Does the BUT Define You?


...and such were some of you. But 
you have been washed, you have been cleansed… 
1 Corinthians 6:11

It was the bottom of the 10th inning of the 6th game of 1986 World Series. The Boston Red Socks were about to take their first title in 68 years, BUT…with two outs, first baseman Bill Buckner let a routine ground ball roll between his legs and the Mets won instead. That little word—BUT—changed everything. When Moses and a million Israelites stood on the banks of the Red Sea with a furious army in hot pursuit, they saw no hope, BUT…God parted the sea and they escaped. BUT is a little word with a lot of power to change our stories, both good and bad. No matter how things may appear, BUT can change everything.

Paul made a Top Ten List of evildoers who would never see God’s kingdom and then wrote, “and such were some of you.” In other words, most of us have worn labels from that list: Drunkard. Sexually immoral. Greedy. Those identities kept us under God’s judgement. BUT when Jesus saved us, He peeled off the old labels and gave us new ones: Child of God. Righteous. Accepted. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, He changes our identity and direction. We don’t continue living the Top Ten List while wearing the new labels He bought with His blood. BUT has power to change the World Series, to rescue the Israelites, and to change our identities. No matter what labels you wore in the past, BUT can change everything.


Find yourself on the list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. 
Do the labels still fit, or have you let the BUT define you? 
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Compared With...

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12

Glamour and Vogue speak loudly. So do the Emmy’s, the Grammy’s, and whoever votes for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. We scroll through endless channels hearing messages such as: “I used to be ugly, boring, and fat like you, but then I discovered Wonder Machine/pill/activity/toilet bowl cleaner! Now look how happy I am!”  We don’t realize how much we’ve internalized those messages until we analyze our self-talk. It sounds something like this: “Look at their new car/RV/house/kid. Sure beats my car/house/plants/spouse.” Or: “Why aren’t I gorgeous/rich/educated like that person?” And after scrolling through 50 Instagram selfies of our friend’s Tahiti highlights, our Branson vacation looks pretty lame. Comparison destroys contentment.

However, the flip-side of comparison is self-promotion. Our culture has elevated bragging to an art form. We have enough sense to cloak it in pretend humility, but in an effort to convince ourselves that we’re worthy of being admired, we post things like: “Humbled that my art/song/talent/looks beat out hundreds of other contestants to win this great prize! #greattobeawinner. We don’t mention that the competition was in kindergarten. When we compare our real lives to the highlights of others, we take our eyes off Jesus. We compete with them instead of loving them. Since we become like those we study, comparing our lives with Jesus keeps us humble and content. When we’re keeping up with the Kardashians, we stop keeping up with Jesus. 
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Let Love Cover It

Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8


That’s it! They really did it this time, and you’re just D.O.N.E. He was supposed to be your best friend. She was supposed to keep your secrets. Then, when you needed them most, they betrayed you. That group at church excluded you. You lost the election to a jerk. Your cousin posted that horrible comment on Facebook and everyone liked it. When you commented, you got shot down. You may have told yourself that you didn’t have any options. Their behavior forced you to retaliate. To hate. To cross them off your list forever. Change churches, drop out of the group, or become bitter. The truth is, you have a choice.


Let’s look at what Jesus did. One friend double-crossed him. Another denied he even knew Him. His closest buddies vanished and left Him alone with the bullies. After all He had done for them, all He had taught them, they evaporated at the first sign of trouble. They abandoned Him when He needed them most. We might say He had every right to retaliate. To hate. To cross them off His list forever. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He was talking about His executioners, but what if He also meant His back-stabbing friends? The first thing He did on Resurrection morning was to go looking for them. He forgave them, and showed us what it looks like when love covers over a multitude of sins.
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Bitter Roots


Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness 
grows up to trouble you, 
corrupting many. 
Hebrews 12:15


When we live with a root of bitterness, it shows up in every disagreement. Little slights or mistakes become World War III. Making it worse, bitter people ignite bitterness in others. They gravitate toward people having a disagreement and add fuel to the fire, pretending to help, but gaining converts to their cause. Bitter people often take their hurts to the internet. Their not-so-subtle posts flood our newsfeeds: “Marriage means getting your heart broken.” “I need a church that accepts people.” “If you don’t repost this, you’re not my friend.” Their bitter hearts are salved for a while if they get enough “likes” or comments, but attacking an enemy via social media is like firing a sawed-off shotgun at your entire Friends List. It misses the real target, but creates a lot of casualties. Bitterness poisons every relationship, including the one with ourselves.


