Palm Sunday and the Gift of Disillusionment

How the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry—and my chronic pain diagnosis—helped me trade in false hopes for a truer picture of God.

 

Palm Sunday and the Gift of Disillusionment
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source images: Illustrations by Gustave Doré

The December sky was low and gray on the morning I woke up and could not feel my hands. I wrung out my arms, hoping the sensation would return. I shook them violently to no avail. Rushing to the bathroom, I held them under hot water. Then frigid water. Neither helped.

Within days, prickly tingles crept up my arm and spread to my shoulders. The numbness turned into pain that burned, ached, and stabbed. Even my fingernails throbbed. A neurologist performed tests using electrified needles inserted into my muscles and shock pads placed on the skin. Nothing appeared abnormal.

Next came a series of scans and a litany of tests for minor problems like vitamin deficiencies, major illnesses like Lupus, and life-threatening conditions like multiple myeloma. Each brought excruciating waiting and worry. I was, after all, a writer whose livelihood depended on having control of his hands. All returned negative.

My symptom list grew with each passing month. First came nerve twitches in my legs, arms, back, and face. Then a paradox of sapping fatigue and insomnia. Severe panic attacks struck without warning, and I broke out in excruciating shingles from the overwhelming stress. The slightest stressor—a large crowd or a long line, common in New York City, where I live—left me bedridden.

The revolving door of physicians left me without a diagnosis and drowning in an ocean of medications: anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, nerve pills, pain killers, antiepileptic drugs, sleeping pills, and a healthy dose of Lexapro and Xanax to keep me from a full-on mental break. I grasped for anyone who would help, scheduling appointments with cardiologists and chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists, holistic doctors and Hasidic Jewish healers.

My life blurred. My ability to work was reduced to a meager three hours a day. My social life disintegrated, leaving me in depths of loneliness I’d never known before. Everything familiar looked strange. Pain tormented me at every moment. I awoke to pain, worked with pain, dined with pain, and fought for sleep despite pain’s presence.

I was helpless like Job, brought low before God out of sheer desperation. When he was faced with his own pain, he could only bow before the Divine and listen to the wind. The difference between us is that once Job submitted, God restored him. I had no such luck. I was incarcerated in the prison of my own body.

And just like that, I joined the more than 25 million Americans who struggle with chronic pain disorders, many of them idiopathic in nature. As a Christian, I believed that God was sovereign, which made my chronic pain journey also a voyage of divine disappointment.

Come on, God. You know my story. You were there when my neighbor abused me as a child. You know how awkward and alienated I felt throughout adolescence. You know how I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire adult life. I’m starting to see sunlight, to get a little relief, and then this happens? Really?

This is the edited version, actually. I spoke words to God that the MPAA would bar from a PG-13 movie.

The Dopamine Roller Coaster

On November 9, 2016, New Yorkmagazine published an article on the science of disappointment. The article opened by stating the obvious, which is that “the feeling of being let down is actually one of life’s toughest emotional experiences.”

Of course, most people don’t need a magazine article to know that this is true, that disappointment hurts. A spouse or partner, that person who made butterflies dance inside you, cheated on you, and then hid it. Your colleague smeared you in a meeting to steal the promotion you earned. The child you prayed over since birth stormed out of the house, swearing to never return. A forgotten birthday, a withheld apology, a bucketful of lies from someone you’d die for.

Disappointment is an unavoidable part of being human, but as the New York magazine article noted, the experience is physiological, not just emotional. The feeling of disappointment is linked to your levels of dopamine: the brain’s “pleasure” chemical, released during positive life experiences. The dopamine systems in your brain don’t just react to what you experience; they attempt to predict what you want or need.

Here’s how it works: Your brain generates expectations about the future. Often these expectations are based on what you want. Something you perceive as good has happened in the past, so you begin to expect it will happen in the future. Before it even happens, your dopamine levels begin to rise in the rush of anticipation. Then, when that good thing actually occurs, you get a double shot of dopamine.

Here’s the rub: Life doesn’t always give us what we expect. People fail us. People hurt us. People lay us on the altars of their own selfishness. When you don’t get the desired result—researchers call this a “reward-prediction error”—not only do your dopamine levels fall; they plummet from the heightened level generated by your expectations.

Now, instead of receiving a double shot of dopamine, you receive none. You crash doubly hard: “Not only do you not get what you wanted,” the article states, “but you also feel the displeasure of having been wrong.” The point? “Losing hurts even worse … when it’s not what you were expecting.”

Rising Expectations

In the valley of my disappointment, I discovered a gospel story that’s a portrait of what it looks like when an entire community suffers a reward-prediction error. It’s known as the “triumphal entry,” and it is usually told on Palm Sunday in most churches.

Dust was swirling across the scorching desert as a rebel-Rabbi and his band of co-conspirators climbed up to Jerusalem. Rather than slip into the city unannounced, Jesus did something strange. He told a couple of his disciples to go to a particular place and retrieve a donkey for him to ride into the city.

Jesus turned his face toward a city that kills prophets, stones truth-tellers, and executes troublemakers. With a deep sigh, he steeled himself, mounted the humble beast, and clip-clopped toward the Kidron Valley. When the Jerusalemites saw Jesus approaching, they erupted in excitement. They began stripping off their cloaks and spreading them across the road. The crowd whacked branches off trees and laid them across Jesus’ path. As if this weren’t enough pomp and ceremony, the crowd broke into a Passover song.

All four Gospel writers include this narrative, each with their own twist. Matthew’s version says that the procession turns the whole city into “turmoil” (21:10, NRSV). The Greek word for turmoil is the root for the English word seismic. The city trembles as Jesus approaches.

