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BETRAYAL! BEWARE! Lessons from the Tragedy of Judas

Judas Departs I can’t believe, I won’t believe, That this is how it goes. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, A victim of his foes! The man who won the crowds with food, With talks of realms of peace, A fool, who should have used such power To gain the Jews’ release!

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C. Doug Blair, 2011


For Rome could not have proved a match For quickened Hebrew zeal, The kind that often sparked their eyes, While he would teach or heal. But he is fixed upon a path Of suffering and shame; And says that such may be the lot Of those who bear his name. Pathetic! Just a mendicant! No current house or trade! Depending on the charity Of friends, recently made. And now he bids us share his feast In Passover retreat… Behold, the Master strips himself To wash and soothe our feet! A common slave would do the task In any other case, But Jesus still perversely seeks The lowly servant’s place. It is enough! I can’t go on; Hence, I have seized a plan To set the stage for his arrest, And merchandise the man. Jesus, you proved a dreamer That the times can ill afford. I can’t believe; I won’t believe; And so I leave, M’Lord.

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Part One – Pretender or Fallen from Grace? Caveat I am saying this at the beginning. I may be wrong. What writer starts off with such a pitch? Indeed the story of Judas Iscariot has kept believers and theologians in dialogue for millenia. Was this man truly called into discipleship? He took instruction from the Master and traveled with brother disciples preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and casting out devils. He returned to Jesus with the others happily giving an account of most successful ministry. So is it appropriate to say that at one time he was a believer, but that he fell. Arminians, Holiness and Pentecostal people would so contend. Others of the Reformed or Calvinist way would conclude quite the contrary. He was a pretender. Perhaps he had been awakened out of the legalism of the Jews, but only partly. If he had truly experienced conversion and new life in Jesus, he could never fall. Grow cold occasionally. Lose some of the zeal of first love in the faith. But never entirely fall from grace. We could go to the parable of the sower and the seed as given in Mark 4. Which type of earth was Judas? 14The sower soweth the word. 15And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. 18And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

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19And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. It will not be the purpose of this document to convince readers one way or the other. Certainly there are zealous, committed believers supporting either point of view. I will say that after considerable searching, I have gone from a Holiness perspective to a Reformed and then back to a Holiness. I see that there are aspects in which the faithful must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). But even in this portion of scripture there is room for arguing that God makes it all happen according to His own sovereign will: 12Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. But enough said for now. There will be more to follow. Let us get back to Judas‌

The Message at the Meal

A hymn they sang to finish Their last meal with the Lord; A time of blessing hidden From threat of scribe or sword.

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An upper room was furnished For what had proved to be Their place of richest teaching Ere Jesus faced the tree. As other families gathered, So he with his reclined. The Vine with his dear branches, By love so intertwined. In bitter-sweet remembrance Of Israel’s darkest hour, When lamb’s blood o’er the door-frame Assured redeeming power. And as no other member Would stoop to washing feet, Christ took the soothing laver And made the feast complete. With bread and wine he showed them The brotherhood’s new fare; Those broken, poured-out tokens, His life and love to share. Then startling words were uttered, Their peace abruptly cleft; That one would soon betray him, And Judas, strangely, left. The stillness now arresting, With his departure near, The Master seized the moment To overcome their fear. And spoke of how the Spirit Would soon be at their door, To strengthen them and comfort them And teach them more and more.

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While he would be in Glory Preparing them a place, Whence he would come to take them To see the Father’s face! How thrilling was this teaching! How strangely pulled their love! The times with him so precious; Still grander times above? And lastly, he allowed them To hear his priestly prayer; That Father would sustain them Through all life’s toil and care. A hymn they sang to finish, That wondrous Hallel Psalm, {PSALM 118) Portraying the Messiah At death’s dark door, yet calm. This meeting, how exquisite! This Master, how sublime! This message meant to strengthen Til Resurrection Time! JOHN 15: 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Did You Notice Something?

Judas was at the first Eucharist and partook of the elements! This is clear from a straight-forward reading of Luke 22.

