Palm Sunday: Following the crowd

James Tissot: The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

James Tissot: The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

Did you shout “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday? Good for you. But what are you going to say on Friday? It’s easy to praise God when the crowd is doing the same. When it isn’t Palm Sunday, though, and the crowds are calling for a crucifixion, what will you say?

Have you sworn your unwavering loyalty to Jesus? Good for you. That’s easy to do when you’re in the upper room surrounded by friends. What will you say later, around the fire, when devotion has a price?

When we are in our church clothes surrounded by people who share our beliefs, there isn’t any reason to hide our faith. We can sing praises without judgment. There is little chance of being called ignorant or intolerant. The test comes, though, when we go out into the community and the workplace. Because there, we might face judgment. We might encounter rejection. Some intellectuals may think us simple. Some will call us bigots because of a stance on social issues. There is a price, as there always is, when we proclaim Christ in  a world that hates Christ.

It isn’t always going to be Palm Sunday, and following Jesus isn’t always going to be popular. We aren’t always going to be in the upper room where it’s easy to pledge commitment. The depth of our commitment is shown in those times when it isn’t easy.

Sometimes the crowd gets it right, like they did on Palm Sunday.

When the crowd turns on Jesus, as crowds always do, where will you be?

For when I am weak, then I am strong

I am the vine you are the branchesWe love to root for the underdog. We cheer when a little school defeats a powerhouse program in the NCAA basketball tournament, or when a lone advocate convinces a corporation to redesign a dangerous product. Maybe it’s because we so often feel like underdogs.

In “David and Goliath,” author Malcolm Gladwell says that we often get underdog stories wrong. Many times, what we see as great strength is really a weakness, and what we deem a weakness is really an advantage. He tells fascinating stories of people who overcame great odds, like the surprising number of CEO’s who grew up with dyslexia. This “weakness” forces people to develop other strengths – good listening skills, for example – that make them successful. It isn’t just in spite of the difficulty, but because of it, that they rise to the top.

No doubt that is often true. Gladwell writes of “desirable difficulties” that can make us stronger and, in the end, become an advantage. So many times, Goliath isn’t as fearsome as he seems.

david and goliathBut when Gladwell applies this thinking to the original David and Goliath story, I think he misses the boat (although he was not trying to write a religious book). Gladwell writes that Goliath’s great size probably came from a disorder that also gave him poor eyesight and made him slow, and that slingers like David, small and quick, had a natural advantage over sword-fighters like Goliath. In other words, David actually had an advantage over Goliath, and we should not be surprised that David won the battle.

But in spiritual matters, that’s not what the Bible teaches. God doesn’t choose things that people think are weak, but that are really strong. He chooses things that are weak, period:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Co. 1:27-29)

He does it so that when the deed is done, everyone will know that God was at work. When Gideon set out to defeat the Midianites with 32,000 men, God narrowed it down to 200. Not so that Gideon would have an elite, nimble fighting force that would have a tactical advantage, but so that they would be absolutely helpless without God. He did it “in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her.” (Judges 7:2)

When it comes to doing God’s work in God’s way, we are helpless. It reminds us that we need him. He equips us to do the assigned task, and when it is accomplished, all glory should go to him. We are to work “not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zec. 4:6)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

This isn’t bad news at all. Do you really want to try it on your own when the Creator of the universe, who was able to return Christ from the dead, will indwell you and work through you? We ought to be glad when we feel helpless, because then we are ready to acknowledge our need for God and allow him to act through us.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Co. 12:10)

“David and Goliath” is a fascinating book, for those of us who love to root for the underdog. Gladwell is right that when we are forced to overcome adversity, it makes us stronger. If you read it, though – and I hope you will – remember that Gladwell isn’t addressing the work of God. When God is in the picture, the news is even better: We are absolutely hopeless without him, but with him, we can accomplish anything within his will.

The most important thing they ever said

Tissot.Confession of the Centurion.the most important thing he ever said

Peter “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Thomas “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Isaiah “Here am I. Send me!” (Is. 6:8) Nathanael “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John … [Continue reading]

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Don't be surprised at the fiery trials

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Returning to God after we’ve failed Him (from John 21:7)

"Peter Throws Himself Into the Water"
by James Tissot (1836-1902)

"I’m useless.” He stood on the shore, dripping, watching a man crouched by a fire. He wanted nothing more than to run to him. Unless it was to jump back into the sea and let the waters carry him under. “I’m no good.” But Peter did neither. He … [Continue reading]

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widow's mite

The first recorded gifts to the incarnate Word were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Bible treats the wise men well for these gifts, because they were gifts of worship. (They certainly weren’t practical gifts. What can a baby do with gold? I’ve … [Continue reading]

Be strong and courageous

Be strong and courageous

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2.2 Timothy 1:7 I don’t think of myself as fearful. Not unless I am very high up or potentially within a mile of a snake. But maybe fear -- the kind that God … [Continue reading]

How to do a Character /Biographical/ Bible Study — Guest Post by Crickett Keeth

Crickett-sidebar-pic-e1380773285354

  Today's post is written by my friend Crickett Keeth, the Director of Women's Ministry at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, TN. I met Crickett at a writers' conference in 2012. Her writing never fails to teach and encourage. Here she … [Continue reading]

Video Trailer for Why Me

Friends, Here is a link to a video trailer for my book. Check it out, read it if you're so inclined, tell others, and please: leave your honest comments as a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your book site of choice. http://youtu.be/xF-TRO1UZ3w … [Continue reading]

Proof of Heaven? You already have it.

theres already a book that proves heaven is for real

This week I read The First Phone Call from Heaven, a novel by Mitch Albom. The book is about a small town on Lake Michigan where residents receive cell phone calls from deceased family members who tell them, in brief cryptic conversations, that they … [Continue reading]