The story begins with great expectations, which are easy to miss. Jesus has just been in Bethany, close to Jerusalem, where he resurrected his friend Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus’s eyes have barely adjusted to the sunlight, and his story has spread throughout the region. Hearing this story, the crowds react, their brains bathed in dopamine. They begin to predict how God will act in their lives based on the way that God acted before: He will intervene again. He will work a miracle. He will expel the occupiers and resurrect God’s people in God’s city.

The palm branches signaled the crowd’s high expectations, a symbol largely lost on those of us who are separated from the culture and chronology of the story. Jewish history told of a man named Judas Maccabeus, a freedom fighter who entered Jerusalem 200 years prior to Jesus. As he approached, people waved palm branches and sang hymns. When Judas finally arrived, he defeated the Syrian king, recaptured the Temple, expelled the pagans, and reigned for a century before the Romans took back the city.

God had saved his people from an occupier once before when an uncommon man trotted into town. With a new sheriff seemingly on the horizon, their dopamine systems kicked in, and they began predicting another takeover. Their song declared, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9).

This is a song that Jews sang at the beginning of Passover. It’s taken from Psalm 118, the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. It tells of an enemy swarming like bees, driving the psalmist to the brink of destruction. Then God sweeps in with a mighty hand and wipes out the enemy. The word Hosanna means “Lord, save now.” They are asking Jesus to drive out the enemy army and restore order.

Even the donkey plays a role in elevating expectations, as it harkens back to an image from Zechariah 9:9, a prophetic passage that many of these Jerusalemites would have heard before. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.”

That night, around dinner tables across Jerusalem, the Jews likely discussed the day in hushed voices. “Could this be the king we’ve been waiting for? He was riding a donkey after all.” By the time Jesus mounted that donkey and descended into town, their dopamine systems would have been in overdrive.

‘Resentments Under Construction’

The crowds that day aren’t much different from us. I’ve spent my whole life in churches—evangelical and mainline, small and mega, liturgical congregations and those with ear-splitting rock bands. I can’t think of one that hasn’t projected expectations onto God.

Maybe you picture God as a heavenly bellhop whose job is to satisfy your deepest desires. Or perhaps God is a holy matchmaker who will secure you a spouse. Maybe God is a cosmic bodyguard who protects you from harm. Or the world’s best nanny, making sure your children turn out right. Or a divine doctor, healing your every physical and mental ailment. Or a wonder-working accountant, solving all your financial problems—provided you drop off a portion in the church coffers, of course.

People tend to assume that God is the deity they want. All you have to do is snatch up a couple of verses that seem to support your preferred version. Then you spend a few years listening to a pastor reinforce them through selective storytelling. Before you know it, the cement of those assumptions dries, and you begin expecting God to work in particular ways in your life. Not unlike the people of Jerusalem.

This works pretty well, as long as God seems to do what we want him to do. But the moment he doesn’t conform to our expectations, our whole world rattles. A baby is born with a disability. A person you love abandons you for another. A friend dies before her time. The expectations you placed on God ferment into distrust, into disappointment. As author Anne Lamott says, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”

In September 2015, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz wrote an article in the New York TimesSunday Review titled “Googling for God.” He wanted to show how Google search data can tell us a lot about the psychology of the modern age. When it comes to God, many people won’t share their struggles with their faith leaders or friends. Instead, they type them into Google, where they can ask with both impunity and anonymity.

Stephens-Davidowitz sifted through a decade worth of Google searches and found that the most Googled questions about God included these questions: Why does God allow suffering? Why does God need so much praise? Why does God hate me? Why did God make me ugly? Why did God make me gay? Why did God make me black?

A blind man can see the thread binding each of these questions together: disappointment with God.

Many of us—perhaps tens of millions—have a common experience when it comes to spirituality. We expect God to be something and then discover that he is not at all like that. Or we expect God to do something, only to realize that he seems to have his own priorities. In these moments, a tsunami of disappointment comes crashing down.

From Disappointment to Disillusionment

The Palm Sunday story displays the transition from expectation to disappointment in Technicolor. The triumph becomes a trial, and the trial becomes an execution. Jesus entered the city on a donkey, but we know he will leave in a body bag. This is not just a fun parade; Jesus is walking down death row.

Here we have a picture of what happens to a group of very religious people when they feel disappointed by God. At the start, the crowds embrace Jesus with dopamine levels soaring and shouts of “Save us now!” As soon as Jesus turns out to be something other than the savior they expect, their Hosannas morph into “Crucify him!”

Jesus is a king, but not the kind they wanted. He will serve rather than be served. He will die and not be killed. He enters unarmed, waging peace. This makes a larger point that God does not intend to meet our expectations. Instead, he meets our needs.

This type of God makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want vegetables when I’m craving candy. I want a God that satisfies my desires, whether or not those align with my needs. And so it is with all of us. We welcome God into our lives with anticipation, with expectation. We’re laying down cloaks and waving palm branches with all we’ve got. But when God turns out to be someone we don’t recognize, we scatter like smoke in the wind.

One of the most interesting features of this story is how much preparation Jesus does. He lines up everything, making sure to trigger the crowd’s expectations. It’s like Jesus has hired a PR agency, indicating that he knows exactly what he is stirring up.

But why? Is he trying to disappoint them? No. I think he is trying to disillusion them.