Proverbs 20:3 has an even stronger name for people who create conflict. Make sure it’s not describing you.
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About or To


 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you...” Matthew 18:15-17



 “Wow, I heard about what happened with Eric,” Kym said. “I guess he’s pretty mad.” Luke gave her a puzzled look. “What? He’s never said anything to me.” Kym raised a brow. “It’s all over Facebook and at church. Can’t believe you haven’t heard. I was surprised you were like that. Guess you never know about people.” She shrugged as she walked away. Luke gripped the desk as the room spun. Why hadn’t Eric come to him if he was mad? What had he done? What was all over church? And Facebook? What did people think of him? He’d just started at that church, but he would never step foot in their building again.


What is your first response when someone sins against you? 
Do you talk TO them or ABOUT them?
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Who's Right? Who's Wrong? Who Cares?

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, 
and quarreling is like the bars of a castle. Prov. 18:19

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The scent of flowers was overpowering, and combined with the organ dirge, made Julie feel like throwing up. Why couldn’t funeral music be lively? Maybe the Beatles or at least a Polka. She shook her head against the crazy thoughts that were trying to distract her from the pain. Oh, Lindsey. Baby sister, shadow, best friend until the stupid fight. So stupid! Scenes from childhood danced through her head: matching dresses, laughter, Christmas morning. She squeezed her eyelids against the burning tears. Who cared who was right? Three years without speaking. What were they thinking? But it was too late now.


How many significant relationships have ended over something as silly as who said what to whom? Who’s right; who’s wrong? Who cares? At the root of most cold wars is Pride. Pride is a destroyer of relationships, putting up walls between two people and keeping score. Pride convinces us that we’re on the “high road” when we’re really on our “high horse.” Pride would rather die than humble itself, and many times it takes a death before we realize how foolish we were. By then, it’s too late. When we offend someone, or someone offends us, pride won’t let us ask forgiveness or extend it to another. It waits for the other one to move first, and the cold war begins. 

You may be in the right, but Pride is a poor substitute for a brother, a sister, 
or peace.  
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Make It Right


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“So if you are presenting a sacrifice… and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice…and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”  Matthew 5:23-24

“I didn’t do anything,” Dave muttered to himself. He glared at the floor as the worship band charged into another chorus.
“I just told it like it was. I was being honest. It was her fault she took it personally.” He gripped the chair back in front of him a little tighter and strengthened his resolve as worshipers around him sang their praises. “Pastor shouldn’t be insisting that I make this right. She’s the one who’s being overly sensitive. I liked her post on Facebook, what more does she want?” His internal justifications weren’t doing much to stop the pounding of his heart and this strange inability to feel close to God. They were playing his favorite song, too. Why couldn’t he enjoy it this morning? Must be that new worship leader.

Jesus offers Dave a way to stop the self-righteous grumbling in his heart and enjoy worship once more. But it requires humility, and humility is the one trait that we resist the hardest. Humility takes full responsibility for the pain we created in another. We don’t get to decide whether or not they should feel that way. Dave had been insensitive. It had been pointed out to him, and it was now up to him to make it right. If he walked across the aisle and apologized to the person he offended, he may have found that he liked the new worship leader after all. On Jesus’ list of priorities, reconciliation with those we hurt gets a top slot.

