Is It God’s Goodness that Leads to Repentance?

by Cameron Buettel Friday, July 12, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on September 30, 2015. -ed.

We live in an age that demands short bursts of rapid-fire information. The day is fast approaching—perhaps it’s already here—when the number of Twitter followers will hold the preeminent place on a pastor’s resume. Sermon lengths are going the way of our shrinking attention spans. Modern pastors are tempted to replace exegesis and exposition with sound bite sermons and slogan theology.

But Bible verses are not slogans or sound bites. They are eternal truths that find their meaning within the overall story God is telling. Uprooting a verse, or even a biblical phrase, from its native habitat can lead to all kinds of mayhem. That is especially the case when, independent of their proper context, verses are enlisted as the supporting cast for someone’s opinion or agenda. Romans 2:4 is one verse that is regularly misused that way—carelessly sprinkled into sermons, interviews, and social media.

For example, in January 2013, Rick Warren explained to his legions of Facebook followers how the verse factored in his evangelistic methods:

In that particular case, Warren was quoting Romans 2:4 (actually only about half of it) as justification for downplaying sin and soft-peddling the threat of judgment. But is that what Romans 2:4 is really all about? Was Paul telling his Roman readers to jettison the parts of gospel preaching that lack curb appeal?

Joel Osteen is even more explicit in his use of Romans 2:4 to defend his feel-good messages:

Listen, don’t dangle people over the fires of hell. . . . Listen, that doesn’t draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad they’ve lived. What you’ve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, it’s the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. [1]

Joel Osteen may think that people know they are sinners and that we therefore don’t need to warn them or preach about it, but does Romans 2:4 really back up his point?

Moreover, is his point biblical at all? Just as prisons are full of convicts who will proclaim their innocence, Scripture is clear that sinners reject the guilt of their sin. As Solomon explained, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). And even those who do acknowledge their sin have little grasp of the depth of their wretchedness, or the eternal cost of their transgressions.

In fact, it’s ironic that Osteen and Warren would use Romans 2:4 to excuse themselves from discussing sin and the need for repentance, since that verse is plucked from Scripture’s most profound discourse on man’s depravity.

Romans 1–3 is undeniable proof that Paul began his exposition of the gospel by first addressing the universality of sin and the justness of God’s wrath against sin. John MacArthur points this out:

The biblical order in any gospel presentation is always first the warning of danger and then the way of escape, first the judgment on sin and then the means of pardon, first the message of condemnation and then the offer of forgiveness, first the bad news of guilt and then the good news of grace. The whole message and purpose of the loving, redeeming grace of God offering eternal life through Jesus Christ rests upon the reality of man’s universal guilt of abandoning God and thereby being under His sentence of eternal condemnation and death. Consistent with that approach, the main body of Romans begins with 1:18, a clear affirmation of God’s wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” [2]

It is actually our guilt and the justness of God’s wrath that provide the all-important context for Romans 2:4:

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:2-5)

Now you can see why Romans 2:4 is so frequently divorced from its context, and why it’s usually paraphrased instead of quoted. In the full context of Paul’s writing we see clearly what he means by God’s goodness—it is “the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience.” And Romans 2:2-3 explains how God demonstrates that tolerance and patience—by withholding the wrath we deserve. God’s goodness is the reality that we have not yet experienced His judgment. MacArthur adds:

Forbearance [tolerance] comes from anochē, which means “to hold back,” as of judgment. It was sometimes used to designate a truce, which involves cessation of hostilities between warring parties. God’s forbearance with mankind is a kind of temporary divine truce He has graciously proclaimed. Patience translates makrothumia, which was sometimes used of a powerful ruler who voluntarily withheld vengeance on an enemy or punishment of a criminal. Until the inevitable moment of judgment, God’s kindness and forbearance and patience are extended to all mankind. [3]

It is impossible to preach the goodness of God without talking about sin and judgment because its very meaning is bound up in those terms. When we see our sinfulness and rebellion against God, and when we see our hypocrisy in condemning others for committing the same wrath-deserving sins, then we can also marvel at God’s goodness in patiently and tolerantly withholding the wrath that we deserve.

That is what leads us to repentance. And it is entirely consistent with what Paul taught elsewhere in Scripture:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

The Outrage Mob Demanded Arizona’s Gov. Remove His Easter Tweet and His Response Was Perfect

April 26,  2019 by Brittany M. Hughes


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey came under fire this week for daring to post a message on social media in commemoration of Easter Sunday. It was an image of a cross, a Bible verse, and the simple message, “He is risen! Have a happy and blessed Easter!”