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Our Sacrament of Remembrance is simply that; and not, as presented by some, a means of entitlement to life in Christ. Oh, there is a quickening and renewing aspect to the Feast properly taken, but mere partaking is not the entranceway to salvation. And all of this coming from a one-time Anglican! So, Judas had taken the supper; had received Jesus’ instruction to go out and do what he had to do quickly; had left the oil lamps of the Upper Room for outer darkness; had gathered the Temple Guards for the secretive arrest; had traveled the distance to Gethsemane; and had sealed his treachery with a kiss. …When we come to the Lord’s Table with unforgiveness; puffed up vanity; heads pre-occupied with the everyday; nastiness held onto without release of repentance, are we not sealing hypocrisy and treachery with just such a kiss? Interestingly a devotional read on the very day of this writing came arrestingly close. I have spent much time over the years in “Come Ye Apart” by the Presbyterian J. R. Miller. Hear today’s thought:

December 2nd The King of the Jews “And set up over his head his accusation written, This is Jesus the King of the Jews” Matthew 27:37 There was no other crime charged. He had done nothing amiss. Pilate had satisfied himself of that. He had examined Him, and could find no fault in Him, hence he would not write any charge on His cross but this, that He was the King of the Jews. The rulers objected to this, and wanted him to write that “he said” He was “King of the Jews;” but Pilate would not change a word, and there it stood above His head during all the agony and all the darkness “the King of the Jews.”

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So He was. The tablet told the truth, though erected to mock the people. He was the Messiah who had been promised all through the centuries. He was the King of whom David was but the type. He was the Christ who had been foretold by prophets, and waited for age after age by the nation. At last He came. Angels sang at His birth. His life had been one of great blessing and power. He had wrought miracles of mercy all over the land. He had taught, speaking as never man spoke. He had fulfilled all the Messianic conditions. Yet His enemies had rejected Him; and at last they led Him out to Calvary and nailed Him on the cross. Still He was their King ’’their King rejected, their King crucified. His throne was His cross; His crown was the circlet of thorns that the soldiers had twisted and wound around His head. It does not seem to us a kingly hour in our Lord’s life when He hangs on His cross dying, yet really it was the time of His highest earthly exaltation. He spoke of going to His cross as going to be glorified. He was indeed King of the Jews. They crucified their King. He is our King too. How are we treating Him? Are we obeying Him? Are any of us rejecting Him? Are any of us crucifying Him afresh? We had better answer these questions.

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I Lay Them on Your Altar (John 17)

Father, I have watched Over these men. Have taken them your images Of community free From retaliation. Of joy in the Rendering of mercy. Of good report On those who struggle, With only the half known. Of fulness of days Free from fear of supply, From fear of man. I have set them To wandering. Ambassadors of a realm Not yet seen. Sporadically meeting the test. Boiling often in self-hurt. Turning, of times, To look back from the plough. Vying for place. Vying for glory. Missing often the real gems Delivered with No special fanfare. And now I leave, So much so seemingly Ill-prepared. But You have given them me. Persevering to their Appointed destiny. All but the one with the purse. I trust You 9


For their well-being. I trust You for the prophecies Which speak of me. Quickly now... To my offering. Amen. (Picture by Patsy Arrington Dorset)

Sliding into Darkness The Traitor “Judas also… knew the place… Judas then, having received a band of men cometh thither.” John 18:2,2 Every new line in the story of the betrayal shows new blackness in the heart of Judas. Going out from the supper-table he hastened to the priests, and was quickly under way with his band of soldiers. He probably first hurried back to the upper room, where he had left Jesus; not finding Him there, he knew well where the Master had gone, and hastened to the sacred place of prayer. Then the manner in which he let the officers know which of the company was Jesus shows the deepest blackness of all: he went up to Him as to a dear friend and kissed Him — kissed Him over and over, and with feigned warmth and affection. Let us remember how the treason grew in the heart of Judas, beginning in greed for money, growing into theft and falseness of life, ending at last in the blackest crime the world ever saw. The lesson is, that we should watch the beginnings of evil in our hearts. A picture in the royal gallery of Brussels represents Judas wandering about on the night after the betrayal. He comes by chance upon the workmen who

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have been making the cross on which Christ shall be crucified to-morrow. A fire near by throws its light full on the faces of the workmen, who are sleeping peacefully while resting from their labour. Judas’s face is somewhat in the shade; but it is wonderfully expressive of awful remorse and agony as he catches sight of the cross and the tools used in making it, — the cross which his treachery had made possible. But still, though in the very torments of hell, as it appears, he clutches his money-bag, and seems to hurry on into the night. That picture tells the story of the fruit of Judas’s victory — the money-bag with the thirty pieces of silver in it (and even that he could not long keep), carried off into the night of fiendish despair: that was all. (Another entry in "Come Ye Apart" by J.R. Miller)

