Surely Not I, Lord?

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Mark 14:12-21

It is the first day of the festival of the Unleavened Bread.  The Passover lamb was being sacrificed.  Everybody in Jerusalem is making arrangement to share this special meal together.  And it is at this intimate gathering of Jesus and His followers that the Son of God drops a bombshell:  “One of you will betray me!”

In my mind:  I can almost hear the initial silence that followed; I can almost witness the shocked looks of dismay upon the faces of the 12.  Mark says they were “grieved.”  The word for this in Greek was lypein.  It is used only twice in Mark… here of the disciples and of the rich young ruler who upon choosing not to follow Jesus who went away sad (lypein).  It was a word that Mark chose to describe those who failed Jesus.

But wait!  There was only one betrayer right?  Was there only one?  We know that all of the disciples at least thought that they were capable of such an act… hence their question:  “Surely Not I?”  And in verse 27 Jesus informs them:  “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.'”

Note the word “all.”  Verse 23 says that they “all” shared the cup.  Verse 31 states that they “all” confessed their allegiance to Christ.  Verse 50 says that they “all” fled from Jesus at His arrest in the garden.

There was only one ultimate betrayer (Judas)… but by dawn “all” the disciples will betray him… if not because of greed… then due to weakness, fear or cowardice.

Often I wonder about Peter’s denials.  I think:  “How could he have done such a thing?  He saw the transfiguration, he passed out the multiplied food at the feeding of the 5,000… he walked on the water with Jesus for goodness sake!”

And yet I wonder if “in the moment” I would have fared any better than Peter or the rest.  You see their main problem was overconfidence in their faith.  Peter swept his arm around the room:  “Even if all else fail you, I will not!”  The rest made their assurances as well.  But it was all words.  In the moment of truth they all headed for the hills!

Howard Hendricks remarks:  “Peter’s problem was not insincerity.  I think Peter meant exactly what he said.  In fact, I seriously question if he was ever more sincere than he was on this occasion.  …Peter’s problem was ignorance, and that’s your problem and mine.  Whenever we say, ‘Lord, you can count on me,’ you’re about to step on a spiritual banana peel.  You’re going to sprawl in the faith.'”

No, Christ cannot count on us.  But praise God we can count on Him.  The shepherd will indeed be struck down… the sheep will be scattered… but the Good Shepherd will die in order to unite his flock again. (v.28)   Greater love has no man than this that He lay down his life for His friends.  No greater love indeed!

Easter Blessings!

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Let Me Be the Donkey!

Donkey and Palm BranchesMark 11:1-11

All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) make the point that the donkey Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was one upon which “no one had ridden” before.  Now I’ve never broken in such an animal before… but I have heard that sitting upon a donkey or horse that has never taken a rider can be “quite the experience.”   One would quickly find themselves launched into the air… praying gravity is kind in its choice of your landing spot. And yet with Jesus, this colt of a donkey upon which He rides is quiet, obedient, and responses easily to His commands.   Very un-donkey-like if you ask me!  It displays the nobility of a majestic white steed without any of the pride. There were a lot of reactions to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day:

The Crowds:  They spread their cloaks in the road, and shouted “Hosanna!”

The Disciples:  John 12:16 says indicates that they were puzzled by the whole spectacle.

The Curious:   John 12:18 says that many went out to get a look at Jesus.

The Pharisees:   They were tearing their hair out!  They cried:  “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

There seems to be (besides Jesus) only one person calm in this entire account.  Serving in a steadfast and gentile manner is the donkey. There have been times in which I have read this passage and pictured myself in the crowd with the palm branches.   My hosanna ringing louder than my neighbors!  But this is the same crowd that would turn on Jesus at the end of the week.  I certainly don’t want to be like them. I don’t want be dumbstruck like the disciples or a curiosity seeker like others that day or be stubborn and angry like the Pharisees… so if I have to put myself in the story.  Let me be the donkey.  He is the model of Christian servant-hood and leadership here. We could learn a lot from this donkey.

As pastors and a Christian leaders it is imperative that we do.  In an essay entitled “Becoming a Leader of No Reputation,” Scott Rodin wrote of his convictions about leadership after serving for several years as a seminary president: If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8) As Christian leaders we must be engaged in a constant process of self-evaluation and repentance. It is so easy for us to be tempted in a variety of directions, and when we stray, we impact our entire ministry. Good leaders undertake their work with a deep humility and a keen awareness of their own weakness and shortcomings.  (Quoted by Crawford Loritts, Jr. in Leadership as Identity, p. 57.)