Have you hurt someone, even unintentionally? Have you made it right with them? Worship depends upon it. 
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Created for Community

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Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”  Genesis 2:18 


“I can worship God better out here in the woods. I love God, but I can’t stand people. So, church is not for me.” Maybe you’ve heard that. Maybe you’ve said that. It sounds logical; but it’s not scriptural. It’s also not true. First John 4:20 is clear that we cannot fully love God until we learn how to love our Christian brothers and sisters. The God who created us told us that it is not good for us to be alone. That means He designed us with an internal growth chip that is only activated in fellowship with other believers. When we isolate ourselves from our Christian family, we forfeit that area of growth. Here’s why:

When God created Eve for Adam, He already knew she would lead him into trouble. God could have wadded her up into a ball of clay and started over. But He didn’t. He let her stay, because He knew that she would challenge Adam to grow in ways that would be impossible if it was only Adam and God. Because of Eve, Adam learned some things about himself that forced him to depend upon God. And in our relationships, it is often the frustrating aspects that become the tools God uses to shape our character. Relationships challenge us to grow in ways that we cannot when it is just us and God. Our relationships reveal selfish motives, prideful attitudes, or errors in thinking that we would never address without our equally-flawed brothers and sisters bumping into those places. Communing with God in nature is wonderful, but we need each other to become like Jesus.
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On This Rock...

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“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…”  Matthew 16:18

“All churches want is your money.” 
“I’m not good enough for those church people.” 
“Church is for women and sissies.” 

Misconceptions about the word “church” are everywhere. Unfortunately, many people have reasons to think the way they do. They had a bad experience. They saw something on TV. They heard something at the beauty shop. They read it on the internet (so it must be true!). When we let experiences or culture define “church” for us, we get a distorted image—like wearing someone else’s prescription glasses. But when Jesus defines “church,” it looks a lot different.
 

According to Jesus, the church is made up of every human being who has repented of sin and confessed Him as Lord and Savior. The rock that this church is built upon is the truth that Jesus is who He says He is. And if He is God, then He has the right to lead us, command us, discipline us, and make us more like Him. Every person who chooses to follow His way is adopted into His family. So that means that the real church is filled with imperfect human beings in various stages of spiritual growth—just like any family is. That dynamic leads to disagreements, frustrations, and hurt feelings—just like with other families. But even radically different people can march in the same direction when they choose to follow the same Leader.

Teamwork


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When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority…  
Luke 9:1 


Coach whistled for the team and the 10-year-old Chargers gathered around. “OK guys,” he said, then, “Where’s Wilson?” Colby Wilson, Number 11, slouched by the dugout watching a plane in the sky. “Wilson!” shouted the coach. “Get over here!” Colby shrugged. “You can give me my instructions when you’re done there,” he called back. The coach’s face reddened and he marched to his third baseman. “You get over there! You’re part of this team. We learn together, we play together, we win or lose together. I’m coaching a team, not a bunch of Lone Rangers. Get over there, or you’re hurting the team!”

When Jesus was ready to spread His message to the world, He created a team. He handpicked twelve rough-around-the-edges men and poured His life into them—as a team. He taught them, coached them, and then He called them together as a team to give instructions. He expected this team to carry on His work, even after He was gone. He still expects that of us. Lone Rangers are fooling themselves. Some stay away from Christian community because they expect special treatment, others because their teammates are imperfect. But when we do, we hurt the team. We hurt Jesus. It’s hard to be other-focused in a selfie-world, but that is the heart of Christianity. When we gather as a team, Jesus gives us power and authority to do His work. 
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Encourage Each Other

 So encourage each other with these words
1 Thessalonians 4:18


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By the time the two Dorley brothers were finally rescued by the Coast Guard, they had been floating in the Atlantic Ocean for 6 days. Their family’s boat had capsized during a sudden storm, and both parents were lost. The boys managed to crawl onto a life raft and bailed out rainwater with their caps until the storm subsided. Making the situation even more treacherous, Colt, the younger brother, was blind. “How did you keep going?” one reporter asked. With a protective arm around his little brother, Calvin, age 12, answered, “When I felt like giving up, I would look at him. I couldn’t let him give up, so I told him I could see a boat coming. I described it so well I really could almost see it myself. I just kept saying it until it came true.”

