15

Jump Start # 1997

Jump Start # 1997

Luke 15:17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!’”

 

I taught a class this week about the prodigal. Love that story. So powerful, true and so much like us. Our class focused upon how to get prodigals to come back. That’s tough. It’s one thing to show someone Jesus but how do you reach someone who once walked with the Lord, but since has chosen to walk away?

 

The far country has a pull on so many. All they see is the glitter of fun and excitement. Satan has them only thinking about today. The consequences, the eternal results, what the far country does to body, soul and mind are never thought about. It’s the thirst for alcohol. It’s the appeal of drugs. It’s the lust of immorality. It’s the thrill of power and possessions. All of that seems so much more exciting than sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning. Fun, wrapped around sinful choices, can be so appealing that one takes those steps to join others in the far country.

 

There’s hardly a church and hardly a family that does not have a prodigal someone. When the prodigal is not part of our immediate family, we can forget about them. We can forget to think about them. We can forget to pray for them. We can forget to “throw out the life line,” as the old hymn went.

 

There are reasons why people leave the Lord. It may be that they were never fully engaged, taught and grounded in what the Lord expects. Maybe they just always kept one foot in the far country and never fully left. It may well be that they have too many friends who are in the far country and their influence is too great for them. Some may have had a bad experience with brethren. It’s easier to just quit than to face those who seem rude, pushy and offensive. The reasons are many why some leave.

 

But getting one to come to his senses is what is most difficult. The far country seems like a blast. As long as the money lasts and the friends hang around, the good times, as they believe, are lasting. With the prodigal, a series of things happened.

 

First, he ran out of money. Dad wasn’t sending any more to him.

Second, a famine took place. He didn’t figure that into the equation. Famines always come.

Third, he became desperate. He was hungry.

Fourth, he had no one to help him.

 

It was at that moment that he realized the far country lied to him. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t better off. He wasn’t on top of the world. He was miserable. He was alone. He was helpless. The only place he thought he could turn to was home. Broken and changed, the prodigal came home.

 

There is something about this that connects with us. It’s hard to talk to prodigals while things are going well with them. Money is good. Fun is happening. Friends are plentiful. They think, “I don’t need God.” I have all that I want. But when the rug is pulled out from them, then is the opportunity to be there as a friend to talk with them. When they are sitting alone in a hospital surgery waiting room, or, when they are at the funeral home, it is then that the famine has begun to hit.

 

Don’t go with both guns blazing. Don’t go with the attitude, “I told you so.” Go, as a friend. Comfort. Help. Sit with them. Let them talk. Don’t preach. Don’t say stuff like, “This wouldn’t have happened had you been in church.” You don’t know that. Don’t push the church. It’s Jesus that they need to connect with again. Sympathize. Encourage. Share your story. Don’t white wash it or sanitize it. Let them know that you love them and they are always welcome back. Buy their lunch. Offer to help. Just be there.

 

You are trying to get them to come to their senses. You want them to see what’s missing in their life. Sometimes they sit in fear. Sometimes they hold on to the idea that God will not take them back. Sometimes they see themselves as much worse than everyone else. Often, they fear the church. What will people say? Will they just stare? Will there be talk? You can help with that. You can build bridges with them.

 

Across this land, if every congregation and every family kept everyone from going to the far country, our church buildings would be bursting with enormous crowds. Too many have walked away. Too many have walked away and nothing was done to try to bring them back. Too many walked away and too few noticed or cared. God does.

 