The word disillusion has gotten a bad rap in recent times, but it’s a gift God gives with abundance. Disillusionment is, well, the loss of an illusion. It is what happens when you take a lie—about the world, about yourself, about those you love, about God—and replace it with the truth. Disillusionment occurs when God shatters our fantasies, tears down our idols, and dismantles our cardboard cutouts. It occurs when we discover that God does not conform to our expectations but rather exists as a mystery beyond those expectations.

The definition offered by Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor in her book God in Pain may be the best I’ve seen. She describes disillusionment as the sacred experiences that cut us down to size and remind us of our smallness in this expansive universe. These experiences are often painful but never bad, because they make us shed the lies we’ve mistaken for truth: “Disillusioned,” she writes, “we find out what is not true and we are set free to seek what is—if we dare—to turn away from the God who was supposed to be in order to seek the God who is.”

Ultimately, the triumphal entry is not about donkeys and palm branches at all. It’s a reminder that placing expectations on God based on our wants is a recipe for resentment. But nurturing openness to divine mystery is a framework for faith.

Shedding Illusions

I’ve learned to manage my pain disorder, but it has persisted despite my best efforts. Yet I refuse to let disappointment sever my relationship with God. And over time, I’ve begun to uncover and shed illusions. I’m dismantling mirages I’ve constructed around productivity, identity, and self-worth. No longer can I work 12-to-14-hour days. Or pretend that who I am is enhanced by how much I produce. Or ground my sense of worth in accomplishments and accolades. Or pretend that God will keep me healthy or heal my every ache and pain.

I have traded these lies for a truth: that in times of difficulty, God offers us his presence, not a parachute. This exchange has transformed my disappointment into disillusionment. And disillusion turned out to be a horrible, wonderful gift.

What we experience as disappointment is an invitation to give up holding tight to what we hope is true. To stop trying to cast God in our image. To let God be who God is, not who we wish God would be.

The choice is ours. And who knows? If we decide to step off the dopamine roller coaster, maybe we’ll find ourselves at the foot of a cross, giving up all we have for the One who gave up everything for us.

Adapted from Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them Copyright © 2018 by Jonathan Merritt. Published by Convergent Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/jonathan-merritt-palm-sunday-gift-disillusionment.html

Almost 100 Abortion Clinic Workers Seek to Leave Industry After Seeing Pro-Life Movie ‘Unplanned’

Chuck Konzelman, director of the Pure Flix movie “Unplanned,” revealed to Congress this week that nearly 100 abortion clinic workers have sought to leave their jobs after seeing the pro-life film.

During his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Konzelman said 94 clinic workers have approached former Planned Parenthood executive Abby Johnson’s nonprofit, And Then There Were None, according to Pure Flix Insider.

‘Unplanned’ Movie Director Says Film Was Made ‘For Such a Time as This’

“One percent of the abortion workers in the United States, after getting one look at them being portrayed on film,” he said, “have decided to change their lives … and what they do for a living.”

The Pure Flix filmmaker was on Capitol Hill to speak on a panel regarding Twitter’s alleged censorship of “Unplanned.” On its opening weekend in late March, the social media platform temporarily suspended the film’s promotional account.

“Unplanned” chronicles Johnson’s eight-year career at Planned Parenthood and her conversion to the pro-life movement after she watched a doctor perform an abortion via ultrasound.

Ashley Bratcher, the actor who portrays Johnson in the faith-based movie, tweeted Thursday she receives messages “every single day” from people whose lives — and minds — were changed after seeing “Unplanned.”

The movie beat box-office expectations for its opening weekend, bringing in $6.1 million — more than doubling forecasted earnings.

The movie beat box-office expectations for its opening weekend, bringing in $6.1 million — more than doubling forecasted earnings.

As seen here at CBN News. Posted here with permission.

Original here

Easter Is on Its Way: Do Our Kids Really Care?

As parents and guardians, we must impress upon our young ones the truths of this vital season

 

For nominal or devout Christians, Easter is the most significant holiday of the year.

Some people prepare by sacrificing food, electronics or soft drinks during the season of Lent. These actions may sound trivial, but they point to the energy we spend trying to honor the One who created the most miraculous event in human history.

It is the event that turned the world upside down — but one that many people today, particularly millennials, struggle to believe.

It’s easy to see why they take that stance. We parents have gotten our children to Mass or to church, have told them Bible stories and have taught them prayers, but we have fallen short on impressing upon them the truth of Easter.

We haven’t taught them apologetics and the historical evidence that Jesus was not just a good, smart guy — He was God. Instead, we have focused on communicating our personal experiences; and for our children who are trying to choose or reject God, these aren’t enough. They want to know how we know that Easter really occurred.

So, we must tell them. Hundreds of scholars have found evidence that Christ did indeed live and that He died by crucifixion. But then the serious questions begin. Did He really rise from the dead? And if so, what difference did and does that make?

And if He rose from the dead, was God just showing the Jews that He could perform miracles — or was something else going on?

We Christians believe God Himself was on the cross. People of other faiths believe Jesus was not God but a good prophet who taught humans many good life lessons.

That’s the dividing issue for Christians, Jews, Muslims and those of other Eastern religions. There is good biblical evidence that Jesus was in fact God — but that is a longer discussion.

It is, however, one that every Christian parent must delve into because our children will need to know.

That’s what millennials are telling us. If we can’t defend our faith, we can’t blame them for being skeptical or walking away.

Rather than give lip service to Easter, let’s dig deeper so that we can articulate the external, not just personal, truth of it. If we can’t describe why we believe that Jesus was God Himself, we may not really believe it ourselves.

Faith that centers on feelings is pretty superficial. We see that all around us. Many Christians (particularly evangelical) are quick to talk about Jesus, relay their personal transformation, and hope that others believe. The problem is that many of those same people walk away and act like jerks.