Ecce Homo As God's timetable for redemption came to the point of crisis in Passion Week, it was as if the people were constrained to speak truthful words on the plight of Jesus of Nazareth. The High Priest was threatened by news of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He suggested to his associates that Jesus be eliminated. He stated that 'it was expedient that one man die for the people so that the nation not perish'. Of course he was attempting to avoid repurcussions from Rome should the people rise up in support of the miracle-working Nazarene. The crowds on Palm Sunday welcomed the donkey-riding teacher with words from Psalm 118, 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.' There was a messianic connotation to their song. Perhaps 430 years of waiting since Malachi's promise would now come to a close. But the people failed to continue with the next verse of that Psalm: " 27 God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." Judas approached Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and 'straightaway went to him and said Master, Master and kissed him'. Oh, that the man of 11


Kerioth might have been pledging sincere allegiance and love to that greatest of rabbis. Instead the gestures were meant as acts of identification and betrayal to the temple henchmen. Much perplexed by the crowd's ferocity, Pilate had our Lord savagely whipped and torn. On the judgment porch he presented the disfigured prisoner, hoping that bloodlust in the mob might have been satisfied. He asserted, "Behold the man". Yes, this is God's definitive man - obedient, gentle, truthful, resolute, meek, merciful, clean living and full of light. But Pilate had no such attributes in mind. The setting was Golgotha and three crosses were set against the darkened sky. One of the thieves beside Jesus blurted out, 'if you are the Christ save yourself and us'. Yes, this is the very focal point of salvation, but the rescue would be an atoning blood-letting and not a last-minute escape. Above the head of Jesus on the cross, a poster had been affixed by Pilate's order, stating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". It asserted the long awaited truth, but it was meant only as a gesture of contempt for the lamblike holy man, and as a mockery of God's elect who looked for their Golden Age under a benevolent King. The assertion was thrice-given, perfectly given, once in Hebrew the language of faith, once in Greek the language of wisdom and art, once in Latin the language of power and commerce. Not a single sector of the metropolis would de missed. In all of the above, right words were spoken, but in the wrong spirit. There was a seventh assertion. Was it also in error? The Roman centurion stood beneath the cross and witnessed the last words of the thorn-crowned prisoner. His assessment, "Truly this man was the Son of God. "How could he have expected that soon the bruised corpse would be raised glorified to live evermore; that the individual who relinquished his life was not simply a son of God (holy man) but the eternal Son of Glory?

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Responsibility

In the Church the exchange continues between the proponents of free will and of election. The former look to the responsibility of the individual to hear, believe and choose the Gospel Way, and then to guard one's position in grace with thanksgiving and holy fear. The latter acknowledge a Sovereign choice of family which is God's alone. To this end he softens and prepares a child of faith to repent and receive. He will thereafter keep and protect, and ultimately gather to Himself. God never "dis-adopts". Obviously this is an oversimplification. But I must use this opportunity to confess a discovery which has had great impact upon me. It is drawing me back to the recognition of the role of personal responsibility and choice in the receipt and the keeping of salvation. Consider James chapter five: 19Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. Here is a clear indication of the possibility of rebellion and error, persisted in, causing a believer to lose his salvation. Just when that fateful line is crossed, and a Father of mercy becomes a stern judge, who can tell? Is it not apparent in the scripture passage that James is addressing and warning "brethren" in the Church, and encouraging other members of the Body to the rescue? On the question of backsliding, one might also take a look at Jude 1:12 and Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-31, Galatians 4:19 and 2 Peter 2:20-22. I thought that I had heard convincing positions on all of these passages to take away the sting of the backsliding concern. Indeed I have heard holiness advocates fretting all too frequently about their security and attempting to "perfect" themselves. But now comes this passage in James that I am obligated to pass on. Consequently, what is the practical direction? Sustain a healthy exercise of 13


the means of grace (scripture, prayer and meditation, the communion meal, giving and forgiving, worship, confession of known sin, persistent thanksgiving). Study Jesus in order to love Him more. Constantly call upon the Lord's mercy, and be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit urging service, sacrifice, correction or change. Do not be too quick to judge these suggestions as simply "fear and works".

