The Generosity Gospel 10/13/19

“The Generosity Gospel”

Luke 16:19-31

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning

Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

October 13, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

If I were asked to list five of the most important parables Jesus told, the one in today’s text would be included. The failure to heed the warning and advice in it will have repercussions for all of us in this world and the life to come.

Listen as I tell this dramatic story.

A poor, lame, sick beggar by the name of Lazarus sat outside a rich man’s gate each day, hoping to be noticed so he could receive some assistance. It’s not like this beggar was asking for much from his neighbor, although it was obvious by the clothes the rich man wore, the food he ate and the palatial house he lived in that he was a person of great wealth and could have afforded to help Lazarus with more than the necessities of life. It appears Lazarus would have been content if a servant had merely brought him scraps from the rich man’s table and some bandages to cover his open sores.

Sadly, this never happened. As a result, he grew so weak he was unable to keep the dogs from licking his wounds, which had to be humiliating and painful.

Eventually, both men died, and this is where the story takes an unusual turn. The destitute beggar, Lazarus, was escorted to the bosom of Abraham, where it appeared he was the honored guest at a banquet. On the other hand, the rich man ended up suffering in Hades, the dwelling place of the dead according to ancient tradition.

Obviously, the advantages of wealth did not follow the rich man into eternity. As a matter of fact, there was a complete reversal of fortunes for both men after they died.

          In his anguish, the rich man cried out to Father Abraham for relief, but his request was denied. To make matters worse, he was told the chasm between Lazarus and him was too deep and wide to cross. His condition was unalterably final.

          Sensing it was too late for him, the rich man pleaded for Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, lest they follow down this path. Again, his request was denied as he was reminded his brothers had the Law of Moses and the prophets, just as he did. If they would listen to them, they would know how to be spared their brother’s fate.

          Did they listen to the wise counsel of their ancestors who urged them to be their neighbor’s keeper, or did they go down the same road as their self-absorbed and indifferent brother? Jesus doesn’t tell us. I suppose he intended for each of us to write the ending based upon the way we handle wealth and power.

          Why did Jesus tell this parable? He was upset with the Pharisees for the way they were living their lives and carrying out their responsibilities.

Earlier, he accused them of loving money more than God and the people they were called to serve, which they found preposterous. They sneered at him when they heard this (Luke 16:14) and vowed to humiliate and discredit him.

Jesus knew what their misplaced priorities had done to them, though. The love of money turned their hearts cold and blinded them to the people who needed their help most. They were the rich man in this poignant parable.

It has been reported American industrialist and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production, Henry Ford, had a pair of glasses on his desk with silver dollars in the frames instead of lenses. When asked why they were there, he put them on and tell his guest, “Occasionally, I wear them to be reminded when money gets too close to my eyes, I can see nothing else.”

Evidently, Jesus felt this had happened to the Pharisees, and he knew how tragic this was for them and the people around them struggling to survive. This parable was his attempt to open their eyes, hearts and minds so they could repent.

So, what message was he sending to the Pharisees in this parable? How they handled their wealth and power mattered to God and should matter to them. Too much was at stake for them and those who looked to them for hope if they missed the opportunities they had to make life better for everyone, especially the least among them.

Is this a message we need to hear today? I certainly believe so. As we sit here this morning in this land of plenty and privilege, we need to understand the advice and warning Jesus was giving to the Pharisees. How we handle the wealth and power God has entrusted to our care matters to God and should matter to us.

Why? If we are not wise and responsible stewards, we shall regret it, not just after we die but even before our time on earth comes to an end.

Ask the rich man in this parable. Is there any doubt he would have something to say to us about the way we use our resources and influence? The man who begged Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers would quickly tell us not to make the same mistake he did.

What did he do wrong? He ignored a beggar that sat at his gates every morning. This poor man was, in the words of an Ethiopian preacher, the invisible man. It was as if he did not even exist.

It was not that he was unimportant to the rich man. He simply was not there.

As a result, the rich man passed up an opportunity every day to improve the living conditions and health of this beggar. His eyes were fixed squarely upon the desires of his heart, which revolved around what he had and what more he wanted. It appears sharing what he had never entered his mind, this is until after he died.

After he died, however, he had perfect vision. Clearly, he saw what was important to God and should have been to him.

And what was that? Compassion and generosity. Gratitude and giving. Caring and sharing. Helping and healing. Loving and lifting.  Seeing and responding…to a fellow human being who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life.

Why did he fail to do these things? He was so self-absorbed he was completely oblivious to the difference his money and power could have made in the life of this beggar and so many others who were struggling to survive.

Many of you are familiar with the comic strip, Garfield. It was created by Jim Davis in 1978, and chronicles the life of the title character, a cat known as Garfield. The other characters in the strip are Jon Arbuckle, Garfield’s owner, and a dog named Odie.

One cold winter night, Garfield looks out the window and sees Odie peering through the window. Garfield thinks to himself, “This is horrible. Here I am in the comfort of a warm house, well fed and taken care of, and there is Odie outside begging to come in from the cold so he can get warm and have something to eat. I can’t stand it anymore. I just can’t stand it.”

So, what does Garfield do? He goes over to the window and closes the curtains!

I get the feeling the rich man in today’s text closed the curtains often. I have a hunch many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did too, especially the scribes and Pharisees. It is apparent many of Luke’s readers were guilty of this, too.

What about us? Are we more like the rich man in this parable than we want to admit?

My purpose today is not to make you feel guilty about what you have. If you have worked hard and been responsible with your earnings, I am proud of you. Our world needs more people like you.

My goal this morning is to help you put what you have earned or even inherited in perspective and to see how the wealth and influence you have can be used to make this world better for all people. By being a wise and faithful steward, you can serve God in ways others cannot, and it is to your benefit and theirs to do it.

Compassion and generosity are hallmarks of our faith. They are the rebar in our foundation. Why?

I believe there are two reasons. Compassion and gratitude create healthy communities, and they also bring the best out in us. Let me explain.

Healthy communities are built upon people who are compassionate and generous. In God’s kingdom, no one is invisible, and no one is to be left behind. Today’s parable cannot make this clearer.

The community which says, “We are with you,” as opposed to the community which says, “We are not with you,” is the community which reflects the heart and nature of God. This ethic of love is the essence of our faith as a participant in the kingdom of God, and it is the core of the gospel Jesus preached and modeled. 

For me, one of the most intriguing parts of this parable is the proper names included in it. This is the only parable where Jesus named some of the main characters.

You would think if Jesus was going to give someone in the parable a name, it would be the rich man. This is not what Jesus did. He gave the dying beggar the name, Lazarus, and then identified the patriarch, Abraham, as the one who welcomed Lazarus home after he died. 

Why did Jesus do this?

It had to be Jesus’ way of showing the beggar as a real person with needs and feelings common to all people. By giving this beggar a name, Jesus revealed that Lazarus was as important to God as anyone else in this story. He might have been invisible to the rich man that passed by him every day but not to God.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, my former church in Atlanta, Smoke Rise Baptist, teamed up with the members of Lemoyne Boulevard Baptist Church in Biloxi, Mississippi to address the overwhelming needs of their church and community. Once a month for forty months, we sent members from our church to help the people in that hard hit region to rebuild their homes and lives.

About a year into this project, the pastor of that church, Bill Renick, came to Atlanta to speak in our worship service. He thanked us for what we were doing and gave us a firsthand account of what life had been like following this natural disaster.

He made one comment that day that almost brought me to my feet. He confessed that before Katrina hit the coast, he and his members had not been that engaged in helping those in their community who were struggling to survive. They passed by many people’s homes on their way to church every day without knowing who lived in those homes and what their stories were.

Then he said, “God had to blow the walls of our church away for us to see those who had been there all the time needing something from us.” He continued, “Never will we be this insensitive and indifferent again.”

Again, the community which says, “We are with you,” as opposed to the community which says, “We are not with you,” is the community which reflects the heart and nature of God. This is the foundation upon which healthy communities are built, including ours. Our parable plainly discloses this.

Furthermore, compassion and generosity bring the best out in us. They make us better family members, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, church members and citizens.

This was true for Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Do you recall the 2009 box office hit, The Blind Side? This movie depicted the life of Michael Oher, a homeless teenager who, with the help of a caring and courageous woman and her family, became an All American football player and first round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.

          One icy winter night, as Michael was walking down the road to the school gym where he slept most of the time, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband, Sean, and their children, Jae and Collins, stopped and picked him up. Instead of taking him to the gym, however, Leigh Anne insisted they take him home for the night. This began a special relationship between this wealthy white, Mississippi family and a very gifted, yet poor, oversized and under-educated African-American.

                One reason I liked this movie was because it showed the difference one family made in the life of an individual who desperately needed somebody to notice his condition and help him. The Tuohy family could have passed Michael that cold, dark, dreary night as countless others had done. They could have drawn the curtains, but they didn’t, and because they refused to ignore Michael, their lives and Michael’s were forever changed.

          One of my favorite lines in the movie was spoken by Leigh Anne as she was having lunch with her high-society friends when one of them asked, “Leigh Anne, are you trying to change Michael?” Softly, she replied, “No, he’s changing me.”

          This is what compassion and generosity do for us. They melt our hearts and make us more Christ-like in the way we arrange our values and priorities and relate to others.

Our text underscores this by reminding us that indifference, apathy and greed have no place in the heart of anyone who follows Jesus. When they do, that person is guilty of trying to serve two masters.

Under no circumstances are we to be so self-absorbed or fearful of losing what we have accumulated that it keeps us from seeing the difference we can make in others’ lives when we share from a heart of gratitude what God has made possible for us to have.

So pull back the curtains before it is too late.

Open your eyes. Listen to your heart.

          Notice the people along your daily journey who are struggling to survive. Smile. Ask them their name. Listen to their story.

          Encourage them. Lift their spirit. Bind their wounds. Share your food. Invite them to your table.

Visit a shut-in. Read to a child. Baby-sit for an exhausted mother. Pay someone’s utility bill for a month. Write a note to support someone who is facing an intimidating challenge.

          Work with others to respond to needs beyond your ability to address and meet. Support our church with your tithes and offerings as we do our best to make hope visible to the least among us. Offer to serve alongside fellow church members as you share your time and talents to meet the needs of neighbors, near and far.

          When we are our brother’s keeper, we are the presence of Christ in a broken and hurting world. When we refuse to leave anyone behind, God cries tears of joy. When we bend down to help someone who has fallen, together we find our way forward, and it leads straight to the heart of God.

          It has been said no one gets into heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor. Who will write your letter?

Music, Memories and More 9/29/19

“Music, Memories and More”

Colossians 3:12-17

Dr. Robert F. Browning

Calvary Baptist Church

September 29, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

There are 185 songs recorded in the Bible.

I am not surprised. People of faith like to sing.

Perhaps this is due to the fact faith is relational and all relationships are comprised of hopes and dreams, celebrations and special events, disappointments and despair, experiences and stories and a variety of emotions…all the things that give birth to songs. 

The first song in the Bible can be found in Exodus 15:1-21. This was a song composed by Moses and his sister, Miriam, after the Hebrew people safely crossed the Red Sea and left Egypt on their way to a new and better life.

The longest song is Psalm 119. It has 176 verses and is a poem set to music exalting the importance and value of God’s Word and words.

The shortest song can be found in 2 Chronicles 5:13. It is seven words long, 5 in Hebrew. “He is good; his love endures forever.” This song was sung as a part of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple when the Ark of the Covenant was brought in before a crowd of grateful worshipers. The Ark was led in by 120 trumpeters who were accompanied by instrumentalists playing cymbals, harps and lyres.

                Some of the songs in the Bible were sung by individuals and others by 2 or more people.

                Some were sung when people were happy and others when they were sad.

                Some were sung when people were worried, scared or frightened and others when people were relieved because they made it through a storm.

                Some were sung by those in the pit of despair and others when people were on the mountain top.

                Some were sung by people struggling with guilt and others by those who had been forgiven and liberated from guilt and shame.

                Some were sung by those pleading for help and others by people expressing gratitude for much needed help.

                Most of the 185 biblical songs had one thing in common, though. The people who sang them wanted God to know what was going on in their lives and how they felt about it.

                Why? Because they believed God cared.

We have experienced a wonderful service today with beautiful music. The emphasis, however, has not been on the hymns we have sung, the anthems the choir sang or the songs the instrumentalists played.  Our attention has been squarely focused on the good, gracious and faithful God we worship and serve.

                You see, we believe this God cares about us, too.

We believe God knows each of us…God knows our names…knows our stories…knows what is in our hearts…knows what challenges we are facing…knows what worries are keeping us awake at night…knows what fears are haunting us…knows what disappointments we are trying to work through…knows what we are mad about…knows what mistakes we are making…knows how guilty we feel…yet God still loves us…unconditionally…eternally…like a parent loves a child…like a teacher loves her students….like a doctor or nurse loves their patients…like a coach loves his players…like a minister loves her parishioners.

                How can we be so confident of this? What makes us think the God who created the universe knows us and cares for us?

We know this because of what Jesus said and did. Jesus was sent to reveal the true heart and nature of God, and he did this every day in every way through his words and actions.

                He conducted his entire public ministry by walking those dusty, Palestinian roads listening to the stories of ordinary people so he could respond to them with grace and mercy. He made circles of friends everywhere he went and made hope visible to everyone he met.

He considered no one unimportant. He discounted no one’s story. He left no one behind.

He cared deeply for everyone he encountered, and he treated each one with dignity, respect and compassion.

                Ask the woman caught in adultery who watched in awe as Jesus became her advocate and saved her life.  

                Ask the woman at the well whom Jesus treated with respect when all others shunned her and then restored her self-respect through his comforting, forgiving and healing words.

                Ask Mary, Martha and Lazarus after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and returned him to the family that so desperately needed him.

                I would not be surprised if every one of these people, and many more Jesus encountered, wrote and sang a song to honor Jesus and to express their appreciation to God.

                Grateful people make a joyful noise. When their heart is full they can’t remain silent. Gratitude must be expressed and one of the best ways to do this is by singing…alone or with others.

                No wonder today’s text in Colossians mentions the word gratitude in three consecutive verses, including the one in 3:16. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” 

Grateful people make a joyful noise. Are you?

Do people believe you care about them through your hopeful words and life-giving actions? If they do, don’t be surprised if they write a poem or song about what you have done for them. For sure, you have made their hearts sing.

The Day Jesus Quit Church 9/8/19

“The Day Jesus Quit Church”

Luke 13:10-17

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church

September 8, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

I don’t know how long it took her to walk into the synagogue and take her place among the women. Her days of getting anywhere quickly faded years ago. For eighteen years she had struggled with a debilitating back disorder that left her helplessly bent over when she stood or walked.

            Waking was difficult. Sitting was uncomfortable. Standing was at times unbearable.

            I suspect Jesus watched her as she slowly made her way into the synagogue. He was sitting in front of the crowd teaching and could clearly see what a struggle it was for her to get anywhere.

            I think Jesus was as impressed with her devotion and determination as he was heartbroken over her physical condition. He interrupted his lesson and called her forward.

            “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity,” Jesus said. (13:12) Then Jesus put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

            You would think everyone would be happy for her and grateful for what Jesus had done. Who would not rejoice with her and her family?

            Luke tells us. The leaders of that synagogue were not a part of this celebration. The ruler of the synagogue even stood up and delivered a stinging rebuke of Jesus and warning to the people gathered for worship.

“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (13:14)

This ruler and other leaders of that synagogue were furious over Jesus’ violation of laws that prohibited any kind of work on the Sabbath, including healings. To them, what Jesus did was inexcusable and indefensible.

Jesus had grown accustomed to this kind of resistance from the leaders of other synagogues. He was not surprised by their response and public denunciation of him. But neither was he going to let it go unanswered.

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (13:16)

They got the message, and so did the people listening to Jesus. Luke said Jesus’ opponents ended up being the ones humiliated while the people rejoiced over Jesus’ ministry in their community.