Now, some with nothing better to do with their time have accused the governor of violating the separation of church and state, alleging that his post, which was published on his official accounts, unfairly promoted Christianity. And a few have even gone so far as to get the law involved.

In a letter sent to the governor’s office this week, Secular Communities attorney Dianne Post wrote that “elected officials should not use their government position and government property to promote their religious views,” AZ Central reports.

Other Arizona constituents have taken to the comments section on social media to voice their displeasure.

“Great sensitivity, Doug. That’s the last time this Jew votes for you,” one person wrote.

“Governor Ducey, please share your religious greetings on your personal page,” another chimed in.

Doucey did respond to the “controversy” – but unlike so many politicians who bow to the pitchfork mob in times like these, his answer was epic:

“We won’t be removing this post. Ever,” Ducey wrote on Twitter. “Nor will we be removing our posts for Christmas, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Palm Sunday, Passover or any other religious holiday. We support the First Amendment, and are happy to provide copies of the Constitution to anyone who hasn’t read it.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you handle bogus outrage.

(Cover Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Passion Of The Christian

David Kupelian explores what it really means to ‘take up your cross’
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

– Mark 8:34-37

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

– Luke 9:23

“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

– Matthew 10:38


Every Easter, many dazzlingly eloquent words are written and spoken about Christ’s “Passion” – a singular historical event, graphically portrayed in films like “The Passion of the Christ,” “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” That these screen depictions serve to powerfully rekindle many believers’ gratitude for what Jesus endured for their sake is undeniable. But I wonder, how often does that appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice ignite a fire in the belly of believers to “take up the cross” themselves?

But first things first. What in the world does “taking up your cross” really mean?

‘I die daily’

In ages past, Christians dwelt a lot more on the concept of taking up the “cross” than they do these days. Today, the phrase “it’s my cross to bear” is usually a self-congratulatory reference to the fact that we have to put up with a vexing medical condition, or a child in trouble with the law, or perhaps an overbearing, live-in mother-in-law.

Admonitions from the pulpit may not shed much more light. Oh sure, a well-intentioned minister will reverently read one of the scriptures cited above on “taking up the cross,” and he might even briefly plug the ideal of self-denial. But too often this amounts to a polite nod to a notion that seems both archaic and almost irrelevant, or at least unattainable, and the pastor just moves on to more pleasant topics – like how grateful we are for Christ’s death and resurrection.

It wasn’t always so. Throughout past centuries, Christian philosophers and mystics dwelt at length on the crucial, life-and-death need for repentance, resignation, “mortification,” the “crucifixion” of sin in man, and the “death of the carnal man” or of “the creaturely self” and so on.

The Apostle Paul said it most powerfully and succinctly when he wrote: “I die daily.”

Unfortunately, much of what has been written in more contemplative eras about this inner transformation of man is highly poetic and allegorical – an attempt to use mere words to chart the narrow path that connects man’s lowly estate with God’s heavenly one. Although such archaic language may be profound, it’s probably insufficient for Christians today, buffeted as we are on the outside by a voracious and atheistic secular culture, and on the inside by what is increasingly a simplistic and far less rigorous Christianity than that embraced by our forefathers.

Please allow me to take a stab at this, from a somewhat different angle – this command from Jesus Christ that each of His followers “take up his cross daily.”

Killing the creature

What exactly is this “creaturely self” that Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have so colorfully warned we must “slay” or “crucify” if we’re to inherit the Kingdom of God?

It’s self-evident that we’re all born with a troublesome nature called “pride.” Basically, pride is the part of us that wants to be like God. It loves being praised, quickly puffs up with angry judgment over the real or perceived wrongs of others – and as a rule is oblivious to its own faults. Moreover, you can think of pride as a “life form” – a living, breathing “something” which, like any other life form or “creature,” can be fed or starved. When it’s fed, it grows and enlarges; when it is starved, it diminishes and dies – daily.

As our pride – our “sin self” – diminishes and dies through obedience to God, the direct result is that our good side, our true God-centered character and identity, enlarges.

We’re not talking about matters of dogma here. Nor is this just a matter of outward behaviors and “works.” So please don’t e-mail me with arguments about “faith vs. works.” This is about real change – about transformation – the mystical heart of the true Christian life, about “dying to the world.” Not an archaic, poetic and hopelessly idealistic notion, but the very heartbeat of our everyday life, as we deal with stresses and problems (“trials and tribulations”) in our lives.