That’s one more reason millennials are skeptical. If we Christians really believe Easter is the lynchpin of our faith, shouldn’t our behavior show it?

This Easter, I implore professing Christians to do some soul-searching. Rather than give lip service to Easter, let us dig deeper so that we can articulate the external, not just personal, truth of it. If we can’t describe why we believe that Jesus was God Himself, we may not really believe it ourselves.

If our faith is simply an “experience,” then we can be talked out of it pretty quickly. I submit that if we don’t really believe that Christ was God Himself, that He rose from the dead to illuminate to every human what real, profound love is, then we might as well skip Easter.

Or, at least be honest enough to eat colored malted milk balls, chickadee peeps, and call it a nice family day.

Don’t miss what is really happening here. There is a plethora of historical and biblical evidence that Jesus lived, was crucified, and rose from the dead — and that He was God.

If we can aptly communicate this to our children, they might ask another question: Who cares?

That is where Easter comes in. We care not only because we want to live with truth, but because there is no more life-changing or significant truth to all humans.

This is what our kids must know.

https://www.lifezette.com/2019/04/easter-is-on-its-way-do-our-kids-really-care/

VIDEO ‘Unplanned’ Actress Says film is ‘Going to Change History’, Change Hearts and Minds on Abortion

‘Unplanned’ Actress Says film is ‘Going to Change History’

Abby Johnson, left, is seen on the set of the movie “Unplanned” with actress Ashley Bratcher, who plays her. The movie details the story of Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood administrator who quit that job to join the pro-life movement after her up-close interaction with abortion.
CNS/COURTESY OF UNPLANNED

By Denis Grasska, Catholic News Service

To say that actress Ashley Bratcher is enthusiastic about her latest film project is an understatement.

“I think it’s going to change history,” she said of the real-life story upon which the film is based. “I really do. I think it’s just that impactful.”

Bratcher portrays Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who became an outspoken pro-life activist, in “Unplanned.”

Opened nationwide in theaters March 29, the film is based on Johnson’s book of the same title and recounts how Johnson, once honored by Planned Parenthood as its “Employee of the Year,” came face-to-face with the reality of abortion and converted to the pro-life cause.

Bratcher knows the story’s transformative power because she has felt it herself.

Though she auditioned for the role without even knowing that Johnson was a real person and not the fictional creation of a screenwriter, Bratcher later went home and did some research online. She watched a video of Johnson sharing her story and, she said, it “shook me to my core.”

Bratcher had identified as pro-life, but admits that she had been “middle-of-the-road” on the issue, having limited understanding of fetal development, not knowing much about what an abortion procedure actually involved, and being unwilling to tell another woman what to do with, “so to speak, ‘her body.’”

But that video filled the gaps in her understanding, she said, and “really convicted me in my spirit to say, ‘Wow, people don’t know this. … America needs to know the truth.’”

If video footage of Johnson describing her experience in words can be that powerful, a dramatization would be even more powerful.

“With this movie, we allow people to see for the first time what they’ve never seen before, and I think that is going to be … really compelling,” Bratcher said during a telephone interview with The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego.

In a separate telephone interview a day earlier, Johnson recalled the life-changing moment that is at the center of the new film.

Despite growing up in a pro-life family, she began volunteering with Planned Parenthood in the early 2000s. At first, though she disliked abortion, she felt that women’s lives would be at risk if they were denied access to it. Over her eight years with the organization, her views gradually became more extreme, to the point where she was “very much pro-abortion” and saw the procedure as “just another form of contraception.”

However, that all changed in September 2009, Johnson said, when she was asked to provide “an extra set of hands” during an ultrasound-guided abortion.

“I saw this 13-week-old baby appear to fight and struggle against the abortion instruments, trying to move away, to find a safe place,” said Johnson, who became Catholic in 2012, “and I knew then that there was life in the womb, that there was humanity there, and that what I had just witnessed was truly an injustice.”

The filmmakers’ effort to share Johnson’s eye-opening experience with theatergoers met with an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for “some disturbing/bloody images.”

Johnson sees “a political agenda at play” in the rating decision, but also feels that the MPAA “stumbled backwards into the truth” that abortion is inherently violent.

“I don’t think the irony is lost on anyone that a 15-year-old girl can’t go watch this movie without her parents’ consent, but can go get an abortion without her parents’ consent,” she said. “But I hope that it won’t deter parents from taking their kids.”

A parent herself, Johnson gives her assurance that children “have seen much worse on cable TV than they will see in this film.”

Bratcher also acknowledged the irony that young girls will not be admitted to the film without a parent, but she said that “abortion is R-rated” and “to make a movie about abortion and not have it be rated R would be a disservice.”

Both the real-life Johnson and her onscreen counterpart hope that the film’s audience will include both pro-life theatergoers and those who support legal abortion. And they said it will challenge both sides.

For those who are “pro-choice,” Johnson said: “If you’re going to support something, you need to know what that is and what it looks like, and that’s exactly what this film is going to show them.”

But, she added, “even within our own pro-life movement, there’s room for conversion,” especially among those who are “willing to check a box and say that they’re pro-life, but they’re not actively engaged in the movement.”

In another interview with a Catholic paper, The Compass of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Johnson said she also hopes the film opens the hearts and minds of Catholics in particular.

“Over 50 percent of women having abortions are coming from our churches,” she said. “I wholeheartedly believe that God is going to put the right people in that theater to see this film. I’m excited to see what happens.”