The father in Luke 15 never gave up on his son. He never stopped loving him. He never wrote him off. He was always hoping and longing for the son to return. We ought to pray for those who no longer walk with the Lord. We ought to put some energy into reaching out to those who have given up the journey with the Lord. Each one has their own story and their own reason. Sometimes it’s nothing more than they needed some attention. Little ones are like that. We have a bunch of young grandchildren and I see that in them. Give them a book and tell them to go sit and read doesn’t work on these little ones. They want PJ (that’s me) right beside them. Where I go, they are right behind me. They want to hold my hand. They want to sit on my lap. They want to pull on my pant leg. They want me to make a big deal about them. And, some folks are like that spiritually. They need TLC and a bunch of attention. Don’t give them a passage to read. Don’t send them off with a booklet to study. They need you to be with them. They want to talk. They want to have lunch with you. They want to be around you. They need that. And, when that is lacking, they’ll find it with friends who are worthless and godless. They will be accepted, loved and wanted by those friends. Fellowship is more than a name in a directory. It’s warmth. It’s love. It’s togetherness. It’s PJ spending time with the grandkids. I had one the other day out back picking up leaves with me. It was a slow process because she was picking one leaf up at a time and running to the woods to drop it. We did that for a long time. It didn’t even seem like work, because we were together. That’s what fellowship is like.

 

Getting one to come to their senses is a hard process. It can take a while for that to happen. But never give up. Never stop trying. Never stop the prayers.

 

God has placed us in the lives of others to help them. May we do it well!

 

Roger

 

14

Jump Start # 1996

Jump Start # 1996

 

Acts 8:2 “And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.”

 

His name was Wayland. I never got the chance to meet him on this side of life. He was good, faithful and godly. He served with honor as a shepherd for a church in Texas. Those that knew him, loved him. He was one of the good ones. He was leaving the church building Monday, having spent some time with the other two shepherds, discussing the growing church that he help lead. His truck was T-boned by a drunk. Wayland never made it. The other driver ended up in the yard of the church building. A family lost a husband and a dad, right before the holidays. A church lost an amazing leader. A believer went home to the God he loved and we are left wondering why. Why did the drunk live and the righteous one die? None of this is good, fair nor right. Anger fills the heart, as tears flood our eyes. Even though I never knew him, I knew of him. His name was spoken to me by preachers that loved him. His kind I have seen. Compassionate. Focused. Dedicated. Good to the core.

 

There are lessons we draw from this. Our verse today, following the death of Stephen, one of God’s preachers, are full of parallels. Why did God allow Stephen to die? Why did he have to die that way? Why were those evil Jews allowed to execute a good man? Why are the good ones taken?

 

In the next few days, devout men will bury Wayland. There will be tears. No one expected this. No one could have seen this coming. It will be hard on many families. It will be hard on a congregation of believers.

 

First, God always reminds us to be prepared. Death doesn’t wait for us to be ready. Death doesn’t care how close we are to anniversaries or holidays. Death doesn’t care what our passing will do to families or the church. Death doesn’t care. We are just a vapor, James tells us. It is appointed unto man to die once, Hebrews tells us. We all would like to live to 95 and be surrounded by generations of family as we make our exit here. It doesn’t always happen that way. It wasn’t that way for Stephen. It wasn’t that way for Wayland. It’s not so much how we die, but rather, how have we lived that matters.

 

Second, poor choices too often hurt good and innocent people. Someone chose to get drunk. He decided to drive. Those wrong, sinful and stupid choices, resulted in the death of a godly man. Innocent children suffer when a mom and dad get a divorce. Wrong choices hurt. They often hurt the innocent. This is not Heaven and it never will be. Our hope is for the world in which there will never be wrong choices. Our hope is in a Savior that saves.

 

Third, will society ever realize that the nation is a bunch of drunks? We cannot do anything without alcohol. It’s a problem, a real problem that no one will touch. A person can’t go to the ballgame without a drink. A concert, and there is drinking. A symphony, and there is booze. Weddings, booze. Now, funeral homes in my area are getting liquor licenses. Why? Can’t we even have a funeral without drinking? Has drinking done any good for this country? And, more and more, brethren are saying ignorantly, ’There’s nothing wrong with social drinking?’ The man who killed Wayland would not have done that had he not been drinking. One drink leads to the next. The TV ads declare, “Drink responsibly.” That’s like saying, “Curse nicely.” Those words do not fit together. To drink is to be irresponsible. It is to be thoughtless to others. It is selfish. And now, because of someone’s drinking, a good man has left us.