As Christian leaders, Pastors, Elders, Deacons, etc. bear a tremendous load.  And they are called to bear it with dignity and grace.  They must also be steadfast and yet not falter… never losing sight of their goal and mission. And added to all these things… humility is paramount!

Corrie ten Boom was once asked how she was able to maintain her humility after becoming such a sought after speaker.  Her reply was, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of the donkey that any of that was for him?  If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides… I will give Him all the praise and all the honor.”

Amen to that!

Blessings!

Reconciliation Day

peaceGenesis 33

Last week we left Jacob walking in the morning light after his life changing encounter with God. He has a confidence in him that he never knew he could have. And there will be more surprises ahead for him… for… This. Is. His. Reconciliation Day!

Years ago he left town with just the staff in his hand and the clothes on his back. And though He has made a good life since then, something has been holding him back. That something was the need to go back home and make things right with his brother Esau.

But as we have learned… and is repeated in this chapter’s text… Esau has rounded up a welcome wagon consisting of 400 men. 400 armed men. Hell’s angels on horseback.

The hairs on the back of Jacob’s neck had to have been standing straight up as he enters into this meeting with his brother. He pushes his family out in front. (Least favorite wives and their kids in the front… thanks a lot dad!) And then he himself steps toward his brother…

He is now staring… in the face… the challenge of reconciliation.  And amazingly… that face is smiling!

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. …  10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

Esau’s face was the face of God to Jacob. He could see that it was ultimately God that was gracing him through the miracle of reconciliation with his brother, Esau.

He could see the hand of providence in the situation. Reconciliation is not a common thing in our world. In our own strength we get mad and stay mad. To me “reconciliation” is a mark of a true Christian. And it proves to me that the Gospel works. BLESSED are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

Now… this doesn’t always mean you trust everybody and make yourself vulnerable to someone that has hurt you. Verses 12-17 seem to indicate that though there was a pleasant outcome, Jacob still keeps himself and his family a safe distance from his brother.

Reconciliation is complete only when trust is rebuilt between two willing hearts… and that can take time. Take your time and do it right. “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don’t take down the fence.” (Carl Sandburg)

But having said that… you will never reconcile by wishing your neighbor ill.  Reconciliation begins when we wish for the other party the love of Jesus.

Sue Martinuk shared in Christian Reader about a tiff she had with her roommate in college.  They dealt with the anger by not communicating with each other.  She came in one night and found a note from her roommate: “I wish you Jesus.” She cried. Then wrote a note asking her for forgiveness. She placed it on her pillow and went to sleep.

Later, her roommate came home and shouted from the hallway that she had left a note on her desk–“Your sister called and asked me to send her the music for “I Wish You Jesus”!”  Sue remarks:  “We both had a good laugh–and were reconciled.”

What do you wish for others? If it is Jesus… it is bound to be the solution to a lot of conflict.

Is there someone in your life that you need to reconcile with?  Can you begin by “wishing them Jesus?”  Here is hoping that you will see the face of your enemy “as the face of God.”

Blessings!

 

Who Is It You are Really Fighting?

Jacob wrestles with angel3Genesis 32:24-32

Have you ever experienced a “water shed” moment in your life? An invisible line in your walk with the Lord, that after crossing, you were never the same again.   It usually comes out of a stirring from the Lord… sometimes at the heels of a time of questioning.

For some of us, it came at the moment of conversion. We had thought that there was no way we could ever believe in Christ, but the questions nagged us so long, that we came to faith in Him.  For others of us believing seemed to be as natural as breathing… we were baptized at age 9, and have always taken part in church life. But then a crisis hits our life and we were rocked to the foundations of our beliefs. And we arrive at the watershed.

In today’s story, Jacob has come to this decisive moment. God wants him to return to the land… but he will not come back there as the same person he was when he left. His moment of decision is at hand.

Genesis 32

22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.

24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Now Jacob has finally put everything in his life on a slow trail to his brother as a “gift” and is now alone in the camp. But then he realizes suddenly that he is not alone. Startled by this stranger, Jacob springs into action… he struggles for his life until daybreak.