There are three main characters in this story. I am impressed and inspired by two of them. On the other hand, I am disappointed in and disturbed by the third one.

To begin, I am impressed with this woman. For eighteen years she had been faithful to honor the Sabbath by attending her local synagogue. Every time she came, she was in pain, the kind that burned, ached and cut her like a knife.

Yet she came. She never missed as long as she could get there.

I am impressed with her devotion to God and loyalty to her local synagogue. Obviously, her faithfulness to God did not depend upon God doing what she wanted. This is because her faith was built upon an unwavering trust in God to provide what she needed each day to manage whatever came her way.

By this time, she had learned to look to God for strength, courage, stamina, willpower, determination, wisdom, guidance and the ability to persevere. If healing was not in her future, the gifts she needed from God to live with her chronic illness were, and for these blessings she was grateful.

Impressive, isn’t she, as many others I know just like her.

I am also impressed with Jesus’ compassion and courage in this story. Surely, he knew he would be criticized and condemned as he had been in other synagogues. Why would he subject himself to public ridicule and danger one more time?

His ministry wasn’t about him. It was about the people who needed him, like this dear woman. Her welfare was more important to Jesus than his reputation, comfort or security.

Jesus decided in the desert when he was tempted at the beginning of his ministry that he was sent to stand with the poor and to heal the bruised. Nothing was more vital or necessary, not even Sabbath rules.

As far as Jesus was concerned, there was no wrong time to do the right thing. People were more important than sacred traditions. Concern over the suffering of fellow human beings took precedence over obligations related to keeping the Sabbath.

As impressed as I am in our text with this woman and Jesus, I am disappointed and disturbed by the president of the synagogue who chose to humiliate and to discredit Jesus instead of rejoicing over what he did for this deserving lady.

When did he decide to value rules and regulations over his neighbors? When did he come to believe God was more pleased with his enforcement of long held traditions than making hope visible to those who lived with pain and in despair? How did he justify his priorities after reading the prophets, who always sided with those who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life and needed help to survive?

What would I have preferred to hear the leader of the synagogue say that day? It would have been nice had he asked Jesus’ permission to invite others to come forward who needed to be healed so Jesus could make them whole, too. He could have offered to take Jesus to the homes of some of his neighbors who were too sick to come to the synagogue so Jesus could heal them. What a difference this would have made in the lives of those entrusted to his care.

He did neither that day. Instead, he chose legalism over love.

Why do you think Luke included this story in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry? Perhaps he had a two-fold purpose.

He wanted his readers to know this incident had a profound influence upon the way Jesus continued to minister to the people he was called to love and to serve. Because of what happened that day in that synagogue, which was similar to other experiences in neighboring synagogues, Jesus decided to interact with people outside the walls of a synagogue. From this point forward, his ministry would be conducted in the homes of people who needed him and in the streets and countryside where people could get to him.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus never enters a synagogue again. This was the day he quit church. He continued to do the work God sent him to do by making hope visible to those struggling to survive. He was just not going to do it in the community’s traditional gathering place, the synagogue.

Can you blame him? From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced his fiercest opposition to this divine mission in a synagogue due to what he said or did.

The first time Jesus entered his hometown synagogue in Nazareth after being baptized and embarking on this prophetic and pastoral ministry, he was asked to read scripture and to speak. Contrary to what you would think, this did not turn out well.

After delivering his inaugural sermon, he was run out of the synagogue by an angry mob. The religious authorities and many of his neighbors chased him to the top of nearby hill where they intended to throw him over to his death. (Luke 4:14-30)

            On another occasion, Jesus went to a synagogue in a neighboring town where he healed a man who had a withered hand. Once Jesus saw this man, he interrupted his teaching and ordered this man to stand up. “Stretch out your hand,” he said to the lame man who now had everyone’s eyes locked on him. When the man did as Jesus commanded, his hand was healed.

            The reaction of the religious leaders in that community? They were furious with Jesus for ignoring Sabbath laws which prohibited work of any kind during that day of rest. Immediately, the religious authorities began discussing what they were going to do with this rule breaker and trouble maker to silence his voice and to end his ministry. (Luke 6:6-11)

Going to the synagogue as was his custom was becoming increasingly difficult for Jesus. Instead of worshiping God and making new friends, Jesus found himself being criticized, condemned and threatened.

            “Once more,” he must have said to himself. “I’ll give it one more try.”

            According to Luke, he did, and guess what? This experience recorded in today’s text was no different than previous ones.

            So, in Luke’s gospel this was the last time Jesus entered a synagogue. Jesus wasn’t giving up on God or this transformative ministry. He was strategically focusing his attention upon the people and places where he could be most effective.

            Do you recall what Jesus said to the disciples the first time he sent them out to minister in nearby communities? “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” (Matthew 10:14)

            Sounds like Jesus took his own advice.

            The other reason I believe Luke included today’s story was to encourage his readers, second and third generation Christians, to establish and to develop the kind of churches Jesus would be happy to attend and support. And what would those churches look like?

They would be filled with people who value love over hate, serving over being served, sacrifice over self-indulgence, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting and peace over violence.

They would be filled with people who confront evil, right wrong, lift up the lowly, find the forgotten, liberate the oppressed, heal the sick, feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the grieving, love the unlovely, forgive people who make mistakes, give people another chance to achieve their potential and teach people how to live peaceably with one another.

They would be filled with people who remain faithful to God in good times and bad, are known for their compassion and courage, seize every opportunity to lighten the load someone is carrying, stand with the poor and heal the bruised, give themselves away in service to others and think there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.

Let’s always strive to be this kind of church at Calvary. If we are, I not only think it will please and honor Jesus, but it will also attract a new pastor eager to lead and to mobilize Calvary Baptist Church to be the presence of Christ in a broken and hurting world.

Follow The Leader 9/1/19

“Follow the Leader”

Mark 1:14-20

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

September 1, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

Our attention is drawn this morning to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This, by the way, is where Mark’s account of Jesus’ life begins.

            If you are looking for the birth narratives in Mark’s gospel, you will be disappointed. There is no manger in Bethlehem, and there are no angels singing, shepherds bowing or Wise Men traveling from afar to see the baby Jesus. You will find these details in Matthew and Luke.

            There is a two-fold purpose in the opening paragraphs of this gospel. The first is to introduce Jesus to the readers. The story then moves to introduce Jesus’ ministry to Mark’s audience. 

            Mark used the words of the prophet, Isaiah, and the bold proclamations of the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist, to introduce Jesus. Mark clearly identifies John as the forerunner of Jesus, the one designated to prepare the way for Jesus and his ministry.

            The readers are then informed that Jesus was baptized by John, a move that was affirmed by the presence and words of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, according to Mark, immediately led Jesus to the wilderness where he, through a series of temptations, came to grips with what was important to him and how he would conduct his ministry.

            It appears Jesus returned to Nazareth after this period of testing and waited until the time was right for him to leave home and embark on the divine mission assigned to him. This is where we pick up today’s text.

            From my perspective, Mark used this passage to answer three questions: When did Jesus begin his ministry? What was to be the focus of his ministry? Who would be included on his ministry team?

            Let’s spend a few minutes with each of these questions.

            When did Jesus begin his ministry?  

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ Jesus said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ ” (1:14-15)

When John was arrested and his prophetic voice was silenced, Jesus knew it was time to hang up his tools for a final time and to leave Nazareth. I believe there were two reasons he knew this.

John was not going to be released from prison. He had offended too many powerful people with his stinging criticism of their selfish, greedy, immoral lifestyles and their corrupt style of leadership. As a result, John would pay the ultimate price for speaking truth to power. He would be executed.

This meant John’s voice would never be heard again, and the silence would be deafening.

Who would take the microphone from John to preach good news of hope and to point the way to a better life for all people?

Who would tell the stories of those who had been neglected and were struggling to survive in a world that did not acknowledge their value and worth?

Who would courageously speak truth to power and hold leaders accountable for their actions and decisions?

Who would pursue justice for those who had no seat at the table where decisions were made?

Who would teach people about the Golden Rule and model a life of integrity, decency, compassion, generosity and respect?

Who would challenge all people, leaders and followers alike, to be honest, fair, trustworthy, reliable, dependable, disciplined, responsible, strong, courageous, kind, compassionate, loyal, faithful and humble?

Who would tell people of God’s unconditional love for them and of God’s longing to have a personal relationship with them?

Who would describe God’s amazing grace that takes away shame and guilt and helps sinful people rebuild their shattered lives?

Who would talk about God’s ability to heal broken hearts and to make hope visible again?

Who would show people a better way to arrange their values and priorities, relate to their neighbors, settle disagreements, handle adversity and deal with temptation?

Who would encourage people to reach for the stars and to follow their dreams?

Jesus knew he was that person, and this was his time. It was now up to him to respond to the changes around him by making changes in his life.

So what did Jesus do? He walked out of the carpentry shop and began walking into the homes and hearts of everyday people who needed to know the true heart and nature of God and to hear the good news God had for them.

What is it time for you to do?

One way to answer this question is to do what Jesus did. Take note of the changes occurring around you.

Who is missing? What is missing? What needs are going unmet?

What do you have to offer? What role can you play in meeting those needs?

What does God think about this? What does God want? What is God saying to you?

Every change that occurs around us, big or small, presents us with new needs to be met and fresh opportunities to serve. These changes also provide ways for us to grow and tap into potential that has been dormant.

Hopes and dreams are born out of change and often chaos. This is a time God does his best work and with God’s help, we can, too.

Always remember that change is not our enemy; fear is, along indifference. When our faith is in a God who promises never to leave or to forsake us, the changes that occur around us can lead to new possibilities.

When changes occur in your family, at your school, in your neighborhood, in your civic club, among your friends and in our church, listen for the still, small voice of the God who not only sees what’s missing but knows what you can do to fill that gap.

Allow God to lead you in a direction that will restore hope to those who may be confused, bewildered, lonely, frightened and depressed. Speak words they need to hear. Be the role model they need to see. Give voice to a vision of a better tomorrow.

Who is waiting for you to fill a gap and step up to the plate? I know someone who will help you to respond to that need and to rise to the occasion.

What was to be the focus of Jesus’ ministry?

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ Jesus said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ ” (1:14-15)

What is the kingdom of God? Why the call to repent? What is the good news Mark alluded to in this portion of our text?

The kingdom of God is any time, place, situation or encounter where people seek to do what God wants. Repentance is necessary because people have a tendency to pursue their selfish desires instead of God’s will. The good news Mark referred to is the grace of God that provides forgiveness for misplaced priorities and God’s help to all as they seek to align their values with those Jesus taught and modeled.

Jesus’ message was a vital part of his ministry. People needed to know God’s hopes and dreams for them as much as they needed God’s help with their daily struggles. Jesus understood this and shared this good news everywhere he went.

Is the kingdom of God near when you come around? Isn’t this what it means to be the presence of Christ in a broken and bruised world?

Who would be included on Jesus’ ministry team?

 “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men’.

At once, they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (1:16-20)

This is where the story gets interesting. Jesus did not go to Jerusalem to select his disciples form the religious elite. He walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee and chose ordinary people who had no special training or impressive pedigree. Why?

These rough and rugged laborers knew how tough life was. They would understand the average person’s struggles and urgency of Jesus’ mission.

In addition, their hearts and minds would also be open to Jesus’ message and method. Unlike many of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, these disciples would not defensive and resistant to change.

 “Follow me,” Jesus succinctly said to them, and they did. Together they changed the course of history.

I don’t think this was the last time Jesus issued this compelling invitation to them. 

Every time the disciples encountered the need to make changes in their lives and were overcome with doubt and fear, I believe Jesus said ‘follow me’.

Every time the disciples lost their way, made mistakes, came to a crossroads, faced a crisis or felt like quitting, I believe Jesus said, ‘follow me’.

Every time the disciples felt intimidated by their challenges and offered excuses for not accepting them, I believe Jesus said, ‘follow me’.

Every time they felt overwhelmed by the burdens they were carrying and said they could go no further, I believe Jesus said, ‘follow me’.

Every time they were angry and upset and wanted to retaliate against those who hurt them, I believe Jesus said, ‘follow me’.

And each time they did, they found Jesus one step ahead of them leading the way to courage and confidence and an incomparable sense of meaning and purpose.

And so will we.

Give it a try.

Music to God's Ears 8/25/19

“Music to God’s Ears”

Psalm 119:57-60

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning


Calvary Baptist Church

August 25, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.” (Psalm 119:59)

            This is one of the most hopeful and powerful statements recorded in scripture. It is simple, succinct and sincere. It reveals a change of heart and direction. It shows what can happen when humility and honesty team up.

I am convinced it is music to God’s ears and brings a smile to God’s face. I am not sure any prayer brings God more delight and joy.

Who voiced this prayer and penned these words? I don’t know. The author of Psalm 119, the longest in this book of Wisdom literature, is unknown.

What I do know, however, is why the writer made this declaration. It was the culmination of his pursuit to know God better and to discover what was important to God.

Last Sunday’s sermon was based upon a previous passage from this same chapter, 119:17-20, 33-40. These verses made it clear the Psalmist was eager to know the hopes, dreams, ways and will of God for all the people of the world, beginning with him.

Repeatedly, the Psalmist pleaded with God to open his eyes, ears, heart and mind and to guide his steps as he made decisions about his future. The number of imperatives in last Sunday’s text, twelve, indicates how serious, focused, determined, dedicated and committed the Psalmist was.

 “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.” (119:18)

“Teach me, Lord, to follow your decrees, then I will keep them to the end.” (119:33)

“Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.” (119:34)

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” (119:36)

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (119:37)

            Today’s text reveals this period of reflection and introspection was productive. His eyes were opened and his heart was changed. It was now time for him to make changes in his life, and he was ready to do this.

 “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.”

What does this prayer tell us about the person who voiced it?

He was humble and honest, at least during this stage of life. In all likelihood, he had been a good man and neighbor, but good was not good enough when he discovered what God and others really needed from him. He could do better and knew it.

No longer was he going to settle for mediocrity and ignore his shortcomings. What a waste of his time, talents, skills and influence this would be.

The time had come to make changes and this meant turning his attention to God’s hopes and dreams for him. From this point on, his steps would be ordered by the ways and will of God.

He would begin this journey by confessing his sins and asking for forgiveness. He had said and done things that did not reflect the nature of God and had failed to pursue those things that were most important to God.

Selfishness had marked his life, not self-denial and self-discipline. Far too often he had been cruel not kind, greedy not generous, cold-hearted not compassionate, indifferent not concerned, aloof not engaged, deceptive not truthful, arrogant not humble, vindictive not forgiving, critical not encouraging, divisive not supportive, untruthful not honest and lazy not industrious.

He had also settled for less than his best when it came to achieving his potential. There was so much more he was capable of doing to make the world better, beginning with his family and all the families around him. He had the skills, talents and abilities to address many of his community’s problems and to work with others to solve them, but there were times he chose personal comfort and security over courage and the common good.

His serious study of God’s word, laws, commands and statutes revealed the wide gap between the life he was living and the life he could live. There was no excuse for this, and it was a problem he could do something about.

After the Psalmist wrote, “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes,” he quickly added, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.” (Psalm 119:59-60)

Yes, I believe this prayer was music to God’s ears and brought a smile to God’s face and tears to God’s eyes.

Have you ever voiced the Psalmist’s prayer? What could I say today to motivate you to consider it?

My reflection on this text last week led me to realize that one of the greatest gifts God offers us is the opportunity to make changes in our lives, big and small. God promises forgiveness and guidance for charting a path forward toward a new and better life.

Why would anyone pass up this offer and opportunity? Why would any of us choose to live in a prison without bars, a prison of our own making, when God is ready to take us by the hand and lead us toward this new and better life?

How big is the gap between you and God’s hopes and dreams for you this morning? What changes do you need to make to your values, priorities, attitude, work ethic, lifestyle and relationships to reflect more accurately the nature and heart of God?

What changes do you need to make to be a better mate, parent, student, friend, co-worker, supervisor, neighbor, church member and citizen?