(Editor’s note: Unplanned is currently scheduled at a number of theaters located within the Diocese. Visit www.unplannedtickets.com for locations and information. Read the movie review by Catholic News Service.)

Original here


UNPLANNED” ACTRESS DISCUSSES FILM’S IMPACT – Fox & Friends First 4/15/19 – FOX NEWS 4/15/19


 

Christian Identity Crisis?

As Christians it’s important to get in the game and be a voice for truth and bridge to God for all those we come in contact with throughout our day. So it’s vital we understand our full identity in Christ.

Today, identity theft is at an all-time high. At the time of this writing, nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft with $16.8 billion in losses. Even for us, we got a notice that one of our wives had her social security number stolen! What a helpless feeling.

But the worst possible identity theft is not when someone steals your social security number or your financial information – it’s when Satan robs you of your identity in Christ. He knows very well if he can convince you to believe you’re not part of God’s plan to do His work in the earth, he can render you powerless and keep you on the sidelines.

Because what you think determines how you act.

We’ve all felt it – that sense of fading energy and loss of power when we lose sight of our identity in Christ. Maybe you’ve experienced it as confusion or lack of direction. One thing’s for sure: the most empowering truth is that we are children of God, called for a purpose. This truth gives energy and conviction to even the mildest and most humble believer.

So we must hold fast to our identity in Christ. Don’t let it be stolen. Our identity as ministers of God on mission in His work must be firmly rooted in our minds.

In February 2014, we found ourselves on the set of Fox & Friends in NYC being interviewed for our first book, “Whatever the Cost.” We were talking about the importance of standing strong for your faith when one of the hosts asked:

“Do you guys have any interest in being pastors or preachers going forward?”

I (Jason) responded, because I knew David didn’t have a clue what to say. When the host asked the question I instantly felt the Holy Spirit nudge me in the direction of identity.

“There’s a false dichotomy today that says guys like us in business are not ministers.”

I responded as the host panel listened intently.

“We don’t believe that. The minute you give your heart to Christ He puts you on mission to bring Him glory. Whether you’re running a talk show or preaching behind a pulpit you are a minister, so just go out there and bring God glory.”

When I was talking I felt an energy come over me, like the Holy Spirit talking directly through me to the people watching – because identity is near and dear to the heart of God, as the Bible talks about again and again.

I continued:

“The devil knows how you see yourself determines how you behave. So, if he can get you thinking you’re not a minister, you won’t act like it. So that’s our encouragement for Christians today – you are ministers, even if you’re just wiping rear-ends at home as a stay-at-home-mom.”

I said that last part in an effort to help believers understand that what determines the minister is not where you’re placed or how you’re paid (like a pastor at a church) – but the presence of God in your life. If you love the Lord, you are His minister on mission to bring Him glory wherever He’s placed you. And God will use you. I thought of my wife who was at home with our four kids while I was in NYC on the show – she’s the best minister I know in one of the most under-valued ministries of all.

David topped it off with:

“So the answer is yes, we will go into ministry. We’re in it right now.”

They got it. The light bulb turned on in their minds. As a matter of fact, one of the hosts, Elizabeth Hasselback, finished the segment with:

“I’ve got some rear-ends to attend to at home myself!”

Our identity as Christ followers is not attached to what we do or how we’re paid. No, it’s firmly rooted in who we are – as ministers of God on mission for Him wherever we go. So let’s get in the game and make a difference for God right where we are.

Order your copy of the Benham brothers’ new book, “Bold and Broken,” today!

Original here

 

VIDEO Tim Tebow: ‘What God Says About Me’ Is What Defines Me

April 12, 2019 By Michael Morris

Former NFL QB and college Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (Screenshots)

When asked how he is able to block out the naysayers in his career in an interview yesterday, former college football Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterbackTim Tebowresponded that he’s had a lot of practice and further stated that “what God says about me” is what defines him.

“[R]egardless of what everyone here says about me, that doesn’t define me,” stated Tim Tebow during an interview. “And I’m so grateful that doesn’t define me. There’s one thing that defines me, and that’s what God says about me.”

The interview came after Tim Tebow and the New York Mets Triple-A Syracuseaffiliate this week drew a “crowd of only 1,200” on Tuesday, according to ESPN, “on a chilly afternoon in upstate New York, where Tebow arrived at the ballpark at 8 a.m. — five hours before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch — to lift weights, study video, take indoor batting practice, review scouting reports, conduct a team Bible study and talk a little football with his new Syracuse Mets manager.” It was reported that Tebow would be called up to Triple-A Syracuse back in Nov. 2018, Mike Golic saying, ““Good for Tim and the opportunity he’s going to get.”

Tebow, responding to how he handles naysayers, suggested that it’s about keeping perspective and “not letting other people define you because they sure do want to.” Tebow says he tries to encourage young people to “not let the world or other people, outside sources, define you.”

Below is a transcript of Tim Tebow’s comments regarding how he handles naysayers:

“[Y]ou’re always going to have critics and naysayers, and people that are going to tell you that  you won’t, that you can’t, that you shouldn’t. Most of those people are the people that didn’t, that wouldn’t, that couldn’t.

“And don’t be defined by outside sources. You go after your dreams.

“Succeeding or failing is not making it to the bigs or it’s not necessarily fulfilling that, it’s having to not live with the regret because I didn’t try.

“And you know, I just feel for all the young people out there that don’t go after something because they’re so afraid of failing that you’re going to live with a lot more regret than you would have if you tried and you failed. And I’m very passionate about that.

“And I think the reason that a lot of people don’t go after things is because how much you will be criticized. And what if I fall flat on my face? And so, fear and doubt and all these things creep in, and I just don’t believe that’s the healthiest way to live. I don’t want to have to live with fear or doubt every day.

