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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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!

 

When Your Ship Comes In

Ship Coming InGenesis 21

Promises, Promises.

You open your email and read:  “You’ve won a trip to Hawaii.”  Don’t get too excited… if you will look at the fine print (and if they are honest) you will read:  “Airfare not included. Food not included. Hotel is free but there will be a pool charge, bed charge and air conditioning is coin operated.  You will also be bombarded with junk email until your eyes pop out of their sockets.  And you have also just launched a deadly virus that will crash your hard drive. Have a nice day.”

Don’t you hate advertisers that don’t deliver on their promises?   Promises made with strings attached are not fun.

A co-worker in Maryland once went on a vacation in the Bahamas.  Sounds like fun, huh.  Well his hotel’s air conditioning unit went out.  The food was terrible.  And there were also some buildings in his brochure that he couldn’t locate on the hotel’s grounds.  He went to ask about them and was told that they had burned to the ground two years earlier.   Promises made and not kept are even worse.

God does not operate like that.  With Him it is:  Promise Made, Promise Kept.

We have been following Abraham in his pursuit of the promise of God that he would have a son.  We come to Promise Fulfilled!  Genesis 21:1-2  reads:  “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised.  So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”

Note two things: It was accomplished as God said it would be, and when God said it would occur.

Which are you struggling with?  The how or the when?  How God is going to help you or When God is going to show up?   If you are caught in that place, do what Abraham did, with faith and patience, Anchor yourself in the promises of God.

Now, what do you do once the promise is fulfilled… when your ship finally arrives in the harbor?  Sometimes when boats finally reach their destination there is a great crowd to meet them at the dock.  Sometimes there is a band playing to celebrate the arrival.  (I’ve never been on a cruse or a boat, but I did watch a lot of episodes of The Love Boat when I was a kid so I know this to be true.)  We looked for weeks at how Abraham weathered storms before he could enjoy the promise of God, now let’s look at that moment of “promise arrival.”

What does one do when God comes through?

#1 – After fulfillment one needs to continue to obey God.

What is the first thing Abraham does after his son is born?  Genesis 21:3, 4 – “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.”   This is exactly what God had instructed Abraham to do in Genesis 17.  After you get what you want is not the time to go A.W.O.L. from God.  Continue in obedience.

#2 – After fulfillment one needs to be joyful.

Sarah praises God.  She says:  “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (21:6)  Isaac, Hebrew for laughter, was an appropriate name for this moment.  Everyone breaks into celebration.  Have you remembered to thank God after your breakthrough?

#3 – After fulfillment one needs to remember and be more trusting in the future.

Don’t let this victory swell you with pride… let it be the catalyst for a lifetime of trust in the Lord.  Remain obedient.  Throw a party.  But then trust God for the next part of the plan.

God had first promised in chapter 12 when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65.  He then delayed the fulfillment of the promise till Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90.  The wait only produced greater joy for them in the end.

Remember that in your next waiting period.

So where are you?

Freshly Blessed?  Rejoice.  Your ship has come in.  Let the band play.

Found God to be Faithful?   Show your appreciation through continued obedience.  Let God show you new heights to climb.

Still waiting?  Wait with patience.  He will see you through.  A promise is a promise.

Blessings!

A Recipe for Sour Circumstances

lemon recipeGenesis 16

Back in 2004 Southern Living Magazine included a very deadly recipe for country biscuits.  They had to pull the issue off the shelf after reports of people following this recipe and having their mixture explode.  The first step of the recipe said to get a pot of water boiling and then to add a cup of shortening.  The shortening then melted and floated to the top of the water This doesn’t allow any of the steam to escape.  The water becomes even hotter than boiling temperature.  The pressure builds up and then the shortening finally lets out the steam as it explodes!  Now the shortening is flammable and 5 people reported injury when their biscuit recipe became a fireball in their kitchen.

Well what are the ingredients that cause the recipe for the good life to explode?   In our story from Genesis 16 we find that every one had something to contribute.

First of all – ►Sarai Stirred in Impatience.

As much as Abram longed for an heir, we can imagine that his wife desired it all the more.  To be barren in ancient times was a disgrace.  Good news came in the form of a promise to her husband, Abram.  God told him that he would have a child.  But we learn from the text that ten years had past and still the nursery was empty.  The waiting must have been excruciating.

A 4-year-old boy was traveling with his mother & constantly asking the same question over & over again? “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?” Finally, the mother got so irritated that she said, “We still have 90 more miles to go. So don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there.” Well, the boy was silent for a long time. Then he timidly asked, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”

Well Sarai is like that little boy, feeling herself age as God tarried with His promise.  Then she gets a brilliant idea… Why not use a surrogate mother?  It was a perfectly acceptable practice from her within her culture at the time.  (Not everything acceptable in culture is acceptable to God.)