Of course – and this is something of a divine paradox – as Christians, we know we can’t save ourselves, and yet we are most definitely called to obedience. So, let’s not slough off our responsibility to “die daily” by comfortably presuming on the unending mercy of God. His mercy is unending, indeed, but also balanced with justice, and these two seemingly contradictory qualities work together mysteriously and wonderfully toward our redemption, but only in the truly sincere human soul that doesn’t tempt God.

A different kind of love

To understand what “taking up the cross” means, we have to understand why Jesus Himself had to suffer.

More pointedly, if our loving God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent – which He is – why then did His own Son have to be tortured and executed? Countless people throughout the ages have asked, “If God is love, why would he require his own son to endure such torture and death?” Indeed, many have judged God, concluding: “I could never worship a god like that.”

Although we say “God is love,” we don’t really know what either one is, do we? “God” is beyond our comprehension – like understanding infinity. And “love” – well, we use that word to describe our “strong feelings” for anything and everything we’re attracted to.

Let’s talk about real love.

There’s one element present in almost every authentic manifestation of real love among us human beings. And that is – are you ready for this? – suffering. From the ultimate expression of love – “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” – to the simple act of being patient with others, love implies forbearance, longsuffering and kindness in the midst of problems.

Here’s how Webster defines “patience”: “the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, or anger.”

Certainly, Jesus’ words as he was dying on the cross – “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” – are the kindest, most patient words ever spoken.

Thus, patience is nothing less than the basic “cell” or building block of love for each other. The very idea of being patient implies suffering with grace. The recipient of your patience – say, your spouse or child – experiences that patience as love, just as they experience your impatience as a lack of love.

Still, why is love inextricably tied to suffering?

Just think: God is the architect of an awesome expanding universe involving heavenly bodies and distances and speeds and temperatures beyond human comprehension, as well as of a never-ending microscopic cosmos of orbiting particles and universes within universes, all too small for human eyes or minds to conceive. And yet, there’s one thing the Creator of all couldn’t just … create out of thin air. And that’s love.

Oh sure, He loves us. But I’m talking about our love for Him and for each other – fulfilling Jesus’ two greatest commandments. The only way God could “create” loving children was for us to have a choice: a choice to love Him, or to be our own god – literally, a choice to make something more important than our own lives, well-being and comfort – a choice to love, in other words – and to be able to demonstrate that love, which involves suffering.

After all, if I compel you to “love me,” is it real love? Of course not. Love always involves a choice.

Jesus’ teaching that there’s no greater love than laying down your life for a friend doesn’t only mean that you have to be willing to die for someone else by jumping into a lake to save them, or taking a bullet meant for them. Remember, Paul said, “I die daily.” It’s a different kind of “death” that’s being called for. You have to be willing to let your pride-self die – for the sake of your “neighbor” – and particularly, for your family’s well being.

Small example: If someone puts you down or treats you in a cruel or unjust way and you become angry and upset, you’ve simply failed to find God’s love in that moment and to extend it to the offending person. All of us have fallen for this temptation over and over – I know I have many times. But if we are genuinely patient – that is, if we suffer the cruelty with grace, and resist the temptation to puff up with anger because our pride was offended – we can then respond to the other person with the energy and spirit of God’s love.

So do I need to be a martyr?

Do an Internet search on the phrase “Take up your cross” and you’ll discover sermon after sermon on the necessity of being willing to be tortured and executed for Christ.

“Are you living with a martyr’s attitude, that is, willing to suffer and/or die for the cause of Christ?” asks one sermon on the topic. “We are to be Jesus’ present-day martyrs, as millions in the past literally were proven to be by giving their lives for the cause of Christ.”

Others regard the “take up your cross” reference as a call to the celibate, monastic life.

And of course there are lots of references to the conflict between man’s “natural will” and God’s will, and how they are at war with each other.

Indeed, “taking up the cross” has always been a common sermon topic. Most typically, listeners are admonished to visit the sick, feed the poor, put their spouse’s desires ahead of their own, tithe and volunteer time for church work, and the like. And while these are all fine actions to take, the problem is, one can do all of them and still remain the same faithless, resentful, doubtful, guilt-ridden, but heavily compensated “nice” person. Worse, the approval and adulation we receive from others for our “good works” often serves to further blind us from seeing and repenting of our well-concealed sinful nature.

The point is, we’re not so much in need of a behavior change as we are of a nature change. The “cross” Christ prescribes for us is an instrument of death. But just as He died to bring life, we are supposed to “die” to sin that we may share His life.

