NOT WHAT THEY WANTED – Palm Sunday

For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. [Zephaniah 3:15-17 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. [John 1:10-11 (NLT)

blue jayWith palm branches waving, the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. News of Jesus’ miracles, especially the resurrection of Lazarus, had spread through town. They shouted “Hosanna!” at the man they thought would overthrow the Romans, establish peace in the nation, and retake David’s throne. Expecting a political liberator rather than a spiritual savior, they wanted deliverance from the Romans rather than redemption from sin—a conquering king rather than a suffering servant. More concerned about the here and now than the forever after, they wanted power and might rather than love, peace, humility, forgiveness or eternal life. Jesus, however, didn’t come to change their circumstances; He came to change their lives and, when He didn’t give them what they wanted, they rejected Him.

I sometimes wonder if we do the same. Are we fair-weather followers like the people of Jerusalem? Those cries of “Hosanna!” became calls to crucify Him when the miracles stopped. Like them, do we turn away from God when He doesn’t fulfill our expectations? If God delivered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a fiery furnace, why won’t He deliver us from cancer, marital problems, or debt? God answered Elijah’s prayers with rain, so why won’t He answer ours with an end to this pandemic? He freed Peter from his prison cell, so why won’t he free us from debt, pain, or addiction? When God doesn’t deliver what we want, do we turn our backs to Him as did the people of Jerusalem? Let’s remember that while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the furnace and Peter escaped from prison, not everyone got what they wanted: Stephen was stoned, John beheaded, Isaiah sawn in half, and James slain with a sword.

When God doesn’t meet our expectations, we may start to doubt. Instead of believing that God is good, we ask, “What good is God?” We don’t have to earn God’s love with our works and yet we expect Him to prove His love through His blessings. Our faith cannot be tied to His fulfillment of our desires and expectations; it must be tied to His word. His business is transforming us and not our circumstances.

Let’s never confuse our desires with God’s promises. He will always deliver what He’s promised—peace, love, forgiveness, salvation, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, His grace, and sufficiency. Whether they recognized Him or not, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, God was fulfilling His promises and meeting their greatest need: deliverance, not from the Romans, but from sin. God continues to be true to His word today. He will always deliver what He’s promised but, like that itinerant rabbi from Nazareth riding on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, often it is not what we expect or think we want!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT]

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

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DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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WHAT VALUE A LIFE?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:28-31 (ESV)]

sparrowAs the economy tanks and COVID-19 spreads, we hear economists and politicians speak of making a cost-benefit analysis to determine the cost of a prolonged shutdown of business and industry with millions out of work versus the cost of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people dying. How do we put a price tag on life, especially if the life is ours or that of someone we know and love?

By reducing the human body into its basic elements, DataGenetics concluded that the grand total of materials in a typical human body is a meager $160. I suppose that means the larger the body, the more valuable it is. FinanceDegreeCenter found that all our body’s organs (hair, blood, bone marrow, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.) could be worth up to $45 million when sold on the black market. That value, however, would depend on our nationality, health, blood type, age, and the purchaser’s urgency of need. According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency values a life at $9.5 million, which is their benchmark for determining whether to clean up a toxic waste site.

Does our value change with age? Is a baby’s life more worthy of saving than that of a seventy-year-old? During the George W. Bush administration, the lives of people over 70 were valued at 67% that of younger people when calculating the cost-benefit of regulating soot emissions from power plants. Although AARP’s backlash put an end to that model, could appraising all ages equally devalue the lives of young people? Along with considering the deceased’s age, juries in wrongful death law suits consider things like income, quality of life, and earning potential. Their valuations can range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.

How can any society assess the trade-off between economic well-being and anyone’s life? What is the value of one person? What is an acceptable number of fatalities? Yet, when we look at the dire economic consequences of a total shut-down, we find economists warning that making people poorer (with the resulting loss of food, shelter, essential services, mental health, medical care, opportunities, and sanitation) also has severe health consequences for the entire nation.

I’m neither economist nor politician and I can’t imagine doing a cost-benefit analysis between lives lost and a tanked economy. I’m thankful that the tough choices they are facing are not mine to make. Let us continue to lift in prayer our nation’s leaders and policy makers so that they will be guided by God’s wisdom in making the difficult decisions necessary in the days ahead. Although we hope that medical research and decisive government action will quickly put an end to this crisis, our ultimate hope lies in God.