That’s what this verse is talking about. The believers in Thessalonica were growing weary of daily persecution, trouble, and loss, so Paul wrote to them in glorious detail about the second coming of Jesus. They’d adopted some erroneous teaching about death and were in danger of losing sight of their purpose. Rather than rebuke them, the letter encouraged them to refocus on the promise that would soon come true. Jesus was coming back! It would all be worth it. They were to encourage each other with those words, and in doing so, encourage themselves. Our minds start to believe what our ears hear and when we speak truth in love, our thinking changes. Like Calvin, when we encourage our weary brothers, we encourage ourselves.
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A Case of Neglect

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And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…  Hebrews 10:25

“My wife and I have a great marriage,” Dave said as he lined up his next golf shot. “She does her thing and I do mine. We text occasionally and I Facetimed her on her birthday. I don’t like her ongoing affairs, and she doesn’t know about my spending habits, but other than that, we’re great.” Jeff whistled and shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “Those sound like red flags to me. Maybe those affairs are your wife’s way of crying out for attention. And maybe your overspending is a clue that you need her financial wisdom. In my family, I’ve found that neglect can do more damage than abuse. Just a suggestion.”

It was a good suggestion, because when we neglect significant relationships, everyone suffers. A church is a group of believers who meet together. But when we abandon the “meeting” part in favor of Youtube sermons in our jammies, we lose sight of its purpose. Jesus did not create His church for the sermons. He also never intended “church” to mean the Sunday morning version of “America’s Got Talent.” 

Jesus created His church as a fellowship of people from all backgrounds joined by a common bond: His transforming work in our lives. He molds us into a family, and family members need time, accountability, encouragement, and the opportunity to know and be known. We can’t get that through a computer screen or a phone app. Real church cannot be accessed with a click of the mouse. We experience real church when we do it together.
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Following Jesus

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“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Mark 8:34

“Who wants go to heaven some day?” asked Miss Wilson of her preschoolers. Every hand went up and she beamed with joy at her class of 30 “converts.” Bill got the same results at the county jail when he asked if any of the incarcerated men were “Christians.” Nine out of ten nodded. Likewise, teenagers smoking pot behind the gym laughed through a smoky haze about the times they “got saved” at youth camp, VBS, or when a friend forced them down the aisle at church. We’ve come to accept such claims as valid, but do those situations sound anything like Jesus’ definition of following Him?


Nowhere in scripture do we find commands to “ask Jesus into your heart,” “pray this prayer after me,” or “accept Christ.” Those phrases are attempts to explain the spiritual transaction that must take place in order to begin a relationship with God. Jesus called it being “born again” (John 3:3). But we have substituted the idea that “Christian” means checking the right boxes on a heavenly survey. However, Jesus was startlingly clear about what it means to know Him. He doesn’t take the back seat. He doesn’t offer to be “part” of our lives. Unless He is first in our lives, we are not His followers. If we won’t choose Him over everyone and everything, we are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37-38). Taking up our cross means we are willing to die to everything that displeases Him. When we do, we find more than an escape from Hell. We find that He is all we were looking for.

Watch This!


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 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12

“Looks good to me!” shouted Tex. “No way I won’t land in the water. This roof ain’t that high.” He turned to his buddies with a confident grin. “Watch this!” Those words were engraved on Tex's tombstone a few days later. It’s easy to see the foolishness of some people’s choices, but not so easy to see our own. We may not be jumping off four-story buildings, but we may be jumping into toxic relationships, dangerous financial debt, or sexual sin with that same confident grin. And like Tex’s fatal jump, it all leads away from the plan of God and eventually to death: spiritual, emotional, or physical.

The Bible warns us that there are always two roads before us. Always. With every breath, every choice, we have the option of stepping off the path God designed for us because there is another one that looks so inviting. We stop to gaze at its smooth stones, shady trees, and beautiful flowers. We weigh its seduction against the red flags in our conscience, then decide with Tex: “Looks good to me! No way I won't end up where I want to be.” What we don’t realize is that Satan has laid camouflaged traps all along this pathway. We won’t see them unless we study the Map. The Bible is a road map that shows the location of most of Satan’s traps, but if we don't bother to check, we don’t see them until it’s too late.  Whenever we choose our paths based upon what looks and feels right, we often forfeit the good plan God has for our lives. But His word leads us to it.

 How do you know you're on the right path? Compare your life choices to God's word.