All of which boils down to this: The real “cross” we have to bear is that we have a fallen nature, which we need to understand and relate to properly — which allows God to change us.

Let’s start with an obvious example – sex. Men in particular are born with a sexual nature that needs to be restrained. If not, men would want to express this drive virtually all of the time. Obviously, men need to control this “animal nature” or “creaturely self.”

Likewise, what if somebody wrongs you so egregiously that you have an impulse to do him bodily harm? You better restrain that impulse too, right?

So much for the obvious. How about something more subtle?

Let’s say we suffer from envious thoughts. To covet is to break one of the 10 Commandments. So how do we deal with these troublesome feelings? How do we “restrain” them? Certainly not by wallowing in them and indulging them. But also not by repressing them, or attempting to manufacture “good” thoughts and feelings in their place. The Christian answer might be to pray, but what form of prayer? Try this out: If you notice envious thoughts, just observe them – honestly, sincerely, without escaping or trying to change them or making excuses for them or justifying them or getting upset over them. Just see what you see, with poise and dignity – and quietly, wordlessly, cry inwardly to God for help. He will.

This is true transparency, which is resignation of your will to His. It calls forth the very process of regeneration, imperceptible though it may be to us.

Put another way, “dying” to the world is like fasting – but not from food. The real “fast” God desires is that we fast from evil thoughts, from anger, from envy, from lust, from greed and so on. He wants us to abstain from being irritated by provocations, from becoming impatient and angry toward others, from temptation of all sorts.

The truth is, we’re never closer to God than when we’re just plain quiet and still, aware of all of our defects in each precious moment, looking at ourselves first and foremost, without judgment or worry, and having quiet faith that God is there with us and that He will help us.

Shortly before His Passion and death, Jesus gave his disciples what He called “a new commandment” – namely, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Of course, since He had previously brought forth the Old Testament commandments to love God “with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), how was this Last Supper commandment then “new”?

It was new because He was raising the bar to a higher standard. He was now asking us to love one another as He loved us.

We are supposed to live the way Jesus lived, and to suffer the way He suffered. (I said, the way he suffered – with love for each other through obedience to the Father – though obviously not to the extent He suffered.) And, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that does not mean only sharing the Gospel of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection with as many people as possible. We are called to a still higher standard – to live as He lived – or maybe to put it more aptly, to love as He loved.

Love and logic

In the classic story of “Ben-Hur,” Judah, long-consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge against Masala for falsely condemning him as a galley slave and imprisoning his mother and sister, now lepers, witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the final unforgettable scene, Judah tells his betrothed Esther: “Almost the minute He died, I heard Him say, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

Esther, amazed, responds in a whisper: “Even then …”

“Even then,” echoes Judah. “And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.”

The real Passion of Christ must connect directly with our own internal programming and strengthen our own spirit, as it did in the story of “Ben-Hur.” We too must die the death God has prescribed for us – the death of pride, the ancient compulsion to be our own god – that we may share the true life He prepared for us, and which His Son purchased so dearly for us.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian is simply because it makes so much sense to me. If God wanted to demonstrate His love for mankind, how else could He do it? Go ahead, tell me! What could He do to demonstrate the depth of His love? Make mountains of pomegranates for everyone? Give everyone a great job and a big house and three luxury cars? Give us everything our proud little hearts desire?

No, if God wanted to demonstrate His love for us, and at the same time provide us with the perfect, ultimate example of real love for our fellow man, what could be a more perfect expression of love than the willing suffering and death of His Son – Who while dying asked God to forgive His tormentors? The sheer beauty, logic and power of it is transcendent. If you’re looking for love in this loveless world, that’s it.

I know some will be offended by this message, as though by even mentioning and holding up the standard Jesus clearly demanded of His followers, I am somehow denying the sufficiency of His substitutionary death for all mankind.

But you see, there’s something really wrong with today’s Christianity. Over 70 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians, but our country’s government, laws, culture and institutions, from its education system to its entertainment industry – are increasingly and overtly hostile to Christianity. Even Christian families all too often are falling apart. Clearly, we’re missing something big.

So, can you handle a little tough love? Here it is: Just continually telling each other about Jesus’ death and resurrection is not enough. It’s not what He taught. Jesus didn’t say, “Just talk about me and you’ll be saved.” Rather, He said: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) And “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10) And “… he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13 KJV)

So, while as Christians during the Easter season we reflect on the Messiah’s suffering and sacrifice, the question is: What are we willing to suffer and sacrifice? Can we face our own sinfulness? It’s the one enemy most of us don’t really want to confront.