Next:  ►Abram mixed in Appeasement

Abram’s motto was: “Do whatever it takes to keeps the peace.”  The Prime Minister to England before the Second World War was a man by the name of Chamberlain.  His strategy for dealing with the aggressive tactics of Dictator Adolf Hitler was appeasement.  He declared that the peace agreement he made with this mad man was: “Peace in Our Time.”  But it was far from peace.  Indifference to decision making, can be as deadly as making rash decisions.  Abram thought just doing what Sarai wanted would get her off his back. But doing wrong to appease another often just agitates the problem.

Finally:  ►Hagar Sprinkles in an Opportunistic Spice.

Hagar is one of those opportunistic people.  Their motto is:  It doesn’t matter what you do… just make sure you get ahead!  Do whatever it takes!  She might even have thought:  “Here’s my chance to upgrade my status.  If I have the Master’s child, maybe I can shake off these chains.”  But striking while the iron’s hot, can still leave burn marks.

Initially the dish these three are preparing seems to be coming together.  Quite often ill-conceived plans work, initially.  Abram is going to be a first time father.  Everyone is all smiles.  Plans are being made.  I picture each of them with one of those large tubes of icing putting the finishing touches on the cake they have baked together.

And then, BOOM! The whole concoction blows up in their faces.

Have you ever been there…. Maybe you’re like Sarai… you like to jump the gun or maybe you are like Abram… you like to go with the flow, or perhaps you have a Hagar streak in you… you like to place your bets on the spinning roulette wheel.  Then BOOM! Your circumstances blow up in your face.

Know this:  Your failures aren’t fatal.  Even when your circumstances sour… there is a way out of the mess.  Learn the lesson of Hagar.  Verse 6-15 tell how she takes the brunt of the fiasco and flees from a raging Sarai while carrying Abram’s child.  God meets her at a spring by the side of the road.  And there that God speaks to her.  She answers the Lord calling him “the God who sees.”  And then she adds:  “I have now seen the One who sees me!”  That knowledge is enough for Hagar to return to Abram and Sarai and have her child.  God tells her to return and she obeys Him.

When one finds oneself broken down on the side of the road… or driven into exile due to bad circumstances… one might imagine themselves hidden from the God who cares.  But God sees us.  He sees us in our messes… even the ones we have created… and offers to clean us up… to redeem us.   He alone can save us from our own baking!  Praise to His name!

Blessings!

 

Clinging to God

small-hand-in-large-handPsalm 63: 6-11

“On my bed I remember you;  I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.  My soul clings to you;  your right hand upholds me.” (63: 6-8, emphasis mine)

Have you noticed how everything seems worse at night?  You might have bobbed above an ocean of despair all day long, only to drown in it when you head hits the pillow that night.  David had a lot to think about when he laid down to sleep.  Absalom… his own son… was also his enemy.  He was seeking to kill him.  That should be enough to keep anyone up all night.   But it doesn’t require physical threat to rob us of our ZZZ’s.   Our emotional pain and our other problems as well flare up at night like a spiking fever.

And yet, I have found comfort in David’s words here.  He concludes this Psalm with faithful trust in a loving God.  You see, David took advantage of these nighttime moments to focus on God.
“I meditate on Thee in the night watch.”  The term meditate here means to “muse or ponder.”   What do we usually meditate on in the night?  We usually wear out our minds chasing down the day’s injustices, like:   “How could they have said that about me?”  “How could life be so unfair?.” and  “How will my family survive my layoff?”  Fair questions… but the lack of attainable answers (you’re in bed remember?) will leave your mind racing all night.

For David, God was all he desired and all that would satisfy Him (v.5).  That is why He gave his all to God even in the night.  When God is all that you desire, you let Him sort things out. (vv. 9-11)

Remember these thoughts from saints of yesteryear:

“I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust.”  –  J. Hudson Taylor suffering mental and physical breakdown upon hearing that 58 of his missionaries and 21 children in China were massacred.  (Pray Magazine, Mar/Apr 2008, p. 22.)

When you can’t trace His hand you can trust His heart.  –   Charles Spurgeon  (Quoted by Robert J. Morgan in The Promise, p. 53.

I know it is hard.  I’ve had those nights… still having them.  But in the battle surrender to trust.  CLING TO GOD as though He were your only protection.  In the end… He is indeed all we need.