What changes do you need to make to develop and to use dormant skills and abilities?

I don’t know all the changes you need to make to close that gap between you and God, and neither do you, but I know what the first step is. It is a prayer you and I can voice today that has been handed down to us by a pilgrim who decided to quit ignoring his shortcomings and to settle no longer for less than his best.

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.”

Will you utter that prayer this morning?

What Is Important to God? 8/18/19

“What Is Important to God?”

Psalm 119:17-20,33-40

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning

For Calvary Baptist Church

Lexington, Kentucky

August 18, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

“Socrates, teach me. I want to learn.”

                These were the words of a hopeful student who must have had a high level of confidence Socrates would take him under wing. I strongly suspect he was not prepared for Socrates’ response.

                Socrates said nothing. Instead, he motioned for the young man to follow him to the edge of the sea. Socrates then took his arm and led him into the water up to his chest.

                Socrates put his hands on this potential student’s head and pressed him under the water. It wasn’t long before this individual began squirming, trying to break free from Socrates’ grip. After several more seconds Socrates lifted his hands, and this young man shot out of the water gasping for breath.

                When both of them were safely back on the shore, Socrates calmly said, “When you want to learn as badly as you wanted a breath of air under the water, come see me.”

                Have you ever been this serious and intense about learning? I suspect all of you have.

Perhaps you were introduced to a subject as a child that captured your attention and led you to a library or the internet. Maybe you entered college with a strong desire to learn everything you could to prepare for a bright and prosperous future. You might have begun a new job and were this eager to discover everything you needed to know to be successful.

                Have you ever been this curious and inquisitive about the ways of God? Have you ever hungered and thirsted after righteousness? 

It appears the Psalmist did. After reading our text, there is no doubt the Psalmist passed Socrates’ test. He possessed the interest and intensity Socrates demanded of all his students.

How do I know? Count the imperatives in our text, which I think are the most enlightening and intriguing parts of this passage. There are ten to twelve, based upon the translation you reference.

Imperatives are strong words. They are commands, or in the Psalmist’s case, pleas for God’s help.

      Do good to your servant, and I will live. I will obey your word.

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.

My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.

Teach me, LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.


Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.


Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.


Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.


Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.


Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.


Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.


How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness. 

(Psalm 119:17-18; 33-38 NIV)


                Any doubt about how serious the Psalmist was about learning what was important to God? His words in our text, a part of a complex acrostic based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, certainly indicate a high level of inquisitiveness and intensity. He pleads with God to open his eyes, heart and mind and to lead his every step.

Why do you think he was so serious about drawing closer to God at this point in his life?

Maybe he was a young man who was coming of age, growing and maturing and discovering, to his dismay, life was not all about him.

Perhaps he had accepted a challenge and taken on new responsibilities and realized many people were depending upon him to rise to the occasion.

He might have been reeling from bad decisions he made and saw how disappointed others were in him.

He could have been tired of investing his life in things that did not satisfy his deepest needs. His misplaced values and priorities left him feeling empty, like he was ‘sewing with thread-less needles’.

Maybe the faith he borrowed from his parents or peers was not working for him. He needed his own faith, one born out of his study, experiences, challenges, struggles and failures.

Whatever the reason, the Psalmist was now ready to discover and to adopt the heart, mind, hopes, dreams and ways of God. He was serious. He was focused. He was determined. He was dedicated. He was committed. He was ready.

He wanted this as badly as a drowning person wants air.

So what did he do? Rather, what did he ask God to do?

Two things caught my attention and stood out in our text, and both are connected to his eyes.

“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (119:18)

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” (119:37a)

The Psalmist had a problem with his eyes and needed the Great Physician to help him correct it. There were things he was unable or unwilling to see and needed God to reveal them. On the other hand, there were things he could not resist looking at and pursuing that were leading to harmful decisions for him and others.

So, the Psalmist asked God to show him his blind spots, which included the incomparable wisdom in God’s commands, decrees, precepts, law, statute, word, and promise. He pleaded with God to help him see that God’s way of thinking, believing, behaving, arranging values, ordering priorities, relating to others, settling disputes, earning and managing money, using influence and power, handling problems, accepting challenges and dealing with temptations was best, always best.

He also asked God to help him turn his attention from the trash and trinkets of the world so he could see and pursue the real treasures. It appears the Psalmist had put the wrong price tags on the things around him. He needed God’s help to recognize it and to do something about it.

Perhaps he had been guilty of valuing possessions over people, greed over generosity, cash over character, self-indulgence over sacrifice, being served over serving, self-interest over integrity, arrogance over humility, revenge over forgiveness, hate over love, cruelty over kindness and violence over peace.

Whatever was missing or out of sorts in his life, he was going to need God’s help to correct it. Don’t you think this is true for us, too? I do.

Have you ever been as serious about your faith as the Psalmist was about his? Is it time for you to follow the Psalmist’s example as he sought to discover what was important to God and best for him?

I wonder what difference it would make in your life if you did this. I also wonder what difference it would make in the lives of everyone around you if you adopted God’s heart, mind, values, priorities, hopes, dreams and ways. 

There is a way to find out.

It involves strong imperatives and a deep breath of fresh air.

Food For Thought 6/23/19

“Food For Thought”

John 6:1-14

Preached by

Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

This morning our attention is drawn to a story that can be found in all four gospels. This alone tells us how important it must be. For this event to make it through the final cut in every gospel sets it apart for closer scrutiny, which has occurred down through the years. 

            In this particular account, this story is used to introduce a new unit of material. Just as the first section opened with the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, so this unit begins with the miraculous feeding of the masses.

What these two stories have in common is that Jesus took the ordinary and turned it into something special. It appears the writer is urging his readers to follow Jesus’ example.

            Listen as I share details of our text.

Jesus and his disciples went to what they thought was a secluded place around the Sea of Galilee to get some rest. The demands of the people were already taking a toll on them, and they needed some time away to replenish their spirits and bodies.

People came looking for them, however, and walked along the shore until they found them. Jesus could not turn them away and continued teaching late into the afternoon.

            As the day drew to a close, Jesus knew the people were hungry. He singled Philip out and asked him where food could be found to feed everyone on the hillside. It appears Jesus did this because Philip was from that area and would know the shop keepers.

It is obvious from Philip’s response he was shocked that Jesus even asked him this question. “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” he replied, and he was right.

I cannot be too hard on Philip. I am fairly certain I would have responded in a similar fashion. Like Philip, I would have run out of answers and compassion that late in the evening.

            As this dialogue with Philip wound down, Andrew brought a little boy to Jesus who was willing to hand over to Jesus his lunch of five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Andrew had no idea how this meager amount could be used to feed this large crowd of hungry people, but that did not keep him from presenting it to Jesus. At least it was something to work with, as futile as it seemed.

            Jesus instructed the disciples to have the people to sit on the grass in groups of fifty. After they did, Jesus offered a blessing for the boy’s lunch. No doubt he thanked God for this little boy’s generosity and asked God to use it to feed the people before they departed for home, which God did.

Before long, everyone had eaten, and there were twelve baskets of food left over. So impressed were the people that day, they said of Jesus, “Surely, this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

How does this story speak to us today? I gave this much thought last week, and here’s what I think.

People of faith don’t ignore the needs of others—physical, mental, emotional or spiritual—and neither do they walk away from intimidating challenges, regardless of how daunting they seem.

            What are the two most striking features of this story? It is the size of the crowd, probably close to seven or eight thousand people if you count the women and children, and the size of that little boy’s lunch, five barley loaves and two fish.

The contrast is undeniable, and the challenge is overwhelming. This is a no brainer. No amount of compassion and good will was going to bridge this gap, as the disciples believed.

What did the disciples want to do? They made that very clear. “Send the people away,” they told Jesus.

            Why did they say this? They were exhausted. Compassion fatigue had overtaken them.

Remember, this was supposed to be a quiet retreat for them after returning from their first mission trip. They came to this remote section on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to rest and to recharge. They had been with these people all day. Now, it was their time.

Besides, there was no way they could feed this many people. As Philip reminded Jesus, even if he knew where to purchase food, they did not have enough money to buy food to feed everyone.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Surely Jesus would agree, but he didn’t. He was unwilling to throw his hands up in the air and give up like the disciples.

As the prophets before him did, Jesus identified a pressing need and then asked God’s people what they were going to do about it. For Jesus, indifference was not an option.

This was why Jesus responded favorably to Andrew when he brought him a little boy with an uneaten lunch of five loaves and two fish. Jesus had what he needed to feed the people before sending them home.

So, how did he use it? There are two schools of thought, and I lean more toward the second one shared by religion professor, theologian, biblical scholar and friend, Dr. Colin Harris.

The first is the miracle of multiplication. Jesus took this little boy’s lunch and multiplied it over and over until all the people ate. Everyone ate the same thing, which seemed to satisfy them and to give them strength for their journeys home.

Certainly, this could have occurred. Jesus was quite capable of providing enough food to feed everyone.

Why would he have needed this little boy’s lunch to do this, though? Were his fish and loaves necessary?

Would a miracle of this nature have made it into all four gospels? Turning water into wine did not. Why would this one be different and repeated four times?

The other viewpoint is the miracle of sharing. Feeding the people that day was not just the result of what Jesus did but what others did, too.

            Instead of Jesus miraculously multiplying the fish and loaves, is it possible Jesus used the little boy’s generosity to inspire others to do what he had done by sharing what he had left at the end of the day. After all, in that culture no one left home without food if he or she was going to be gone for any length of time.

            For the most part, Jews did not want to patronize the Gentile shopkeepers, so they never left home without a full food pouch. Even if they had been willing to buy food from a Gentile, shops were few and far between in the countryside.

Surely, this little boy was not the only one who had food left as evening was approaching. In all likelihood, many held some food back in case they were gone later than anticipated.

Could it be that Jesus encouraged the people to sit in small groups and to place before them the food they had left? As soon as people revealed what they had, they began passing it around the circle, making it possible for everyone to find the nourishment they needed at the end of a long day.

Sounds reasonable to me, especially in this gospel where Jesus solves problems in unconventional ways. It appears to me this might have been the first pot-luck!

I know this interpretation is not as sensational as Jesus mass producing thousands of meals, but I agree with Dr. Harris that it merits consideration. If this is what happened that afternoon, it could have been Jesus’ most profound and unforgettable lesson of the day.

What was that lesson? If we share with our neighbors like we did today, no one will ever go hungry!

When compassionate and generous people work with God and others, all things are possible. All things! No personal problem or global challenge is too intimidating when all hands are on deck.

When facing a big challenge, it is human nature to discount what we have and to echo Andrew’s words as he voiced his skepticism while looking at the loaves and fishes. “But what are they among so many people?” Rarely do we feel we have all we need to succeed, and we’re probably right.

            However, when we offer God what we have and ask God to bless it, we become a channel of blessing through which God can work. A little becomes a lot when God is in it, as a Southern Gospel song reminds us.

Look what God did that day with just five barley loaves and two fish that a little boy was willing to share. Allow God to inspire and motivate others through your willing spirit, compassion and generosity.

            I encourage you to look in your basket this morning to see what you have. Don’t get discouraged because it may be small, but rejoice over the fact you have something to offer. Never underestimate what God can do with what you make available to him.

            Out of all the people in the crowd that day, who was the unlikeliest person to be used by God to feed all those people? It had to be that little boy.

We know from the contents of his lunch he came from a very poor family. Only the poorest of the poor ate barley bread. It was held in contempt by anyone able to afford better.

            However, he was the one who made it possible for everyone to eat, as unlikely as that seems. What if he had not been willing to share his food? Would the people have gone home hungry? It appears some, if not most, would have.

            I wonder how many turned Andrew down before he found this willing lad. How many laughed and told Andrew he had to be kidding or held tightly to what they had to insure they would have enough nourishment for the journey home?

            How many times have you walked away from a problem because you felt you had too little to offer? Don’t do that again.

In God’s eyes, there is no gift too small to matter, and there is no viable excuse for refusing to make it available. So, as a person of faith, will you offer God what you have in the way of time, talents and resources, and will you ask God to bless it? Will you roll up your sleeves and work with others to tackle life’s biggest challenges instead of walking away?

I hope so, and I am confident there are many around you who do, too.

Parenting By Grace 6/16/19

“Parenting by Grace”

John 4:43-54

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning

For the
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

June 16, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

Jesus was on the move. He had been in Jerusalem but felt it necessary to leave Judea because of the Pharisees’ resistance to his ministry. They were openly critical of Jesus’ words and work, which made it difficult for him to be effective.

            He traveled north through Samaria where he was welcomed and invited to stay. Jesus obliged them by remaining with them two extra days, but he moved on to Galilee, the place he called home.

            As Jesus entered Cana of Galilee, a Roman official from Capernaum approached Jesus. His son was ill and close to death, and he desperately begged Jesus to follow him home and to heal his son.

            Jesus must have been impressed with his humility, sincerity and sense of urgency because he sent him back home with the assurance his son would live. This royal official, who was accustomed to giving orders and having servants obey him, took Jesus at his word and left for home without Jesus.

            Somewhere outside of Capernaum, the father of this boy was met by his servants. They informed him his son did not die. The fever left him the day before around one o’clock in the afternoon.

            When the father realized this was the very hour of his encounter with Jesus, he told his family and servants what Jesus had done for him and his son. All of them became people of faith and believed not only in Jesus’ words, but in him.

            What part of this story intrigues you the most? For me it is what this father did to save the life of his son. He traveled a great distance to find Jesus, and upon doing so begged Jesus to help him.

            Think about this. A proud and powerful man in the Roman government sought the help of a Galilean carpenter who became an itinerant preacher. Can you imagine the pride he swallowed to make that trek and request? I wonder how many tried to talk him out of it.

            Why did he do it? Obviously, he loved his son and was willing to do anything to spare his life. Even he had come to realize the deepest level of love always involves sacrifice.

            I am confident this was not his first attempt to help his son. It appears, however, he had exhausted all his options, and his son was not getting better.

For this reason, he threw caution to the wind and set out to find Jesus. He would not let his son die because he was too proud or stubborn to reach out to Jesus.

Who in your family needs your help the most today? Is it a child, a grandchild, a sibling, a parent, your spouse, a niece or nephew?

How long have they been struggling? What will it require from you if you decide to get involved? Are you willing to make these sacrifices?

As people of faith, we are encouraged to help those struggling to survive, whatever the cause. This is both noble and necessary at times.

We do no one a favor, however, if we become involved in someone else’s problem without understanding the lessons found in this story. And what are those lessons?

There is no easy way to help someone with a hard problem. If it were easy to resolve, it would have already happened.

The royal official in our text was a problem solver. This is why he had this job and kept it.

However, all his attempts to help his son had not produced the desired results. He was getting closer to death each day. It was time to think outside the box and to do unconventional things, and he did. He set out to find Jesus and beg for his help.

Why did he do this? Why did he cast aside his pride and risk his future as a Roman official? Love is willing to do the difficult, and he loved his son.

Helping someone with serious problems will require nothing less than the highest level of love and commitment. It will lead you down unfamiliar roads and over treacherous terrain.

If you are not prepared to make these sacrifices, you will pull back your support. You will draw a line in the sand and say, ‘enough’.

I am not saying there is never a time to retreat. There may be.

There is, though, never a time to think serious problems have simple solutions. This self-deception will lead to disappointment and resentment.

When someone is struggling, you are not the only one who can help them. It really does take a village to meet other’s needs as well as our own.

This problem was bigger than this royal official, and he was a prominent and powerful man who had faced many intimidating challenges. This dilemma, however, was beyond his ability to solve.

I have discovered the bigger the problem, the more collaboration will be necessary. This is hard for some people to accept, especially those accustomed to fixing problems, their own or others. People who tend to do this are comfortable taking matters into their hands.

This lone ranger mentality may be required to initiate changes, but it rarely leads to long term solutions. Hard problems require all hands on deck, not just yours.

Quit trying to be God or a superhero. When you reach out to others for help, listen to them.

