Archive for April, 2011

30
Apr
11

Betrayed! Running Away…

Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.  One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him,  he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked. – Mark 14:50-52 (NLT)

Betrayal.  Not a very pretty word.  It’s an even uglier experience, and as an action, it is uglier still.  It’s likely, at some time in everyone’s life that we have felt the sting of betrayal.

Perhaps your first time was in elementary school and your best friend chose to sit at the cafeteria table with the cool kids, leaving you with your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all alone.  Maybe it was that boyfriend who asked that pretty blond girl to the prom instead of you.  Later in life it was not getting that promotion you had worked so hard for, in favor of a person with far less seniority or experience.  Betrayal comes in many forms…philandering spouses, rebellious children, disloyal friends.

Simon Peter vowed to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)    In the coming hours he would sleep while his Lord agonized in prayer, flee the scene of the crime in the Garden of Gethsemane, and profanely deny even knowing Jesus, not once, but three times before the Sun came up.  And yet it was not only Peter, but all of the friends and followers of Jesus who turned away during crisis.  Mark is the only writer of the Gospels who tells about the young man who fled naked, leaving his clothes behind, rather than stand with his Lord.  His accounting leaves us to believe that the young man was Mark himself, confessing to his own cowardice.

Do we think all of this escaped the notice of Jesus?  How are we to believe that He did not feel these things deeply and along with the rest of His suffering, also suffer from a broken heart?  It makes me glad that it was not me who had to endure the whip, the thorns, the accusations, the scorn, and the Cross.  I might have asked myself, “Where are my so-called friends now?”  In the face of such utter betrayal I might have been inclined to say, “They’re on their own.  I’m out of here!  They deserve whatever they get!”  But of course, thank God, that was not what was on Jesus’ mind and that was not what Jesus did!

As we read the manner in which the Lord was abandoned by those closest to Him, I wonder if we ever stop and ask ourselves what we would have done if we had been in their place?  It might be easy for us, sitting quietly in our chair with our Bible in our lap, to judge them rather harshly.  “How could they have done such a thing after all they had seen from Him…after all they had been through with Him…after all He had done for them?”

This past week, since Easter, I have returned several times to Mark’s accounting of the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ.  This very morning I read again about the young man, seized by the mob, fleeing so desperately that he left his garment behind and ran away butt naked!  It caused me to reflect on the number of times in my own life, when given the opportunity to stand up for my faith in Christ, I chose the option of flight over fight.  How many times would I rather explain my state of naked sin, rather than stand clothed in the glory of Christ, even in the face of ridicule and scorn?

Was Mark a coward?  Was Peter?  Were the other disciples?  The answer is not perhaps.  The answer is absolutely!  But the question reflected in their cowardice is and must be….”Am I less guilty of betrayal than they?”  “Have I ever denied my Savior?”  The answer is not…the answer must not be, perhaps.  The most honest and confessional answer can only be…absolutely!

Having understood our equal culpability with those who turned away from Jesus during His darkest hour, here is the most difficult part.  We are called to be, not like Mark or Peter or any of the other disciples.  We are called to be like Jesus!  And what was Jesus’ response to His betrayal?  GRACE!  MERCY!  FORGIVENESS!  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Have you been betrayed?  Probably.  Have you been the betrayer?  Most likely.  Here’s the more profound and pertinent question, “Are you a believer?”  If the answer to that question is yes, then our options are narrow.  As hard as it might be, our response must not reflect our own attitude, but that of the One in whom we believe.  That leaves us with two choices:  We stand and continue to follow, or we run away naked and leave our linens behind.

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25
Apr
11

Monday: Reflections on Easter 2011

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…” Philippians 2:3 (NIV)

Easter 2011.  I woke up yesterday morning feeling more empowered by the Holy Spirit than usual.  Yes, it was Easter and yes, it is my favorite holiday of the year, but for some reason I was more excited than normal.  Of course I always try to have an expectant heart every Sunday, but yesterday morning that level rose to an unexpected sense of anticipation that God was about to do some tangibly wonderful things.  I was not disappointed!

We arrived early at Lifepoint Church for the 11:15 service, as is my prefered custom.  I enjoy taking a few extra minutes each Sunday greeting and fellowshipping with people.  The 9:15 service was just ending, and one of the ladies at the “connections table” called me over, introduced me to a young 14 year old named Austin, and asked me to show him (with his connections card) to the first time guests table.  I did and he said, “No sir…I wanted to make sure someone knew about this…”  He flipped his card over to reveal that he had prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior.  Yep!  It’s started!  Turns out Austin was just one of a number of folks who made decisions to surrender their lives to the saving grace of Christ during yesterday’s Easter services!  Death defeated by life!

After church, my wife Barbara and I attended an event we had been invited to be part of and we could not have anticipated how our hearts would be touched.  A young 15 year old had the vision to show the love of this resurrected Jesus to his community and planned an Easter feast for the homeless.  While many were eating chocolate bunnies and enjoying ham and potato salad with family, Micah Strafford challenged his family and friends to serve some people who need hope and compassion.  Somewhere around 200 homeless were fed a sumptuous feast and not just a plate-full….all they could eat!  Once again…death defeated by life!