 

Fourth, as we know and as we believe, death isn’t the end. There is no “The End” to our story. Wayland rests safely in the arms of Jesus. His journey here finished, but he leaves footprints and a legacy of goodness and service. How wrong and how tragic all of this would be if that was it. It’s not it. Our journey takes us to the Lord. Two lives intersected last Monday. Both filled with choices. One, chose to walk with the Lord. Forgiven, his character was shaped by the Savior. The other, chose to ignore Jesus. He lived to self. A cross, an empty tomb, the testimony of witnesses, that’s all that was needed to fill our hearts with hope and love. The angels carried Lazarus. I expect that the angels carried Stephen. And, I expect that angels carried Wayland.

 

Fifth, as hard as it is, forgiveness is the banner which we must stand under. As we have been forgiven so we must. Our hope and our desire is for the salvation of the man who drove drunk. We hope he changes. We hope he is baptized. We hope his voice is used to turn family and friends to Jesus. We hope good comes from this enormous tragedy. We hope that this man becomes an obedient worshipper of God. For him to continue on his sinful ways only makes this even worse. What good is adversity if nothing is gained or learned from it?

 

Sixth, it is our hope that others who know of this tragic story, will look into their own lives. Are each of us ready for today to be our last day? Are there things that need to be done? Do we need to forgive? Do we need to apologize? Do we need to get closer to the Lord? What are we waiting for? This event, signals to all of us, the great importance of today. Today is what we have. Today is a gift. We may not have a tomorrow here. Use it well. Use it in God’s honor.

 

Comfort comes from a God who loves. May friends, family and dear family help at this difficult time. May the church get stronger because of this. May we think more seriously about what is truly important. May we touch lives and make a difference. May we realize the value of leaving spiritual legacies.

 

Stephen was buried, but we know that he’s with the Lord. He’s where he wanted to be. We make it our ambition, Paul said, to please the Lord. Wayland, too, is with the Lord, whom he loved and adored.

 

Roger

 

13

Jump Start # 1995

Jump Start # 1995

Ezekiel 34:4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have your sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.”

Our verse today is not a happy verse. You won’t find this cross stitched and framed on grandma’s wall. God was denouncing the poor treatment of the shepherds of Israel. Instead of helping God’s people, they were cruel. They were destroying them. In particular, as this verse ends with the methods and means of force, severity and dominance, they were controlling Israel. In schools, this is the methods of bullies. In marriage, it’s emotional abuse and control. This behavior is one of the underlining causes of the sexual abuse cases that are making the news nearly every day.

 

Politicians, sports figures, Hollywood stars, media giants, are being fired nearly every day because of scandals of abuse, often decades old. One of the things that some find hard to understand is why are so many waiting so long to come forward? Why have they remained silent for so long?

 

The words that end our verse today explains it. Force, severity and dominance has put people in fear. Why does a child put up with bullies in school? Fear. Why does a wife put up with an abusive and controlling husband? Fear. Why does an intern remain silent even when abused sexually? Fear. For the child at school, it’s fear of being hit. For the abused wife, it’s fear of being hurt, and being tossed out with nothing. For the intern, it’s fear of being blackballed in an industry that they have their heart set upon.

 

Within the context of Ezekiel, this force, severity and dominance was found among God’s people. Those who ought to be leading by example, were placing people in fear. That spirit is still alive and it’s still found among God’s people. Some elderships follow this game plan of producing fear and intimidation. Many do not see it nor would they call it that, but it’s there. Emotional abuse and fear, even in the church. Some attend, not out of love for the Lord, but they fear what would happen if they were caught not coming. The stern talks. The threats. The intimidation. It causes some to never miss a service. So serious is this, that I’ve seen folks show up on a Sunday morning, sick as a dog, who ought to be in bed, but there they are. They feel terrible. They look terrible. They spread their germs to everyone else. Why not stay home? You’re sick. Never. They don’t want to have their faith questioned. They don’t want to be branded as weak. They don’t want to deal with all the trouble that comes from skipping, even if sick. Fear. The fear of others, especially those in charge, will generate results, but it also festers until a mutiny takes place. Within the context of a church, a mutiny is generally defined as a split or a division. Some get so fed up that they can’t take it anymore.

