Moving Toward Victory

Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week, we have been preparing our hearts for as we continue our journey to the cross which will take us through 

Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…today)

Maundy Thursday (Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal and arrest…Thursday)

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

Finally to the glorious victory of the resurrection of Easter Sunday!

We do not go into this week with our head held low. Neither do we go into this week trying to avoid the events that happened to God in flesh, Jesus Christ. We go into this week, reminded that the worst thing in life we face is never the last thing. Death is not a defeat. Because of Jesus Christ, we walk with joy. We walk with hope. We walk with a sense of victory.

We begin Holy Week with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the “suffering servant”, as well as the true Messiah…the Christ…the savior of the world. 

It’s the equivalent of when we say, “hold my drink.” Jesus is saying, “hold my chalice, I got this!”

Remember, Jesus will be saving the world, for us today he, has saved the world, in a much different way than the people of Israel hoped he would – in a militaristic fashion, overthrowing the Roman occupiers.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

First of all, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not the only “entry” that day.

As we think about the events on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we should think about what else is happening in the city of Jerusalem. There were thousands, if not millions, in the city for preparing for Passover. 

Not everyone in the city was laying their coats down and waving palm branches for Jesus. King Herod Antipas was entering into Jerusalem, in a grand gesture. (Note: This is why Pilate took Jesus to Herod so quickly and easily during Jesus’ “trials.”)

The other processional was that of Pontius Pilate. His procession through Jerusalem was meant to be a reminder to the people who was in control – it was a blatant show of force.

2 of the 3 rulers entering Jerusalem in parades that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty. They were perfectly willing to kill in order to hold power, and they used impressive shows of forces to demonstrate that fact. Jesus, on the other hand, had no soldiers. He led a ragtag band of followers who waived palm branches as he passed by on a donkey.[1]

With this, we turn our attention to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In March 2002, the former ruler of Afghanistan, the 87-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, returned to his homeland after 30 years of exile. Here’s how an article in the Chicago Tribune described his grand and glorious welcome:

On Thursday, thousands of invited guests lined up for hours at the airport and people gathered on the streets leading to a refurbished seven-bedroom villa to see the former ruler. Delegations arrived from across Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Governors and their advisers, members of women’s groups carrying posters of the king, most of the interim administration, royalists, warlords, men in turbans and others in suits all converged on the pockmarked runway where shells of bombed airplanes lay. Two red carpets were laid out. The newly trained honor guard was on hand, and young women and children in traditional embroidered dress greeted Zahir Shah with flowers and poems.

I hope you’re thinking of the contrast when Israel’s Messiah was born, when he came to his own people.[2]

READ MARK 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

Have we ever asked, “why Jesus sent his disciples to get the donkey AND THEN RETURN IT?

This incorporates a common folklore technique in which signs identify the desired person or object. These signs may include an encounter with strangers in the process. Romans soldiers routinely requisitioned animal and human labor from the people. Jesus’ promise to return the animal promptly distinguishes him from the ruling forces. [3]Jesus is continuing to set himself apart.

Riding a donkey is a richly symbolic act that goes back to King David. The donkey was a humble beast that symbolized David’s identity as the shepherd king. Davidic kings from that time forward rode on donkeys or mules to identify with David.[4]

HOPEFUL PROMISE

The prophet Zechariah gave a hopeful promise 500 years before Jesus was alive: 

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
[5]

Since everyone in the crowd may have known these words, Jesus was demonstrating, clearly, that he was the long-awaited promised King spoke about through the prophets. He was openly proclaiming he was the Messiah![6]

The crowd was cheering and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

(NOTE: Matthew depicts the crowd “waving” the palm branches on the streets on Jerusalem while Mark says they laid their palm branches down on a street outside Jerusalem as Jesus was about to enter the gates. We do not need to be concerned about this detail; but rather we should be concerned with the purpose of Jesus entering Jerusalem.) 

Palm Branches were a symbol of goodness, victory, and well-being.

The finest specimens of palms grew at Jericho and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan.