Easter is about victory…it is about new life…it is about death losing its sting.  Through two young men….teens….youth, the Lord showed us evidence of LIFE!  It’s Monday.  The tomb is still empty.  The One who emerged from it is still alive and still on His throne.  And, through a new generation He is still letting the world know…. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV) 

24
Apr
11

EASTER 2011: GLORIOUS HOPE!

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”Luke 24:5-7 (NKJV)

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,  who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”Acts 1:9-11 (NKJV)

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:    
      “ Holy, holy, holy,
      Lord God Almighty, 
      Who was and is and is to come!”  – Revelation 4:8 (NLT)

The angels brought the message: HE CAME OUT!  HE WENT UP!  HE’S COMING AGAIN!  HE WAS…HE IS…HE IS TO COME!

HALLELUJAH!  HAVE A GLORIOUS EASTER!

23
Apr
11

Easter Saturday: Mission Accomplished?

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate.  They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.”  So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. – Matthew 27:62-66 (NLT)

On the day following the crucifixion of Jesus (Saturday), it dawned on the priests and Pharisees that they might well-advised to take measures to insure that their apparent elimination, not only of Jesus, but also that of His entire movement would be complete.  Someone remembered that Jesus had predicted His own resurrection and they were sure that His followers must also remember it, so just in case they tried some monkey business by stealing His body, they once again turned to Pilate and the power of Rome to make sure things were secured against any slip-ups.

Breaking the seal of Caesar, placed on anything, carried big-time punitive implications for anyone bold or foolish enough to attempt pilfering or encroachment.  So that was “Plan A” in the attempt to keep Jesus in His final resting place.  Secondly, Roman guards were well-armed, well-trained, and such an intimidating presence that certainly no one would have courage enough to challenge them.  Also, any Roman soldier, once given a mission by a superior knew that failure to complete their mission may bring life threatening results to themselves, so the guard’s determination to guard would be most resolute.  “Plan B” implemented?  Check!

So on Saturday, the religious leadership of Jerusalem rested, confident that they had seen the last of the Galilean rabble-rouser and the rabble that followed Him.  Besides, it was the Passover Sabbath and no self-respecting Jew (even that sorry bunch) would risk breaking Jewish law and do any work on the prescribed “day of rest and reflection.”  This Jesus was dead, locked away in a tomb, and that was where He was going to stay!  Mission accomplished!

In January of 1995 I spent three days in Israel and in Jerusalem on a post-mission lay-over from Kenya, Africa.  Among the many Biblical sites I visited while I was there was the Mount of Olives where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, and where we are told His feet will touch down when He returns to gloriously establish His Kingdom.  From that spot you can view the ancient wall surrounding old Jerusalem.  Within that wall is the Eastern Gate.  It did not escape my attention that it had been strongly enclosed, sealed and cemented with large hewn stones.  I learned that this was accomplished in 1530 AD by the city’s Muslim conquerors (the Ottoman Turks).  It was done to send a message to both the Jews and to Christians that their Messiah would never enter the Holy City by this prophesied way.  Again…. Mission accomplished!

Neither stone nor the power of an Empire, or the best laid plans of men was able to keep Christ in the grave.  Mission failed!  There is coming a day when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will triumphantly enter into the capitol city of His Kingdom and if anyone believes that any amount of stone, cement, walls or any power or plan (human or supernatural) is going to succeed in keeping Him out, then once again the result will be… Mission failed!

This all causes me to think.  I wonder how often we believe we can put God in a little box of our design and perception and think we can succeed in keeping Him there?  And, how often do we think we can erect walls of our own plans and expectations about life and selfish desires and fully expect to keep Him out?  When the Lord wants out, He’s coming OUT!  When the Lord wants in, He is coming IN!  When we think anything of our own purposes and plans are a done deal…. a mission accomplished, the Lord of all creation stands everlastingly ready to remind us, it’s not done until He says….. “IT IS FINISHED!”  Then and only then can it truly be said, “Mission Accomplished!”

22
Apr
11

It Wasn’t a Good Friday for Simon

“Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.” – Matthew 27:32 (NLT)

