and Spinach stuffed pork chops. Yum!  The cabbage are growing beautifully with such deep green leaves.

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Potatoes: Almost all of my potatoes are now emerging, with this photo showing the ones with the best growth.

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Garlic and Strawberries: The garlic are growing taller and taller, and the strawberries are beginning to put on flowers.  These are all second or third year strawberries so I’ve got high hopes!

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Tomatoes and Broccoli: The first photo are my Romas, which are growing very well, although it’s hard to see from this photo. I also planted Better Boy tomatoes between my broccoli rows (second photo).  The broccoli are really starting to grow. I’m hoping I’ll get some good broccoli before they bolt like they did last year when the weather got too hot in May.

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Peas: The peas are growing well, but I hope they start producing before it gets too hot.

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Here is a photo of the trellises that Matt built for me.  On the right side are my peas. On the left side I planted pole beans.

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Herbs: I can’t tell you how excited I am about my herbs!  The middle plant is a multitude of oregano that self-seeded from last year.  To its right is thyme that survived the winter.  At the top left is rosemary that barely made it through the winter and is now producing new growth.  I also have dozens of dill plants that self-seeded from last year and a few cilantro plants.  I’ve decided that herbs are the easiest to grow after the first year because they grow themselves!

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Blackberry: All of my berry plants are growing vigorously, but this blackberry bush is the best by far.  I’m looking forward to a summer full of berries!

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A Life of Servanthood {My Mom’s Example}

While Mom and I were eating lunch today, after her having chemo yesterday, we began talking about the Connect weekend beginning tomorrow at church.  In addition to special services, on Saturday the church will be doing mission projects throughout the area.  As we were talking about those mission projects, Mom said, “That’s the one thing that’s the hardest about these treatments: that I’m not able to do things like that.”

She talked about how she would have loved to be on one of the yard teams, where volunteers will be cleaning up individuals’ yards who can’t do it on their own, and if you know my mom, you know nothing would bring her more joy!

At the moment it was too painful to let her words sink in, but later as I replayed the conversation in my mind, I began to see something in her words that humbled me greatly.

I can’t for a moment begin to understand what she goes through, not only with the side effects of the treatments but with all the fears and uncertainty that come with an incurable cancer.  But I can think back three months ago when I had the most excruciating earache and what my mindset was at the time.  Here were some thoughts that went through my mind:

This is worse than childbirth.

When is this pain going to end?

The doctor can’t see me until 2 p.m. today?!? Why in the world can’t I get in earlier?

I may have to rethink my position on medical marijuana. (Yep, I thought that and will totally admit it.)

There’s no point in me going to church Sunday. I can’t hear anything so I couldn’t be a part of it anyway.

Did you notice a theme in any of my thoughts?  I did.  They were all about me. I could not see past my own pain.  I wallowed in a pity party and sunk into despair as my hearing loss dragged on and on.

Yet here my mom was, bracing for another weekend of being sick, and what she hates the most is not being able to serve.

Just yesterday I was contemplating life and death (the melancholy side of my melancholy/choleric personality started taking over for a moment) and how just like our ancestors before us, both Mom and I will eventually be a memory.  I contemplated what legacy she will leave and I knew right away.  She lives her life to serve. She pours her life out for others. She always has.  Me, on the other hand, I live my life for me most of the time. I see it in my reactions to my kids. I see it in my longing for approval from others.  I see it in my seeking things other than loving God and loving people to make me happy and fulfilled.

Jesus – our ultimate example – gave up everything. He poured out himself in both his life and his death for the sake of others. Not once did he do anything to serve his own purposes, to seek his own pleasure, to advance his own standing.  Oh, how far from that I am.  I try to be like Jesus but “me” keeps getting in the way.

I am grateful that I have the ultimate example in the written record of Jesus’ life to guide me, but I’m also grateful that I have the example of service from my mom.  She will not be happy that I’m writing this because she’s also the poster-child for humility and hates attention but I want her to know she’s doing well, faithful servant, and her example impacts me. 

It makes me examine my motives.  It shines a light on my cleverly disguised excuses.  It shows me in real flesh and blood what it looks like to pour yourself out in service to God and others, even when it’s not convenient.

Oh that I would allow a heart change, that I would die to myself, and live my life serving others.  That I could be like Jesus. That I could be like Mom.