This is what the royal official had to do. He begged Jesus to come to his home and to heal his son. When Jesus told him he was not going to his home but his son would live, this distraught father trusted Jesus.

This is not what this father wanted or would have done, but he let go of control, which had to be hard for him given his authority in that community. He was wise enough to do this, though, and as a result his son was healed.

Be a team player when trying to help someone. You only make matters worse when you do not respect others and listen to their perspective.  

In spite of all your efforts and those working alongside you, some situations will not improve. They may get worse, much worse. Don’t blame yourself and beat yourself up with guilt.

Even God has self-imposed limitations that prevent him from making some bad situations better. If someone wants to self-destruct, or at least is unwilling to make changes to prevent it, God will eventually give them the desires of their heart.

You and I can change no one other than ourselves. We can play a significant role in influencing family members and friends to change. But in the end, it is up to them.

How can you help someone in your family this week who is struggling to keep their head above water? What could you do to lighten their load and make hope visible?

I believe this royal official would tell you to start by talking to Jesus. It is always the best place to begin.

Dinner Theater 6/2/19

“Dinner Theater”

Luke 7:36-50

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

June 2, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

Our attention is drawn this morning to one of the most dramatic scenes in Jesus’ ministry. It is similar to our modern day dinner theaters where people eat and then watch a play, only this was not planned and certainly not approved by the host.

            Jesus was invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee for a meal. We are not told why Jesus was issued this invitation, but it appears the motive was not honorable.

            Jesus was not shown the customary hospitality a guest would receive upon entering someone’s home. He was not greeted with a friendly kiss, provided water for his feet to be washed or anointed with oil as a sign of cordiality.

            As a matter of fact, we are informed in the previous section that the Pharisees were upset with Jesus because he was kind to the wrong people. This was especially true when he ate and drank with sinners like the tax collectors whom the Jewish leaders despised.

            It appears Jesus was invited to Simon’s home so he could be quizzed about his questionable behavior. From the beginning, this was never designed to be a quiet, pleasant, relaxing meal, but the reason for the tension caught everyone by surprise.

            Sometime after the meal began, an uninvited woman appeared at Jesus’ feet. She was carrying an alabaster vase that contained an expensive perfume. Alabaster vases were not cheap, so what was in them had to be worth a considerable amount of money and of great value to the owner.

            Immediately, this woman began crying, and her tears fell on Jesus’ feet. Without saying a word, she let her hair down to wipe away her tears. After doing this, she proceeded to anoint his feet with this precious perfume.

When Jesus did not stop this woman and rebuke her, the host, Simon the Pharisee, began murmuring. He had all the proof he needed that Jesus was not a prophet sent from God.

A true prophet would have known about this woman’s soiled, sordid past and not let her touch him. An authentic and faithful prophet would have quickly reacted by scolding her and sending her away.

Jesus either heard Simon or knew what he was thinking and engaged him in a conversation. Jesus told a parable about a lender who forgave the debt of two of his debtors. One owed him the equivalent of fifty days’ wages and the other five-hundred days’ wages.

“Which of the two will love him more?” Jesus asked Simon. “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt,” Simon reluctantly responded.

Jesus told him he was correct, and then Jesus turned to the woman while still talking to Simon. After asking Simon if he could see this woman, which he obviously could, Jesus proceeded to tell Simon all she had done for him as a guest in this home that Simon failed to do. It was obvious this humble and grateful woman had a completely different motive for being there that night than Simon did.

Why did this woman interrupt this meal and single Jesus out that evening? Evidently, this was not the first encounter she had with Jesus. They had previously met and Jesus must have treated her with the highest degree of respect and compassion. He listened to her story and forgave her many sins. Most of all, he restored her self-esteem and gave her hope for a better life.

No wonder she risked humiliation and public shame to barge in on that dinner. No one had ever been that kind to her, and her heart would have burst had she not let Jesus know of her unspeakable love for him.

Knowing this woman must have been embarrassed and confused by Simon’s reaction, Jesus publicly reminded her that all her sins had been forgiven and she could go in peace. She probably left with even more love and appreciation for Jesus. She also knew the answer to the question the Pharisees blurted out as she moved past them.

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

What part of this story intrigues you the most? For me, it is that dramatic scene where Jesus looks at this woman while speaking to Simon. He does not take his eyes off of her as he asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?”

Why did Jesus ask Simon this question? Of course Simon saw this woman. She was the focus of everyone’s attention. I am confident every eye in the room was fixed on her.

There was more to the question than just the obvious, wasn’t there? When Jesus and Simon looked at this woman, they saw two entirely different things.

Simon saw a vile, wretched sinner who could never change. Nothing about her was redeemable or worthy of his attention.

Therefore, Simon’s responsibility as a religious leader was to expose her unworthiness by shaming and shunning her each time he saw her, which he probably did often by telling her to get away from him. She was not just a nuisance to Simon, however. She was a threat.

Contact with her would defile him and keep him from going into the Temple or Synagogue to worship God. As far as Simon was concerned, his life would have been better if this woman had just disappeared.

Jesus, on the other hand, saw just the opposite when he looked at this woman and reacted quite differently. It was his belief she was redeemable, and with God’s help she could become a new person.

Jesus’ responsibility and moral duty was to listen to her story and to offer an alternative voice to her dilemma and a more hopeful vision for her future, which he did. He brought the better angels out of her, releasing them to help her to rise above her present circumstances.

Simon saw ‘a’ woman that evening, someone he knew only through the rumor mill.  Jesus saw ‘this’ woman, someone he knew by listening to her talk about being exploited, abused and abandoned.

How do you see people? Are you more like Simon than Jesus?

Who doesn’t belong at your table? Who will never receive an invite into your circle of friends?

Why do you think Jesus took up for this woman at Simon’s house and welcomed her to this table? He had to be caught off guard just like everybody else that evening and had to make a quick decision. Why did he come to her aid and become her advocate?

Why didn’t Jesus rebuke her like Simon did? It would have made his life much easier that night and in the months and years to follow.

For starters, Jesus knew Simon did not reflect the heart and nature of God or the prophets that preceded both of them. Simon’s concept of God was unacceptable to Jesus and the Pharisees’ interpretation of the prophets’ messages completely missed the mark.

Jesus was already teaching by word and example that people of faith always look for ways to redeem and restore, not judge and condemn. Faith compels them to make hope visible under all circumstances and at all times so people can be set free from bondage to go in new directions.

This was why this woman, and anyone else in her situation, was invited to any circle Jesus was a part of, especially the one that night. As a matter of fact, as long as he was at that table, she belonged to be there as much as anyone else.

What do you think Luke wanted his readers to take away from what Jesus did that evening? I think he wanted to caution them against becoming like Simon.

He wanted them to get rid of a pompous, self-righteous, arrogant attitude that distanced them from others and blinded them to their own need for mercy and grace.

He wanted them to quit pushing people who had spent their entire life trying to crawl out of hell back into that bottomless pit with their callous, critical, judgmental, condemning spirit.

Instead, Luke used this story to urge his readers to see people as Jesus did and to listen to their stories. It appears Luke believed putting a name, a face and a story with an issue or decision changed everything. For this reason, he urged his readers to open their eyes, hearts and minds until they discovered the wounds, scars, fears, frustrations, broken hearts, unfulfilled hopes and shattered dreams of the person in front of them.

Then, Luke wanted each reader to follow Jesus’ example. He wanted them to be a friend to all people the same way Jesus was. He wanted them to make hope visible with words of encouragement, deeds of compassion and a friendship that backed them up.

Through his actions that night in Simon’s courtyard, it is as if Jesus said to this frightened woman: “As long as I am here, you are welcome in this place. You are safe and have nothing to fear.”

Have you ever said this? Have you ever done this for someone in an awkward situation?

If necessary, will you do it this week through your words and actions?

Good Grief 5/26/19

“Good Grief”

John 14:1-4

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning

For the
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

May 26, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

This was one of Jesus’ finest hours, and these were some of the most memorable words he left his disciples. I have quoted them on many occasions to bring comfort to those grieving the loss of someone dear and precious to them or struggling with their own mortality.

            Our text is a portion of the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. (John 13:1-17:26) Jesus and the disciples have gathered in the Upper Room to eat the Passover meal and to recall the details of their ancestors departure from bondage in Egypt.

            I am confident Jesus and the disciples had observed Passover together in previous years. This night was quite different, though.

Jesus’ attention was not drawn only to the Israelites’ journey from Egypt, but to his own journey to the cross. He talked openly about his death at the hands of his enemies.

            This was not the first time Jesus told them he was going to die a violent death, but there was a sense of urgency in his voice that evening. He included details about disciples betraying and denying him, which seemed to have taken them by surprise and caused them to become defensive. Listen to how this conversation is described in the Fourth Gospel.

            “‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now. Where I am going you cannot come.’

            Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will later.’ Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’

Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!’ ” (John 13:33, 36-38)

At this point, Jesus goes off script. His train of thought shifts from talking about his crucifixion to addressing their anxiety.  

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said as he looked around that room. “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

Why did Jesus feel the need to say these words to his disciples at that particular point?

I think he looked around the table and sensed the fear, anxiety, confusion and hopelessness they were feeling. They were in shock, and Jesus knew it.

Jesus had to address their feelings. They would not hear anything else he said until he did this.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus calmly said.

Don’t you love and appreciate someone who knows when your heart is restless? This person is truly a gift from God, as Jesus was that night for his disciples.

What did Jesus want the disciples to know as they processed all he was telling them about his crucifixion and their disappointing response? Jesus wanted them to know not all the news he had for them that evening was bad. He had good news to share, too. And what was that?

Death would not have the final word in his life or their relationship. God would, and that word would be a good one.

God would raise Jesus to new life, making it possible for him to live in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. At all times and in all places, Jesus would walk with them to lead, guide, direct and empower them to continue the good work he began with them.

Yes, the relationship between Jesus and the disciples was changing but not ending. The person the disciples had followed and learned so much from would always be with them to help them meet life’s many challenges and opportunities. They could depend on his help moving forward as they had in the past.

Furthermore, when their time to leave this world was drawing to a close, Jesus, himself, would come and carry them to their new home. At no time in this world or the one to come would they ever be separated from Jesus.

How do you think it made the disciples feel to know Jesus’ future and theirs would not end with his crucifixion? It had to give them hope, and it had to help them through the worst experience of their lives.

While not all their questions about Jesus’ crucifixion and their response were answered that evening in the Upper Room, they knew in their hearts their relationship with Jesus would continue, and the mission they had given their lives to would not end.

Why was it so important that John’s readers know about this conversation between Jesus and his disciples that night? Like the disciples in the Upper Room, they needed to know nothing would ever separate them from Jesus, including death. At no time would they be outside of Jesus’ sight or presence.

The incarnation (God in the flesh) is the centerpiece of the prologue to this gospel (John 1:1-18). Listen to John 1:14.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John wanted his readers to know the Word was no longer with them in the flesh, but the Word was as close to them as Jesus was the disciples. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would do for them everything he did for the disciples who walked and talked with him.

John was not the only writer to comfort his readers with this good news. Listen to how Paul reassured his audience.

“For I am convinced that neither death not life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-9)

Is this a message you need to hear today? Would it calm your troubled heart to know Jesus is fully aware of what you are struggling with and will help you deal with it? Would it calm your restless spirit to know nothing will ever separate you from Jesus, not even death?

I assure you this is what Jesus wants you to know and believe.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said to his disciples in the darkest hour of their lives.

Can you hear him say the same comforting words to you this morning? If you can and you will trust Jesus to keep his promises, they will change your life for the better.

In a former pastorate, I was visiting with a church member whose brother died suddenly in a tragic accident. He was an essential leader in the family business, almost irreplaceable. The shock and grief in her home that day were immeasurable.

While standing in the kitchen, I saw a magnet hanging on the refrigerator with these words printed on it: “For this, I have Jesus”

When I pointed to it, Barbara told me this magnet had been there for years. “I am sure you understand why,” she said to me.

Yes, I thought to myself, and I wish everyone did.

Are You a List Maker? 5/19/19

“Are You a List Maker?”

Micah 6:6-8

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

May 19, 2019

Recognition of High School Graduates

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

 I have come to the conclusion there are only two groups of people in this world—those who make lists and those who should. I confess that most of my life I have been a list maker.

                Years ago I began making lists on a pocket notepad I carried with me. I graduated to a Day Timer about twenty years ago, and now I use my cell phone to make my lists.

                I am so connected to my to-do lists that I write down just about everything I need to do through the course of a day or week. One reason I do this is because I thoroughly enjoy marking something off my list.

                As a matter of fact, if I do something that is not on the list, I will pause and write it down just so I can mark it off. By the expression of many people I am looking at right now, I do not think I am alone.

                I don’t know if God is a list maker who needs a note pad to jog his memory and prioritize his daily duties, but apparently Micah was. Listen to the words of this ancient prophet.

“What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

I like lists like this: clean and clear, simple and succinct, and easy to remember. Let’s examine it this morning to see what advice it holds for all of us, especially the graduates in the Class of 2019.

Micah was an Old Testament prophet who lived about 750 years before Jesus was born. He hailed from the village of Moresheth, a rural area southwest of the capital city of Jerusalem.

He was not taken seriously by the religious leaders in Jerusalem because they questioned his credentials. Who was he to come on to their turf and tell them anything about God’s expectations of them and God’s disappointment in them? By their standards, he had no right to critique them.

Micah was not intimidated by his critics. He had been given a message by God to deliver to the powerbrokers in Jerusalem and nothing or no one was going to stop him.  And what was that message?

God was not pleased with his people, especially the leaders who wielded enormous power and influence. According to Micah, God was upset by the way they were living and treating one another, especially the most vulnerable among them.

They were guilty of exploiting or neglecting the poor and powerless who were struggling to survive. They were more concerned about their welfare than the needs of the people they were called to serve.

This is because they were addicted to power, prestige, attention and their lavish lifestyles. They had adopted the culture’s values and become greedy and grown complacent.

To make matters worse, they continued with their elaborate worship services, which in God’s eyes had become a farce. According to Micah, it was obvious to God that religion had become an outward show on the part of many of the religious leaders--empty, hollow and insincere.

When Micah voiced God’s displeasure and accusations, the religious elite became cynical.

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God,” they asked Micah. “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7)

Their response to Micah’s stingy criticisms was to add more sacrifices to their worship ritual, which completely missed the point. God did not want more expressions of empty worship, but a change of heart revealed through an overhaul of their values, priorities, behavior, relationships and lifestyle.

God wanted them to reflect his righteous, just and loving nature in the way they conducted their affairs and treated one another. God wanted them to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with the One who made a binding covenant with their ancestors.

God’s expectations of his people have not changed since Micah’s time. What was required of the leaders and citizens of Judah almost 3,000 years ago is still required of us.

Graduates of the Class of 2019, I hope you will take this list of what is important to God with you wherever you go and keep it in mind as you make decisions. Filter every choice you must make through Micah 6:8 to discern what honors God.

What, exactly, does God it mean to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God?” In a nutshell, God wants us to be honest, compassionate and humble. Allow me to elaborate.

To do justly compels us to look at ourselves and beyond ourselves.

For starters, we are to be a good role models by being people of integrity. At all times and in all places, we are to be honest, trustworthy, reliable, dependable and fair in our dealings with others.

We are to speak the truth. We are to follow through with our commitments. We are to keep our promises.

We reject the temptation to lie, cheat or steal to get what we want.

We seek no special treatment. We play by the same rules as others. We accept responsibility for our actions.

To do justly is to reflect the heart and nature of God through our words and works. At no time do we have permission to do otherwise, sending conflicting and confusing messages to our family members, friends and neighbors.

There is more than a personal dimension to doing justly, though. We must also look beyond ourselves.

A just person works hard to create a just world for all people. Those who do justly know that corruption corrodes the foundation and pillars of a healthy society. They are convinced the two can never co-exist.

For this reason, they believe everyone is of equal value. No one is to be mistreated, exploited, abused or neglected.