“And you know, regardless of what everyone here says about me, that doesn’t define me. And I’m so grateful that doesn’t define me. There’s one thing that defines me, and that’s what God says about me.”

https://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-morris/tim-tebow-what-god-says-about-me-what-defines-me

Palm Sunday: Jesus’ Triumphal Entry and Christians Today

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. It’s traditionally called the Triumphal Entry, but do you know why it is called ‘triumphal’ or what message that sends to Christians today?

The account of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is found in all four Gospels (Matthew 21:1-17Mark 11:1-11Luke 19:29-40 and John 12:12-19). For those who are not totally familiar with the entry narrative, before entering Jerusalem, Jesus sent 2 disciples ahead to bring him back the colt of a donkey, a colt that never been ridden. Then Jesus sat on the colt and rode it into Jerusalem. The people heard of his coming and believed that He was the promised king come to deliver them from the tyranny of their Roman rulers. Hailing Jesus as their king, the people lined the road and placed palm fronds down on the road in front of Jesus and the donkey colt, an honor only given to a king. This is why we celebrate the day – Palm Sunday.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem is referred to these days as the Triumphal Entry because the people hailed him as their promised king. Jesus didn’t correct the people, but He rode in not as their promised king but as their promised Messiah. The people thought He was there to save them from the Romans, but Jesus knew that He was there to save them from eternal damnation and that it would cost Him His life. He knew He was not going to sit on an earthly throne and rule the Jewish people, but that He was going to endure an excruciating and humiliating tortuous death on a cross.

Jesus’ mission was very different from what the people were expecting, but was the most important act for all of mankind, ever since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden.

So, what message does the Triumphal Entry have for Christians today?

Knowing the consequences for doing the right thing and what His purpose was, Jesus didn’t stray from that purpose and He did the right thing. Knowing the cost of doing the right thing would lead to being beaten, whipped, spat upon, having a crown of thorns embedded on his head and then suffer the slow and agonizing death on the cross, Jesus still did the right thing, even though His human part asked God if at all possible, to remove that cup (duty) from Him. Jesus, however, knew that God would not remove the cup from Him and that He was definitely going to be brutally killed.

Today, Christians are facing a lot of persecution. Democrats are working hard to pass laws that make preaching some of the truths about sins a criminal act. They mock Christians and go out of their way to try to silence TRUE Christians.

I emphasize TRUE Christians because a great many people who claim to be Christians have compromised their faith by abandoning parts of what the Bible teaches. They have compromised to the sinful ways of the secular world, such as living together before or out of marriage and accepting homosexuality instead of condemning it as an abominable sin (Leviticus 18:2220:13). Many of today’s so-called Christians are afraid of being confronted for their faith or they find themselves embarrassed by their faith – kind of like Peter denying Christ 3 times.

Just as Jesus did not back away from the truth and doing what He knew was the right thing to do, even though it cost Him everything (from an earthly perspective), TRUE Christians should be prepared to do the same.

Standing up for Jesus and the truths of the Bible could cost you your relationships with family and friends as Jesus said would happen. It could cost you your job, your home, your finances and even your freedom.

Are you prepared or willing to lose everything in the name of Jesus? If not, then you need to question your faith. After all, Jesus warned about people like that when He said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’.” Matthew 7:21-23.

When I read or hear about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, I see it as an example to follow – to do what is right in the eyes of God, even knowing the consequences could be dire.

Original here

Palm Sunday: Your King Is Coming!

The stage is set. The curtain rises. The last act of the drama begins. Here comes Jesus into the city of Jerusalem.
Perhaps 2.5 million people crowded the narrow streets converging on this holy city at Passover time. Garments were spread on the road. Branches torn from trees fanned the same air which carried shouts of “Hosanna.”All this was no accident; Jesus knew what He was doing. In advance, He had arranged for a donkey; two disciples brought it to Him. It was no accident that marked His mode of transportation. Matthew reveals that Jesus set the stage for what we now call Holy Week so as to fulfill the prophecy spoken centuries before in Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11. “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”‘ (Matthew 21:5).
Call it the first century or the 21st century, the picture remains: Your King is coming. Let’s take a look at this King.

I. Your King is a different kind of king.

We Americans aren’t too familiar with monarchy. We will watch a coronation. We are fascinated by the pageantry surrounding a royal wedding. We will even occasionally follow at a distance the royal gossip surrounding Prince Charles and Camilla, and read an article about the dating status of Princes William and Harry.

Although we are sort of numb when it comes to all kinds of leadership — seeing the weaknesses of kings, prime ministers, and presidents — yet who among us is not stirred to rapid pulsation by the majestic strains of “Pomp and Circumstance”?

It is overwhelming to sense the power, the armament, the majestic aura, that surrounds the presence of a man called a king. There is something awe-inspiring about royal power. We could add that there is something awesome about all political and military power which marks the trains of kings, prime ministers, and presidents.

There is one exception — that being an encounter with King Jesus. Jesus is a different kind of king. Whereas most royalty comes determined to rule, He comes determined to serve. Whereas most monarchs spend time building their egos with the perquisites of office, He comes with a totally disarming humility. Whereas most kings ride white stallions or majestic Boeing 747s, King Jesus rides a donkey. He knew what He was doing.

The King chose His vehicle of transportation. The horse stands for war; that’s what the people wanted. They yearned for a leader who would set them free from the yoke of Rome. Jesus rode a donkey, a symbol of meekness, of peace. How different are the swishing of palm branches from the click of crossed swords or the deafening blast of a twenty-one gun salute.