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Let’s Grow Some Roots

In the summer I noticed a seedling growing in my blueberry bush bed. At first I thought it was a weed but later I realized it was a small tree.  Evidently in my wood chips, a walnut had found soil and sprouted.  Excited about possibly having a new tree in our yard, I began to research the best time to transplant a small tree.  One site recommended transplanting the tree in the fall after the leaves have been shed. This is because in the winter the tree will experience extensive root growth.

In the season when the trees look their most bare, in the season when they look dead, in the season when they produce nothing – that is the season where their roots grow the best.  Winter is the season when the tree is preparing for outward growth in the warmer months.  Winter is the season when it prepares an elaborate root system that enables the tree to withstand the oppressive heat and dry spells of summer.

In contemplating this lesson from nature, I began to think about the winters of our lives.  Times will come when the pain or trial will be so great that we simply cannot see past it.  Bearing great harvests of fruit for the kingdom of God may seem impossible when all we can muster is the strength to simply survive the day.

When we find ourselves in a winter, I say we should embrace it for what it is. 

It’s cold. It’s harsh.  It’s unrelenting.  It’s gray.  It’s lonely.

It’s far from productive.

But it’s also temporary.  It’s pregnant with hope and opportunity.  It’s the time to focus on growing roots. 

We grow roots by committing ourselves to the Word of God.  We grow roots by spending time in prayer.  We grow roots by taking in the circumstances around us and allowing God to teach us what we couldn’t have learned without those circumstances.

And when the winter gives way to the hope and life of spring, then, our roots will enable us to grow beautiful leaves and yield harvests of fruit beyond imagination.

When we find ourselves in the midst of a harsh winter, let’s not simply hunker down and wait for it to pass. Let’s grow some roots.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:2-3, emphasis mine)

Situation 5: Jesus on Trial


Situation 5:  Jesus on Trial
(Matthew 26:57-68, Mark 14:53-62, Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-3, John 18:28-38)

Who questioned him: the chief priest (Caiaphas) and the governor (Pilate)
What they asked: (1) for him to respond to his accusers and (2) if he is the Son of God or the King of the Jews
Why this was significant:  By appearances, his answers may have determined his fate.
Jesus’ response: He ignored one set of questions but responded candidly to another

Jesus did not answer the false accusers, but he did answer the question about whether he was the Christ, the Son of God.  His reply, “you have said so,” is simply an affirmation according to the sources I read.  In other words, Jesus did not feel compelled to reply to the petty arguments, but he was not going to remain silent on the most important question of all.

What does that tell me?  I should not rush to get up in arms over more frivolous issues, particularly if the debate is full of untruths.  However, I should never, ever, back down from affirming the identity of Jesus Christ, as the ONLY salvation of our souls.

That’s what the world wants us to do.  They’re okay with our beliefs, as long as we accept others’ beliefs as meriting just as much consideration as our own.  But that is not the example Jesus set.  He made it clear that he is the only way to salvation.  Many believe this assertion – by him or by his followers – is unloving, but in fact, to be silent is actually the most unloving action possible.

Think about it.  If the one you loved was dying of an incurable disease and you knew of the ONLY cure, would it be loving to tell them that any medicine would help?  No! You would tell them about the cure even at the expense of your own life.  That’s what Jesus did.  And that’s what we’re called to do.

We are all dying of an incurable disease of sin, and the Bible is clear that the only cure is through Jesus Christ. Without that cure, we are destined to an eternity separated from God. (Interestingly, Jesus talks about the wrath of hell more times than he does about heaven. Consider this: if there weren’t a hell to be saved from, then why would he go through the agony of crucifixion for us?)

The Bottom Line: While sometimes we Christians get sidetracked debating the “other issues,” Jesus set the ultimate example that we are to keep first things first.   I have to admit, I fail miserably in this area.  No, I don’t deny Christ.  But by living my life without sharing Jesus’ cure for sin on a daily basis, am I not, in effect, being silent?

Situation 4: What is the Greatest Commandment?

Situation 4:  What is the Greatest Commandment?
(Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34)

Who questioned him: A Pharisee, described as a lawyer or scribe
What he asked: which commandment is the most important of all
Why this was significant: The passage in Mark points to a softening in this particular Pharisee’s heart.  Under the guise of trying to trap Jesus, he posed a “testing” question.
Jesus’ response: He sincerely answered the question in full.
Bottom Line: “Testing” the validity of a religious claim, absent of an ulterior motive, was not condemned by Jesus. In fact, by giving a full, complete answer, he was approving it.