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple:

“On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalms 92.12 says that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again people from every nation raised palm branches to honor Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
(Revelation 7:9)[7]

SO WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

My guess is we have focused so much on Jesus riding into victory, that we may have missed another point as well. A point that is not mentioned specifically in this scripture; but one that we notice in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

God has won the war. Good ultimately triumphs over evil; but this does not mean we do not face challenging, frightening, unbearable things in our life. We sometimes know, or we anticipate, what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, years:

Cancer diagnoses, terminal illnesses, spouses leaving, relationships crumbling, jobs ending (either by our choice, or by management’s choice). Jesus has been in similar circumstances. He knew he was about to die. That is why he kept pressing toward Jerusalem. This is part of his mission.

We like to think about Jesus just going forward in strength, in courage, with his head held high. Jesus was fully God. The God-part probably did do this; but was also grieved because of why this had to happen.

Jesus was fully human. The human part of Jesus was probably nervous or anxious. Imagine him riding into Jerusalem, his stomach was in knots, his mind racing about the events that would take place soon.

Jesus knows what it is like to get a death sentence, get a diagnoses for a disease he did not want (sin), feel the pain of people rejecting him for his mission and who he was. Jesus knows our every weakness, knows what we go through.

Jesus shows us, we too can keep moving forward. Why?

Because God is there. God is with him, you, I, all of us[8]. God will provide the strength and power when we need[9]it and give a peace beyond understanding.[10]

Jesus is the ultimate example of the power of God, especially in life’s darkest hours. Look at how the Apostle Paul shows how Jesus handled his life, his mission:

Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very natureof a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Pay attention to the events of Holy Week. Be part of the services offered to help us trace the final week of Christ’s earthly life (tonight’s “Easter Experience”, Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service, Friday’s Good Friday service).

Remember the power of God that strengthened Jesus to endure the mocking, humiliation, torture, death sentence, and finally a humiliating death of crucifixion.

Through all of this, Jesus still had the joy of God, the joy of heaven, in his life. He did not allow the weight of the world to bring him down, he still prayed the Psalms on while on the cross. He did not focus on the negative and dwell on it, like we tend to do. He stayed the course of life, trusting God will do what he promised. The promise and presence of God was still experienced by Jesus, even on the cross.

Keep moving forward. Anything you and I experience, God can and does give us strength, peace, wisdom, himself. Move forward because, even though we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Victory has been won!

God may not get us out of the conflict, the situation we’re in; but he is in it with us. He will ALWAYS get the last word, as we will see next Sunday, Easter morning.

Keep moving toward the victory of Jesus Christ in the world. Everyday, wake up and tell the world, “hold my cup…watch what God will do in and through me today!”

Let’s pray…

Holy God, You have paved the way for us to live as your lights in the world. May everything we do point to you, to Your victory over sin and death, evils which seem to be more noticed than the good, than You in the world. Give us the strength to handle anything life throws at us, help us remember you have won and allow us to walk as joy-filled people shining your light and love to all we encounter, to all who live not knowing the True light of the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is in His name that we pray. AMEN


[1]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 139, 143

[2]Preaching Today web Site: Afghans Give Ex-King a Royal Homecoming

[3]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary – Mark. Page 658

[4]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 137-38

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

[6]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 138

[7]https://www.thoughtco.com/palm-branches-bible-story-summary-701202

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

“Doing More” & Church Growth

If you ever wanted to know the strategies about how to grow a church, there are many resources available to help pastors and church leaders. These resources will tell exactly what you should do to grow your church.

On the other hand, I hear many people with a similar question presented, and also a statement which says what we should do in order to gain more members. The statement was simply that we, church members need to “do more.” And the question was, is the church doing anything wrong because visitors do not seem to be coming?

WHO’S CHURCH?

I have an idea to help answer to the question and the statement; but we have to look at something very important first. We have to settle the notion of who the church belongs to. If we continue to use “my church” or something similar, we can be caught into the trap of not allowing new ideas or people to come in because it is not “their” church. Think about that for a minute.

The church actually does not belong to us. The church is God’s. The building we worship in is simply that, a building that is set apart for holy use. The church is the people that make up that particular community of faith. Since the church is God’s, we are always being called to step out of our comfort zone to “seek the lost” and bring them into the fold. We are also supposed to see people as God sees them. This is challenging work, but Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so we could be filled with his power and presence to do the impossible tasks we are called to do.

The church belongs to God. Since the church is not ours, the power of God will sustain and keep the church existing, even in the roughest times.