Good Fruit, Bad Fruit

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A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.”  Luke 6:43-44


Jill wiped the sweat from her face and slapped the bark on an apple tree. “This one needs to come down,” she said. Her assistant gazed upward into the thick green foliage with a bewildered expression. “Why?” he asked. “Bad tree,” Jill answered. “Haven’t had any decent apples in two seasons. Those little ones up there? Half rotten. Tree’s no good to me now.” Her assistant still looked confused. “But…but all those leaves…it looks so healthy.” Jill shook her head and moved to the next tree. “It’s faking you out,” she laughed. “Pretending to be productive, but it’s all leaf. A tree is healthy if it produces good fruit.”

When a gardener plants and nurtures a fruit tree, he expects good fruit from it. If the tree is rotten inside, the fruit won’t be any good either. The same is true for us. The fruit of our lives is seen in the decisions we make, the attitudes we adopt, and the words we speak. If our hearts are self-centered, our fruit will be too. You can’t turn an oak tree into a peach tree by taping a peach to it. And going through churchy motions does not change our identities. Jesus offers to do that for us when we give our lives to Him. He changes us from the inside so that our fruit lasts for eternity. Unless our fruit is obedience to Christ, it’s all leaf.

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Cursed By God


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For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”   Galatians 3:13

“Crucify Him!” The screams from the bloodthirsty crowd echoed through the universe and Satan’s host cheered. Evil had won. Perfection would be silenced forever and humanity was all his. What neither Satan nor Jesus’ friends realized was that this moment had already been decreed as part of God’s plan to buy back humanity from sin’s enslavement. To be stripped bare and nailed to a tree in disgrace was the worst way to die. God’s law stated that any criminal who was hung on a tree was under God’s curse. To be crucified meant that even God had turned His back on you. What made this moment more incredible is that when Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 prophesied the kind of death Messiah must undergo, crucifixion had not been invented yet.


For Jesus to take our full punishment upon Himself, He had to experience the curse of God. In those hours as the Son of God writhed in agony between heaven and earth, He became our sin. His pure mind had never entertained a dirty, jealous, or hateful thought, yet it was flooded with every vile, perverted image human beings have entertained. The perfect hands that had healed lepers and blessed children became the hands of a pedophile, a murderer, and a thief. As He hung there, the embodiment of evil, God’s righteous wrath was poured out upon His own Son: “How could you murder babies! How could you lie steal, cheat, and lust! I cannot look at you!” When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” the curse that Adam’s sin brought upon the world was broken. Our debt was paid. Adam brought sin’s curse through one tree; Jesus broke it through another tree.

Two Trees


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In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9


The garden was alive with brilliant color and a thousand songbirds entertained in perfect harmony. Roses, honeysuckle, and lilacs filled the clear air with their heady perfume. And it was all a gift to them, a wedding gift from a loving Father. “Do you like it?” He asked. Their eyes were wide with wonder as they clutched hands and tried to take it in. “It’s all yours,” He whispered. “But you see those two trees in the middle? The one with the heavy fruit is off limits. Please don’t eat that; it will kill you. But everything else I made is just for you. I’ll come down and walk with you this evening to see how you’re doing. Enjoy!”

We sigh at this point in the story because we know what happens. It’s the same reaction we have when the dimwitted heroine in a movie heads toward the dark room. “Don’t do it!” we shout. And through thousands of years of history, we shout at our first parents: “Don’t do it!” But they did. And we do too. Given the choice between good and evil, we choose evil. The forbidden carries such an allure. SELF rises up and insists that the consequences can’t be all that bad. But they were then and they still are. Like Adam and Eve, we break the heart of our loving Father. But He refuses to live with a broken heart, so He broke His Son instead. On a different tree. Two trees—one destroys; one redeems. We choose the tree; we choose the consequences.

Adam’s tree said SELF was lord. Jesus’ tree says Jesus is Lord. Which tree are you choosing?
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Ulterior Motives