Those who do justly expose and oppose injustice wherever it surfaces. They hold those responsible accountable and demand wholeness be restored to all victims. 

They insist everyone be invited to the table where decisions are made because their stories need to be heard and their concerns addressed. No one is to be left behind.

They work to form communities of love in which all are embraced as worthy and treated equally. No exceptions. No hidden agendas. No playing favorites. No bribes. No double standard.

If you want to know what justice looks like and what just people do, look at the words in the bible closely associated to justice: widow, fatherless, orphans, aliens, poor, hungry, neighbor, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed. To do justly is to demand the same privileges and opportunities for the little, the lonely and the forgotten people of the world as the wealthy, the influential and the powerful receive.

“Do justly,” Micah boldly said to the leaders in Jerusalem. In his opinion, this was at the top of God’s list of expectations for those who claimed to be his children.

To love mercy compels us to be a compassionate people who help others meet life’s many challenges and carry their heavy burdens. The main objective of someone who loves mercy is to bring the best out in others and to offer them an opportunity to be the best version of themselves.

At the same time, mercy restores value, worth and self-esteem to those who have been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life. Mercy responds to their despair with actions that promote hope and healing.

What makes mercy unique is that it is offered to all people: the lovely and the unlovely, a friend or a stranger, someone on top of their game or a person struggling to live under a heavy load of guilt and shame. At times mercy is a random act of kindness. On other occasions it is a commitment to repair a damaged relationship.

What makes mercy a gift is that the one who offers it is willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the one who needs it. A merciful person makes it known that the commitment to the relationship is stronger than any defect that may appear.

For this reason, a merciful individual does not dismiss the offense someone has committed or ignore the pain that accompanies it, but he or she chooses to repair the relationship rather than abandon it. Healthy, long term relationships are built upon this kind of loving commitment.

Why would we make this kind of commitment to those around us?

Mercy is offered to others because we are recipients of God’s mercy, a concept referred to by Micah as ‘hesed’. God’s love for us is rooted in a commitment to a relationship that is stronger than our stubborn rebellion. It is steadfast, unconditional and unfailing.

It is God’s love for us that will not let us go. Rather, it seeks, woos, finds, forgives, restores, repairs, heals and saves us even when we do not deserve it. It is God’s love that gives us back our future, making it possible for us to move in new directions toward a better life.  

How can we do any less for others? I don’t believe we can and honor God. We certainly cannot withhold mercy and reflect the goodness of God.

 “Some people are as straight as a marble column,” it has been said, “but they are also as cold and hard.” Those who love mercy have big hearts.

To walk humbly with God compels us to rely upon God for the wisdom, strength and courage needed to be faithful to God in a world that does not share our values. Humility is crucial in building and maintaining healthy relationships and communities.

Only by God’s grace can we remain faithful to our mission to be the kind of people who honor God and make the world a better place for all to live. The temptation to adopt the world’s values and way of living will overwhelm us.

Challenging the social, political and religious systems that violate the covenant principles of justice, kindness and humility always comes with a price. Even Jesus warned us that a prophet will not be honored among his own people. He knew people do not like to have their way of life challenged, especially if they have been encouraged to believe their desires and pursuits are covered with God’s blessings.

It takes courage to speak truth to power and the power structures that contribute to the brokenness and poor stewardship of our world. Exhibiting a heart of compassion for all victims of injustice--its perpetrators as well as the intended victims--is not for the faint of heart.

Only those who walk humbly with God will pay the price.

I pray you will be one.

Repairing and Strengthening Relationships 5/12/19

“Repairing and Strengthening Relationships”

John 21:1-19

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

May 12, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

I do not know what shame normally smells like, but that morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee it smelled like burning charcoal. The scent was unmistakable and unforgettable and so were Peter’s memories.

            Allow me to explain.

            Today’s text describes the third encounter the disciples had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. It occurred on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the place where several of the disciples were invited to follow Jesus when he began his public ministry.

Seven of Jesus’ disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. At day break, a stranger on the shore called to them asking if they had any fish. The disciples had no idea who he was but informed him their nets were empty.

When the stranger told them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, they obeyed. It was common for a spotter on the shore to let fishermen in a boat know the whereabouts of a nearby school of fish. They could see from a distance what those in a boat missed.

As soon as the disciples did what they were told, their nets filled with fish, 153 in all. I’m not surprised they knew the precise number of fish they caught. I’ve never met an avid fisherman who did not keep track of how many fish he or she caught, including the ones thrown back. These disciples were no exception.

While the disciples struggled to get this many fish close to the boat and ultimately the shore, the beloved disciple, John, realized the identity of their spotter. It was Jesus.

When John shouted out this good news, Peter jumped into the water and headed to the shore. He was too eager to have another encounter with the risen Jesus to help with landing the fish.

            I am certain the first thing Peter noticed when he stepped on the shore was that charcoal fire. It had not been that long since Peter smelled charcoal burning. The night Jesus was arrested and Peter denied knowing him on three different occasions, he was standing around a charcoal fire warming his hands.

            No wonder Peter and the disciples remained silent while Jesus took some of the fish they caught and prepared breakfast for them. They had much to think about as they watched those coals burn and smelled the stench of shame.

            When they finished eating, Jesus turned to Peter and asked a series of similar questions. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Each time Peter said he did, Jesus told him to feed his sheep, which was another way of calling Peter and all the disciples back to the work they began when he first called them to follow him along that same shore.

            Why do you think this encounter with the risen Lord found its way into the fourth gospel? After all, it appears this gospel originally ended at 20:31, and this chapter was added at a later time by the Evangelist himself or a redactor. Why was it important to include it?

            I am confident the early redactors added this story to resurrect Peter’s image. He did not need to be remembered as a coward who denied having any association with Jesus out of fear for his own safety. This story was the first step in Peter’s rehabilitation.

            Maybe this breakfast encounter was written to show there was no difference in Jesus’ loving and gracious nature after his crucifixion. The worst thing that happened to him did not bring the worst out in him. To the contrary, it brought out his best. The risen Jesus was not bitter, hateful or vindictive but mature, merciful and compassionate.

            I believe there was another reason this story was attached to this particular gospel. It was included to teach all of us what people who follow Jesus do.

They find a way to restore broken relationships, which is never easy because it always involves making sacrifices. People who follow Jesus know, however, the deepest level of love requires sacrifices. They also know they have a responsibility to help people who have made mistakes to recover and to move in new and better directions.

We could all rewrite portions of our lives, couldn’t we? This is the reason people who follow Jesus make it possible for everyone who has made unwise decisions to add more chapters to the story of their life just as Jesus did for Peter.

            Relationships are messy, aren’t they? Even the best of relationships can slide off the tracks. This is because people are a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly and so are their relationships.

We make promises we don’t always keep. We brag about things we cannot do. We let others down when they need us most. We abandon people depending upon us in their darkest hours. We embarrass and humiliate those closest to us in front of other family members or friends.

We lose our temper and say or do hurtful things. We spike an attitude that creates confusion and deflates the spirits of those around us. We transfer our anger to innocent victims. We lie to people to cover up our transgressions.

As much as we would like to think the time will come when our family resembles our friends on Facebook who post a picture of the one minute during the week when they quit fussing or fighting, it never will. Our selfishness gets in the way.

This is why all relationships are filled with great hopes, big dreams and huge disappointments. Our greatest joys and most painful sorrows are connected to the people around us. Our experiences with them bring out the best and worst in us.

            But as Peter discovered around that charcoal fire, there is something more powerful than broken dreams, disappointments and bad memories, and this is love, the kind Jesus referred to in his dialogue with Peter, ‘agapao’. With God’s help, we can invite those who have hurt us to chart a new course in our relationship. We can build a future based upon the mutual respect and trust needed to repair and to restore a damaged relationship.

I believe this story was added to John’s gospel to remind us the gospel is profoundly hopeful. It always points a way forward, even among the messiest of relationships.

Three weeks ago I told you Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone. If God could reach into a guarded and sealed tomb to bring life back to his crucified son, God can help us with every problem we have. This includes a restart of any relationship that has turned sour.

Will we always have the same result Jesus and Peter did? No.

Restarts only happen when everyone sits around the charcoal fire and takes responsibility for their part in the ruptured relationship. When this doesn’t occur, reconciliation is difficult to achieve. When it does, though, the Holy Spirit can be depended on to be present and to work in the hearts and minds of everyone there.

Do you need to follow Peter’s lead? Is it time for you to put down your defenses and have a heart to heart talk with someone you have hurt? Is it time for you to own up to mistakes you have made and to ask for forgiveness and for help as you chart a new course?

Do you need to follow Jesus’ example and reach out to someone who has acted like Peter? Can you find it in your heart to do for others what Jesus did for Peter and the other disciples who disappointed him? Can you take the initiative to restore a relationship that was once dear to you?

Do you think you can sacrifice what is rightfully yours for the sake of others? Do you believe you can offer someone the gift of hope and healing and another chance?

Broken relationships heal only when people talk candidly to one another and listen carefully to what is being said. Both the past and the future have to be addressed for healing to occur and a new path forward to be discovered.

Is it time for you to begin this process? I know someone who will help you. So does Simon Peter.

Purpose, Priorities and Passion 5/5/19

“Purpose, Priorities and Passion”

Luke 4:14-21

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky

May 5, 2019

Missions Sunday

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

            The full impact of today’s text cannot be felt until you take note of where it occurs in Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is near the beginning.

            After the birth narratives in the first two chapters, Luke mentions Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and then describes the encounter Jesus had with Satan in the wilderness. You recall Satan wanted a voice in how Jesus would shape and perform his public ministry and tempted Jesus to make it more about him than the people he was sent by God to serve.

It appears Satan had been successful in convincing many of the religious leaders in Jerusalem to be self-serving. Their hearts had grown hard and their ears deaf to the pleas for help by those struggling to survive.

Instead of coming to their aid, many of the most influential and powerful religious authorities exploited them in their pursuit of ways to fund their own lavish lifestyles. Their obsession with power, prestige, pleasure, attention and money blinded them to the divine mission they had been assigned.

Jesus recognized Satan’s motives during that encounter in the desert and, unlike many of his peers, he adamantly refused to fall prey to this faulty way of thinking. Instead of making his ministry about satisfying his needs, he chose to give himself away in service to others. He would be a servant leader who would make hope visible to all he met.

So excited was Jesus about the call from God to begin his ministry and his decision to help the people he loved, he headed straight to his hometown of Nazareth. This city of 20,000 citizens on the western side of the Sea of Galilee was his home for almost thirty years. It was here Jesus grew up as a young boy and came of age as a young man.

On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom to worship God and to discuss the mysteries of life and faith with his longtime friends. He was treated as an honored guest due to the good work he had already done throughout the region, and he was asked to read one of the passages from the prophets.

He was handed the scroll from Isaiah, which meant he probably selected the passages from Isaiah 58 and 61 that he read. No doubt his choice met with broad approval as this was a favorite of people burdened with relentless problems who longed for someone to make hope visible.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

This is where our story takes an interesting twist. After rolling up the scroll and handing it to the attendant, Jesus sat down, indicating he wanted to offer a brief commentary on this passage.

All commotion in the synagogue came to a halt as every eye was fixed upon Jesus. “Today,” he said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

All went well until Jesus made it known his mercy and compassion would be extended to everyone he met, including Gentiles. To say the least, this announcement did not go over well. The same people who honored him by asking him to read from the prophets now ran him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff.

You would think Jesus would recall that conversation with Satan just days earlier and reconsider his decision to be a servant leader. According to Luke, though, Jesus remained focused and determined to be faithful to fulfill God’s dreams for him and to help those beaten and bruised by the harshness of life.

Immediately after that experience in his hometown synagogue, Jesus began walking those dusty, Palestinian roads listening to people’s stories so he could respond to them with mercy and grace. He proceeded to call twelve disciples whom he could teach and train to follow his example.

He also used his prophetic voice to condemn the religious leaders for their self-absorbed attitude and lifestyle. He called on them to repent and rearrange their values and priorities.

How does this event in Jesus’ life intersect ours? I believe it does so in two ways.

First, it tells me that every church must reflect Jesus’ purpose, priorities and passion. Secondly, it tells me that every person who calls himself or herself a disciple must adopt Jesus’ purpose, priorities and passion. Let me take a few moments to explain what I mean.

I do not understand how anyone can read this story and not recognize what was important to God and to Jesus during his time on earth. Nothing about his mission was the least bit ambiguous.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I find it interesting what Jesus did not say that day in the synagogue. He did not say he knew the Spirit of the Lord was on him because he was blessed with good health, a loving family, a job that allowed him to take care of his mother, Mary, and his siblings, a fine home or wonderful friends and neighbors.

All of this was true, and I am sure he was grateful to God for each one. But on that day so soon after his baptism and dramatic encounter with Satan in the wilderness, Jesus said he knew the Spirit of the Lord was on him because he had been anointed to make hope visible to the most vulnerable and powerless people in Palestine.

This was now his mission and would be his entire ministry. Again, I do not understand how anyone can read this story and not recognize what was important to God and to Jesus during his time on earth.

Every church that exists to continue the work Jesus began must make meeting the needs of others their highest priority. Each ministry and program should be in tune with the needs of the people attending and those in the surrounding community. These ministries and programs must be designed to respond to the cries for help that others ignore or try to silence.

The church is at its best when it does what Jesus did and confronts evil, rights wrong, lifts up the lowly, finds the forgotten, liberates the oppressed, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, comforts the grieving, loves the unlovely, forgives people who make mistakes, gives people another chance to achieve their potential and teaches people how to live peaceably with one another.

The church authentically reflects the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus when it chooses love over hate, kindness over cruelty, compassion over coldness, truth over deception, integrity over expediency, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting, sacrifice over self-indulgence and peace over violence.

There is a huge difference between having church and being the church. We will not change the world by coming to church but by being the church.

Based upon what I have experienced these two months I have been with you, I feel you understand what I am saying. In many ways you reflect the purpose, priorities and passion of Jesus.

I can say without reservation the Spirit of the Lord is on you as the Spirit was with Jesus. God has anointed and empowered you to be the presence of Christ in this community and many places beyond your borders. I encourage you to maintain this missional zeal.

In addition to churches reflecting the heart of Jesus, I also believe everyone who claims to be one of Jesus’ disciples must adopt his purpose, priorities and passion. At all times and in all places, we must offer God our time, talents, skills, abilities and resources to be used in service to others.

We need no one’s permission to be kind and generous. We need only to follow the nudging of the Spirit.

Years ago my dear friend, Dr. Colin Harris, taught me one of the most important lessons I learned about how I can give myself away in service to others. “The difference between a talent and spiritual gift,” he told me, “is the way the talent is used. Any talent, skill or ability used to serve others and to make their lives better becomes a spiritual gift, a gift given to God and those we serve in Christ’s name.”

This insight revolutionized my thinking and teaching. Since that day, I have encouraged people to take an inventory of the talents and resources they have and challenged them to use them to help those in need. I have urged them to do this spontaneously in the marketplace as needs arise or in conjunction with others on a mission project. Just do it!

I offer this challenge to you today. Before this week is out finish this sentence, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to…”

Wholehearted Trust 4/28/19

“Wholehearted Trust”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
April 28, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

Recognition of Calvary’s Graduates from College and Graduate School

Proverbs is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I suppose this is because I value practical advice packaged in a few words. Proverbs has more pithy quips and quotes than Poor Richard’s Almanac(k).

            Proverbs is a collection of writings by Israel’s wisest leaders. Much of it is attributed to Solomon, and he was responsible for portions of this book but certainly not all of it. This encyclopedia of sound advice was not written until after Solomon died, perhaps as many as three to five hundred years.

The fourth century Christian scholar and biblical translator, Jerome, is credited with giving Proverbs its name. In the Vulgate, he gave this book of Wisdom literature the Latin name, Proverbia. The Vulgate is the Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments.

The purpose of Proverbs is to help people become wise and godly. It is a combination of riddles, lists, admonitions, imperatives, parables, poems, songs and sayings dealing with human behavior and social concerns.