Most kings set themselves up for a hero’s death. In the Westminster Abbeys of their imagination, they picture the heads of all nations standing in silent tribute, and the world paying honor to their contributions. Jesus was different. He prepared for the cross. His was an ignominious kind of death marked by the insulting inscription: “King of the Jews.” His fellow monarchs did not fly in from around the world to pay Him honor. No, for your King is a different kind of king.

 

II. Your King knows precisely who He was and who He is.

Most kings aren’t that certain about themselves. In most cases, they have inherited their positions. With their inheritance comes either an ambivalence — bred by failure to earn the position — or perhaps, at the other extreme, a kind of bravado and strutting that comes from years of grooming by palace functionaries.

Jesus knew precisely who He was. He knew He was the Messiah spoken of by the Old Testament Scriptures. Critics may deny this, but the record is clear. Jesus dressed for the occasion, preparing Himself for the kind of entrance into Jerusalem described by Isaiah and Zechariah. Those prophets declared that the Messiah would come. He would be One different from the average king. This One would be humble, making His entry on a donkey.

Jesus willingly forced the issue. He deliberately provoked the kind of response He got in Jerusalem that day, which was entirely opposite to His past performance. His whole style of life and ministry was one of shying away from publicity. He avoided large crowds when He could. He refused to take the dominant power-oriented stance of other contemporary leaders. But on this day, He put on the symbols of the Old Testament prophetic utterances.

He declared in no uncertain terms, by his posture and bearing, “I am the King.” He even picked the day. The exposure was great. There was only one problem: He picked His day not so much to gain the adulation of the crowd, which He knew was fickle, but to force the issue of His whole reason for being here on earth. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem was designed to seal His doom. It was the catalytic agent which would stir the anger and arouse the jealousy of the religious establishment to a frenzy, setting the stage for the greatest event in all human history.

Not only did your King know precisely who He was when He entered Jerusalem; right now He knows who He is as He enters the Jerusalem of your life. Embodied in His presence that day, and today, is a transparent honesty which defies so much of worldly leadership.

 

III. Your King comes with a compassion for souls and bodies.

Only hours after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He wept. Have you ever seen a king weep? Have you ever watched a president shed tears? Years ago, a presidential candidate disqualified himself from a primary election after he cried in public. We don’t want to see our rulers weep; we demand that they be strong. We push them into an arrogance in the fear that they may reflect too much of what we are ourselves and, by weeping, be discredited.

No, Jesus was different; He stopped and wept for Jerusalem. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).

He healed broken bodies as the blind and lame freely approached Him the days after His triumphal entry, which so quickly turned into the day of His crucifixion. He didn’t keep them waiting. He didn’t flaunt His rank in their faces. The simple people, the people with broken bodies and shattered dreams, the people with bruised spirits, the people who hurt in the soul where you can really feel hurt, these He took to Himself. He did it then; He does it now. That’s the kind of Lord He is!

He wants to transform you through the regenerating power of His Holy Spirit. He wants to touch your life and make you a whole person where your body, soul and spirit fit together in an eternal complement. Isaiah described Him in these words:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

 

IV. Your King comes sounding a note of judgment.

He is a King who has compassion, but this compassion is not an endeavor to buy your favor. He is not going to give away everything, denying His own righteousness. He tells you what you need instead of what you want. He tells you that the wages of sin is death. He tells you that someday you will stand before God your Maker, accountable for all that you have done in this life. He warns of judgment. He warns of eternal hell, total alienation and separation from Himself.

The King who enters Jerusalem on a donkey walks by foot to the hillside of Olivet. From that perspective, overlooking the city He loves and for which He wept, He refuses to give a campaign speech as any earthly leader would do. Instead, He tells it like it is, predicting domestic breakdown, economic catastrophe, wars, rumors of war, earthquake, famine, and all of the horrible desolation which you and I bring upon each other.

That’s the kind of King He is. He tells you and me what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. He talks about more than positive thinking. He talks about more than picking yourself up by your own bootstraps. He tells you that you can’t succeed ultimately in your own strength. He warns you to face up to it now and to come to Him while you can.
Your King is coming! His approach demands your response. Either you are with Him or you are not. There is no neutral ground!

Today we sing our hosannas, which literally mean “Save now!” Do we mean this? Are we serious? Have we come because it’s the nice thing to do? Or are we here because we mean business?

Let me conclude by telling you the brief stories of two men I know.

Bob has gone to church all of his life. He thinks of himself as being a very religious man. Bob is in his mid-sixties. He has lived a full life. He hasn’t let religion spoil his fun. In fact, although Bob is religious, he has no king. He has no lord. Well, that’s not quite true. He does. There is only one problem: Bob’s king’s name is Bob. He goes through the forms of religious practice. He wouldn’t miss church on Palm Sunday. Right now, he is sitting through the last five minutes of some preacher’s sermon somewhere.

Bob’s problem is that Bob has committed himself to himself instead of to Jesus Christ. Bob is his own lord. He gets turned off by emotional preaching that talks about hell. He wants soothing talk about heaven. He hates preaching that quotes from the Bible. He wants comforting talk about psychology. He wants no mention of sin from the pulpit. According to him, “That went out of style with the middle ages.” My friend Bob gets turned off when he sees Jesus the Messiah, the humble King, coming his way.

Then there is Hal. Hal was a cynic. He had every reason to not believe. His life was loaded with doubts. “How in the world could God become a man? How could an intelligent person trust the Bible?”