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The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this (miraculous) sign. John 12:18
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“Have you seen that new Rabbi?” Jacob asked. “I heard He turned one kid’s lunch into a feast.” Isaac nodded. “I actually saw Him heal that blind guy.” Not to be outdone, Levi called out, “Oh yeah, well I heard He raised a guy from the dead!” The three friends shouldered their knapsacks and broke into a run. “Let’s go see what else He might do!” Jacob cried, joining the crowds headed toward the Jesus Parade. “That’s the kind of leader I want! He could make us rich and famous!”
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The throngs gathering about Jesus that day came for a multitude of reasons, most of them misguided. They loved the miracles. People were still talking about the free food, and no one could get over blind Bartimaeus now reading the Torah for himself. We can easily see the wrong motives of the crowd that day, but what about our motives now? “I’ll give my life to Jesus if it will save my marriage,” says Stan. “I got saved in ’92, but my business went belly-up,” grumbles Rob. “Guess it didn’t do me any good.” 
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When we learn about the supernatural, miraculous things that God does, we get excited about what God might do for us. We start to treat the sacrifice of Jesus as merely the secret code into God’s Goodie Basket. Are we really much different from the crowd that day? It’s no wonder He wasn’t impressed by their praises. He’s not always impressed with ours either.

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Number One Goal


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“Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’?... Father, bring glory to your name.”  John 12:27-28


“Lord, help me! Get me out of here!” How many times have you prayed something like that? “Get me out of this job. This marriage! This contract!” “Save me from these kids! This mortgage! My in-laws!”  We assume that if we’re stuck on a difficult path, it must SURELY be the Lord’s will to save us from it. After all, isn’t our personal fulfillment God’s Number One goal? Doesn’t the Bible say that God exists to make us rich and deliriously happy every day?

If it does, then Jesus should have read His Bible more closely, because His life was anything but rich and deliriously happy every day. He faced all the troubles and temptations we face. But instead of begging the Father to beam Him up, He kept His focus on His purpose. Jesus knew He was headed for one of the most horrendous murders in human history, and every fiber of His being yearned to be delivered from it. Yet, He refused to give in to His trembling flesh. 

Instead He walked by the Spirit and kept His mind on His calling. His joy was in knowing He was bringing honor to God. What if that was our goal? We can pray for deliverance, but as followers of Jesus, our greater goal should be like His: “Father, bring glory to your name.” When we encounter tough situations, and ask God to be glorified in the way we handle them, we start to look a lot like Jesus.

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What Kind of King Do You Want?

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They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!"  John 12:13



Rabbi Jesus was the Man of the Hour. The crowds were in a frenzy of excitement. Their Deliverer had come at last! Things were gonna be great! All their hopes and dreams would now come true. Grab a palm branch, Benjamin, good times are on the way! But within a matter of days, the cries of joy became cries of “Crucify Him!” What happened? How could such love and joy turn into hatred so quickly? How could thousands adore Him one minute and betray Him the next? The same reason we do.

Palm branches were the way common people welcomed royalty. When they waved palm branches and laid them on the ground for the donkey to walk on, they were declaring Jesus their new king. He was going to deliver them from the oppressive Romans and set things right once more. But He didn’t. He wasn’t the kind of king they expected. He let them down. So they let Him down too. Just like we do. 

Many eagerly welcome Jesus into their lives as Savior, but when faced with the Lordship question, they balk. “Wait a minute,” they say. “I want the forgiveness, the comfort, and eternal life. But what’s this obedience talk? You mean I have to do things His way?” They throw away their palm branches and invent their own kind of king“Sure I’m a Christian, but I decide what’s right for me.” 

Two thousand years later, Jesus is still not the King most people want.

What about you? 
Is Jesus Christ the King you want? 
If He is not Lord, He is not Savior either.
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The Lord Has Need of It

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“And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say,

 'Because the Lord has need of it…’"  Mark 11:3

Kel had everything going for her: Ivy League education, bright career path, eligible bachelors in pursuit. But she left it all for the mission field of Sudan, where she spent the rest of her short life ministering to the poorest of the poor. Jak had hoarded pennies for years, scrimped when everyone else splurged, saved when everyone else spent. He knew it would all be worth it when he bought his first house. Then he learned about the orphanage in India that had been torched by terrorists. That very day, he bought a plane ticket, liquidated his saving, and headed to New Delhi. Why do they give it all away? Why would successful people who could live like kings in the U.S. choose to live like paupers in Ghana? Because the Lord has need of it.