 

In Ezekiel’s days, as in our days today, some misuse their position to grab power that doesn’t belong to them in order to dominate and force the results that they want. The fear of being ruined in a career allowed some to be taken advantage of, even sexually. The fear of divorce, allows a wife to put up with a controlling husband who demands to know where she is every minute and who she talks to. And fear among brethren, turns a fellowship into a cultic, mind control in which the followers line up just as the leaders want.

 

Looking back I now realize that I was bullied for years by an abusive eldership that controlled me like a puppet. I was the good boy who always did what they said, even though I was going along with things that I did not agree with. That would never happen today. I’ve seen too much and I’ve gown up to the point where there would have been some heels digging in on my part and some serious Biblical discussions. Why did I let this go on? Why did I allow this to beat me down? Fear. As an unknown, young preacher, where would I go? Blackballed was never mentioned, but it was in the air. I wanted to preach, but I knew they could ruin me. So I remained silent until finally I had enough.

 

For those who have never been in such fear, like a child at school, or, a wife in a marriage, or, a young employee starting their career, or, a church member, or, in my case, a green preacher, it’s hard to explain. The easy solution seems to be, just walk away. Just tell someone. Just stand up and say, “No.” That seems so obvious, but it’s not. When one is in the corner, on the receiving end of abuse, there seems to be no escape. One of the worst aspects of abuse is what it does to your self esteem. A person begins to believe the emotional garbage that is thrown at them. They begin to believe that they are nothing, worthless and without the controlling person, they would fail. I believed that as a preacher. It’s a terrible feeling to have someone’s thumb upon your life, controlling, intimidating and forcing you to do what you do not want to. The abused feels compelled to please the abuser, even if it’s wrong. Abuse destroys the will of the other person.

 

How bad was it? Imagine being pulled by your tie into the nursery. They did that to me. Imagine fingers pushing your chest and being told, ‘this is what you will do.’ Imagine having an amazing class on the life of Jesus being cancelled because more people were coming to that class than the class taught by the abusive elder. How can you cancel a class on Jesus? They did. Imagine being chewed out right inside the front door. As people came in, they had to walk around the preacher getting blasted by one of the elders. Imagine feeling like you owe them everything, even though they barely paid you enough to survive. Imagine every week being asked about finances, what you did on your free time and even who you were talking to on the phone. This stuff lasted for years. YEARS.

 

So, what can be done? Here’s what I found.

 

First, look to the Lord. The Lord never speaks to you like the abuser does. The Lord loves you. He believes in you. The abuser has crushed your spirit. God hasn’t. Look beyond the abuser to the Lord. Faith is what helped me. I realized that I was doing good. I realized that the Lord would take care of me.

 

Second, as hard as it is, tell others. There will never be any help as long as you keep quiet. As a young preacher, I’d sit down with older preachers and pour my heart out. I’d ask them if I was doing something wrong. I ask for advice, help. I asked them to preach on these things. Listening to them, helped. It helped a lot. They helped me to realize that I was under a dysfunctional leadership that was both wrong and unscriptural. I saw some light and breathed some fresh air for the first time. It wasn’t me, after all.

 

Third, it’s risky and takes tons of courage, but you have to start moving towards doing what is right. Your faith and your courage must be greater than your fear. For me, that meant to begin dealing with this massive dysfunctional system that was destroying the church. I preached about it. I talked about it. I challenged the leaders. I took it to them personally and directly. I no longer cared if they fired me. I saw that what they were doing was not just about me, but they were destroying the church.

 

Fourth, for me, I moved. I moved states away. I moved away from our family. I moved away from every friend I had. It was hard but it had to be done. I found another congregation that loved me and allowed me to heal. It took some time to air out. For a long time, this was all I could talk about. Even moving away I found that they still had a control on me. It bothered me for a long time that I couldn’t get this out of my system. But years pass. God is good. Turn your passions and energy to doing good. Move on in your mind. Forgive. Let it go. I can talk about it easily today. I’m not under that thumb anymore nor will I ever be again. There are things that happen that are best just left in the past. It does no good to revisit those graves.

