Judas Syndrome-Subtle Betrayals

Betrayal

The character Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me for some reason. Not much is written about him in the New Testament and little else is available through tradition or other writings. The theories about his life and motives span both sides of the spectrum. Some consider him to be the seed of the devil for his betrayal of Jesus while other sects look to venerate him as a saint, crediting him with putting into motion the chain of events that is our redemption and reconciliation. And yet others believe his role was to be viewed as an example that no one is safe from the snares of personal greed and temptation, even an Apostle of Jesus. Whatever your view, Judas Iscariot makes for controversial study.

We know his name in Hebrew means “Praised”. We know that he was from Judah, the only one of the twelve with all others being from Galilee. We know he was the treasurer of the twelve, responsible for the money and necessities of the group.  But what else do find in Judas that may be shockingly familiar?

In Matthew’s account Peter, in his explanation of how prophecy was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal, describes Judas as “being numbered among us and having a share in the ministry”.  This does not suggest a passive but a hands on involved role, the evangelizing, the bearing witness to the miracles of Jesus first hand, the intimate instruction by the Master and even possibly the faith and partnership with the Apostles as they performed their own miracles in Christ’s name. We have no reason to believe that Judas started out as anything but a fully engaged “on fire” Apostle of Jesus. But along the way Judas fell prey to greed and temptation that he chose not to resist. Judas had a love for money.  We see that in his false narrative as he protests the anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume.  We are told that he stole from the group treasury funds.  Materialistic greed is a powerful and addicting cancer that even the strongest can’t always escape.  The character of Judas is not one void of all redeeming qualities doomed from the start but one that in spite of the knowledge of Christ fell victim to his own desires.

It is possible that the act of the betrayal itself was merely motivated by profit and greed? Consider how many times we are told in the New Testament that Jesus “escapes” through the crowd because it wasn’t yet His time.  Did Judas believe that Jesus would simply escape again as in times past and that he would reap a reward of silver with no harm being done?  One has to wonder at the remorse Judas displays when he realizes that this time Jesus is indeed apprehended and taken into custody.  His immediate response is one of sorrow and regret as he returns the money and takes his own life feeling unworthy to carry on as an Apostle. The act of his suicide suggests to us that in the end he did not believe the words of Christ pertaining to resurrection and eternity so even his faith and intimate knowledge of Jesus was overcome by his greed and desires. Throughout all history perhaps no one individual was ever elevated to as high a status and yet lowered to a more detestable state than Judas Iscariot. How can one hear first hand the teachings of Christ,  share everyday life and fellowship with Him, observe Him as he heals the lame and raises the dead and even partakes in the initial ministry outreach of Christianity and still fall with so great a fall?  How could one man chosen to be one of the twelve that would see and hear things the rest of us can only imagine, one who literally sat in the presence of God in the body of Jesus who basked in His glory for a three year period, betray Him for any price, let alone a paltry thirty pieces of silver?

And now for a tough question-are we any different than Judas Iscariot? Judas did not harbor the typical hatred of a traitor but rather loved Jesus to the end, betraying Him with a kiss of brotherly affection. Do we openly proclaim our love and devotion for Jesus while in possession of an unforgiving spirit?  Do we praise and worship on the weekends but cuss out drivers throughout the work week? Do we hold onto every possession without thought for the desperate and needy? Do we practice subtle betrayal in our actions when no one else is around?  Do we have an intimate enough knowledge of Christ that compels us in holy awe and exhorts us to acquiring the character of our namesake or do we hang our Jesus outfit in the closet until the next weekend?  Do the thoughts we fail to take captive, the desires we allow to exist in secret or the actions we take when angered serve as betrayals of God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming work? I wonder, and I shudder at the thought. God have mercy on us.

Scripture is full of good news and hope for everyday life, but there is one passage that tends to be haunting to me.  Matthew 7:21-23 says this:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

The Message Translation spins it this way:

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Subtle willing betrayals-secret sinful desires-dormant but breathing temptations, just like Judas. “Father, observe and restore our motivation to be like your Son Jesus in all we think and do, and to genuinely reflect His character in our lives so that we are not deemed guilty of His betrayal through our actions and unbelief”

Peace.

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

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If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.

 

It Takes Balls-Golfing and Christianity

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It takes balls to golf the way I do-lots of them!  When often asked what my handicap is, without a thought I tell them-Golf!  I love to play, even if only once or twice a year.  There is a sane madness in trying to knock a small ball into a hole located four hundred yards away with a club that has a mind of its own. There is no more humbling sport to an otherwise natural athlete than the game of golf.  If you don’t believe that watch one of the Pro Ams sometime when pro athletes team up with pro golfers-it can be amusing to see a millionaire athlete shank a shot into a tree or worse, a spectator. And there may be no other sport in which the name of God is evoked more often!