JUST DO MORE

Now, to the statement above, “we have to do more.” My thought on this is “Yes, kinda.” By that I mean, I think God is calling us to have the same kind of zeal and charisma we had when we first became believers. We had incredible passion for stepping out in faith and telling people how Jesus has come into the world to redeem the people. We have incredible energy for doing mission and outreach work as well. Somewhere along the way, many Christians have just run out of energy to continue the work they had done before.

I think a large part of this is we have not been refilled and refueled with the Holy Spirit and have allowed our zeal to dwindle down. So, we stopped doing the good works God called us to simply because we allowed our life to get in the way. This statement may sound a little harsh, but think about it.

When was the last time you remember being involved in work that was doing good for the Kingdom of Heaven, outside of the church building walls (volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, local pregnancy center, etc.)? I know many people still do incredible work, but I am thinking about those who have become sideline Christians and pew potatoes. This can happen to any of us. So, the answer is YES, we do have to do more. But, we also have to ask who is the “we”. It is too easy to say “we have to do more,” and still assume someone else will do the work.

So, what did God call you to do when you first became a believer in Christ? Are you continuing that work? If you are not, why did you stop? Maybe God is calling you and I back to the work we were doing when we first became followers of Christ? Pray about it.

GROWING A CHURCH

Now, to a question that many people are seeking answers to, “how do you grow a church?” The reality is, we can have every gimmick in the book and do everything exactly right, but we could still be missing something. We could be missing out on what the community of faith is supposed to be involved in: relationship building.

This is much more than just inviting people to worship with us. This involves spending time with them in their messy, every day life so they can see the value God has for them. When was the last time you looked at someone and Sid something like this:

“I love you. Why? Because God loves you. I want you to hear how much value you have in the sight of God Almighty, the One who created every part of you. I know your life is not easy. I, too, have scars from life. But Jesus has helped to heal me. He has healed me through his power and presence (through the Holy Spirit) by bringing people alongside me to help me experience his love and grace in incredible ways. I would love for you to join us in worship this coming Sunday and we can talk more about how God may be working in your life.”

This is what we are called to do: share life with each other, especially the messy parts.

Another side to the question of church growth is thinking about what it is we are praying for. What do I mean by this? I mean, are we truly asking God for, and seeking, a real movement of the Holy Spirit? Or do we ask for a band aid fix by asking God to just fill the pews and the plates? Take time to assess what it is you’re praying for.

We should also see what we are controlling that is preventing a movement of the Spirit to occur. In other words, where do our preferences matter more than the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit?

I hear many people say the church is in trouble now. I think they are right, when we focus on just finding warm bodies instead of seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Unless we take the time to revive and use the power of Christ, then everything we do will disappoint us and we will not see the desired results.

If we, however, seek the movement of the Holy Spirit, expect something powerful to happen. Also be patient becasue the Spirit may just be doing a powerful work in the people who may be blocking any movements God wants to do.

I firmly believe the best days of the church are still ahead of us. Let us hold firm and fast to the prompting and leading of the Spirit who will accomplish more than we could ever imagine. You just might see incredible miracles you never dreamed possible.

Let us pray Ephesians 3:20-21, everyday and watch God move:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

When Love Came Down

Since Christmas Day has come and gone, do you feel any different? Or do you feel the weight of cleaning everything, paying bills, or having to pack the gifts to come back home?

The time after Christmas can be really stressful for many people. The logistics of how everything will get done can be very complicated and frustrating. But, is this how we are supposed to live our lives, even after we practice being kind, loving, compassionate, even if for just a few days?

Something else gets to be stressful. The new year is quickly approaching. So, what new year resolutions are you going to make? How many are you actually going to be able to keep? How many are actually going to be beneficial for your life?

I have started to notice something at the holiday time frames, and at the start of something new – we always seem to over commit ourselves, which means we sacrifice something we all desperately need – TIME.

Does this seem like you?

As I was preparing for the Christmas season and studying the scriptures to preach, I noticed something I have never noticed before: the greatest gift God has given us.

Yes, God did give us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, people are healed, fed, hopeful, peaceful. These are all incredible gifts God has given us. But I think we are missing something when we think about what God has given us.

God has given us the gift of His time. That’s something awesome and I am astonished at how I have missed this before.

We always talk about how spending time with the people we love is important. We also talk about how spending time with people changes their outlook and helps to put them on the right track. This is what I noticed God has done for us, in the gift, the person of Jesus Christ.