Jesus’ answer to the question was this, ““The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Rather than being silenced like the previous encounters produced, the scribe responds, “32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33)

At first glance, the scribe appears to be quoting Jesus, but there are some differences. I find it interesting that while approving Jesus’ answer, he adds to Jesus’ words, “and there is no other [God] besides him.”  Understandably, these men were concerned that Jesus was (1) preaching about a God different from the God they worshipped and (2) putting himself – in their eyes only a man – as an equal with God.  That’s a very valid concern!  Even those with hearts seeking God should “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21).

I think another difference between the scribe’s quote of Jesus’ words is worth mentioning.  Notice how Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  In contrast, the scribe’s words were, “heart, understanding, and strength.” The differences here are worth noting.

From what I can ascertain in comparing the two Greek words for “mind” and “understanding,” the latter brings in more of a prior knowledge or intellect into it.  The former is likened to deep thought and mental exercise.

Why is that significant? In my opinion, the scribe is admitting that he loves God with all of his current knowledge and intellect, whereas Jesus is challenging him to go deeper in his thinking, to not stop at his prior knowledge but instead to “exercise” that knowledge in the light of this new revelation. In other words, Jesus wants him to stop merely accepting everything he already knew and go deeper.

The scribe also omits the word “soul” in his statement.  This word for soul implies “spirit,” as in, the deepest recesses of one’s being.  This same word was used by Simeon when he told the young mother Mary that a sword would pierce her own soul. (Luke 2:35)

The word “heart” – the word that both Jesus and the scribe use – means thoughts or feelings.  The scribe is admitting that he loves God with all of his thoughts and feelings, but by omitting the word “spirit,” he’s admitting that he hasn’t given his very deepest being to the love of God.  The “heart” is a start, but it doesn’t need to end there to please God.  God wants our entire being, the very depths of our souls.

In just these differences in words, you can see the inner struggle going on within the scribe’s heart.  He’s wrestling with how to apply his vast intellect to these new teachings Jesus is offering.  He’s admitting he hasn’t quite figured out how to love God with all of his very being.

Finally, there is one other statement that the scribe adds to Jesus’ words.  He adds, “to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)

Not being a Jew, it’s hard for me to dig deep into the meaning of this statement, but here’s my first thought.  This scribe recognizes that sacrifices mean nothing in comparison to loving one another.  This is notable, considering that the Pharisees were the very ones who were painfully oppressing the people with their distortions of and additions to the Law. This scribe was beginning to see that what he has known all his life didn’t quite add up, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Jesus recognized a seeking heart within this wise and educated man.  His response was, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” What a statement!  Jesus saw clearly a man who wasn’t looking to trap Jesus but instead a man who was seeking the truth.  A man who was satisfied – even thrilled – with Jesus’ answer to his question but who wasn’t quite sure what to do next.

How can we apply this to our interactions?  First, we need not be threatened when a person poses a difficult question.  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?  If God is good, why is there so much (insert injustice here) in the world?  And the list can go on.  In today’s information age, people are more natural questioners than we’re used to, but we need not bow up and go on the defensive, thinking these questions are always attacks. Sometimes they’re coming from the heart of someone who is truly seeking truth, but who is having a hard time reconciling things he/she doesn’t understand.

We need to respond in love, just as Jesus did.

Unlike Jesus, we don’t have all the answers. But we can look at Jesus’ example. He quoted Scripture.  Where our reasoning and intellect is limited, Scripture is not.  And if we can’t find the answer to a difficult question in Scripture, we can always say, “You know, I’m not quite sure but I would like to find out.” Then, we should go to a trusted person in our life who might give us Scripture references or a perspective we haven’t heard before.

Jesus didn’t shy away from the hard questions.  By his response to this scribe, you can tell he welcomed them.  We should welcome them, too, and trust that only through the drawing of the Holy Spirit will one come to know the truth anyway. It is not our job to convince someone of truth.

A questioning person doesn’t come to faith by the skill of our answers, by how much “evidence” we can present.  He will come to faith by the leading of the Holy Spirit. But we can be used by pointing to Scriptures and responding in love.

Situation 3: In Heaven, To Whom Will We Be Married?