 

Fifth, I now recognize abusive elderships and have done what I could to try to change things to the healthy way God wants them to be. I try to help others. Force, severity and domination is not the way to lead God’s people. It’s should be by kindness, by example, with love, patience and above all, with the Lord. The atmosphere of a congregation changes when force, severity and domination are viewed as wrong and unacceptable. Love is triumphant. Hope, energy and excellence fills the air as people care for one another.

 

Bullies exist. They are in the schools, in marriages, in the work place and in the church. I have found that I can only be controlled if I allow myself to be controlled. I do not have to answer every nosey question that someone asks. I do not have to live in fear. I do not have to jump, just because someone tells me to. I do not have to have someone else tell me what value I am. I am a disciple of Jesus. I belong to God. He alone, is who I want to please. If I lose my job, God will take care of me. If I must move, I will move.

 

Living in fear is a terrible way to live. The three Jewish men in Daniel 3 were not afraid of a king, his edict nor even a fiery furnace. Their faith was with the Lord. When we can have such faith and such courage, then no one will dominate us ever again. Fear is conquered by faith!

 

I hope these thoughts help you.

 

Roger

 

12

Jump Start # 1994

Jump Start # 1994

2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

I was reading about President Garfield the other day. His fellowship was within the Christian Church/churches of Christ. He was a preacher before the Civil War and frequently worshipped with congregations when traveling. On one occasion, he took his wife and daughter to a Sunday worship. In his journal, he wrote that the preacher “didn’t have much juice in his sermon.” I’m not real sure what “juice” meant to Garfield, but it sounds like fervor, passion, enthusiasm and being on top of what he is saying.

Sermons need juice. They are more than lectures. They are not just giving facts. They are storming the will with persuasion, reason and practical conclusions. The audience ought to know what to do with the sermon once it is over. Filling the head but not the heart will do little to change people. Sermons can be so vague, general and without practical use that they become of no use. Add some juice!

The business of writing a sermon is interesting. Each preacher goes at it in his own way. A thought becomes a major idea. Homework is done. Verses, words and backgrounds are researched. Words are scribbled on paper or in these times, typed out on a computer. Ideas come. Application and illustrations are plugged in. For some, this is a smooth and easy process. They sit down and everything flows easily and in a couple of hours it’s finished. On to other things. Others work at it and tinker with the sermon all week long. Some are never completely satisfied with it. It’s a week long project.

Writing a sermon, for some is nothing more than jotting down a few words. Others, it’s a manuscript, pages long. Some engage in the process, much like a composer writing a piece for the symphony, the idea begins with an interesting introduction. It builds around a central theme, a text, a passage becomes the skeleton of the sermon which will support everything else said. Clear points are found. One. Two. Three. Four. They all fit together, like puzzle pieces. The sermon becomes so clear in the mind of the preacher. As he reads, listens and goes about other things throughout the week, we finds more things to add to the sermon. He pours his all into that sermon. He makes it his best. Then comes working it up to the copy he will take to the pulpit.

Some memorize their sermons. Some will just take a few lines on a note card. Others will take detailed outlines with them. It’s all a matter of style and what works for that preacher. There is no correct way. When Paul told Timothy to preach the word, he didn’t tell him how to do that. He didn’t say preach, but don’t use notes. He didn’t say preach long or short. He simply said, preach the word. We come to that passage with our own style, ideas and abilities. Through the years, that style gets modified and changes. And then they go preach. They preach often with a lot on their minds. They preach wanting the words that they have worked on to be memorable and to make positive changes. They preach hoping someone will come to Christ. They preach hoping to save a dying marriage. They preach hoping to turn hearts away from the world and back to Christ. They preach trying to motivate people to be servants of Christ. They preach often to audiences who will not change. They preach before crowds who are there only because they have to be there. They preach to those who love the Lord and have hearts that are pleasing Christ. The audiences are mixed. The audiences have different levels of knowledge, interest and purpose. The audiences have suffered all kinds of emotional struggles. There are people grieving. There are people who are upset. There are people who are lonely. There people who are scared. There are people who are proud. There are people who are angry. There are people who need to forgive, but they won’t. There are people who need to apologize but they won’t. There are families with prodigals. There are families worshipping while dad is at home in bed. There are divorced. There are those in love. There are those who are facing their world crashing in financially. There are people who spent the night before doing wrong. There are people who are solid, strong and spiritual. What an audience. What a crowd.