It is from this rich repository of righteousness that I choose my word for our graduates this morning. This word is TRUST.

Niki Hays, our Minister to College Students and Young Adults, asked our graduates to select a word that reflects their hopes, dreams or feelings as they embark on their new journey after college or graduate school. Each graduate’s word was shared with us this morning as he or she was introduced.

Niki, in turn, selected a word for them to pack in their suitcases as they head in new directions. Her word was GRACE.

I appreciated what she had to say to our students about seeing others and even themselves as God does, as beloved children in need of companionship, encouragement, assurance, confidence, comfort, patience, understanding and forgiveness.

I’ll follow up Niki’s grace-filled words with a word about TRUST. It comes from Proverbs 3:5-6.

TRUST in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Why is it so important our graduates, as well as all of us, heed this advice found in Proverbs? Why the demand we trust God with our future?

            Solomon and the other contributors to this book were convinced God was trustworthy, and it was in their best interest to draw close to God and to follow where he leads. They based their advice upon God’s nature and character.

            They believed God cared about what God created. God was not distant and remote but actively engaged in the affairs of his children.

            They believed God wanted the best for everyone in the world he created. God wanted every person to achieve his or her potential and to use their skills, talents and abilities to make the world better for all people.

They believed God’s way of thinking, living and behaving was best. God’s way of arranging values and priorities, relating to others, resolving conflict, using resources and handling problems, challenges, struggles and temptations was always in their best interest and the welfare of those around them.

They believed God would never deceive or mislead them. At all times and in all places, God could be trusted to lead them in the right direction.

They believed God, unlike others who loved them, would always be with them and accompany them on every step of their journey. Never would they be outside of God’s sight or heart.

For these reasons, Proverbs 3:5-6 plays a prominent role in the book of Proverbs. No advice was more important than this. Let’s take a few moments to look at each part of this forceful admonition.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

The key word in this first portion is ‘all’. We are to place our confidence in God totally, completely and with an unwavering loyalty.

This is not hard to do when life deals us a good hand. It is much more difficult, however, to trust God when our hearts are troubled, restless or broken.

This will demand the best of us and from us. Our faith will need to be as strong as Solomon’s and grounded in God’s nature and character as was his. We, too, must believe that at all times God can be counted on to be faithful and reliable.

Lean not on your own understanding.  

This is not meant to undermine or minimize our ability to think for ourselves. It is, however, a way of reminding us of the importance of being good listeners with humble hearts who desire to learn from God and those who seek to honor God with their words and works.

“My own eyes are not enough for me. I must see through the eyes of others,” wrote C. S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism.

We should never consider ourselves the highest source of wisdom and authority. We have far too many blind spots to succumb to this faulty way of thinking.

In all your ways acknowledge him.

Again, the operative word in our text is ‘all’. The thought of God should never be limited to special seasons or sacred spaces. Every decision, large or small, should be made in light of God’s wisdom and will. The One whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours should be our closest counselor and confidant.

What if we aspire to this high level of commitment and loyalty to God? What will be the result of trusting God everywhere every day in every circumstance?

According to Solomon, God will direct our paths. God will walk with us as we move into the future, providing what we need to face each stiff challenge and to accept every golden opportunity.

This is my prayer for each of our graduates as they leave the familiar surroundings of their college campus and embark on the next leg of their remarkable journeys. I would also like to encourage every member of Calvary Baptist Church to join me in praying for these wonderful students who chose us as their spiritual home away from home. I can think of no finer gift we could give them.

An Empty Tomb Filled With Hope 4/21/19

“An Empty Tomb Filled With Hope”

John 20:1-18

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
April 21, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

Mary Magdalene wanted to be at Jesus’ tomb when the first rays of sunshine broke through the night sky. This is why she left home while it was still dark, which was as much a reflection of her spirit as the time of day.

I have to wonder if she even went to bed that night. If she did, I doubt she slept much. It is hard to sleep when your heart is broken.

Perhaps she thought she would find some comfort just sitting outside the tomb where Jesus was buried on Friday. At the very least, this quiet and peaceful place would give her some time to reflect on how good Jesus had been to her and the difference he made in her life.

Little did Mary know this day would be filled with surprises and interruptions much like the previous ones. Nothing she had planned for this Sunday was going to occur, but looking back, I don’t believe Mary would have changed anything.

Listen as I share highlights from Mary’s early visit to Jesus’ burial site. We’ll look through the lens the fourth gospel provides.

When Mary arrived at the tomb just before the sun came up, she was surprised to discover the stone at the entrance had been rolled away. To her dismay, Jesus’ body was missing, which broke her heart even more.

It appears she believed his body had been stolen by thieves or moved by the authorities, which led her to wonder how anyone could be so insensitive and cruel. Hadn’t Jesus’ enemies done enough to this innocent man she loved so dearly? Would this nightmare never end? Yes, it would, but not the way she could have ever imagined.

            Looking at that empty tomb, Mary did the only thing she knew to do. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the beloved disciple what she had discovered. Immediately, they ran to the tomb to find things as she described. Without any answers they returned home, but Mary lingered at the tomb.

            As Mary stood weeping outside the empty tomb, she had an encounter with two angels and then a man whom she thought to be the gardener. Instead of providing answers for Mary, all three asked her why she was weeping. She replied by telling them she was disturbed because someone had taken the body of her Lord, and she volunteered to retrieve his body if she was told where to go.

As it turned out, she did not need to go anywhere. The one she was seeking was standing beside her, and she recognized him once he spoke her name.

            After they embraced, Jesus told Mary to go tell the disciples what she had experienced, which she did. “I have seen the Lord,” she said to them as she told them about their encounter and conversation.

            It is hard to find a more comforting and inspiring story in scripture. It speaks to everyone who has suffered loss, experienced disappointment and searched for hope. Surely, this includes all of us.

What message did John want his readers, including us, to take away from his account of the resurrection of Christ? I pondered this for some time last week and believe one lesson to be this. Life is comprised of beginnings and endings, and both present us with intriguing challenges.

Mary went to the center of her grief that morning to bring closure to the most painful experience she had ever endured, the crucifixion of the man who had restored her sanity and self-esteem. She was at the foot of the cross on Friday and watched him die a cruel and horrible death.

The last thing she wanted to do that day was bury the man she called Lord. Nothing about this seemed good or right, yet she had no choice. He was dead, and she had to accept it.

So, she went to the tomb the first chance she got to bring closure to a relationship that ended far too soon. All she had now was her memories, and as precious as they were, they brought more pain than comfort on that Sunday morning.

All of us know what it is like to go to the cemetery of broken dreams. We have said goodbye to people and places, hopes and dreams, plans and promises, wondering if our broken hearts would ever heal.

This is where Mary was in the first part of our story. Her grief was immeasurable and her pain unbearable. This ending hurt worse than any she had ever experienced. Nothing inside of her wanted to accept it, yet everything around her said she must.

But the story does not end there. John doesn’t leave Mary crying alone in the cemetery of broken dreams. The gardener turns out to be the resurrected Jesus who not only dries Mary’s tears and lifts her spirit but also sends her running to tell the other disciples what she has experienced.

What Mary thought was the end of this fascinating journey with this remarkable man turned out to be a turning point. There was more, much more to come because of God’s ability to bring good out of bad and life out of death.

What is John’s message for us today? Sure, life has its share of endings, but faith is filled with the promise of new beginnings.

Shattered dreams will not have the final word in our lives. God will, and that word will be a good one.

Easter assures us there is no situation our faith cannot embrace and change for the better if we let God help us. If God can reach into a sealed and guarded tomb and give life back to his crucified Son, God can help us with any problem we are facing.

For this reason, Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone. This is because grief is always connected to hope for Christians, just as it was our Jewish ancestors.

We never have to settle for things as they are and give in to despair. Always, and at all times, God is working on our behalf to bring good out of bad and life out of death, just as God did for Jesus. In our humblest and most desperate circumstances, we can trust God to draw close and to lead us toward a new and better life.

As people of faith, we never come to the end of the road because, in the words of Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann, “the most distinguishing characteristic of God is God’s ability to make something new.” Brueggemann refers to this as the “always more of God.”

There are no dead ends on the road of faith! Every ending is the launching pad for a new beginning.

When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he did not mean, “It is over.” His purpose for coming to earth and his mission were completed, and he was faithful to the end. His life was not over, though. There was more work to be done and chapters to be written to his life’s story. God would see to it, and God did.

Is this the message you need to hear today? Your beloved mate of many years died or your marriage dissolved. You have lost your job and do not know what lies ahead, if anything.

You are facing limitations because of health issues and are not sure what the future holds. Your best friend relocated or someone you trusted betrayed you. You have made bad choices and are reaping the results, none of which is good.

Like Mary, you find yourself visiting the cemetery of broken dreams wondering if the clouds of uncertainty, doubt and fear will ever lift. 

Read the second part of our text over and over until the Light of the world breaks through the clouds to give you hope for a new beginning. Turn your sadness and sorrow into a quest for what God is doing on your behalf. All the while, never forget the discovery of the risen Christ occurred in darkness, and it still does!

Some time ago I read an article by Paula D’Arcy titled, “Song for Sarah.” When Paula discovered she and her husband, Roy, were going to have their first child, she began writing letters to her unborn child. She intended to write in this diary until her child turned sixteen, and then give it to him or her.

She began by writing to Andrew, thinking the child she was carrying was a boy. Andrew turned out to be a girl, whom she and Roy named Sarah. For the next eighteen months, Paula wrote about her experiences with Sarah, knowing one day this treasure of memories would bring joy and delight to her.

Tragedy struck so abruptly on a summer day when she, Roy and Sarah were on their way to Massachusetts to visit grandparents. A car swerved and hit them head on. Paula was the only one to survive the accident. In an instant, Roy and Sarah were gone.

Paula continued to write in the diary for a few years after this terrible day, which turned out to be very therapeutic. Writing enabled Paula to ask questions and express feelings she might not have been able to verbalize. I particularly appreciate the way she brought her diary to a close.

“God never guaranteed anything to be permanent except His love. I made all the other conclusions.

I look at what I wrote on your grave marker. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ How well I now realize that is true.

Overall is the hand of the Shepherd. Always for me, at every moment, God was there; there when I felt His presence and equally there when it seemed I was all alone. His presence did not depend upon my feeling it, or even upon the extent of my belief. God was simply there.

‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ And we are all quite safe.”

Yes, Paula, by God’s grace we are all quite safe in this world filled with beginnings and endings…and starting over when you thought all hope was gone

Riding Into the Eye of a Storm 4/14/19

“Riding into the Eye of a Storm”

Luke 19:28-44

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
April 14, 2019

Printable Document Video Will Be Posted Here

As I listened to Carrie Beth talk to the children about Palm Sunday during the Children’s sermon, I was reminded of the story of the little boy who was too sick to go to church. It happened to be Palm Sunday, and when his brother returned home after the service, he could hardly wait to tell him what he missed.

            “You picked the wrong day to be sick,” he told his ailing brother. “You are not going to believe what happened in church this morning. Jesus came riding into the sanctuary on a donkey, and we all walked alongside him waving palm branches!”

            “Aw man!” the younger brother exclaimed. “I can’t believe it. The one Sunday I missed, and Jesus showed up!”

            This morning, let’s talk about the event in Jesus’ life this little boy thought he missed. The fact Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem is included in all four gospels and has been re-enacted every year in the Holy City since the fourth century tells us how significant it was to the early disciples. This story was an important component in the formation of their faith.

            Luke will provide the lens through which we’ll look at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The narrator informs his readers that Jesus and his disciples have been making their way from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe Passover. (Luke 9:51-19:27) That journey was coming to an end as our text opens.

Somewhere near the outskirts of the city, Jesus sent two disciples into a nearby village to secure a colt for him to ride on the final leg of the journey. It appears Jesus had already arranged for this transfer to occur because he told the disciples exactly where to go, what to look for and what to say if someone asked them what they were doing.

When the disciples returned with the donkey, the disciples threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. Immediately, Jesus began his descent into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

As Jesus made his way down the slope, many spread their cloaks or palm branches on the path before him. They began shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)

Perhaps they saw what Jesus was doing as the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on  a colt the foal of a donkey.”

The Pharisees were not among those who viewed this event as the embodiment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Instead, they commanded Jesus to rebuke his disciples and silence them.

Jesus ignored their order and sternly replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

When Jerusalem came into Jesus’ view on the Mount of Olives, he broke down and cried. After regaining his composure, he voiced this lament: “If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)

Jesus went on to describe the destruction that was sure to come to Jerusalem because the religious leaders rejected Jesus and the pathway to peace he wanted to pave for them. “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:43-44)

What was it about this event that impressed the early disciples so much they made sure it was handed down to future generations, making it possible to be included in all four gospels?

For starters, I believe it was Jesus’ courage. Let there be no doubt Jesus was riding into the eye of a storm that evening.

By the time Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the religious leaders had already made the decision his voice had to be silenced and he needed to die. More than anything, they wanted to arrest him before the week ended and bury him by Passover. Why?

Throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, he had been an outspoken critic of the lives and leadership of those who held the reins of power in Jerusalem. He believed many of them to be callous and corrupt.

He accused them of caring about their own welfare more than the people they were called to serve by tilting the scales of justice in favor of those who bribed them, exploiting those who were the most vulnerable, ignoring the poor and using their power and influence for personal gain.

He condemned them for making life harder for those struggling to survive and turning a deaf ear to their pleas for help. He called them out for being dishonest, unreliable, selfish, greedy, rude, arrogant, insensitive and cruel.

There is no doubt Jesus’ words and work created conflict between him and those who chose to control people rather than serve them. As a result, Jesus was riding into Jerusalem with a target on his back.

Yet, he continued on this journey toward hope and healing. To do any less would have disappointed God and all those who needed him to be their advocate. He could bear the pain of being crucified more than the shame of being a coward.

This is why Jesus moved among and even interacted with the scribes and Pharisees as the week progressed. He attracted crowds everywhere he went and took advantage of the opportunity to teach what would be perceived by the religious elite as a threat to their positions of privilege and security.

Like prophets from the past whom the people revered, Jesus was on a mission to reveal the true nature of God and to give voice to God’s dreams for all people. He had a message to deliver, one rooted in the pursuit of justice and the establishment of peace, and nothing or no one would deter him.

Never had the earliest disciples met anyone with this much courage. The world had to know the Jesus they knew and loved, and telling the story of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem was one way to do it.

It was not just Jesus’ courage that impressed them, though. It was also his compassion.

Never before had the disciples seen the Grand Marshall of a parade cry. Jesus wept openly and heavily upon seeing Jerusalem and peering into the future that awaited the people he loved and tried to save.

It was Jesus’ compassion that compelled him to go to Jerusalem to confront the religious leaders. For three years he had walked those dusty Palestinian roads listening to people’s stories, responding to each one with genuine concern and tender mercy.

He was touched by those who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life, and he was disgusted with those in power who seemed not to care at all about their plight. Their indifference betrayed their calling and misrepresented the God who called them to serve.

In Jesus’ opinion, they needed to be held accountable and called on to repent. Who was going to deliver this message? Who would take this risk?

Only someone who loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself would take on this challenge.

Only someone who valued serving over being served, sacrifice over self-indulgence, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting and peace over violence would take this risk.

That someone was Jesus, and his story had to be told.

Courage and compassion. These were two of Jesus’ most admirable traits. This story puts them on display for all to see.

Would anyone point to you as an example of compassion and courage?

Where does your voice need to be heard?

Where do you need to roll up your sleeves and get involved in making a bad situation better?

Who is hoping you will be more like the Jesus you came to worship today?

Who is hoping you don’t so they can continue to exploit others by abusing their influence and power?

Lent is a time for riding into the eye of a storm, not playing it safe.

I wonder which you will do this week.

Trial and Error 4/7/19

“Trial and Error”

John 19:1-16

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
April 7, 2019

Printable Document Video

This morning our attention is drawn to one of the most disturbing stories in the Bible. It describes the unfair and cruel way Jesus was treated by the secular and religious leaders who were at odds over what his fate should be.