Jesus did not ask for every donkey in Jerusalem. He had one picked out and He prepared the owner ahead of time. He did not steal the donkey. When the owner learned Who had asked for it, the animal was joyfully offered. A donkey is just a donkey until it becomes the King’s white steed. And our resources are common, everyday stuff—until they are placed in the hands of the King. Just as the owner of the donkey was prepared when the time came, so God prepares the hearts of those whom He has chosen for His purposes. He saves us and then calls us. He gives to us and then asks for it in return so that it will do far more in His hands than it could in ours. When others question, we answer like the disciples did: “Because the Lord has need of it.”

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Determination

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When the days drew near for him to be taken up, 
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  
Luke 9:51

Emmy Award Winner Dead of Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound. Former Miss Universe Enters Rehab for the Fifth Time.  Headlines like these are so common they barely capture our interest. Many of them have a common theme: a person who experienced extreme popularity couldn’t handle it. Fame can make people do crazy things because they let it define them. Their self-worth becomes dependent upon the opinions of others, and when those opinions change, they are devastated. Whereas they once believed they were superior, they come to believe they are inferior—based solely upon their current level of popularity. We may never be in the headlines, but we have a tendency to do that too.

Jesus knows all about it. He catapulted to stardom, and then His adoring fans abruptly turned on Him. But one striking feature defined His walk through this world: “He set His face toward…” Jesus never let the opinions of others alter His course. They could love Him or hate Him; neither fazed Him. He loved people, but did not let their opinions define Him. One day they tried to make Him king; another day they tried to shove Him over a cliff. Jesus knew that popular opinion was not a reliable guide, so He never based His actions upon His current popularity—or lack of it. He set His face toward the cross, toward the plan of God, toward His purpose, and refused to look back. If we follow His example, we don’t let the opinions of culture, our peers, or even family, alter our course. We set our face toward God’s plan, knowing that we are always and only who He says we are.



When we set our faces toward obedience to God, no one can alter His plan for our lives.  

Don't Waver

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He did not waver in unbelief at God's promise, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. Rom. 4:20

Have you ever been with people who cannot make up their minds? You ask, “Where do you want to sit?” and they ponder this as though the fate of the free world rested upon their answer: “Um, how about there…no, over there…no, wait…”  Our natural tendency is to waver. We waver over where to eat, what to wear, and when to make a call. Some even waver over their eternal destination. Someone asks: “Do you know for certain that you are going to heaven?” Waverers grimace, twist their hands and say: “Uh, I sure hope so…maybe. I guess.” Waverers have a hard time moving forward with anything, including faith.

Abraham is a great example to us of someone who could have wavered, but didn’t. God had given Abraham a promise: “You will be the father of many nations.” Abe was old and childless when this promise came. Yet, for twenty-five years he held on to it. He had heard from God and nothing could convince him otherwise. Verse 21 tells us how he kept from wavering. It says, “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.” Before we can believe God, we must know what He says. We must accept His offer to be Lord of our lives (Luke 9:23) and spend our days learning to follow Him. The more we know Him, the more we trust Him. As our faith grows, we become like Abraham, fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. Faith is believing promises before we see them. God honors such faith and strengthens those who persevere in it.
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Be Persistent



Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  Luke 18:1


“OK, OK, I’m coming,” Judge Barker growled, grabbing his bathrobe as he stomped down the hall. He flung open the front door and squinted into the porch light. The old woman was a familiar sight, silhouetted against the blanket of darkness. She smiled sweetly and held out a flower. “Your Honor, I haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks, and your secretary stopped taking my calls. I just wondered if you’d made a decision about my case.” The judge glared at the wilted flower. “Did you pick that out of my yard?” “Well, yes sir, I hope you don’t mind. I hated to come emptyhanded.” The judge slumped against the doorjamb and sighed. “All right. You win. I’ll hear your case first thing in the morn—” His words were cut off as his visitor grabbed him around the neck. “Oh, thank you, sir!” He mumbled a curse, but she glimpsed the hint of a smile just before he closed the door.

What an odd story Jesus told to remind us to keep praying. God is not a grumpy judge, so why would Jesus compare Him to one? He is using contrast to illustrate the differences between a grumpy judge and our heavenly Father. If a grumpy judge would grant a persistent request, how much more does our Righteous Judge listen to the requests of His children when we persist in prayer. We have thousands of throw-away requests:Help them not to see me here!” “Let that guy turn right!” “Make my bank balance not say what I think it says!” But important issues are worth our persistence. After we’ve exhausted our list of silly requests, we can get serious about what really matters. And if it matters that much to us, it matters that much to Him.