I find that the tiniest of sand traps appear to be the Mojave Desert from the tee, and the smallest of water hazards may as well be Lake Superior. No matter how hard I try to avoid them, they become magnetic fields seeking small white round objects with a force much greater than my aim. This past week my son turned thirty so I thought it would be fun to do something memorable for the occasion.  I took him and his younger brother, neither of whom had played on a golf course before.  I was wise enough to reserve the last tee time so as not to be a hindrance to players behind us.  They would have been playing through us on every other hole. Being the experienced golfer I was I went first and drove a beautiful drive that landed right down the middle of the fairway-that is the fairway of the adjacent hole we weren’t playing. I haven’t sliced like that since I was a meat cutter on the west side of Indianapolis. Being the great leader I am the boys followed suit and we all agreed after the first hole that keeping score was not going to be beneficial to our esteem. But they will never forget how we celebrated a milestone birthday!

I have been a Christian much longer than I have been a golfer, but I wonder sometimes what my true spiritual handicap would be considering my game. There are those times when I feel like I could knock it in the hole from five hundred yards away-I feel blessed, I feel like I’m walking upright and doing the things I need to be doing to develop my Christian game.  And then there are those days when I knock it on the green only to three or four putt-nothing seems to be working.  The harder I try the worse my score and the greater my handicap.  I’m sure each of us if truly honest could say much the same thing.

I know in my life those things that are to me sand traps or water hazards-the things I need to avoid that draw me in.  But just like on a golf course, seeing and recognizing hazards does not always equate to staying out of them.  The harder you try the more balls you lose-the deeper the trap the closer to the edge you land, making it impossible to hit your way out of it. And even if you are fortunate enough to avoid the hazards on your way to eventually hitting onto the green, the cup can appear to be nearly the same size as the ball, much like the hoop and over-sized basketball at a traveling carnival-impossible to sink.

Unlike golf, God has given us an unlimited amount of mulligans in the form of grace.  He knows my game and that left to my own ability, I could never finish the course.  He doesn’t make the drives any straighter or the hazards any smaller-He doesn’t make the cup the size of a crater like that commercial on TV.  He just doesn’t keep track of how many strokes it takes us to sink it-He’s pretty forgiving that way!  And with God, those who finish well under par and those who, well don’t, receive the same prize at the end of the day-the victor’s crown of life to those who remain faithful and remain in the game, even with soggy sand filled shoes to show for it.

The Apostle Paul said “I have finished the course”.  He too must have been a golfer.  Paul gets me.

Football in the Cow Pasture

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As we eagerly anticipate the long overdue start of the NFL season this weekend, I am reminded of perhaps the funniest comedic routine I’ve ever heard.  It is an old recording performed by the late Andy Griffith as he is describing in great detail the first time he ever witnessed a football game.  If you haven’t heard it and need a laugh, google it and prepare to bust a gut.  The game was being played in a cow pasture.  His final observation was that the object of the game must be to run with the little pigskin from one end of the pasture to the other without being attacked or “a steppin’ in sumthin'”.

I can completely relate to this.  My dad grew up in the small town of Quitman, Mississippi. He was raised on a massive farm with acreage, ponds and cow pastures.  Directly across the road from the house was the larger pasture.  As kids we visited his childhood home at least twice a year.  Since we all loved football, and since the closest spot of grass was the pasture across the road, we would eventually end up over there playing football.  As you might imagine there were cow mines all over and it was very difficult to concentrate on running or catching a pass and being aware of where you were stepping.  You just couldn’t avoid “a steppin’ in sumthin”.

Some of us in the faith live our Christian lives like playing football in a cow pasture full of opportunities for us to step in it.  We feel we have stronger resolves than we actually do.  We think we aren’t subject to temptations and distractions like those other people.  We wear our faith like a coat of teflon thinking evil influences or suspect environments won’t stick to us.  Maybe in our alone time we get on the computer and scan videos dangerously linked to porn sites.  Or maybe we have that one drink knowing we are subject to over indulgence. Maybe it’s leaving after your third heaping plate at the harmless all-you-can-eat-buffet.  It might be that innocent conversation on social media with someone you would never want your spouse to know about.  It could even be as innocent as the destructive lyrics to your favorite secular music.  All these examples represent cow patties, fresh, hot and smelly, right in the area where you are playing and usually unavoidable.  It’s just a matter of time before the foul scent of your misstep announces to the world your arrival and your most recent activities. Scripture reads “be sure and know that your sins will eventually reveal your character” , my interpretation.  Like Taco Bell, you can’t easily rid yourself of the stench of fresh cow dung-trust me on this.

We live in a world that smells foul and we travel a road surrounded by pastures.  We can see and smell the eminent snares from our path without veering off into the actual pastures where we will surely be soiled by corruption and temptation greater than we can handle or escape.  Thankfully God left for us instructions on avoiding these dung hills in His Word;

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22)

As the Day of our Lord approaches the intensity of warfare against the saints will increase exponentially and the battles will become more numerous.  We have to take seriously ever threat, every opportunity, every snare that lands in our path and overcome them by a daily renewal of our minds and a regular diet of scripture so our spiritual immune systems are constantly being nourished for battle.  It all starts and ends in the mind.

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”  Phil. 4:8, Message Bible

Enjoy your football season, just watch out for the land mines in your path.  Go Colts!