Settle the Account! A work of wickedness I wrought In yesterday’s weak hour. Oh Lord, I thought the blood had bought My life from sin’s rank power! The test had come quite suddenly, When I was tired and strained From toil of day and working-place And thoughts of you had waned. A bitter word cut to my heart And ruffled up my pride; Retorting with a hateful tongue, I grieved Christ crucified. I have no peace within my soul. Can such a one be saved? I have to let the flesh-fire go, For Lord, ‘tis you I crave. Yes, something festers deep within, The pain of sin concealed. The foul infection of my wrong Must now be lanced and healed. I thought that life could just go on, And time would mend the wrong; 14


But in my quiet hours alone The guilt is just prolonged. And so, I come to you in prayer, To settle these arrears. To find your sweet forgiveness there, But first, the salt and tears… Then with a sense of grace renewed, The Spirit’s job well done. I’ll seek the brother once aggrieved, And magnify your Son. Yes, to the one whom Satan used, So each misunderstood, I will repair and make amends And heal the hurt with good. I sense from this experience Of sin, and of reunion, The blessings of confession’s work To maintain sweet communion. I know not if that sin had meant A threat to my salvation. I only know your smile removed Was hellish condemnation! And this must be an aspect of One’s walking in the Spirit. To sense each act that grieves you, Lord, Then instantly to clear it. ‘Tis not as if I have to sin A little more each day. In fact, you bring more antidote Directly, as I pray. But prayer can only please you, Lord, If bathed in Jesus’ blood.

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And thus, the crimson power proves My ever-cleansing flood. Note: Here is the only solution to the threat of backsliding. Keep short accounts with God. Heed the Spirit’s urging to repent. Know that you are mortal, and that from time to time you are going to stumble. It is said in Acts 11:18 that discovery of the Gospel is in essence the discovery of “repentance unto life”. The process is never-ending and not just at our first turning from sin.

Part Two – There Are Other Betrayals

Just a Piece of Brass

2 Kings 18: 1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah [a] daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. 4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) How had this come to pass? The brass serpent on a pole had been the focus of a great victory for Moses and the children of Israel. Plagued by venomous snakes and dying in large numbers, the people had turned to their deliverer for rescue and he had heard of a strange remedy from God. Forge a brass serpent like the ones causing all the trouble. Raise it on a pole. Have the 16


people look upon it and trust God for miraculous salvation and healing. And they had been saved. But here generations later righteous King Hezekiah removed the item from the public eye, saying that it was Nehushtan, "a piece of brass". You recall that the mercy seat, symbolic of the presence of God, was overlaid with gold. The King observed an aid to devotion becoming an idol in itself. He ordered it destroyed. Now, consider our means of grace in the Church. They are meant to be means of growing in intimacy with Jesus. He is our means of access to God. Remember his statement in John 10: 7Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Believers, do not let your destination become fellowship, prayer, worship, Holy Communion, Bible study, missions, evangelism, exercise of ministry gifts. It has been said that Reformed enthusiasts worship their Bible, Charismatics the Holy Ghost, Renewal enthusiasts the Father's love and liturgists the Communion elements. Please, let none of these exercises stop you short of an intimate relationship with Jesus. That is the ultimate target. If you are reading this and doubting whether such intimacy is possible, cry out to Jesus to save you, to reveal Himself to you and baptize you in the Holy Spirit. Note: I was having an exchange once with a friend on this very point of “learning Jesus”, of focusing on him. My friend quite rightly interjected that one cannot “learn” this; one must die to self, and plead that the very life and mind of Christ be born in him, accomplishing a new creation. It is at this point that we come to recognize the difference between lecture halls and houses of worship.