Simon.  Bad place…bad time…bad Friday.  Mark’s gospel calls him a “passerby,” just coming into Jerusalem from the countryside. [Mark 15:21]  He was probably just arriving to celebrate the Passover when he encounters this bloody, chaotic mob scene.  A roiling crowd is met by him, emerging from the city, pushing, shoving, shouting, cursing, with wailing women, and brutal soldiers hurling curses and insults, beating and urging on….”what is that?”  It’s a man, so covered with blood and horribly beaten he can scarcely be recognized, but he looks familiar…he almost looks like that Jesus fellow that has been causing such a stir for the last three years or so.  As he gazes at this horrifying spectacle, the tortured figure struggling to bear the weight of a roughly hewn cross, suddenly stumbles and lurching forward, falls face down in the dust of the street with the full force of his wooden burden dropping upon him with a sickening thud.  With this the din of the crowd erupts with renewed fervor; some with glee and some with terrorized cries of pity and sorrow.  Frozen by the sight, Simon hears from somewhere among all the yelling and crying, a slightly louder command, shouted with a distinctively Latin dialect, “Hey you!  Come over here and pick up this cross!”  His momentary hesitation is met by a strong grip on his arm and an unfriendly shove in the direction of the unfortunate fellow lying prostrate and bleeding beneath the instrument of his execution.  The rapid downward glance that fell on the tip of a Roman broadsword was all the motivation he needed, and he quickly moved to take hold of the cross and with no small effort, lifted it from the man and onto his own shoulder.  As he did his hands, his shoulder that bore the weight and his face that pressed against the splintery wood was immediately wet with blood and bits of flesh, and he fought against the nausea rising within him.  It seemed an eternity before they got the owner of the cross to his feet, but as soon as they had, the grim processional continued toward the place that everyone knew as Golgotha.  As they went Simon must have thought to himself a question that many before him and multitudes after him have thought….”What have I done to deserve such a thing as this?”

Simon the Cyrenian, is a picture of us all.  He is a symbol of the suffering inflicted, often simply by circumstance and seemingly through no fault of our own, by living in this broken and sometimes brutally painful world.  How could he have foreseen that on that day, what we now call “Good Friday,” he would encounter the suffering of the only One who was truly undeserving and innocent of the condemnation and death He was receiving.  The image of Simon, sharing in the suffering of Jesus, is a crucial reminder to us that there is no level of pain, humiliation, betrayal, violence, grief or even death that is unfamiliar to our Lord.  While he was on his way to Jerusalem that Friday, there is no way that Simon could have known of the privilege and the honor he would encounter by touching the blood and shouldering the weight that Jesus bore in innocence for the price of his guilt and sins…and ours.  When he began his journey to the city that day from the countryside, how could he have known that he would be met there by the full magnitude of the grace of God?  He probably thought he was bearing the weight for the crimes of another when in truth it was Jesus who was bearing the weight of sin for us all.  I almost envy Simon!  It makes me wonder on this Good Friday morning, if perhaps the Apostle Paul, may have briefly thought about Simon of Cyrene (as I have today), when he wrote:

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” – Philippians 3:10-11 (NLT)

02
Apr
11

The Boring Game

It would be grossly understating if I were to simply say that I am a baseball fan.  Only after one understands that the term “fan” is short for fanatic that my attitude toward the game begins to be revealed.  Someone said this week that they didn’t like baseball because it’s boring.  BORING!  If that’s true then Mozart is boring, Rembrandt is boring, Shakespeare is boring.  If baseball is boring then the works of Robert Frost are boring, Tolkien is boring, cinematic classics like “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind” are boring.  I make these comparisons because for me baseball is as much art as it is sport.

There is no more suspenseful drama than what occurs in the bottom of the ninth, score tied, runners in scoring position, with the count full on the best hitter in the line-up.  No ballet performance is more graceful than a well-turned 5-4-3 double play.  No touchdown in football, no slam-dunk in basketball, and no slap shot in hockey can compare to the power of a well struck grandslam homer.  The slide into second base, pitching from the stretch, an over the shoulder catch on the dead run of a fly ball to center field, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.  No chess match is more strategic or tactical than knowing a hitter’s tendancies and making a defensive shift to take away his favorite part of the ballpark.  BORING!

But, I suppose I might understand why this generation may find “America’s Favorite Pastime” boring from this modern society and culture’s view point.  Baseball is not rapid fire.  There is no “hurry-up offense” in baseball.  There’s no 24 second shot clock in baseball.  Baseball has no over-time rules.  If the score is tied up at the end of the regulation nine innings, play continues with extra innings until one or the other opponent wins.  There have been a number of times in baseball history that games have continued into the wee hours of the morning for a team to emerge victorious.  Baseball is precisely what its nick-name implies…a pass-time.  It is a sport requiring patience as well as skill and athletic talent.  In this present generation of smart-phones, and microwaves, I can understand where it may be misconstrued as being boring.  But just wait….just watch….hold on…

There it is!  The unmistakable CRACK of a wooden Louisville Slugger against the  mudrubbed leather of a hand stiched Spaulding.  The resounding POP of an inside fastball caught in a catcher’s mitt.  The call of the vendor in the stands shouting, “Git yer hot-dogs here!”  And there he is…the corn-fed Oklahoman rookie, stepping from the dug-out shadows into the bright stadium sunshine for the first time, taking his swings in the batter’s circle, muscles rippling, wiping sweat from his brow.  And then his name is announced, “Now batting and playing center-field for the New York Yankees…..number seven….Mickey Mantle!”  Imagine being there on that day at Yankee Stadium!  Now take that to this season, 2011 and the next time a rookie comes to bat, think to yourself…..”Yessir!  This sure is a boring game, this baseball.”  Boring maybe, but worth every boring moment!