Issue No. 300 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features one of my favorite historians—and his impressive book on the life of Jesus. Don’t skip this one! Like Jesus, the author’s flair for brevity is stunning: “He shuddered at pushiness.” And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
The Furniture of Literature
In my well-worn paperback, Jesus: A Biography from a Believer, by Paul Johnson, I’ve noted 43 favorite pages (with notes) I plan to revisit again and again. I’ve read this gem slowly, often devotionally, over many months—and now I urge you to read and relish this historical and inspirational treat.
But first—a word about the author. My friend, David Curry, introduced me to Paul Johnson’s historical masterpieces. So far, I’ve reviewed Churchill; Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney; and Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and De Gaulle.
Each book was a delight—and so I appreciated Curry’s warm recommendation to read Jesus, but I was prepared for disappointment. I mean—I’ve read and re-read the Gospels my whole life. What could a British historian add?
How about joy and nourishment?
Paul Johnson begins, “The sketch that follows, broad of brush and yet pointillist on occasion, reflects many years of reading and historical study. Apart from references to the Gospel texts (all in the King James Version), I do not cite my authorities, though I am prepared to defend all my assertions, if challenged, by documentation. My objects have been clarity and brevity, and my desire is to convey the joy and nourishment I receive in following Jesus’s footsteps and pondering his words.”
Here are some of my discoveries:
Page 38 - On the trouble with Judaism: “It had never been fundamentally reformed and was administered and enforced by priests and scribes who constituted closed elites, whose jobs were often hereditary, and who resisted change with fanaticism.” (Sound familiar?)
Page 43 – Forty days of fasting: “In the wilderness, however, the struggle was not in his mind but in the open, with Satan visible, vocal and formidable in power. The fact that Jesus recounted the details afterward to his followers shows how anxious he was to impress upon them that evil is not merely objective and material but also subjective and personal; that Satan exists and has to be overcome by strengths of will and clearness of distinction between the good and the bad. He transformed his personal temptation into a universal experience.”
Page 46 – He missed nothing: “He was a man greatly interested in detail. He missed nothing. He had a penetrating gaze, which eyewitnesses noticed and remembered. His all-seeing eyes were, almost certainly, the first thing that struck people about him.”
Page 51 – Follow me: “At the boundary between the territory of Philip the Tetrarch and Herod Antipas, ruler of the area where Jesus was operating, was a customhouse, where tolls were exacted on goods passing along the road. Jesus passed it, saw Matthew counting inside, and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ As he said the words, the penetrating look in his eyes, as they met Matthew’s, is the subject of one of Caravaggio’s greatest paintings, now on display at the Contarelli Chapel in Rome. Matthew obeyed instantly.”
Historian Johnson’s detailed research, much like the best of today’s preachers, adds flavor to the Gospel texts. His 21st century commentary—sprinkled with wisdom and realism—delivers joy and humor. Example:
Page 61 – Water into wine: “As it was, Jesus had provided, by my calculations, nearly a thousand bottles of vintage quality. This was talked about among the drinking classes of northeast Galilee, the men terming it ‘glory.’ The details of the new supply we may take to be correct, for where alcohol is concerned men rarely make statistical mistakes.” (Glory!)
Page 65 – Compassionate acts of healing: “But the more he insisted on silent gratitude, ‘the more a great deal they published it’ (Mark 7:32-36).”
Page 69 – Hole-in-the-roof healing: “The Pharisees were furious—and the man who owned the house cannot have been too pleased either.”
The author describes a Jesus who “detested being thought of as a kind of holy magician.”
Page 72 – Irksome PR: “In none of the four Gospels is there a single instance of his using his powers of healing to attract support—just the opposite. But sometimes publicity was unavoidable, and it could be dangerous, as well as irksome, to a profoundly thoughtful man and speaker who was eager to convey message by reason and not by ‘signs.’”
Page 81 – No preaching: “The ministry was continual. Even when he traveled, Jesus taught by the wayside. There is no evidence he preached formal sermons, let alone regular, repeated ones. Indeed, the word ‘preached’ should not be used about him. ‘Taught’ is more accurate. He taught as the Holy Spirit moved him, often in response to what he saw or heard, or to questions. He used synagogues where those in charge of them were friendly, or he taught in the open.”
Johnson adds, “Jesus was not thus overburdened by a program of specific appointments to teach. While always at work, he gives the impression of finding time to chat, albeit not about trivialities. There is never a sense of hurry.”
Johnson estimates that Jesus taught as many as 400 times over his three-year ministry.
Page 83 – An affair of the heart. “Jesus was a revolutionary who transformed the entire Judaic religious scheme into something quite different. It ceased to be a penal system of law and punishment—that could be left to Caesar and his soldiers—and became an affair of the heart and an adventure of the spirit.”
Oh, my. There is so much more—but I must stop and close with these one-liners:
• “The way in which a prayer was said was characteristic of Jesus’ teachings, which was to reverse all the assumptions.”
• “When we use words to conjure up a picture, it is striking how often the phrases he creates have become part of the furniture of literature.”
• “The surmises aroused by the story [the prodigal son] are endless: a sure sign it is a good one.”
• “Jesus the teacher is eloquent but succinct.”
• “His speech was silver, but we weigh his silences in gold.”
• “The Christianity he bequeathed has not been tried and failed. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, it has been found difficult and left untried.”
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Jesus: A Biography from a Believer, by Paul Johnson.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Paul Johnson writes, “It is a pity we do not have the text of the Last Supper hymn.” Imagine that scene for a moment—and then write some lyrics for A Last Supper Hymn.
2) The author notes that Jesus gave his disciples nicknames (Sons of Thunder, Peter—the Rock, etc.). What nickname might Jesus give you?
Don’t Trust Your Instincts in the Middle of a Crisis - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Crisis Bucket, Chapter 13, in Mastering the Management Buckets is not to trust your instincts in the middle of a crisis, but instead, to involve a trusted adviser immediately.
Emotions run high in a crisis. If you don’t have your act together when the phone rings, don’t trust your instincts. Pull out the emergency plan which should include consulting with a trusted adviser who will not be emotionally involved in your crisis. Trust that person’s instincts and counsel.
God will honor your preparation and your thoughtful in-the-heat-of-the-battle diligence. Does your emergency preparedness plan include a team of prayer warriors? Have you prayed about and then selected a team of wise counselors who will be ready when a crisis hits?
For more help, book recommendations and resources, visit the Crisis Bucket webpage and download Worksheet #13.1, "Plan Now for Your Next Crisis -- It’s Not If You’ll Have a Crisis, But When."