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Not Rightly Appreciating the Trinity

'Oh, but we must not be dogmatic about this thing, characterizing the functions and attributes of God. Remember the scriptures nowhere use the term trinity. It is the phrase of the creeds of men, and of limited importance.' What if this thing boiled down to inscrutable God manifesting Himself in different fashions for different purposes? Remember Greek mythology and the fickle visits of divinity to men in disguise. I cannot accept this. It was a real incarnation and Jesus my Elder Brother in the faith offered himself to the trials, pains and victories of mortal living. He has purchase therefore to render the service of my High Priest. I trust him and know that He understands: Hebrews 2: 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted I see three persons represented at Christ's baptism and in His struggle in Gethsemane. Jesus' Galilean ministry had been in complete obedience to the will of the Father and a voice from Heaven proclaimed at the Transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son. hear ye him." We are told that Jesus repeatedly took prayer vigil to ascertain the will of His Father. What is the sense of this, or the nobility, if one person is not submitting to the will of the other after dialogue? In the laborious prayer of Gethsemane, Jesus achieves a most majestic victory over the Devil's assault by continuing to submit: “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless not 18


my will, but thy will be done.� (Matthew 26) Our redemption was forged in such willing submission. The Father's pain was also intense at Calvary as He regarded His beloved Jesus as the sin offering, for a time. See it described prophetically in Psalm 22. Again love envisions the relationship and engagement of one person intimately with another. Love had always existed and will always exist within the Trinity. Perfect accord of intention and purpose and activity. In the Upper Room, Christ promised the disciples "another comforter" whom He and the Father would send. This is the Holy Ghost, the executor of the will of Father and Son in the hearts and lives of faithful men and women. He is into public relations for the Body of Christ, the Church. He brings the nature of the Father and Son to us. Recently devotional materials from A. W. Tozer placed great weight on verses from Hebrews 9: 12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

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A Son to His Father

Yes, Father. I have sought your face. I have heard your voice. I have found your will. I have delighted in following. As a youngster at home. In the carpenter's shop. As the Romans came to town and went. At the Jordan with John. Stretched in the wilderness. In the teeming curious crowds. Alone, and seeking in night hours. With the sick. 20


With the cynical. When challenged as to my service. When challenged as to the Kingdom. When disappointed by friends. When weary of their ambition. In Gethsemane. Troubled and sore amazed. Telling the Governor the truth. Enduring the pain, As one wretched thief Acknowledged our plan, And you seemed removed. But the plan was sovereign. I sit again at your side. We have glorious fellowship. We hear from the family. We delight to bless. And oh, dear Father, They are coming. Your sons, daughters to the feast.

With God

(Taken from the first chapter of F. B. Meyer's work on John's Gospel) "He was with God." We may not at first perceive the significance of this clause, any more than the casual tourist sees the importance of an embrasure in the fortifications where sheep browse, and soldiers stand at ease. But if ever there should come again days of conflict, like those which swept across the early Church, in which men should assert that the Word was but a momentary and impersonal manifestation of God, we should instantly revert to this significant clause, and cry, It cannot be--The Word was WITH God. The same was in the beginning WITH God.

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The preposition selected by the Evangelist is very significant. It means communion with and movement towards. It denotes the intimate fellowship subsisting between two, and well befits the intercourse of the distinct Persons of the one and ever-blessed God. "The face of the everlasting Word was ever directed towards the face of the everlasting Father." He was in the bosom of the Father. "He makes the Divine glory shine outwardly because He is filled inwardly. He contemplates before He reflects. He receives before He gives." We are not then surprised to hear the Divine colloquy: "Let us make man"; or to learn that Jesus knew the Father (John 1:10,15). How could He do other, when, "trailing clouds of glory behind him," He proceeded and came forth from God? Let us never forget that our Saviour, who lived, and died, and rose, and is our familiar Friend, is a distinct personality, who was before all worlds, and will be unchanged for evermore. This is what we want. It is not enough to give us an abstraction, an ideal, a word. Our hearts crave One, and, blessed be God, they may have One who may be a living, bright reality.

Name That Name!

In a certain local church bulletin I came across a statement of purpose that failed at any point to name Jesus, that wonderful, all victorious name of our beloved forerunner. Pleasing things were said about glorifying God and encouraging Spirit-filled living, developing ministry potential and providing blessing locally and abroad...but no naming of Jesus! I was stunned. I believe that the fellowship is duly promoting new life in Christ, scriptural wisdom, worship, communion and service. But why the omission?

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I am reminded of the man at the Temple Gate (Acts 4) and Peter's explanation that faith in the wonderful name had healed him of dropsy: 9If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; 10Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. I have the same concern with many so-called renewal songs which make vague references to Lord, beloved, shepherd, wonderful Saviour, but avoid that Name. Certainly the old unstoppable hymns never did this. The message of the Father's love has gotten out of proportion, as in earlier Pentecostal outbreaks did the message of the potential, gifts and anointing of the Spirit. Friends, Jesus is our surety, forerunner, interceding priest, Elder Brother, captain, teacher, physician, shepherd and coming King. He is our sole "door" of access to the Heavenly Father. He is the main subject in the curriculum of truth, love and righteousness delivered to us by the Spirit. Indeed the Spirit is always dedicated to glorifying the Son. Surely a statement of church purpose MUST recognize these things, and MUST acknowledge His Name.