Each week the preacher begins with what to preach to these people. This is where it all begins. A thought. A passage. A word. Something sticks. Something impresses the preacher. Something captures his attention. This would help the audience. This would make a difference. And once that has been settled, off he goes, thinking, writing and constructing that sermon. It may be a masterpiece, but it may bring little results. This is what they need, the preacher thinks. But nothing happened. Did he have “juice” in the sermon? Sunday passes and a new week dawns. It’s time to start the process all over again. What will it be this week?

Probably the most asked question throughout my life as a preacher has been, “Where do you get your ideas?” Even my family asks that. I sometimes say, “Sermons.com” but they know better. I don’t even know if that is a true website. It comes from the mind, the heart, the listening ears, the open eyes of the preacher. Some weeks, it’s easy. Some weeks it’s very hard. There is an old expression that preachers understand, “Nothing inspires the preacher more than the rise of Sunday morning’s sun.” Deadline. You gotta have it ready to go. Some weeks there are a lot of things going on. Interruptions. Funerals. Travel. Even holidays tend to break up the process. Sunday comes and folks want a sermon, whether it’s Christmas or not. It doesn’t matter what kind of week the preacher has had, Sunday’s coming.

Given enough time, just about any Christian man can get up and say a few things. But to do it powerfully, week after week—I find that it takes a special person and a rare talent to do that. It’s like an artist. Sure, many of us can draw. But can we make a living at it. It’s like being a writer. Sure, put down some thoughts on paper. But to do that over and over and over.

I wanted to share these thoughts with those that do not preach. I want you to see what it takes to develop a sermon. The phone rings in the preacher’s office. He has books spread out, papers everywhere and on the phone the person asks, “Are you busy?” With a smile, the preacher kindly says, “How can I help you?” He knows once he is off the phone, he has to find that thought and that link that he was developing into a sermon. Sometimes that thought is gone. Sometimes he must start over. He understands.

Those of us that preach, we have chosen this life. Those that are really good at it, and there are many, they have mastered this special and unique art of crafting sermons week after week. Through their work, God’s word has filled hearts. Congregations and families are stronger and closer to the Lord because of the dedicated work that these men do. After a few years, they know it would be so easy to just throw a few verses together, add a couple of stories and be done with it. But they can’t do that. Their conscience will not allow that. Each sermon becomes another masterpiece. Hours are poured into shaping that sermon just right. They write with you in their minds. They want a better you. They want you to walk in righteousness with the Lord.

Ole’ Garfield noticed that juice was missing from the sermon he listened to. Garfield used to preach. Preachers know.

So, hold back on saying, “You only work a couple of hours a week.” The preacher will laugh with you, but he wonders if you even have a clue. Most have little idea about what it takes to bring a sermon from start to finish, nor the hours that are poured into it, but the end result is what is important. The word is preached.

Preach the word, preacher! Get busy, Sunday’s coming.

Roger

11

Jump Start #1993

Jump Start # 1993

Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Many years ago I taught a class about the times when Jesus said, “No.” I called it, “The No’s of Jesus.” One person thought I meant the NOSE of Jesus. He said, “I’ve heard of the footprints of Jesus, but never the nose of Jesus.” I don’t think he got what the class was about.

 

It’s hard for some to imagine Jesus ever saying “No.” He did. He did often. Not only did Jesus say no, but His Father said it often in the Old Testament. Eight of the Ten Commandments are Thou shalt Not. The picture of Jesus that many have manufactured in their own mind is permissive, tolerant, and never saying “no.” It’s hard for society to have a God who says “no,” when they have grown up with parents who never said “no,” and as adults, they can never say “no” to themselves.