He has shown us what it means to give up the time we desire, to spend with the people who need our time the most. Jesus was always spending his time with other people who needed food, healing, miracles, teaching, love, grace. I wonder how many of us get worn out because we would rather be doing something else so we miss out on the joy that comes when we truly share the time we’ve been given with others?

Since God has come down to earth, the greatest power in the universe, Love, has been instilled in the people. God is still spending time with his people through the power of his Holy Spirit.

As we wind down from all of the festivities and activities and gift giving of Christmas, let us always remember to praise and thank God for the gift of his time he spends with us. Let us always look for ways to joyfully spend the time we have been given with others to help them experience the greatest force in the world.

If we really want to experience and witness real change in the world, pay attention to how much time you have been given and how the time is spent. Carefully, and prayfully using the time we’ve been given, wisely, will cause us to utilize God’s gift of time for the transformation of the world.

When Love came down, we learn how much God thinks about his people and creation. I pray we can all have eyes to see the world as he sees it and have the heart for the world as he has. May we use the gift of time we have been given to share his love with all we can. That is, after all, what God has done for us.

Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us. This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

FOR ALL ORDERS DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL BE DONATING ALL OF THE PROCEEDS.

Advent Daily Devotional

Prepare – Devotions for Advent

The season of Advent is coming. How are you preparing to celebrate God coming into the world in the form of Jesus Christ? How are you preparing for Christ’s return?

This is a season of waiting and of preparation. There are many ways we can get ready and joyfully celebrate:

  • Many people use an Advent Calendar.
  • Many people use a weekly Advent Candle.
  • Many people do something called a reverse Advent Calendar where you put aside on non-perishable food item into a basket and deliver to a local food pantry on Christmas Eve. Does it have to be just food? No. You can be creative with what people really need.

There are many ways we can prepare our hearts and lives to be more closely aligned with Jesus Christ.

Click the link for a FREE Advent Daily Devotional to help get ready for this incredible season.

Prepare – Devotions for Advent

May the joy, peace, hope, and love this season brings fill your hearts and lives so you may fully prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.


 

 

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

Confessions of a Pastor

Sometimes I Find Myself Being A People Pleaser

One of the things I hear, from many people, is, “I will do what I want, I don’t care what other people think.” This is something I have said at times also. The older I get, the more I realize I do care what people think.

I am a recovering people pleaser. Is that okay with you?

There are times I cannot stand it when people get mad at me. I feel like I have to fix the situation right away by apologizing and talking with the person. The feeling amplifies when it happens to be a group of people I inadvertently offended somehow.

I do not like it when people are mad at me.

I do not like it when I accidentally hurt people’s feelings. This is one of those times I begin to feel low. I feel like scum because I hurt the feelings of someone I care about.

The list can go on and on.

I also enjoy it when people like me. Not because I am recognized for good work; but because I am liked as a person. This brings happiness and a feeling I have people around I can spend time with and they would enjoy spending time with me.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else? How many of you feel this way?

I know I am not the only person who goes through these pursuits of people pleasing. This is not how I operate all the time either. But recognizing and proclaiming this reality is important, for me and for you.

Here’s the thing. If we are doing the work that God has called us to do, not everyone is going to like us. There are some people who will completely reject and despise us because we are doing work for the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Galatians 1:10 (ESV), the Apostle Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be servant of Christ.”

The questions I have to ask, and answer, each day is, “Who am I really working for? What are the reasons I do what I do?” You have to answer these also. The quality of our work will actually depend on how we answer these questions. Why?

If we are working to please man, there is a big chance we will cut corners and manipulate the work we do to make us look better so others will like us. This really is not our best work because it is really not focused on the work, but rather on what other people think of the work…of you and me.

Colossians 3:23 (ESV) says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

Doing the work for God means we are doing work for a much higher purpose than us, or our personal agendas. Doing work for God means we are going to do the right thing, all the time, in a loving way, so the Kingdom can be expanded.

When we are doing the work for God, and give all glory to God, then we are going to make sure all the “I’s” are dotted and all the “T’s” are crossed. In other words, we are going to make sure the work is the best quality work possible.

Yes, I do like it when people like me. It really makes my job a lot easier. But, the reality is, I do my best to focus on what is best for the Kingdom work in my life, church, community, and ultimately, the world.

My prayer each and every day is simply, “God, you be glorified. Jesus be known and shown. Holy Spirit guide me and strengthen me.”