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Just Jesus There So take away The Christmas choir, The banquets and the books. The Holy Cup, The Holy Days, The cheerful hugs and looks. The mission trips, The Pastor's quips, And all the other fare. I ask you, saint With Gospel quaint Would Jesus still be there? Would Jesus still Be there for you, Your portion and your power, Your daily friend Right to the end, Not just at worship hour? Your inner voice, In each tough choice; Your solace in the test. Unspoiled by sham, The wondrous Lamb, Your brightest and your best.

Community Not the First Priority

In much of the self-definition of the local churches (web-sites, newspaper, front lawn signs, visitor literature) I see reference to a purpose which should be secondary. It is community, a sense of belonging, an opportunity to 24


engage with other people who have made Christian values something important to their lives. The suggestion is to "come grow with us, embrace a fuller life, enjoy the sense of belonging, join in with programs, provide for your children a safe zone for moral and social development, rise to leadership opportunities with identified aptitudes and help to keep the ball rolling." But then I go to the Gospels and see Jesus calling out disciples. Simon, Andrew, James and John from their arduous toil on the fishing boats. Matthew from his lucrative tax-gatherer's table. The invitation was simple: "Follow me." These men had heard the words of wisdom in the spontaneous addresses of "the rabbi", had perhaps observed or heard of the incredible miracles of healing; had sensed majesty in words of absolution pronounced to the penitent; had met full on the convicting yet hopeful gaze of the one who chose them. The challenge was not easy; the beatitudes unsettling to the status quo; the requirements of service and travel disturbing to family and business connections. Indeed, Matthew in the 10th chapter of his account paints a severe picture of the realities of discipleship. Uncertain dwelling places. Ostracism and rejection. Surprising strife with loved ones. Trusting the Spirit rather than recognized, studied authorities for the right word of witness, guidance or correction. Difficulties with public authorities. Matthew is the Evangelist who most portrays Jesus as Messianic King (the lion figure) and His followers as ambassadors of an unstoppable Kingdom. He would have agreed whole-heartedly with Paul's words on the role of ambassador in 2 Corinthians 5. In an earlier life he had been the pragmatist who positioned himself with Rome to collect taxes from his fellow countrymen at an extorted premium. He thought he understood the clear line of division between lives secular and religious. He excused many actions with the claim "business is business". He rose in standing among the publicans and invited many of similar persuasion to his banqueting table. This even occurred on the day of his calling by Jesus, a seeming contradiction. But Jesus had other plans in accepting his invitation - redeeming ones. 25


We must recognize that there is a dynamic power in the call of "follow me". A chance to listen and observe; to evaluate the manliness and forgiving tendency, the confidence and unequalled compassion of the carpenter from Nazareth. The traits of the Master, studied at length and in earnest prove to be infectious. The transformation in the disciple is not a matter of schooling or frequent assembly, but rather a love response and an assimilation of the nature of Jesus. Hence the Lord of Glory says unto us: "I have called you for my purposes. Come unto me. Follow me. You will bear fruit. Out there, in the community of the everyday. My blood has sealed the deal." We gather unto Him in a much more profound sense than our gathering with each other!

At His Feet‌The Best Place

I cannot beat the trails, Or trim the wind-taut sails, Or pitch a camp beside the dusty road. 26


I cannot tame the crowd, Or reprimand the proud, Or offer strength to bear your heavy load. I have a woman’s heart, And play a woman’s part, Attending to the tasks of house and fare. I hunger for some way, Some gesture just to say, I love you Jesus, and I truly care. You’ve shown us so much life And spared us all your strife, Retreating from our home to pour your heart Out in the hills of prayer, To meet your Father there, To gain His strength before you must depart. I grieved your love before, When you had planned much more Than simply curing Lazarus’ ill health. I wept that you came late, That you would hesitate, But you were bringing resurrection wealth! And here we are again At table with you, friend, And I can sense the heaviness of sin Weighs doubly on you now, As you reflect on how The final ministry will soon begin. The ointment in my hand, A rare and precious brand, Seems all I have right now of worth to share. And so I wash your feet With fragrance rich and sweet, And wipe them clean and dry with my long hair. I know this is not waste, 27


Though Judas jeers with haste: “The money could have gone to feed the poor!” But you have read my heart, My urge to play some part In love’s anointing ere you reach death’s door. Again I’m at your side, While others harp and chide: “There’s much work to be done, no time to rest.” But here your eyes meet mine In fellowship divine, Assuring that in this I share your best!