There is a triple word play going on here in the Hebrew. The Hebrew for wrestled (ye’abeq) is similar in sound to Jacob (ya’aquob) and Jabbock (yabboq) – the place this wrestling match takes place.  The triple word play is there to mark the importance of this pivotal moment in Jacob’s life.

Have you ever been lost? Jacob is. He might fancy himself as being “Off the Trail.” But he is really lost.  When will we ever come to admit that… we’re lost… lost and feeling all alone? But then, why is it, right at the moment when we realize this… we face a struggle that we “don’t really need right now?”

Sometimes our Jabbock comes at mid-life. Sometimes it comes on that centennial celebrations of 40, -gulp- 50, 60, etc. And we think we are fighting family, age, depression, our boss, our wrinkles, and our lot in life…. But if we will but stop and realize that you could be on that you could be on the brink of a life altering moment with God.

What would that do for our lives? Redefine the battle and discover the wealth of wisdom, courage and mission that can come out of that battle.

Now I believe that Jacob is fighting an angel here. The Bible says in several places that no man has seen God and lived to tell about it.  But there are several places where “the angel of the Lord” showed up and it was later said of the encounter “I have seen God.” It seems that to interact with God’s messenger is to wrestle with God himself.  But Jacob’s wrestling partner goes unnamed here, I believe to emphasize that whatever angel was representing him… this battle was between Jacob and the Almighty.

Here is one of the most interesting things in the passage for me… when the angel says: you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.

To me it is clear from the text that Jacob didn’t “prevail” in the wrestling match in the sense that he defeated God. They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a simple touch. So just how close was the match… actually.

It was as if God allowed Jacob to take his best shot and then showed who was still in control all along with a single touch. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things the way he’d always done them before.

Here is a tip we can take from Jacob during our watershed moments. When he realized it was an angel he is wrestling with, he says he will not let go until the angel blesses him. The principle we have to learn is this… if you get into a wrestling match with God: Don’t let go until He blesses you.

Have you ever heard of the term: Persistent Prayer? It doesn’t mean you have to nag God for him to answer… He IS willing to freely give us all things. It is taking the time to wrestle with God for the blessing we need rather than the one we might want.

We are changed when we prevail in prayer. When we come to the place where we say: “I’m not giving up… until these circumstances are turned into blessing.”

What battle are you currently fighting?  Could it be God you are locked in combat with?  How long do you intend to hang on?

Blessings!

 

 

Schemes or Trust?

trustGenesis 32

When was the last time that life left you frightened?  You had made a pact with yourself to place complete trust in the Lord in the past… but then “this thing” happened.  And it stopped your heart like an intruder having just leapt from your closet.  Do you have the strength to face this latest fear?

Jacob resolved in Chapter 31 to return home.  Waiting there is a brother that had threatened to take his life.  Jacob has resolved to face his fear… but is still scared out of his mind.  God sends him a little encouragement.

32 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.

God’s Plan

I take this verse to mean that God’s Plan is that He himself would fight for Jacob. This is a small encampment of God’s choice angel warriors.  And I believe that this heavenly army is surrounding us just hidden from our mortal eyes. Here in Genesis 32, God’s invisible world is suddenly made visible to Jacob’s very human eyes.

It reminds me of the story about Elisha in 2 Kings. He and his servant were surrounded by an army of soldiers and the servant was frightened until Elisha prayed and said: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17

They were surrounded by an unseen army sent to protect and fight for his prophet.

That’s what God lets Jacob see here. He reminds him that he will not be alone in facing his brother. You think this would be a great plan and that it would bring comfort to Jacob in a trying circumstance.

But Jacob has already drawn up some plans of his own.

Jacob’s Plan

  1. He put out feelers. (How bad is it?) v. 3-5

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”

The Result?:  

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Okay, it’s bad.

  1. He Strategizes. v. 7-8

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”

Jacob fears the worst and strategizes to protect his bottom line.

  1. He Prays. v. 9-12

This is not prayer in the best sense.  While all prayer has value, this is a prayer that serves to make sure he “covers all his bases.”  This is a Hail Mary pass in the 4th Quarter kind of prayer.

  1. He Prepares a Bribe. V. 13-21

He offers his brother everything and the kitchen sink.  “Better broke than dead” might be Jacob’s thinking here.

Schemes or Trust?

Jacob might think that he is being prudent here.  But he puts up all these defenses after becoming acquainted with God’s superior fighting force.  What gives?