You might think the religious leaders were the ones who came to Jesus’ defense as he stood before Pilate, the Roman procurator who had to decide if Jesus would live or die. After all, Jesus was seen by many as a holy man on a divine mission.

To the contrary, the religious leaders were the ones who brought Jesus to Pilate demanding he sentence Jesus to death. Why were they so upset with Jesus?

As I have mentioned in previous Lenten sermons, Jesus assumed the role of a prophet throughout his public ministry by speaking truth to power. He boldly exposed the insincerity, hypocrisy and self-indulgence of many of Jerusalem’s most powerful religious figures.

Jesus repeatedly criticized them for their misplaced priorities. From his perspective, they valued ritual purity over relationships and righteousness and made religion a burden for those already beaten and battered by the harshness of life.

Jesus called upon these wayward leaders to repent. He pleaded with them to build God’s kingdom on earth instead of theirs and to give voice to God’s dreams for a just and peaceful world for all people. He appealed to them to be servant leaders who revealed the mercy and grace of God through their own selfless deeds of compassion.

Jesus words, however, fell on deaf ears. Instead of heeding Jesus’ advice, the religious leaders made the decision to silence Jesus’ prophetic voice by having him crucified.

While Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem to observe Passover, these leaders devised a plan to have Jesus captured and killed before the week ended. It began on Thursday evening by having him arrested while he and the disciples were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. This set in motion a carefully crafted plan to discredit Jesus and have him crucified in less than twenty-four hours.

After Jesus was arrested in the garden, he was immediately taken to Annas ben Seth, the former High Priest who was the power behind the throne. After being interrogated by Annas, Jesus was shuffled off to the headquarters of the current High Priest, Caiaphas, where the Sanhedrin assembled and charged Jesus with blasphemy and treason. 

Their plan hit a stumbling block, however, when they took Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate. Even though the Romans allowed the Jews a good deal of self-government, they were forbidden to carry out the death penalty. The right of the sword belonged only to the Romans, making it necessary for the religious authorities to convince Pilate that Jesus needed to die.

Persuading Pilate to bend to their demands turned out to be tougher than they thought it would be. I believe this was true for two reasons.

Pilate examined the motives of the scribes and Pharisees and found them to be dishonorable. It was obvious to him this demand to have Jesus crucified was driven by hatred for a man who challenged their authority and condemned them for being corrupt. Pilate did not want to get embroiled in a religious tussle. He had nothing to gain by getting involved and taking sides.

Secondly, Pilate despised the Jews and saw this as an opportunity to humiliate them. By not granting their death wish and having Jesus crucified, Pilate would make it possible for Jesus to continue to be a thorn in their side. Pilate would enjoy watching the religious leaders squirm.

Pilate’s internal struggle can be seen throughout this entire ordeal. At some point, though, I have to wonder if Pilate began to feel sorry for Jesus and genuinely tried to spare his life.

I don’t know and suppose no one does. Whatever Pilate’s motive was, he tried several times to secure the release of Jesus. It was only after the religious authorities threatened to undermine Pilate’s relationship with Caesar, which was always fragile, that Pilate finally succumbed to their demands and had Jesus crucified.

Pilate’s first attempt to set Jesus free occurred immediately after Jesus was presented to the governor in his palace. It was early in the morning, and Pilate probably did not want to be disturbed.

Quickly, he told the religious authorities to deal with this dispute on their own. When they refused to do this and insisted that Pilate order Jesus’ crucifixion, he went back inside and interrogated Jesus.

Since that conversation focused on religious and theological issues, which Pilate had no interest in, he returned to the religious leaders to declare he found no basis for having Jesus crucified. Again, this decision met with persistent resistance.

At this point, Pilate thought he could put the religious leaders on the spot by agreeing to release a prisoner during Passover. When he gave them the opportunity to choose between Barabbas, a notorious criminal and murderer, and Jesus, to Pilate’s surprise they chose Barabbas. When he asked them what should be done with Jesus, they shouted in unison, “Crucify him!”

Before signing the order for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate instructed his guards to unmercifully beat Jesus as a final attempt to spare his life. When Jesus reappeared battered and bloodied wearing a crown a thorns and purple robe, Pilate appealed to the religious authorities for mercy. Surely, he thought, enough had been done to this man to placate their anger and to appease them.

Pilate was wrong. The rhetoric outside Pilate’s palace intensified and the stakes increased. The religious authorities threatened to sabotage the relationship between Pilate and Caesar if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified. Reluctantly, Pilate gave them what they wanted to save his job.

Listen to the final portion of this discourse.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the Chief Priests answered.

Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

Historians tell us that Pilate was relieved of his duties soon after Jesus was crucified, and he was never heard of again. You have to wonder how this traumatic event and fateful decision changed his life.

What can we take away from this tragic story that can change the course of our lives? I pondered this for a considerable amount of time last week. Let me share some ideas for you to consider.

There is no shortage of people who will put pressure on you to do what is wrong. Don’t get swept up in a crowd and let fear overrule sound judgment as Pilate did.

Most people who want you to do something wrong will not give up easily. Evidently, you stand between them and something they want, and they are not going to go quietly.

They will work tirelessly to wear down your defenses and to nudge you along a path that leads straight to a dead end. Don’t get caught in their web of deceit and destruction. Ask questions, seek the counsel of others and compare what they are asking of you with what you have been taught by those who truly have your best interest at heart.

Be the voice of reason in a crowd and offer a different perspective. Stiffen your spine and say no when necessary.

I know this is not easy, but rarely is it easy to do what is right in a world that values being served over serving, self-indulgence over sacrifice, deception over truth, greed over generosity, pleasure over principles, revenge over forgiveness, hate over love and arrogance over humility.

Doing right always comes with a price but so does doing wrong. The former leads to peace of mind, self-esteem and healthy communities. The latter leads to remorse, guilt and chaos. Ask Pilate and the ones who shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” if you need proof.

Who is wearing down your defenses? Who is just about to persuade you to make unwise decisions that will hurt you and those around you? Who is doing to you what the religious leaders did to Pilate?

Let me encourage you to pause, take a deep breath and seek God’s heart. Too much is at stake for you to crumble as Pilate did.

The worst in others should bring out the best in us, especially when those around us need us to be good role models. I am convinced one reason Jesus remained faithful to God and took the high road during his trial and crucifixion was because he kept his eyes focused upon those who looked to him for guidance. Simply put, he could not disillusion his followers by teaching one thing and doing another.

After the resurrection of Jesus, what do you think the disciples talked about when they were sitting around a campfire? I believe they reminisced about Jesus’ commitment and courage during his final hours.

His example inspired them. His response to evil showed them how to bring light into a dark world. His courage compelled them to overcome their fears. His commitment to be a faithful servant at all times in all places helped them to understand there are times when this is what love looks like.

Who needs you to be a good role model? Who looks to you to teach them how to handle adversity and life’s stiffest challenges? Who is relying upon you to make hope visible and lift their spirit? Who is it you do not want to disillusion?

The worst in others should bring out the best in you and me. Is it?

The deepest level of love always involves sacrifice. Based upon today’s text, there will be times when love demands more from us than we think we have to give.

Perhaps this was the very reason Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying the night he was arrested. He was pleading for God to take this cup of agony away from him or grant him more strength than he had ever needed.

Knowing how difficult the next few hours were going to be, why would Jesus even consider going through all he did that night and the next day at the hands of such corrupt and self-serving people? The only answer I can give you is that Jesus did this out of love, love for God and love for us.

Jesus was sent to this world to reveal the true nature of God, to confront injustice, to expose corruption, to right all wrongs, to offer an alternative vision for arranging values and priorities, to make hope visible to those who were struggling to survive and to forgive those who were living with guilt and in shame. If this mission put him in harm’s way and cost him his life, he was willing to pay the price. He would rather be crucified at the hands of his enemies than to be unfaithful to the God who had so much confidence in him.

What Jesus endured that night on our behalf reveals that love is willing to do the difficult. It is tough and resilient. It is brave and courageous. It is faithful and true.

It will not cut and run when the road becomes treacherous or the incline grows steep. It never takes the easy way out or looks for a reason to give up. It refuses to be swallowed up by selfishness, fear, hatred, bitterness or revenge.

Love stays focused, grounded and faithful even in the midst of adversity. As Paul wrote to the early believers in Corinth, “love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:8a)

There are times in all of our lives when we are called to love like this, and this may be one of those times for you. I truly believe the only way you can love people at their worst is with God’s help.

This challenge is bigger than you are. It is bigger than any of us. It is not, however, bigger than God, and God is eager to help us make the sacrifices we must endure to make a bad situation better.

“One of the most difficult things I ever did was to go to Al-Anon,” my friend said. At the time, my friend had been the pastor of his church for eleven years and was well known and respected in his community. Going public with his teenage daughter’s addictions and eating disorders was extremely painful but necessary.

He needed a support group and the skills to help her. Doing so, however, meant he had to set aside his pride and risk losing everything.

When he and his wife married years earlier, they made a decision to set aside $1,000 a year for the next twenty years for a special project. This money was going to be used to fund a trip they would take to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. This was a lot of money in those child-rearing years and was going to be a big challenge, but they were committed to it.

The fund had grown to $18,000, and they were already making plans for their special trip. They never made this trip.

Instead, that $18,000, and plenty more in addition to it, was used to pay for their daughter’s medical and rehabilitation expenses. The only trip they took was to several rehab facilities over a five year period of recovery and renewal.

Why did they do this? The deepest level of love always requires sacrifice.


Who needs you to love them this much this week?

Grace Under Pressure 3/31/19

“Grace Under Pressure”

John 18:1-11

Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
March 31, 2019

Printable Document Video

This morning our attention is drawn to the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. This text sets the scene for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

The pace of the story moves quickly as the plan to discredit Jesus and crucify him unfolds. In less than twenty four hours, Jesus will be buried.

This passage opens in the Upper Room where Jesus and the disciples have eaten the Passover meal. At the conclusion of this meal, Jesus quietly leads the disciples through the Golden Gate, across the Kidron Valley and into the Garden of Gethsemane.

Normally, this would have been a pleasant walk on a beautiful spring night. Nothing about this evening was normal, though. Danger was in the air, and everyone felt it.

Jesus and the disciples had been in Jerusalem all week, beginning with his triumphal entry on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday. Throughout the week, Jesus interacted with the religious authorities, and those encounters had not gone well.

Things quickly turned sour between Jesus and these leaders when he entered the crowded Temple during this holiest of weeks and made a scene. He went to the area where the moneychangers sat up shop, along with those in charge of selling animals for sacrifices, and ran them out of the Temple. He condemned them for exploiting the people who had come to worship God and pray, accusing them of turning this house of prayer into a den of thieves.

You can imagine the chaos this disruption created. The religious authorities were scrambling to retrieve the money and animals while many bystanders were talking about this brave Galilean carpenter. To them, he resembled the prophets of old as they spoke truth to power in both word and deed.

The relationship between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees did not get better as the week progressed. Jesus told parables that indicted the most powerful religious leaders for their insincerity, hypocrisy and self-indulgence. He accused them of robbing defenseless widows and catering to the powerful and rich. He lashed out at them for valuing ritual purity over relationships and making religion a burden upon those who needed God’s help the most.

It was evident to everyone that Jesus was not timid or shy, and he was certainly not intimidated by those he criticized. Like the prophets from the past whom the people revered, Jesus was on a mission to reveal the true nature of God and to give voice to the dreams of God for all people. He had a message to deliver, one rooted in the pursuit of justice and the establishment of peace, and nothing would deter him.

By Thursday, the authorities were ready to take action. Jesus had to be silenced, and the best way to do it was to have him arrested for blasphemy and for disturbing the peace. Today’s text describes the initial stages of that process.

Sometime after Jesus and the disciples entered the garden to pray, Judas arrived with a contingent of Roman soldiers and religious officials. You recall Judas abruptly left the Passover meal to rendezvous with the scribes and Pharisees and to accept their bribe for telling them where Jesus would be later that night. Thirty pieces of silver was his bounty, which he would return before hanging himself out of guilt and remorse.

It appears between two and six hundred soldiers carrying torches, lanterns and weapons accompanied Judas to the garden. It was obvious they believed Jesus would run and hide from them, and they would have to hunt for him in places moonlight could not penetrate.

How ironic it was they went looking for the “light of the world” (John 8:12) with their puny artificial lights. How tragic it was they believed the world needed their light more than his.

It was no coincidence Jesus was arrested at a time everyone in Jerusalem was bedded down for the night. Jesus was quite popular among the common folk, and in all likelihood, they would have offered resistance had Jesus been arrested in broad daylight. To eliminate this possibility, Jesus was arrested under the cover of darkness.

Upon arriving at the garden, the authorities were surprised and completely caught off guard when Jesus took the initiative to approach them. “Who is it you want?” he asked, reminiscent of the question he asked the first disciples who followed him. (John 1:38)

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said, again revealing himself to be the incarnate Logos of God, (John 1:35) the embodiment of God’s nature and the fulfillment of God’s dreams for all humans.

Upon hearing Jesus speak, the soldiers fell to the ground, the conventional response of someone in the presence of a deity. It seems the authorities were prepared to handle everything that night except the honesty, courage, boldness and transparency of Jesus.

Jesus repeated the question, this time making a plea for the authorities to let his disciples go. Carefully notice, however, that Jesus did not use the word ‘disciple’ when referring to them. Instead, he merely called them ‘men’ in an attempt to distance himself from them.

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one,” Jesus prayed on behalf of his disciples just moments before leaving the Upper Room. (John 17:15) Jesus was now doing his part to make this happen.

At this point, Simon Peter surprised everyone when he drew a sword from his cloak and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus quickly responded by rebuking Peter, and according to Luke’s account of this incident, he bent down, picked up the man’s ear and reattached it.

I am confident Jesus did this out of compassion for the high priest’s servant. I also believe he did this as a way of keeping Peter from being arrested for carrying a weapon during Passover, something strictly forbidden to prevent an insurrection when so many people were in Jerusalem.

I can only imagine what a dramatic moment this must have been. Had anyone ever witnessed such grace under pressure? I doubt it.

About twenty-five years ago, Dr. Timothy George, Dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford, made a statement related to the final portion of our text that has had a profound impact upon me as a person and a minister. “The last miracle Jesus performed healed a wound caused by one of his own disciples,” Dr. George declared. Those words have been inscribed upon my heart for three decades, and I find them to be as informative and powerful now as they were the first time I heard them.

Through the years, I have thought often about what Dr. George said in that Bible study. What makes this particular miracle significant is not that Jesus healed the wound of an enemy while under great stress, as difficult as this must have been. What sets this miracle apart from others is that Jesus healed a wound caused by the leader of his own disciples.

You know how this speaks to me? It tells me people who follow Jesus are just as capable of hurting others as those who do not call him Lord.

Peter was as close to Jesus as anyone could be. He was in the audience the day Jesus talked about loving your enemies and praying for those who hurt you.

I am confident the two of them had a lot of camp fire talks about this transformative ethic of love and Jesus’ insistence on non-violent resistance to evil. Yet, when the authorities came for Jesus, Peter pulled his sword and started swinging.

I wish I could say Peter’s behavior is uncommon, but I don’t think it is. Believers are as capable of hurting others as those who do not believe in Jesus, and their wrath can be directed toward strangers, dear friends or close family members.

How do we as believers hurt others? There is a wide variety of ways.

Sometimes we hurt others with words. We embarrass, humiliate, insult, demean and demoralize others by saying things that are harmful or false.

We hurt others by ignoring them and acting as if they don’t exist, or at least they don’t matter.

We hurt people by manipulating or controlling them for selfish reasons.

And then, we hurt people through acts of violence as Peter did that dreadful night when he attacked Malchus, the High Priest’s servant.

Sadly, the place where much of this violence occurs is in the home. This includes physical assault, battery, sexual assault and other abusive behavior.