As for any person’s value—all I know is that, from conception to death, the life of each and every person is cherished by God. He doesn’t value us by size, health, race, nationality, age, works, sex, income, potential, or even religion. Having formed us and breathed His life into us, God values each one of us as if we were His only child. We are so precious to Him that Jesus suffered and died for us—not for our economy but for our salvation! Every life is worthy of the salvation offered by Jesus—even that of a repentant thief who had but a few hours left to live as he hung on a cross beside Jesus.

Because of God’s enormous love for us, let us face today, tomorrow, and all of the days to follow with faith, hope, and love!

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. [Heidelberg Catechism]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (ESV)]

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BE LOVE TO SOMEONE

Children, let us not love in word, or in speech, but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18 (NTE)]

lilyEven though we live 1,400 miles away, I still stay in touch with our northern church; after all, it was our church home for forty-six years. Over the last several months, I’ve joined them in a weekly abundance exercise, the purpose of which is to realize the abundance in life promised by Jesus. Reminding me that “love is an action word,” my abundance assignment was: “Be love to a family member or an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.” I was to call or visit someone with whom I’d fallen out of touch and the reconnect was to be more than a quick note or text. Since my calendar was already crowded with meetings, guests, deadlines, chores, and other obligations, I griped that the last thing I wanted or needed was another task (even if it was as simple as meeting an old friend for lunch). With an abundance of items on my to-do list, I certainly didn’t need one more to have an abundant life! I figured this exercise could wait for a more convenient time.

That was my frame of mind when, the following day, I learned that the pastor at my northern church has metastatic cancer. There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into proper perspective. While I’d been complaining that showing a little love to someone was inconvenient and disruptive, he’d been given a diagnosis that truly was inconvenient, disruptive, and life-changing!

While grumbling about the inconvenience of the exercise, I’d missed the whole point: love. Indeed, love is an action word and rarely is there anything convenient about it. Selflessness, generosity, patience, kindness, bearing all things, and enduring all things: none of that sounds convenient and sacrifice always comes with a cost! In the ultimate act of love, God sacrificed His only Son for us yet I dared to grumble about arranging a lunch date! Out of love, Jesus laid down His life for us sinners but I didn’t seem to have time to spare for a friend! Yes, love often is inconvenient, even challenging, but we must never consider love to be a burden.

The pastor’s troubling diagnosis and the unexpected news I received the next morning that my sister died are vivid reminders of why we should reconnect with those we’ve let drift away. We don’t know if there will be a more convenient time tomorrow, next week, or the week after because we don’t know what the future will bring either for them or for us. There never will be a better time to be love to someone than today! Ann Voskamp said, “You love as well as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” Is there someone to whom you should be love? There’s no better time than right now to do it!

Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others. [William Arthur Ward]

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” John 13:34 (NTE)]

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COWBOY OR SHEPHERD?

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. [Psalm 23:1 (NLT)]

cowboy - Losee Canyon - BryceIn A Gentle Thunder, author Max Lucado compares the hero of the Bible, the shepherd, with the hero of the American west, the cowboy. They both herd livestock, their home is the range, and they sleep under the stars. The difference, says Lucado, is that the shepherd knows and loves his sheep because he leads them to be shorn. The cowboy, however, doesn’t get attached to his cattle because he’s leading them to slaughter! While several cowboys drive a herd of cattle and know one another’s names, just one shepherd leads a flock of sheep and it is their names that he knows!

Lucado’s comparison got me thinking about the cowboy heroes of my youth: Marshalls Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp, widower Lucas McCain (the Rifleman), gunfighter-for-hire Paladin, and the Lone Ranger with his trusty sidekick Tonto. They were larger than life heroes. Along with being excellent shots, they lived by a strict moral code, fought for law and order, and only used their fists or weapons in the cause of justice. I seriously doubt those cowboys bore much resemblance to the real thing.

The masked Lone Ranger stands out in my memory. He and Tonto rode through the West, doing good deeds and fighting evil. The stories were formulaic and, when the townspeople were in dire straits, our heroes would save the day. With the “William Tell Overture” playing in the background, they would ride into town, guns blazing, and rescue the good citizens from the forces of evil. Then without waiting for thanks, they’d ride off into the sunset with Rossini’s music in the background. We’d hear the Lone Ranger call, “Hi-yo, Silver” and someone would ask, “Who was that masked man?”

