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.


Never Settle for Less Than Your Best 3/10/19

“Never Settle for Less Than Your Best”
Luke 4:1-13
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
March 10, 2019

Printable Document Video

Odd place to have a retreat. I doubt any of us would have selected this location.

When most of us go on a retreat to meditate, pray and make crucial decisions about our future, we head to the mountains, a lake, a monastery or a retreat center with amenities. I am confident none of us would choose to go to a desert.

Yet, this is where Jesus went.

According to Luke, this was not of his own choosing. He was led by the Spirit to this location.

I am not surprised Luke highlights this. The Spirit plays a prominent role in this entire gospel, including Jesus’ baptism and this time of testing.

I suppose the only good thing about going to the desert was the lack of distractions. This would allow Jesus to focus all his attention upon how he would conduct his public ministry.

Jesus did have to deal with one distraction, though. Satan showed up wanting a voice in how Jesus would use the power granted to him. He quickly proposed three ideas for Jesus to consider.

Turn stones to bread and you will never go hungry.

Worship me and you can have everything your heart desires.

Jump off the highest point of the Temple and you will become an instant celebrity when you are rescued by angels.

Look carefully at these temptations because they have something in common. They were designed to undermine Jesus’ call to serve. Satan was tempting Jesus to make his ministry more about him than them, the people who so desperately needed his help.

            Thankfully, Jesus was grounded in a faith that taught him how to respond to such appealing temptations. In a place where water was scarce, Jesus drew from the deep well of his faith to remain faithful to God and loyal to the call to reflect the heart, mind, nature and image of the one he lovingly called Father.

All his life, Jesus faced the temptation to reverse direction and be lured into the old, self-serving ways of the religious establishment. Each time, Jesus refused to replace kingdom values with the values of the world. He stayed the course and remained faithful to God all the way to the cross.

What do you think Luke wanted his readers to take away from this story that Jesus must have shared with his disciples and had been handed down to him? As I pondered this question last week, these lessons came to mind I would like for you to consider.

Every promise made among friends will be tested in a hostile environment. There are no exceptions.

In Luke, before Jesus called a disciple, taught a lesson, preached a sermon or performed a miracle, he was tempted to be something less than God created him to be. This pattern will be true for us, too.

When you…

…make a promise, you will be tempted to break it;

…start a journey down an unfamiliar but necessary road, you will be tempted to turn around;

…accept a challenge, you will be tempted to quit;

…get married, you will be tempted to forget your vows and cheat on your mate;

…are baptized, you will be tempted to hide your faith;

…rededicate your life to be more faithful, you will be tempted to adopt the world’s values;

…go away to college, you will be tempted to neglect your studies;

…join a team, you will be tempted to become a superstar instead of a team player;

…start a diet, you will be tempted to give up;

…confront an addiction and decide to get help, you will be tempted to fall back into your old ways;

…encounter an obstacle, you will be tempted to settle for mediocrity.

No good intention, promise or commitment is off limits. Every decision you make that honors God and makes life better for you and those around you will be tested. I challenge you to name one that wasn’t.

Be careful whose voice you listen to when you are confronted with choices. Who you listen to determines who you are becoming.

Jesus had to choose between listening to the prophets or Satan. He chose the prophets, not because their advice was easy, but it was best.

Be leery of anyone who encourages you to break a promise you made in good faith. Carefully examine their motives, which are usually selfish.

Surround yourself with wise, loving people who will encourage you to do your best and hold you accountable. Jesus did.

Immediately after this experience with Satan, Jesus began calling his disciples. Why?

He needed traveling companions on this journey of faith who would listen to him, offer sound advice and pray for him. If Jesus needed a support group to remain faithful, how much more do we?

All of us need friends who will hold us up and hold us accountable. We need companions who will ask tough questions of us at the right time.

Do you really want to do this? Who will be hurt or helped by this decision? Whose heart will be broken? Whose life will be crushed? What relationships will be ripped apart?

Does this decision strengthen the promises you have made or undermine them? Does this decision reflect the values Jesus embraced? Do you need to think about this more before moving forward?

The people who really care about you and your family will ask these questions. Wise is the person who answers them. Always look at the short and long term consequences to every decision you make.

The Great Law of the Iroquois requires their leaders to think seven generations ahead before making a decision. Don’t we owe it to those around us and the many more coming after us to be concerned about their wellbeing?

Stay focused and disciplined. Keep your eyes on the people who need you to do the right thing. Never lose sight of them.

Every time Jesus met with resistance, he had to decide if this mission was about him or the people he came to serve. Had he decided at any point along his journey life was more about him than them, he would have thrown in the towel. The risks, dangers and frustrations would have become too much for him to endure. Fear and disappointment would have ruled and reigned.

Every door of opportunity you walk through closes other doors around you. There are some things you refuse to do because you are married, you are a parent, you are a leader, you are a student, you are a role model, you are a church member, you are a citizen, you are a neighbor and you are a child of God.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, as Jesus demonstrated in this text. Everything good is not always good for you and me. Learn when to say no as well as yes. Life will be much better for everyone when you do.

Rely upon God to help you. Yes, Jesus needed a support group and called the disciples to walk with him, but he also needed and sought God’s help on a daily basis.

This would not be Jesus’ last encounter with Satan. Often, he would return with new and better deals. It would be impossible to resist these temptations and remain faithful to God and loyal to his mission without God’s help. Others had tried and failed, and he would, too.

So will we. We cannot be true to God’s call upon our lives in the face of invitations to choose lesser goals without God’s help. Only when we rely upon God can we “face up to our dark side and soft spots,” as my friend, Dr. Colin Harris, teaches.

Jesus is described as “full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit” all throughout Luke’s gospel. He was never overconfident.

Neither must we be. “Deliver us from evil,” needs to be our prayer, too.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. No one lives a mistake free life.

Must we forever live with guilt and shame? I can tell you this is not what God wants.

Forgiveness is real and transformative. Hope springs out of being loved unconditionally.

Own up to your mistakes and ask for forgiveness from God and others. Seek to understand why you broke a promise or failed to honor a commitment. By God’s grace, change your flawed thinking and behavior.

What temptations are threatening to undermine your faithfulness to God? What did you struggle with last week that will surely resurface in the coming days?

How we handle temptation reveals what is important to us and what we value the most. Our decision will reveal more than what we are going to do next…much more.

All of us face many invitations to be something less than we were created to be. By God’s grace, be true to your calling in the face of opportunities to choose a lesser goal. Never settle for less than your best.