What in your life is worth persevering in prayer about? Have you given up? Jesus said to keep praying.


A Summons from the Most High

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“Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. 
You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”  Exodus 3:10

Moses shifted his bare feet on the hot sand as the words hit him. Pharaoh? Egypt? He’d left them behind years ago. Maybe the Lord didn’t realize that. Moses jabbed a toe into the sand and scolded himself. Of course the Lord realized it. The basket in the reeds. The palace. His destiny had been ingrained in him since birth, and this burning bush had ignited that old yearning. How he’d wanted to belong, but his enslaved kinsmen had only offered fearful bows to his royal garments. He had ached to free the grandpas and uncles who suffered while he dined in the king’s courts. But all that was behind him. He’d blown it. He thought he’d forever cancelled any chance of redeeming himself. But this burning bush. The voice of God. He approached the flaming bush as a shepherd; he walked away as the leader of his people. He had answered a summons from the Most High.


Moses is not the only recipient of such a summons. Thousands have heard that Voice and bowed before Him. Maybe you’ve heard it too, but like Moses, you came up with excuses. You ran. You blew it. You thought you’d forever cancelled any chance of redeeming yourself. But there it came again: “I have a job for you.” Prayer is the way we bow before that burning bush, and when our lives are positioned to obey, He speaks. We are invited to take off our shoes and put on our purpose. We may approach Him filled with excuses; we walk away a chosen vessel whenever we answer a summons from the Most High. 

Learning to Pray

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. 
Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

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“Oh God, please heal my daughter!” 

“Lord, if you are willing, don’t let me get fired.” 

“Oh, Father in heaven, please let me marry Jordan in fourth hour!” 

Heaven resounds with billions of desperate pleas by people like us. Many of them were answered; many were not. Most of those prayers did not end the way Jesus’ prayer ended, and that’s why God couldn’t answer them the way we prayed them. Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry Jordan in fourth hour? And aren’t we glad Jesus was willing to go to the cross anyway? Jesus laid His request before the Father, but He kept praying until His will matched God’s.


In those few words, Jesus gave us a model for our prayer life. He passionately made a request of His Father, but He didn’t stop there. We usually stop there. We think we’re showing faith if we lay our request before God and walk away. Jesus didn’t think so. He knew that what His flesh wanted did not line up with what His Spirit wanted. So He left the decision with God. He kept praying until He could agree with God’s choice. 

We must do that too. We may not want “Thy will be done” the first ten times we fall on our faces and cry out for help. That’s why we must keep going back, like Jesus did, until our hearts are aligned with His. Only then can we cooperate with God’s plan. And we are forever grateful that He did not go along with ours.

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The Prayers God Doesn't Want


If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, 
even his prayer is an abomination. 
Proverbs 28:9

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Wait! What? You mean there are some prayers God doesn’t want? 

According to scripture, yes. Prayer is a universally accepted idea, but we want to set our own rules for it. The majority of adults claim that they pray, but is God listening to those prayers? Scripture commands us to pray, but there are some guidelines for those prayers. For example, will God honor the prayer of a man who flings himself off a skyscraper with the words: “God, keep me safe?” Or would God honor the prayer of a murderer asking for nice weather for his next kill? Obviously, God does not welcome every prayer, but we want to think that He always hears ours. But does He? How do we know? Fortunately, He’s spelled it out pretty clearly for us.

God is all about the heart, because the heart determines our actions. We may say, “I don’t believe in stealing,” but we slip a twenty out of our employer’s cash register. We lied. We do believe in stealing. We may say, “I don’t believe in having sex outside marriage,” but our significant other is moving in next week. We lied. We do believe we can do whatever we want. Actions are our hearts on display. We may say we love God, but our actions indicate whether or not we are lying (1 Jn. 2:4). So, when we continually defy God’s clear commands, He doesn’t want to hear our requests. They disgust Him. He’s not fooled by our lying lips; he sees our hearts. When we’ve become our own gods, He knows it and He does not listen to idol worshipers.


Are you turning your ear away from hearing God’s law? The only prayer He wants to hear is repentance. 

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