This startling contrast is displayed in verse 21:  “So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.”

There is some major Hebrew word play going on here.  Gifts (Jacob’s scheme) and Camp (God’s promise of protection.) are similar in sound.  This is a deliberate way to get us to look at two options: Schemes or Trust.

Which do you rely on to get yourself out of your jams?

Recently I read in a pastor’s wife’s blog: “I was so intrigued when I saw this photo BELOW (and similar ones) going around facebook. I thought, “Wow! How awesome is that!”

Do Not Be AfraidAfter a few months of thinking about this from time to time, I had a great idea to do a printable using all 365 scripture references that deal with “fear not”. I went to my concordance to get the scripture references, and do you know what I found?

  • The phrase in the intended context is only used 80+ times
  • The phrase “fear not” in used in other contexts, but you wouldn’t want them to apply to you
  • Other word pairings that would be equal to “fear not” (“do not be afraid”, “do not fear”, “be not afraid”) is used 30+ times

While it’s a great idea to think that God comforted us with “Fear not” 365 times, it’s simply just not true.

However, hopefully we are at that point in our Christian walk that we don’t need to hear God say something 365 times. Once should be enough.”

Have you learned to stop scheming and to start trusting?  What is one thing you can do today to display your trust in the Lord even in the face of great fear?

Blessings!

 

Going Back to Move Forward

Go Back Home3Genesis 31

How does one find a way forward when they feel stuck in the mud?  Robert J. Morgan tells the story of Jim Conway who was feeling a bit “stuck” in his situation.  Morgan explains:  “At midlife, a man begins to realize his body is not as strong as it is used to be, nor his wife as young. He often feels like a failure at work because of his accomplishments fall short of previous expectations. He’s caught between generations, having to care for aged parents just as his children are lurching through the teen years. When the kids graduate and fly the coop, it sometimes hits the father harder than the mother. Then come the college bills. All of this hit Conway like a sucker punch.”

Conway remarks:  “I had literally come to the end of my rope. I was ready to leave everything and run away. I crawled into bed that November night and hardly slept as I made my plans. I was awake through most of the night, detailing specific steps that I would take as I left my present life and ran away to start another life…”  (Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse, February 27th.)

As tempting as running away might seem… there is a better way:  Going back to go forward.  Jacob is a prime example of this from chapter 31 of Genesis.

Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.” Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Later while recounting what happened, Jacob tells his two wives:

You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.

He continues:

11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you.

Basically God tells Jacob:  “You didn’t out smart Laban with your antics. I turned the tide in your favor.”  Then God says:

13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’”

Eventually Jacob begins to hate his dream job.   So he leaves to pursue the calling God had for him to in the first place.   God reveals himself to Jacob here as… the “God of Bethel.”

Bethel was that place where Jacob saw the ladder stretching to heaven with angels walking on it. It was there that God revealed the calling he had for Jacob as the bearer of the blessing.

Who is the God of Bethel to you?  For me He is the “The God of the Auditorium of Two Rivers Church in Nashville TN during a Baptist State Youth Conference.”  I got down on my knees at the altar there and offered myself to full time Christian service. Where and when you surrendered to God’s call on your life is your Bethel.

In life we reach a point where we get weary. We threaten to not finish the race assigned us. Even Godly men and women become tempted to fall into an affair or to abandon promising career for something that doesn’t pan out.  They have lost the fire.

Where can one find it again?  Go back to the God of Bethel!   It is at Bethel that you begin to understand why you are raising a family and why you have a job in the first place.

Jim Conway had fallen into a vicious depression. He said:  “Repeatedly, I had fantasies of getting on a sailboat and sailing off to some unknown destination.”  He was a pastor, a husband, a father and an author. But he wanted to run away like a prodigal and start a new life.  He later wrote: “The midlife crisis is a time of high risk for marriages. It’s a time of possible career disruption and extra marital affairs. There is depression, anger, frustration and rebellion.”

So Conway went to bed thinking that the next morning he would plan his escape.  Morgan writes:  “But the next morning, as he starting reading His Bible where he had left off the day before, in Psalms 18, he found these words (or they found him); “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple…..He drew me out of many waters….You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.”  He closed his Bible.  The healing had begun.

Have you ever had to step back to catch a glimpse of your calling before moving forward with the Lord?  Who is “God of Bethel” to you?

Blessings!

Pastor Wayne