Understanding Betrayal

We’ve all been there before.  The sting of disappointment or disapproval of someone or something that has let us down.  I felt that way the other night when I walked out of the theater.  I was expecting a great movie.  I was expecting a rollercoaster of emotions, a monsoon of inspiration, a tidal wave of ecstasy, but instead I got ten dollar belly ache from the large popcorn and oversized soda, subpar acting, predictable plot, and laughable one liners.  I wanted my money back because I thought the movie theater and I had an unspoken agreement…I would give you my twelve dollars and fifty cents and you would provide me something that I would enjoy, but that was not what I received.  I felt bamboozled.  I felt swindled.  I felt betrayed. 

I understand that my opening introduction is a bit facetious given our subject matter this time around.  The word betrayal comes with a lot of baggage and we tend to attach it to heavier subject matters.  Marriage and divorce, the infidelity of a spouse, abuse from the hand of a father, the knife in the back from a best friend (y tu brutus?); we usually reserve the word betrayal for matters like these, but it matters not because we have felt these feelings even from the most trivial of circumstances, like the story above. 

I’ve been finishing up the book of Mark in my devotional time and coincidentally Easter is around the corner as well, so revisiting the death and resurrection of Christ seemed appropriate.  Im glad I did because God helped me understand something about the human heart that has helped all the relationships that I harbor in my life.  It has helped me become a better leader, a better follower, a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better consumer and even, a better movie goer. 

In Mark chapter 14, we see the story of Judas Iscariot and his road to betraying the Son of Man.  I’ve asked the question, “why did Judas do it?” many times and felt pretty satisfied by the answers that I’ve learned.  Yes, Judas played a part in God’s sovereign plan.  Yes, it is possible that Judas was a corrupt individual.  We see evidence of this when Mary pours the alabaster jar on Jesus’ feet and Judas objects (John 12:1-6).  He was corrupt so that is why he betrayed Jesus.  Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus because he truly believed Jesus was here to bring freedom to the Jews and wanted Jesus to take Jerusalem back from the Romans, by force if necessary; giving Jesus up to the Romans would force the Son of David to act, which the narrative tells us, Jesus did not.  These are all viable answers but I would like to expand on that last point.  I believe Judas betrayed Jesus, because Jesus betrayed Judas first.

I’ll say that again.  

 

Jesus betrayed Judas first. 

 

Let me explain. 

Lets do some quick history and give a little context.  

Judas was a member of the zealot party, so he may have expected that Jesus had come to overthrow the Roman government.  He didn't expect Jesus to surrender to the Romans.  He expected fire from Heaven to ignite the Roman crosses that littered the ditches of the Jerusalem roadways.  He didn't expect his salvation to die on one.

Christ rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey and the Israelites greeted him by laying down palm branches at this feet (Mark 11:1-10).  Thats where we get the term Palm Sunday.  Have you ever asked yourself, why the palm branches?  If you have, good….because Im about to tell you.  If you haven’t, ask now…because…I’m about to tell you. 

The palm branch was the sign of Judas Maccabaeus.

Judas Maccabaeus was the leader of a Jewish revolt in Judaea against Antiochus IV Epiphanes from around 167, he recovered Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. He is the hero of the two books of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha.  So when Judas purified the Temple, the Jews celebrated it with palm branches re-commemorating the Feast of Tabernacles. Palm branches were a key part in the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast which celebrated the dedication of the Temple. When Solomon dedicates the Temple he does it on the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8).  

So when we see Jesus enter Jerusalem and the people lay the palm branches at Jesus feet, they are looking and hoping that Jesus will be the next Jewish freedom fighter.  They are expecting Jesus to bring political freedom to the Jews and Judas was there to witness it all.  As a zealot, Judas Iscariot’s expectations must have gone through the roof.  Finally his people would be free from the tyrannical reign of the Romans.  Judas was lucky enough to have been chosen by the next national hero.  Jesus could do it too.  This was the man that could heal the blind and make the lame walk.  This guy could drive out demons with a single word.  Jesus could make the winds and waves obey his very will.  He even had the power over death.  The Jews would be free, if only Jesus would take up the sword and lead his people.  But he doesn’t.  Instead Jesus chooses pacifism.  He teaches, but avoids fighting.  He speaks in riddles and parables, not inspirational, military speeches.  Judas had an expectation that never gets met and that’s where his betrayal began.  