One in four women and one in seven men in America experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

One out of every two women and men experiences psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

One-half of all female homicide victims in our country are killed by a current or former male partner.

Eighteen percent of children in America lives in a home with domestic violence. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,100 calls a day, which averages out to 15 calls per minute. I wonder how many people in this sanctuary today have made one of those calls or wanted to make one.

Why does a person resort to violence? Several reasons have been identified.

Violence is due to the unwillingness of someone to control his or her temper and to deal with frustration and anger in healthy ways.

Violence is used to intimidate others and to beat them into submission.

Violence is an unhappy person’s way of making others miserable.

Tragically, violence is a common behavior among adults who were abused as children.

I have been told by family counselors that up to 80% of adults abused as children become abusers. It is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.

Is this true of you? Are you caught up in that cycle of pain?

How do you think Jesus feels about anyone who hurts others? How did he respond to Peter’s violent behavior that night? He swiftly rebuked it and reversed the damage Peter had done, which tells me two things.

Jesus can heal the wounds of those who have been hurt by others. Perhaps this is the message you need to hear today if you are a victim of verbal or physical abuse.

Even though your pain is deep, chronic and severe, there is hope. Jesus understands and can help you heal and move forward. He can also lead you to others who will help you on this journey toward hope and healing. I encourage you to let them into your life to begin this process.

On the other hand, if you have a habit of hurting others, he can help you change. He can heal the pain inside you which causes you to hurt others.

He will guide you as you own up to your mistakes and seek help to change your hurtful ways. Jesus cares as much for you as he does your innocent victims.

In a comic strip by Liz Johnston titled, “For Better or  For Worse,” Michael pushes his little sister, Lizzie, out of his bedroom and slams the door on her finger. The entire family goes to the emergency room where Lizzie gets her broken finger bandaged.

Walking out of the hospital, Michael tells Lizzie he is sorry. “It’s ok, Michael, my finger won’t hurt forever,” Lizzie responds. “I know,” Michael says, “but my memory will.”

Jesus can heal bad memories and help you change the behavior which causes them if you will let him. He will lead you to people who understand and can help you, too. I hope you will let them, and I imagine I am not alone. 

“The last miracle Jesus performed healed a wound caused by one of his own disciples.” Don’t let Jesus’ next healing miracle be necessary because of something you do this week.

What Is Missing In Your Life? 3/24/19

“What Is Missing in Your Life?”
Luke 13:1-9
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
March 24, 2019

Printable Document Video

            Lent is a time for reflection and renewal. Few passages in the gospels encourage this more than today’s text.

It is a portion of the travel narrative in Luke, a description of the journey Jesus and the disciples took from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe Passover. These ten chapters in Luke (9:51-19:48) give us details of where Jesus went and what he did along the way.

             As Jesus passed through towns and villages, it was common for people to stop what they were doing to go see Jesus and to listen to him teach. Evidently, based upon the content of the preceding chapter, a large group of people had gathered around Jesus.

            On two occasions while Jesus was talking, someone interrupted him and asked a question. Our text opens with a third interruption, this time to tell Jesus about Pilate ordering a massacre of worshipers as they offered their sacrifices in the Temple.

            Obviously, this tragic news was on everyone’s mind that day, and they were quite upset. Being the perceptive teacher he was, Jesus went off script and addressed both the news of the day and their struggle with it.

            It appears some people in the crowd wanted to engage Jesus in a discussion about the role sin plays in suffering. Perhaps they even asked Jesus if this massacre was proof of sin in the lives of these Galileans and God’s judgment upon them? Had these people been targeted by God to die that day?

            Jesus wasted no time telling his audience God did not use Pilate to unmercifully slaughter this group of people any more than God used the tower of Siloam to kill eighteen innocent victims when it suddenly fell.

In both instances, those who died just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths were tragic and even broke God’s heart.

Jesus used this opportunity, however, to call on all listening to him to quit rebelling against the Romans lest they also die a violent death. The Romans did not have to be driven out of this region for God’s people to embrace kingdom values and to be faithful to the covenant their ancestors made with God.

Jesus then turned the crowd’s attention from the past to the present, from death to life and from despair to hope by telling a parable about a barren fig tree. Seems the owner of this vineyard was quite upset with a fig tree that he believed should have had fruit on it. It had been given ample attention and care by the gardener, but for some reason it was not bearing fruit.

He promptly told the gardener to cut it down and probably started walking away when the gardener made an unusual request. He asked to be given one more year to nurture and nourish the fig tree to see if it would produce fruit. If his efforts were in vain, then he would offer no resistance and cut it down.

What happened to the fig tree? Good question, but there is no answer. The parable ends as abruptly as it began. Perhaps Jesus wanted each of us to write the ending based upon an evaluation of the fruit we are bearing as we live out our faith before others.

I am intrigued by this parable.

Who was Jesus’ audience and why did he tell this parable that day? Why did Luke include it in his account of Jesus’ ministry? After all, he is the only writer who did. What should this parable compel us to do? How can it help us on our Lenten journey of self-discovery and renewal?

Let’s spend a few minutes with these questions. Before we do, I want to explain my interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘fruit’ mentioned in this parable.

For me, fruit is a symbol of two things: who we are and what we are doing. It is a reference to the kind of person we are--what we value and consider important—and how we are using our time, talents, resources, influence and power.

Those who embrace kingdom values bear fruit. Those who choose to pursue the world’s values over kingdom values do not bear the kind of fruit God longs to see and others need from us.

Now, let’s turn our attention to these questions.

Who was Jesus’ audience that day and why did he tell this particular parable? As I said earlier, there was a large crowd that had assembled to listen to Jesus teach. Included in that number were many influential religious leaders who wielded much power in their communities.

By this time in Jesus’ ministry, he was disappointed in many of these religious leaders. He felt they had misplaced their values and priorities and were using their position for personal gain.

There was a big gap between where they were and where Jesus thought they should be. They were not the people he thought they should be, and they were certainly not doing what he thought they should be doing.

From Jesus’ perspective, what was missing? The list is staggering, based upon a reading of the previous chapters in Luke’s travel narrative.

Honesty, integrity, empathy, compassion, mercy, grace, patience, generosity, humility, a holy curiosity, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, respect for all people, the pursuit of justice, a loving heart, a forgiving spirit, and a willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of others.

Jesus was disappointed in them because they were not passionate about confronting evil, righting wrong, lifting up the lowly, liberating the oppressed, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, giving people a second chance and building bridges of goodwill, understanding, reconciliation, peace and hope instead of erecting walls of suspicion and hate.

Why did he think they should have been bearing this kind of fruit? They had the words of the prophets, who clearly outlined these expectations. Evidently, they chose to ignore them, and Jesus exposed their insincerity and hypocrisy and called on them to repent before they perished and took the entire nation down with them.

Why did Luke include this parable in his gospel? He did not want his readers to make the same mistakes the religious leaders in Jesus’ time made. He wanted them to be fruit-bearing disciples who remained faithful to God by embracing kingdom values over the world’s values, something they could do by listening to the voice of the prophets and following Jesus’ example.

How does this parable speak us to do today? I believe it compels us to examine our lives to see if we are bearing the kind of fruit that honors and pleases God.

At this stage in life and at this point on my spiritual journey, am I bearing the fruit God and others thought they would see?

Am I the kind of person I need to be and am I using my time, talents, resources, influence, power and opportunities in ways that make the world better for all people?

Is this a fruitful period in my life or have I become distracted and misplaced my priorities?

What kind of fruit do I need to bear to help my church through this time of transition?

What is missing in my life now that I may even be unaware of?

I wonder how other people would answer that last question. What would your parents say is missing in your life? Your teacher? Your coach? Your mate? Your children? Your best friend? Your neighbors? Your co-workers? Your employees? Your church staff? Your Sunday school teacher?

Lent is a time for identifying missing fruit and doing something about it.

I must caution you, though, this is not easy. This level of self-awareness requires an extraordinary amount of honesty, humility and interest in doing what is right. The resistance to doing this can be overwhelming.

            We are prone to be satisfied with who we are, where we are and what we are doing at every stage of life. We are usually comfortable with the status quo and quickly become defensive when confronted with our blind spots or our faults are put on display.

            Furthermore, it is extremely hard to see what is missing in our lives when for the most part our lives are filled with less important things. Our problem is not a lack of stuff; it is just the wrong stuff. We have lost the ability to differentiate between trash, trinkets and treasures, and as a result are pursuing the wrong things in life.

            This is why we need the two main characters in this parable, the owner of the vineyard and the gardener. We need someone who helps us identify what is missing and holds us accountable. We also need an advocate who believes in us and an encourager who will nourish and nurture us along this journey toward self-awareness and renewal.

            Where are you in this parable? Who are you?

Are you the disappointing barren fig tree who needs to make some changes?

Are you the owner who needs to have a candid conversation with someone who is underachieving?

Are you the gardener who needs to instill confidence and hope in someone who is struggling?

Wherever you are and whoever you are, God wants to walk alongside you and help you do what is needed. I pray you will open your heart and life to God’s gracious offer.

The Pain of Rejection 3/17/19

“The Pain of Rejection”
Luke 13:31-35
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
March 17, 2019

Printable Document Video

This is one of the saddest scriptures in the New Testament. In the final months of Jesus’ ministry, he realized he was not going to accomplish all he wanted to do for the people he dearly loved. Resistance to his words, work and very presence was growing stronger and broader every week.

Many of the religious leaders who should have welcomed Jesus with open arms rejected him. They refused to accept what he taught. They found fault with the way Jesus healed people and openly criticized him for disregarding their sacred rules and rituals. They set traps for him in public with gotcha questions designed to embarrass and humiliate him. They spread rumors about him to discredit him and undermine his ministry.

Jesus had no choice but to accept the fact he could not win over the scribes and Pharisees and help them to become the leaders God called them to be and the people desperately needed. Their hearts had grown hard, their ears deaf, their eyes blind and their minds closed to the ways God was working through Jesus to teach them and heal a broken world.

As if this were not bad enough, our text reveals Jesus was presented with another challenge. Herod, the ruler of this part of the Roman Empire, placed Jesus on his Most Wanted List, not merely to have him arrested but killed.

To say Jesus’ life was in danger would be an understatement. The people he came to help not only rejected him but wanted to bury him.

As a result, Jesus was not just traveling with his disciples on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe Passover. He was walking down the road from hope to disappointment.

Why did Jesus face such strong opposition during his public ministry? Why were the most influential secular and religious leaders upset with him?

Jesus assumed the role of a prophet during his ministry and spoke truth to power. He laid the blame for many of the world’s problems at the feet of the religious and secular leaders. He held them responsible and accountable and called on them to repent.

He was not timid or shy, especially when it came to pointing out the faults of the religious leaders. He exposed their addiction to power, prestige, attention, money and their lavish lifestyles.

He criticized them for using their power and influence for personal gain. He denounced them for making life harder for those struggling to survive. He called them out for being selfish, greedy, rude, arrogant, insensitive and cruel. 

He challenged them to embrace kingdom values and to denounce the world’s priorities by pursuing love over hate, serving over being served, sacrifice over self-indulgence, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting and peace over violence.

There is no doubt Jesus’ words and work created conflict between him and those who chose to control people rather than serve them. His actions did, too.

He loved the people they shunned, accepted the people they excluded, talked to the people they ignored, healed the people they would not touch, forgave the people they held grudges against, criticized the people they coddled and gave all he had to help the poor instead of taking what little they possessed.

I think you see why the religious leaders and Herod turned on Jesus. His voice had to be silenced and his ministry ended. He was too big a threat to them and the power structure that worked to their benefit.

What was Jesus’ reaction and response to the religious leaders’ rebellion and news of Herod’s threat? He was neither surprised nor intimidated. He called Herod a sly, conniving, deceitful, destructive and self-absorbed fox. Furthermore, he renewed his commitment to the work God sent him to do and continued on his journey to Jerusalem.

He had another response, though. He expressed the longings of his broken heart.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Look, your house is left you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.” (Luke 13:14-15)

Later, upon arriving in Jerusalem and topping the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, Jesus would repeat these words, this time with tears in his eyes. The sight of Jerusalem, the pain of rejection and the missed opportunity by his own people to avoid a coming calamity caused Jesus to sob uncontrollably.

How does this story intersect our lives today? There is a variety of ways. Let me offer some for you to consider.

Nothing of great value comes easily. Every dreamer will encounter a variety of struggles in his or her efforts to make their dreams come true. This was true for Jesus, the disciples and the first generations of Christians. It will be no different for us.

All the honorable motives and good intentions dreamers bring to the table don’t take the challenges out of what they are trying to accomplish. There will be no shortage of mountains to scale, valleys to go through or unpaved roads to navigate on the path that leads to a new and better life for all people.

Only the highest level of commitment to a noble cause will keep you and me in the game. If you are unwilling to take risks or to pay a high price for making dreams come true, stay on the sidelines. You won’t make it through the first quarter.

Choose faith over fear when you meet with a resistance that is grounded in selfishness and flows from a deceitful heart. Never give up when someone tries to sabotage your good work. Be as bold, determined, committed and courageous as Jesus was the day he was told Herod wanted to kill him.

“If God is for us, who can be against us,” Paul wrote to the Romans. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

Keep your eyes on God and your mind focused upon your mission. Don’t let your adversaries distract you. They are using fear to manipulate and control you. Rely upon God daily for wisdom, strength, courage, confidence, compassion, determination, will power, patience, stamina, focus, guidance and direction.

Never lose sight of those who are depending upon you to choose faith over fear and remain in the battle. Keep looking at their faces and listening to their stories. Ask God to provide what you need to make their lives better.

No one is closer to God than when he or she is doing what Jesus would do if he were in your shoes. When you choose to be the presence of Christ in a broken and hurting world, you make it possible for God to use you in ways you have never experienced. Be prepared to have some of your closest and most meaningful encounters with God.

Not everyone you love will let you help them. Sometimes the resistance comes from those we know the best and love the most.

Tragically, it can be family members or friends who do not want what you have to offer, even if it is in their best interest. They will not appreciate what you are trying to do on their behalf to keep them from going down a path that leads to death and destruction, which will break your heart as it did Jesus’.

Is there anything more painful than watching someone you love self-destruct? I don’t think so, and I wonder if Jesus might agree. The hardest Jesus cried was while looking at  Jerusalem knowing the citizens of this proud city were going to die a cruel death at the hands of the Romans and all these beautiful buildings were going to lie in rubble.

This may be how this story connects with you today. Someone near and dear to you is heading down the wrong road because they are making unwise decisions, and yet, they refuse your efforts to help them make better choices.

How many tears have you shed? How many times have you tried to reach them? How many ways have you tried to reason with them? How many opportunities for a new and better life have you provided someone that have been squandered? How often have your attempts to help them been ignored?

What could I say today that would encourage you? Perhaps it is this.

I think there is a special place in God’s heart for those who weep over others, make sacrifices on their behalf and don’t give up when others walk away. God knows what it is like to be discouraged and heartbroken. He is aware that sorrow is an expression of steadfast and unconditional love.

The same God who helped Jesus remain faithful all the way to the cross will help you persevere. The one portrayed as a hen protecting her chicks or a shepherd willing to search for every lost sheep will empower you to be a good role model and to keep searching for a way to reach the person you are so worried about today.

God knows how hard it is to travel down the road from hope to disappointment. This is why God will take each step with you on this difficult journey, and I encourage you to let God walk with you.

On the other hand, if you are the one who is breaking someone’s heart by heading down the wrong road, God will help you to make tough changes in your life. God loves you unconditionally and will help you turn from your self-destructive ways. God’s forgiveness is real and transformational.

Think twice before you walk away from someone who is honest with you and is trying to help you live a better life. Ask yourself what they know you don’t and what they see you are overlooking.

This morning, will you put down your defenses and lay aside your pride? Will you listen to the people who love you unconditionally and reconsider some of the decisions you are making? Will you turn from the road of disappointment and destruction toward the way of hope and healing?

I pray you will and am confident many others do, too.