Yes, there is a difference between Bob and Hal. Whereas Bob ran the other direction every time Jesus began to come his way, Hal stopped. Hal took a good look, a long look, into the eyes of the prophesied King. He let those eyes probe his religious pretension. He let that penetrating glance cut through the smoke screen of his doubt.

He was willing to doubt his doubts. He was willing to go back to the drawing board and read some of the great writers of the Christian faith. A scientist by profession, Hal was willing to empirically examine the claims of Christ intellectually and to experiment with them in his own life existentially. He took Jesus at His Word, only to discover this One to be his Lord and Savior.

Is your name Bob? Or is your name Hal?

Your King is coming! He is riding toward you now. He is ready to look straight into your eyes. Are you ready for His glance? That glance demands a verdict. He wants to know whether or not He truly is your King, your Sovereign. Will you shift your glance away, or will there be that nod of affirmation which comes from one who is loyal in allegiance to the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords — your King and your Lord?

Original here

VIDEO A Country That Honors God

What Truly Protects a Nation

July 3, 2018 By Charles F. Stanley

 

As you look at the state of our nation today, what do you see? The Bible says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12), but this is not a popular belief in our society. However, it’s the only way our nation can flourish. Further support for this truth is found in Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Abandoning the Lord leads to disgrace and the loss of His blessings.

Contrary to popular belief, what actually protects a nation is not military strength but the righteousness of its people and government. When the Lord is honored in a nation, He is exalted, and the people are protected. Therefore, we should look at our nation today and ask ourselves whether we as a country are honoring God. Our future depends on the answer.

Freedom doesn’t come cheaply, and it’s always under attack by our enemy, the devil. His ungodly and unbiblical influences fight against our beliefs, but the Lord gives us courage to resist.

As believers, we are under the divine guidance of our Commander, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we do not fight with weapons but with the Word of God—the only message that can transform lives and influence the world for good. Christ’s church will not be overpowered, and He will be faithful to raise up believers in every generation. We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel throughout the world, and this commission is not just for those trained as missionaries but for each of us in our own places of influence.

However, this means we must be willing to stand firmly for our convictions when they are challenged. Convictions are unaffected by the times, the values of the culture, or the popularity of current ideas. Christian beliefs may be unpopular presently, but the Lord is our defense as long as we exalt and obey Him as Lord and honor His Word as our compass for life.

As followers of Jesus, we are His representatives, and there is no room for compromise with the immoral, disrespectful, or self-indulgent aspects of our culture. So, how are we to respond to this world in which we live? Others may criticize and stand against Christianity, but we who love the Lord must stay true to Him. We can’t afford to let ourselves be lulled into thinking that because we live in a free and prosperous nation, nothing bad is going on or could happen to us in the future.

Despite the sinful condition of our culture, we should not be discouraged. Our God is greater than the world’s knowledge and wisdom, and His purposes are not thwarted by sin. He is sufficient and adequate to guide us through whatever we face—our responsibility is simply to believe, trust, obey, and follow Him, modeling the Christian life for those around us.

 

This article is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message“Standing on Your Convictions” which airs this weekend on TV.

https://www.intouch.org/read/blog/a-country-that-honors-god

 

 

Cardinal Sarah: ‘Gender Ideology is a Luciferean Refusal’ of the Sexual Nature Given to Us by God

April 12, 2019 By Michael W. Chapman

Cardinal Robert Sarah. (Photo by Jun Sato/Getty Images)

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a prominent voice at the Vatican and someone that papal observers view as a potential Pope, said that the spiritual crisis in the West stems largely from a rejection of God the Father, from whom “we receive our nature as man and woman.” He added that “gender ideology is a Luciferean refusal” to receive the “sexual nature” given to each person by God.

Western man “refuses to acknowledge himself as an heir” to the gifts of God and the tradition, mores, and culture passed on by our forefathers, said Cardinal Sarah in an interview with the French publication La Nef, translated by the Catholic Herald.

(Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

“I want to suggest to Western people that the real cause of this refusal to claim their inheritance and this refusal of fatherhood is the rejection of God,” said the cardinal, who heads the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican.

“From Him we receive our nature as man and woman,” he said.  “This is intolerable to modern minds. Gender ideology is a Luciferian refusal to receive a sexual nature from God. Thus some rebel against God and pointlessly mutilate themselves in order to change their sex. But in reality they do not fundamentally change anything of their structure as man or woman.”

“The West refuses to receive, and will accept only what it constructs for itself,” said Cardinal Sarah.  “Transhumanism is the ultimate avatar of this movement. Because it is a gift from God, human nature itself becomes unbearable for western man.”

“This revolt is spiritual at root,” he said. “It is the revolt of Satan against the gift of grace. Fundamentally, I believe that Western man refuses to be saved by God’s mercy. He refuses to receive salvation, wanting to build it for himself.”

“The ‘fundamental values’ promoted by the U.N. are based on a rejection of God that I compare with the rich young man in the Gospel,” said Cardinal Sarah. “God has looked upon the West and has loved it because it has done wonderful things. He invited it to go further, but the West turned back. It preferred the kind of riches that it owed only to itself.”

Lucifer and a demon as decpited in The Passion of the Christ. (YouTube)

He continued, “Africa and Asia are not yet entirely contaminated by gender ideology, transhumanism, or the hatred of fatherhood. But the Western powers’ neo-colonialist spirit and will to dominate pressures countries to adopt these deadly ideologies.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah is the author of several popular books, including The Power of SilenceGod or Nothing, and his newest work, The Day is Now Far Spent, which will be published in September.

https://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/cardinal-sarah-gender-ideology-luciferean-refusal-sexual-nature-given-us-god

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