We no longer face the challenges of frontier life: desperadoes, stagecoach robberies, cattle rustling, hijacked stage coaches, gunfights, claim jumping, or evil land barons. Nevertheless, we need to be rescued from more realistic problems: fear, worry, poor choices, illness, anger, broken marriages, estranged families, doubt, indebtedness, addiction, disabilities, loss, and the challenges of care giving. Sadly, no cowboy in a white hat is going to ride to our rescue and the solution won’t occur in a thirty-minute time slot. Nevertheless, sometimes we seem to think Jesus will do just that (only without the silver bullets and white hat).

Fortunately, as Lucado points out in his book, we don’t have a cowboy; we have a shepherd. Unlike the Lone Ranger, He doesn’t travel around until He comes upon someone in trouble and, unlike Paladin, we don’t have to hire Him. Moreover, He never rides off into the sunset after helping us. Like a good shepherd, Jesus is always with each and every one of us. Being the sheep of His pasture, however, doesn’t mean we won’t encounter predators, pests, harsh environment, storms, or sickness. We’ll occasionally stumble, wander off, or be tempted by poisonous weeds. Having a shepherd means that we’re never alone in those trials. We don’t need to wait for a hero to save the day because our savior is in the day with us! The few times the Lone Ranger was caught, he never was unmasked and no one except Tonto knew his identity. As Christians, however, we know the identity of our shepherd. If we truly follow Him, we’ll never need a cowboy to save the day.

We need a shepherd. We don’t need a cowboy to herd us; we need a shepherd to care for us and to guide us. He’s not a cowboy, and we aren’t cattle. He doesn’t brand us, and we’re not on the way to the market. He guides, feeds, and anoints. And Word has it that he won’t quit until we reach the homeland. [Max Lucado]

I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. [John 10:14-15 (NLT)]

Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls. [1 Peter 2:24-25 (NLT)]

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WITH AUTHORITY

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. [Matthew 7:28-29 (NABRE)]

water liliesWhen Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds were astounded at his teaching because, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, He taught with “authority.” When the people wondered at Jesus’ authority, they weren’t referring to His ability to speak confidently and persuasively. The Greek word translated as “authority” was exousia which meant power or right; the people wondered at Jesus’ authorization to say the things He said. Rather than teach on their own authority, most rabbis taught on the authority of earlier sages. The Moody Bible Commentary depicts them as virtual “walking footnotes” who merely cited famous teachers and repeated what had been said before by others.

While it’s usually translated as “Verily” or “Truly, I say to you,” Jesus often began His teaching with the words, “Amen, I say to you.” Meaning “truly” or “certainly,” the word “amen” was used at the end of a prayer to confirm its words. It also was said when affirming a pledge; saying “amen” at the end of an oath made the vow valid and binding. By saying, “amen” before He spoke, Jesus was guaranteeing the truth of His words: His distinctive power and right. In effect, Jesus was announcing, “I say this to you indisputably, unequivocally, and with the fullest authority.”

A perfect example of Jesus’ claim of authority is found in His lesson about building on a solid foundation (written about yesterday). His simile echoed one used by many Jewish rabbis but with one very important difference. In the rabbis’ version, the solid foundation was to be the Torah; in Jesus’ version, the unshakable foundation was His word! His audience must have been shocked by those words; it’s no wonder they marveled at the authority He claimed.

When we look at the authority with which Jesus taught and acted, we can see why the priests, teachers and elders felt their position threatened. When they demanded to know by whose authority Jesus acted and spoke, they weren’t interested in an answer; they just wanted to trick Him into saying something that would label Him as an eccentric fanatic or a blasphemer. Like a true rabbi, Jesus answered their question with one of His own and asked where John the Baptist got his authority. Instead of backing Jesus into a corner, He’d backed them into one. If they said John had no authority, the people would be angry and, if they said John’s authority was from God, they’d have to answer for not believing and supporting the Baptizer. When they refused to answer, so did Jesus.

It had been a long dry spell for the people of Palestine; before John, the last time God spoke was through the prophet Malachi more than 400 years earlier. When Jesus spoke, the people were again hearing the Word of God! The difference was that John and the other prophets knew they were mere messengers; the words they spoke were not their own. When Jesus spoke, he wasn’t God’s messenger; He was God’s Son. Jesus didn’t just have authority; He was the incarnate Authority of God!

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. [John 5:24 (NABRE)]

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