Because thats what betrayal is: betrayal begins in our hearts when our expectations betray us. 

Judas betrays Jesus because Jesus never lived up to what Judas wanted Jesus to be.  He saw Jesus as he wanted Jesus to be, not how Jesus was.  

Aren’t we the same?  We feel betrayed by our spouses, parents, friends, pastors, coworkers, even our own kids for crying out loud, because we have an expectation about them that never gets met.  Some betrayals are inconsequential, walking out of a meeting and feeling like nothing got done.  One might say, “I expected the meeting to yield some decisions, but no action was taken.”  They expected something, and that expectation wasn’t met, so they feel betrayed.  Other betrayals are more prevalent.  I gave this lecture recently and afterwards, one person approached me and this is what they told me.  “I expected my wife to be faithful.  I expected her to support my decisions.  She questions everything I do, so I felt betrayed.  I felt betrayed, so I will betrayed her expectations of sexual fidelity.”

Often we are angry and mad at someone or some situation and can’t identify why we feel let down or betrayed and thats because we don’t understand the nature of betrayal.  But now that we have identified that emotion and what causes it, we can use it in our favor.  As a leader, this teaches me to communicate to my team, what they should expect.  I don’t want to under deliver or let them assume what will happen.  Matter of fact, I let them expect one outcome and then over deliver and blow their expectations out of the water.  As a husband, I have learn to communicate and learn what my wife expects from me, so I can met her expectations.  As a father, I communicate what I expect from my children so as to not feel betrayed by them.   This helps me keep disapproval and disappointment at bay.  This helps me practically do Proverbs 4:23.  Now I know how to guard my heart. 

This also helps me doctor betrayals that have already taken root in my heart or the heart of others.  Betrayal begins from an offense and offense is birthed from a wound.  Trying to bring healing to the offense can be a waste of time.  I have to treat the wound.  If a colleague is upset by something I said within a meeting, then I wonder if something happened that morning that made them so touchy.  Maybe a wound opened up from something else that morning like an argument with a brother or sister, an unjustified ticket issued by a police officer, maybe an email from a toxic congregation member.  Or maybe I feel betrayed because my mentor has been ignoring me, but that wound was created by the lack of a father figure in my life.  So as a leader, I ask questions and offer grace.  As someone wounded, I self reflect and try to treat my injury.  Recovery can be painful, but absolutely necessary. 

The heart is a fickle muscle and it’s funny how much we don’t understand about it even though we live with it everyday, but at least some mysteries leave us some clues. 

Thoughts Regarding Trolls

Ok.  Its about to get a bit geeky in here.  I'm unapologetically a gamer.  That means that I spend hours playing a virtual character made in a digital world, but with the ease of social networking, team and social play is becoming a common occurrence in games.  This commonality naturally progressed me to create my own group online, which we (the gamers) affectionately call a clan.  I wanted my clan to serve only one purpose.  It's mission statement if you will is, "to create an environment for awkward free gaming."  The Xealot Collective is unashamedly, but not exclusively, a Christian clan.  We welcome everyone, as long as they keep the f*ck bombs and colorful comments to a minimum. 

But being a Christian online creates an interesting tension, especially within particular circles like reddit.com and bungie.net.  We are prone to attract an interesting online subculture of users, which the internet has dubbed, trolls. 

Trolls are funny.  I see them come into Christian groups and forums and do what they do, and I always scratch my head wondering why?  One thing is certain: most are spineless.  They hide behind their anonymity.  Imagine one of these guys walking into a church and start spreading that nonsense…you think they’ll walk out of there without getting their block knocked off?  Not all of us are that peaceful, nor that holy.  While we are imagining, what if Christians jumped into atheist forums and started spamming “J-E-S-U-S”  or “Holy Spirit motherfucker”, posting pictures of Jesus walking on water, or starting calling everyone idiots for deciding something wasn't real without having even read the bible first.  Seems ridiculous and humorous, no?