 

A God who never says “no,” allows us to do whatever we want. It allows us to come and go as we please and serve God on our terms. It allows us to dabble frequently in sin and it allows us to keep one foot, if not both feet in the world. A God who never says “no,” is cool. Everyone likes that kind of god. It’s like having no god, and that’s exactly where people want to be. He’s in the grandstands of life cheering you on, helping you up when you fall, but never so close as interfering with your life. Do what you want, however you want, whenever you want. That’s an awesome God. Who wouldn’t want that on Sunday morning. And if you can’t make a Sunday service, worship on another day, or better yet, just go through the drive through lane at church, drop your contribution, pick up your short motivational pep talk, get a sticker for the kids and you’re done with God until next week. And during the week, have a good week, just don’t get arrested. And the multitudes will flock. Free food, just like Jesus fed the 5,000. Amazing music, just like the angels sang. And a God that pats you on your head, smiles at you and asks, What do you want, just like Santa does. When the Bible is read, it’s only the happy verses. Chapters are not read in entirety. Contexts are not studied nor preached. It’s a happy Jesus, who makes His people today happy.

 

And in all of this, “No” or, “cannot” doesn’t fit in this picture. A Jesus who expects, demands and puts requirements simple won’t work today. Look at our verse today. Three times in this chapter, Luke 14, Jesus says “you cannot be My disciple.” There were conditions. There were expectations. If a person didn’t carry His own cross, if a person didn’t hate father and mother, if a person doesn’t give up all his possessions, he cannot be Jesus’ disciple. Can you imagine a church saying that today? Sorry, you can’t be a member. Really? Most will take you no questions asked. You can’t ever attend? That’s ok. You can’t or won’t live by the Bible way? That’s ok. You can’t be morally pure? That’s ok. The only restriction would be, we need your money. Just send in some money now and then, and you’re in. Certainly not what Jesus was saying here.

 

All of this takes us to a much larger discussion about who is God? Is it the Lord or is it us? Jesus said “No,” and “cannot” multiple times. He wanted followers to love the Lord with All of their heart, mind and soul. God is upon the throne and we must respect and honor Him in that way.

 

It was the Lord who said that the way to life was narrow and the gate was strait or restrictive. It takes some thinking on our part. It takes some effort on our part. Not everything pleases the Lord. Not everything gets a green light. Jesus wants to shape your character and change your thinking. Less about self and more about Him. He wants us to put the spiritual above the physical. He wants us to think of others more than self. He wants us to be doing things and to become like Him. As in any worthwhile endeavor, without restrictions, a person will never achieve. A person who wants to loose weight, has to say “No,” or it will never happen. Holiday cookies. Fudge. Candy. More and more and a person gains weight rather than looses it. The same financially. Impulsive spending kills the budget. We buy and buy and can’t understand why we do not have any money. The reason is we can’t say “no.”

 

To be a disciple we must not love the world nor be conformed to the world. The world doesn’t define us. The world’s concept of modesty, is immodest. The world is in love with alcohol. It’s at every event and found everywhere. There is even a funeral home in our area that recently got a liquor license so it can sell alcohol. Drinking at a funeral—it’s here. There is no place that one cannot find alcohol. The world can’t watch a game, a concert, a wedding and now even a funeral, without having alcohol in their hand.

 

To be a disciple, we don’t occasionally date Jesus, we are committed to Him. It’s a marriage. We are all in. And it’s not an equality, where we draw up the terms and set our expectations. He is the Lord. What He says goes without our vote, our pleasure or even our agreement. He is the Lord.

 

It makes a good study to notice the times when Jesus said, “No.” We need to know those things. To ignore those makes us reshape Jesus into one of us. Instead of we becoming like Him, more would like to turn Him into one of us. We forget that He was without sin. We forget that He came on purpose for a purpose. We forget that He is the Lord.

 

No is important. Not just in our vocabulary and in our homes, but in our faith.

 

Jesus said No. Jesus said do not. Jesus said that because He could and He was trying to get us to be who we ought to be. It’s for our good that He said no.

 

Roger