To take up our cross – to “lose our life” for His sake so that we “shall save it” – we need to repent. And we cannot repent without looking in the mirror and honestly facing the sin in our minds and hearts. To stand transparent before God so He can heal us through understanding and repentance may be as hard as watching Jesus being scourged and crucified, but watch it we must.

God honors the sincere soul who, with quiet dignity, simply faces the darkness within and repents. This is the heartbeat of our life, without which there is no real life. Each of us has this moment-to-moment choice to make, whether to defend, excuse and enlarge our sinful, hell-bent nature, or whether to pick up our cross, deny our (wrong) self, and follow Jesus – first to death, and then to life.

Holy Week Is Here: What Christians and All Faithful Need to Know


“I hear this one often, but that’s really not the case at all,” notes author J. Warner Wallace. “For example, Jesus uses the name “I Am,” which is really reserved for God, the Father, and when he does this in John 8:59, the people take up stones to throw at Jesus.” In other words, the crowd understood Jesus as saying, ‘I am God.’ “He always assumes the identity of God even when he begins a proclamation,” the detective adds. “It was very clear that Jesus claimed to be God.”

Holy Week Is Here: What Christians and All Faithful Need to Know

At the heart of this blessed period on the calendar is the pascal mystery of Jesus Christ

Spring cleaning, cherry blossom festivals, vacation travels and so much more seem to be the focus for many people during this time of year.

But for devout Christians, Holy Week has a unique significance.

It marks the pascal mystery of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, Holy Week began with Our Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the masses praising him and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).

Yet sadly, many of the onlookers in this crowd would later be saying, “Crucify him, Crucify him!” when Pontius Pilate presented Jesus for judgment.

The takeaway for Christians. All good deeds are inspired by God and brought to fruition by the power of His grace, although our humble collaboration is certainly needed. God is the protagonist.

Jesus also teaches us not to trust too much or be overly dependent on public opinion — for as He learned, that can turn against even the most innocent and noble of individuals. The only totally honest and lasting opinion that truly matters is God’s.

On Holy Thursday, Jesus gathered with His beloved disciples for the Last Supper, leaving an example of tremendous humility through the washing of His disciples’ feet and making present His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, in an unbloody manner, through the offering of His body and blood in the form of bread and wine.

The takeaway. Jesus came to serve, and He assumed the role of slave by washing and drying the feet of each one of His disciples. He also instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist by giving this power to His disciples to consecrate the bread and wine into His body and blood.

Jesus is fully present in every Catholic church around the world, becoming present during the moment of consecration in the Mass and within the confines of the tabernacle in the form of the consecrated Host. He is fully present, and He patiently waits and hopes for us to arrive for a heartfelt visit.

On Good Friday, after enduring a long night of trials and torture and three hours of agony and intense suffering on the cross — both moral (for carrying the weight of the sins of all humanity) and physical — Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19: 30).

The takeaway. Jesus teaches us the value of suffering with nobility and generosity.

In spite of the physical pain He endured and the radical injustice of His sentence, Christ finds the magnanimity to forgive all of His accusers — even Judas who betrayed him, though he did not accept the forgiveness of Jesus. He pardons the good thief, promising him paradise that same day, and He gave the greatest gift of all, His Blessed Mother, to St. John and all future disciples who are willing to follow in His footsteps.

Whatever one’s current state of suffering, this priest encourages all to hold a crucifix in your hands, look at it closely, and try to understand that He endured this out of love for all of us.

This brings us to Good Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday was a day of holy expectation. The stone by the tomb was firmly sealed, the guards had been placed to prevent the disciples or anyone else from stealing the body … but then Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint the body.

“When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him” (Mark 16: 4-6).

He stands each day at the door of our hearts, gently knocking, even begging for us to invite Him into our lives.

The takeaway: The mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdalen, and the apostles in the upper room all saw the Risen Christ.

Jesus is alive!

He is alive and well — and He wants to walk with all of us and be at the center of our lives.

The greatest gift of being Christian is having Jesus as someone real and available — someone who desperately wants to accompany us on our life’s journey. He stands each day at the door of our hearts, gently knocking, even begging for us to invite Him into our lives.

His resurrection is also a sign of our future resurrection — if we, too, walk in these footsteps and imitate His example of total self giving and dedication the Father’s will: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).

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.

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.

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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?

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