Situation 3: In Heaven, to Whom Will We Be Married?
(Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27)

Who questioned him: Sadducees (those who didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead)
What they asked: If a woman has been married to more than one man (having lost prior husbands to death), whose wife will she be after the resurrection?
Why this is significant: If the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, this question is pointless at the surface .  They were using this question at the very least to spark debate with the Pharisees, the religious leaders who did believe in the resurrection.
Jesus’ response: He pointedly answered that in the resurrection, there would be no marriage between believers (other Scripture tells us that earthly marriage is only a picture of the perfect, eternal marriage between Jesus – the groom – and his Church – his bride). He then went a step further and pointed to Scripture that says there is, in fact, a resurrection because even after Abraham died, God said, “I AM” the God of Abraham (not “I WAS” the God of Abraham), which indicated that Abraham is living, even though his body died.

 

What We Can Learn from Jesus’ Response:

Contrasted with the prior situations, the Scripture does not indicate that the Sadducees were looking to trap Jesus.  They very well could have been, but it seems that at the surface, their question was created to spark debate with the Pharisees.

But think about it. If they didn’t believe there was life after death, where was hope?  Surely, even after clinging so stringently to their ideas, in the deepest recesses of their hearts they were looking for hope.

This is complete conjecture on my part, but I believe Jesus saw the desire for hope – if not from all the Sadducees then from many in his presence – and he took the opportunity to set the record straight on this very serious subject.  He made it clear to everyone in earshot that there IS a physical, bodily resurrection after death.

And he didn’t make this clear by his own intellectual prowess like he did with the question on taxes.

He did it by quoting the very Scripture that the Sadducees and Pharisees claimed to believe.

The Power of Scripture

Let’s not forget the power of Scripture here.  Matthew 22:33 says, “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.”  The crowd here included both people who knew Scripture and people who didn’t know it as well.  Yet even the latter saw the truth in Jesus’ answer.  In the same way, we as Christians cannot forget the power of Scripture in answering others’ questions and challenges. We must be diligent in intellectually learning the Scripture so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind in these situations, to do a mighty work in those who are seeking.

The Seeker’s Heart

Jesus was able to see past the machine-gun-like fire of questions by people trying to trap him, to take the opportunity to see into the deepest needs of the people.  They desired hope in this life after death, and he showed how their very own Scripture gave them that hope.

In the same way, we need to resist the temptation to look at a question or challenge on its surface level.  Some of those challenges may seem downright combative.  But if we dig a little deeper, we can see if the motive is a deep searching on behalf of the person or group.  All humanity is created with a spirit that seeks God.  The problem is, we don’t always know it is God who fills those longings.  We search to be filled by a myriad of other things in this world, only to be left empty.

The Sadducees and the crowd present were still seeking, and Jesus met them in their need.  Now, it was up to them to accept truth and claim for their own the hope that Jesus offered.

 

Situation 2: Do We Pay Taxes or Not?

Situation 2: Should We Pay Taxes or Not?
(Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:30-38)

Who questioned him: Pharisees and Herodians (“spies”)
What they asked: whether they should pay taxes to Caesar
Why this was significant: The Jews resented being under Roman rule because they believed, as God’s chosen people, they should have their own nation. If Jesus was claiming to be the Christ, the King (on a mission to set up his own kingdom), then what would he say about them paying taxes to the government currently ruling them?
Jesus’ response: He showed them a coin and asked them whose likeness and inscription was on it. Then he said to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.
Bottom Line: Jesus saw their hearts and their hypocrisy – they weren’t interested in really knowing whether to pay taxes.  They were only looking to trap him.  Instead of deflecting the answer as he did earlier, he answered it in a way that silenced them but also did not give them the full story. He knew their hearts wouldn’t accept his divine kingship anyway.

What We Can Learn From Jesus’ Response:

Beware of Flattery:

Before the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus the question, they “buttered him up” by saying that he “truly teaches the way of God.” They were hoping to appeal to him and deceive him into thinking they were seeking truth.  But Jesus saw through the artificial flattery.

In the same way, we need to be on guard for people who attempt to lure us into a trap by pretending to seek truth.  We Christians can be a sympathetic bunch when we feel someone has a genuine interest in hearing about Jesus.  We must be in tune with the Holy Spirit, who will enable us to see past any false flattery.

Be Aware of the Audience:

Jesus also did not entirely avoid this question like he did the last.  Instead he answered the question in a way that made those hearing him “marvel.”  I believe he knew that there were people present who were seeking truth. By answering in this way, he silenced those who wanted to trap him but also appealed to the hearts of those who were truly seeking.