Heres the thing fellas: the world will always have trolls.  We are always going to have people trying to knock down what you believe and what you stand for.  It’s in our nature to be screwed up.  Even believers that have the Holy Spirit in them, can’t stop hating, sinning, and screwing up.  We are all in need of a savior.  So what do we do with them?  I say…just let it go.  Let them scream and shout and give no mind.  Their very existence is futile.  All trolls want to do is spread hate and be malicious.  They want to get a rise out of people.  They go out of their way to be a dick.  So let them do what they do and pay no attention.  If we remain silent, its like screaming in an empty room…that gets old real quick.  Yes, they are annoying, and yes, they will eventually get banned, but I'm speaking for your own sake and for your heart.  Don’t let it rattle you.  Ive been a youth pastor for more than a decade and I deal with “childish” behavior all the time.  In a way, I find trolls adorable.  They are like little children bumbling around, throwing tantrums.  They don't have the wisdom or maturity to just chill the heck out. Check this.  Ephesians 4 says:

 

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.  28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.  30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.  31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

So heres my closing thought.  You and I share the same amount of time.  We all are given 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year…i dont know if I will die tomorrow or live till im 95, but what I do know is this; my time is precious.  As a leader, I strive for excellence and efficiency and I try to live my life as such.  I spend time with my family, I read books, I study, I spread the Word, I play Destiny, I spend my time with loved ones and try to help those in need.    I strive to make the same impact on life as greater men and women did before me.  I dont want to waste my time or my life.  Dealing with trolls is an incredible waste of time to me.  I’m not here to be reactive to haters.  I want to respond to those that want to hear.  Trolls have already decided to be what they are.  They have decided that they want to spend their limited time being an idiot.  I refuse.  I deny their intent and am apathetic to their existence.  So heres my advice (take it or leave it), let it go and don’t waste your time or breath arguing about something that will go nowhere. Spend your energy doing something good.  Spend it wisely.  Spend it with people that matter.  Spend it speeding the light of the Gospel.  Just. Don't. Waste it.

Failures of a Naked Man

Ive been thinking about failure lately, particularly my own.  I have instances that I remember of things that I could have done better, situations that should have looked different if I had taken a different road.  Other thoughts are not so clear.  These failures are not as blunt.  These failures are not so obvious.  The ones that plague me the most are the ones that involve no clear outcome.  Its the failures that are covered with kindness and courtesy.  Most decent people try their best to not be offensive, so their disapproval of you is only noticed in the smallest of idiosyncrasies…a slight narrowing of the eyes, inconsistencies in stories, reasoning that doesn't add up quite right, and these mysteries are the ones that nag at my insides.  What went wrong?  What did I do?  How could I have done better?  It’s this unknown and the fact that I will never know that irks me, but its the finality of the situation, that fact that I didn't get that job or the fact that the relationship didn't work or the fact that I wasn't asked again (be it whatever was asked of me the first time), its this fact that makes me feel insecure or inadequate. 

The book of Mark is characterized as the primary synoptic gospel that served as a outline for the other gospels (unless there really was a Q document).  The cost of discipleship is another unique trait to the gospel of Mark.  Mark understood what it meant to follow after Christ - the weight of it.  He understood the brevity of our own declarations and the frailty of our own fortitude.  

So who was John Mark and why does his testimony matter?  Lets lay out the facts:

  1. The very fact that his testimony is considered canonical shows us that it has authentication on the divine side and authentication and endorsement of an apostle of Christ and in Mark's case, that would be Peter. 
  2. He was taken on Paul’s first missionary excursion but returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:5)
  3. Paul disagrees with Barnabas about taking John Mark on the next missionary journey because of his previous failure (Acts 15:37-40)

Now some speculation and tradition:

  1. Traditionally, it is understood that Jesus and the disciples were at Mark’s fathers house during the last supper (passover).
  2. Mark may have been the young man that fled naked when Jesus was arrested. 

We see two instances of Mark that don’t bode well for this young man.  He’s a quitter, a coward, and a ranker.  He is so afraid in the garden that he leaves his dignity behind in order to flee.  He joins Paul and Barnabas only to give up (whatever the reason) and go back to Jerusalem.  You could say that he was a failure.  I say that he was…in some ways. 

But Mark isn't remembered for his failures…he is remembered for writing the primary gospel.  He is remembered as Paul’s confident and friend, someone that is helpful to him in ministry (2 Tim 4:11).  His words have a sense of immediacy and action (his gospel was written primarily for Romans and Roman culture is a culture of action and doing).  Mark focuses on the servanthood of Jesus rather and as mentioned earlier…the cost of discipleship, and maybe it is because of his failures that he does so.  So in the end, failure doesn’t define us, it is what we do with our failures.  It is defined by what God can do with the broken.  It is what the Japanese call kintsukuroi which is, repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

Asinine Fatuous Conduct

"Now unless the speaker is God, [forgiving sins] is really so preposterous as to be comic.  We can all understand how a man forgives offense against himself.  You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you.  But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on another man's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of this conduct.  Yet this is what Jesus did.  He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.  He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offense.  This makes sense only if He really was God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.  In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in history."

Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis

Revelation Creates Response

I have often pondered why so many youths come young adults find their faith wayward after living so wholeheartedly for their Creator.  What beckons collegiate students to leave their experiences, their declarations, their doctrines behind in a mass exodus from churches, parishes, and fellowships?  Maybe one explanation for this trend could be the way that said youth meets and and encounters God.  The often hyper spiritual, music laden, camp driven, tear-filled and sobbing, altar call occurrence is common for many youths and rightly so…nothing wrong with this emotional based encounter with God.  We are as much emotional as we are logical, and an emotional based decision to follow Jesus is not any less valid then one made with a more scientific approach to faith (this is a blog for another time).  I call these ardent happenings, these epiphany incidents, these "aha" events, Apex moments.  

This height of spiritual awareness where we sense the direction of the Holy Spirit and where God is as real as the person standing next to you.  The Lord is speaking and you hear His call and are able to respond in turn.  Your belief is unshakable, your doctrine unmovable, and your faith is larger than any mustard seed.  These are the moments that define who you are and give you purpose and identity.  This is revelation and it creates response.  

Response is the action in which we play out what we believe.  It's evidence that yesterdays altar call was real.   The response is the reason men change majors, doctors become missionaries, addicts choose life, marriages are saved, wavering single mothers become devoted matriarchs, and Facebook status' updated with compelling and gaudy ALL CAPS declarations (I despise all caps) confessing that they are a new creation in Christ.  This Apex moment becomes their testimony, their God story.  And this may be the problem.  Because for many youths, that moment becomes the cornerstone of their faith.  They remember Jesus in that moment, as if he was frozen in time, a relationship based on a singular event.  They fall in love with a snapshot, a polaroid of beauty, rather than pursue the rawness of a real relationship.  And eventually the gas tank of their faith begins to run empty and their faith dangerously runs on fumes.  No new wine is poured into their wineskin and ultimately Jesus and “church” was something they did “back in the day” or “when the were younger.”  Faith is discarded as a mere fad, something they did for a period of time.  Confusion takes root and some feel hurt, some discredit God, some disbelieve that God even exists.  Others feel manipulated by the emotionalism of church, appalled by the hypocrisy of protestants. 

The difference I have noticed between those that thrive in their faith and those that eventually fade is this: the seeds that are planted in good soil, the believers that show longevity in loving God, have more than one apex moment in their lives.  Matter of fact, apex moments happen regularly, often, and from season to season.  Their “testimony” is only the initial apex moment.  It’s is the first of many encounters with Christ.  And these encounters are far deeper and more fruitful.  Quiet moments with the Word where the Holy Spirit reveals the Father’s heart.  Conversations with a mentor that spurs a challenge of faith.  Gentle admonition from a friend that helps you reveal a previous blind spot.  And yes, more altar call moments, with hands lifted high, voices raised proclaiming new declarations of consecration and repentance.  And again, when revelation happens, these lifers answer with response.  They do something about their moment of clarity.  I mean, how preposterous would it be for a married couple to expect life long martial bliss when their love hinged on the first time they were intimate?  And yet, many believers have only a few moments where we feel true revelation and how utterly tragic that is!  Because to know God, to begin to understand the heart of Jesus is parallel to falling in love with a beautiful woman, but not just her outward appearance but the beauty that comes from learning one another and being completely understood by a single person; its the moments of surrender and vulnerability and the confidence in knowing you are free to be you.  This kind of love only comes with endless conversations, episodes of laughter and adversity, overcoming calamity and catastrophe, and consistency during the uninteresting, uninspiring, and vapid moments in life…which is often found doing dishes and laundry. 

Its in this longevity with Jesus that keeps us close to Him because God is infinitely interesting and countlessly colorful and creative. The rhythm of spiritual growth and longevity is revelation and response. 

So whats the practical application here?  Psalms 1:3 gives an indication where to start “[The blessed man] is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”  Plant yourself with an open heart and God’s word.  Thats a good a place to start as any and when revelation comes, respond.