MARK 14: 8, 9 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her (Mary of Bethany).

Brick and Mortar Masters

John 1: 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 39He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. Where does God dwell? That is one of the big questions. No doubt Jesus led the two inquirers to a simple, frugal, intimate place of rest. 28


We think of the rich attachment which developed between Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus at Bethany. Our Lord wanted to go to that place. There he found courtesy, refreshment, respect, quiet personable conversation, shelter from the crowds and pace. The friends there were sensitive to His needs and were delighted to learn at His feet. There He was confident that His words and attention were treasured. Recently my wife and I attended a fellowship which is considering yet another major building campaign. The tension was quite evident in the pastor's message as he shared more of the Board's vision in expansion. So many more programs possible. So much comfort. So many practical helps. So many more visitors expected. Then comes the pressure to make really effective use of all the new space. The Bulletin Board touts a growing list of activities which "one really must attend." The momentum picks up, but sadly, "Bethany" is diminished. In my topical Bible I see that Bethany translates "the house of unripe figs". We read in another place that Jesus approached a fig tree rich in foliage but lacking fruit. He cursed that tree. We are told that it represented the organized religion of His day, pretentious and barren. Bethany was also the place where the disciples got the donkey which was used to carry Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.(Mark 11) I am not suggesting that brothers and sisters meet in a humble garage or cottage. I am issuing a warning however against becoming enslaved to the mortgage, bricks and mortar. In any fellowship if the word gets around that Jesus inhabits the praise, corporate prayer and a clear word of teaching and exhortation, the people will come. Funds may also be in reserve to help those in need and to send abroad to missions and Bible distribution.

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“Give Us Something New Please!� Seduced by Supernatural I have seen it. Men frozen in trance. A preacher falling down repeatedly while trying to take the microphone. Holy laughter or interminable moaning and grabbing of one's abdomen. People attesting to the appearance of angel dust. Missionaries purportedly receiving manna on their open Bible while celebrating communion. Large assemblies milling about in conversation and "fellowship" even after the preacher has commenced the message. And the warning gets issued: "We must respect the working of the Holy Ghost, even if we do not understand." These are also people who have often grown tired of their Bibles, and of tarrying or breathing in the silent presence of the Lord. In their thirst for something new and fresh they have left behind their yardsticks of scripture and of holy fear to venture into wasteland. A considered rebuke gets labeled as faithless and judgmental. Pity. But I have also seen shining new babes in Christ; invalids with most evident restoration of body strength, vision or hearing; tear-washed faces calling down the mercies of heaven in prayer with unlearned articulation and poignancy; prophecy which touches the heart of a congregation on a difficult issue needing the direction of "the finger of God". Lord Jesus help us to see the difference. Help us to SEE YOU.

Another Kiss on the Cheek

The story is told of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) walking a remote country lane and discovering a beggar sitting in the grass. The poor man said nothing

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but held up a beaten dish.

By reflex Francis reached into his robe for a small loaf of bread, smiled and placed the food in the dish. He continued on his way. About twenty-five yards farther he stopped knowing that something was not right. Francis returned to the beggar, sat down beside him, gently kissed his cheek and said something to the effect of "God in Heaven loves you more than you could possibly imagine. He knows all about you." They sat quietly for a moment, and then Francis continued on his journey. One more time he turned to give a parting wave of the hand. He saw not the beggar, but rather Jesus standing, smiling, at the roadside at that exact spot. Francis had kissed the cheek of his Master! Fact or fiction? Does it matter? The story is worth telling as a reminder of the fact that we will be surprised with opportunities. Jesus threw down His challenge in Matthew 25:35,36: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Keep your eyes open, ambassadors of the King.

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Betrayal! Beware!  

Lessons from the Tragedy of Judas

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