In the same way, we should be aware that even within a challenge, there may be those present who are seeking truth. We need to be sensitive to those people and their needs and not mentally lump them in with the accusers.

Remember Whose Kingdom We are Building

Jesus also was pointing out, in a way that wasn’t evident at the time, that his kingdom was not an earthly kingdom.  Caesar was no threat to his kingdom; it was the kingdom of God he was seeking to build.

In the same way, we can get so caught up in our own governmental complaints that we miss that the kingdom we are to be building is an eternal one.  I’m not proposing that we shouldn’t be active in governmental and social affairs. But I am arguing that sometimes we as Christians tend to care more about the “issues” than we do about our true purpose: sharing the message of the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Jesus built his kingdom by ministering to one soul at a time, one group at a time. He did this by meeting immediate needs, making the people aware of their sinfulness and need of a Savior, and then ultimately meeting that need.  He kept “first things first” and didn’t get sidetracked with peripheral issues.

Situation 1: What Authority Do You Have?

Situation 1: What Authority Do You Have?
(Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8)

Who questioned him: chief priests, scribes, and elders
What they asked: what authority he had to do the things he was doing (this was right after he caused a scene and cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and merchants who sold animals to be sacrificed)
Jesus’ response: He said first they had to answer him whether John’s baptism was from heaven or from man.
Result: They refused to answer Jesus, so Jesus refused to answer them
Bottom Line: Jesus saw their hearts, that they were only looking to trap him. Therefore, he knew an honest answer would have done no good anyway; their hearts didn’t want to receive the truth.

What I can learn from Jesus’ response: 

Although I cannot see into someone’s heart, I can ask for wisdom (James 1) and discernment to know the motives behind a question or challenge.  These chief priests, scribes, and elders were not seeking the truth. They were seeking to trap Jesus. They were luring him to commit what they saw as blasphemy.

It’s worth noting that Jesus was not avoiding the question. He had answered it multiple times before.  See an entire passage in John 5:19-47 where Jesus clearly said that everything he did came from God himself.  The chief priests, scribes, and elders hadn’t had amnesia on this instance; they knew exactly what authority Jesus claimed to have.   Jesus knew their motive wasn’t to seek truth, so he didn’t play into their ploy.

In the same way, some instances require a pause before answering or defending.  Before rushing to answer, I need to seek wisdom in regard to the motives behind the confrontation.  Is someone asking because they are truly seeking truth? Or are they asking to stir up an argument and catch me in my words?  I certainly don’t want to be lured into that trap.  I’m not Jesus and I would probably fall flat on my face despite my best efforts.

And I also have to face the fact that when a heart is hard, no amount of logic or apologetics or historical data is going to break through.  I need to pray that God will penetrate that heart so that it would be open to hearing truth.

Instead of rushing to defend, I would pray this verse over the person challenging my faith: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

Once God has changed a person’s heart from stone to flesh, only then truth will penetrate.

Day and Night

From my Kingdom of Heaven Study

Luke 17:20-37

I believe that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. And I believe that because of faith.  But I’m human, and it doesn’t hurt to see something a little more concrete than that sometimes.

In reading about the Kingdom of God, I came across this passage.  Jesus was telling the disciples about when He would come back to earth to gather his people.    There is much in this passage I don’t understand, but what struck me is so simple but yet so amazing!

Consider verse 24a: “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.”

What characterizes lightning? I thought. Well, it occurs in an instant. It isn’t long and drawn out.  It’s here and gone.

Then, look at the rest of the passage, focusing on verses 34 and 35:

“That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. ” Luke 17:34-35 (NLT)

 Verse 34 describes what it will be like at night. Verse 35 describes what it will be like during the day.

 So, it is supposed to happen in an instant, and it will happen where it will be day one place and night another.

 Of course, no big deal, right? We don’t think anything of that because we know that is possible. But back in Jesus’ time, they thought the world was flat, which means day and night couldn’t happen simultaneously in their worldview.

Do you see how awe-inspiring this is? It shows that Jesus WAS divine. How, otherwise, could he have said this? If he thought the world was flat (thus being merely human), he wouldn’t have said what he did. It wouldn’t have been possible by mere human thinking.

Of course, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God by faith.  But isn’t it neat when the Bible gives us just a little bit of “extra?”

Praise God with me that the Jesus, the author of our salvation, is indeed the Son of God.  And that he took on human form to live and die and conquer death – for us.