Monthly Archives: March 2015

Yet…

He threw himself on the ground.

In the darkness of the ancient hilltop garden, surrounded only by the silent massive trees, he fell on his face. The lonely torment of his soul is unmatched by any in history.

He had brought with him three of his closest companions, who just hours earlier had sworn unyielding allegiance. Now, exhausted by the emotions of the crisis, they had fallen asleep – unable to utter a word of comfort or to lift a finger of support for their friend.

Jesus was alone.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, as he kneeled and then fell prostrate, he felt the full force of a descending terror. Before him lay the massive cosmic evil that would soon engulf him and viciously tear him ragged beyond recognition; the reign of iniquity that would sunder his body and eviscerate his soul beyond all telling – and beyond all knowing.

God would soon lay upon him the sins of us all.

It was to be an unprecedented suffering. This both Father and Son knew.

Here in this lovely garden of olives, in the stillness of the night, we see the utter humanity of our Savior as we see it nowhere else. We hear in this crying voice of desperate pleading the mortality of a thirty-three year old man who doesn’t want to die. In this hour of lonely struggle, the calm and steadfast assurance that has marked his ministry and his nature is suddenly torn away to expose an agony so deep and pitiful we scarce can take it in.

The healing, tender, composed and triumphant Good Shepherd of our Sunday school days is, in this garden of early morning hours, revealed to be a sweating, writhing, begging and terrified young man. The Creator, the Lord of the universe, the King of all kings, is on the ground pleading so fervently to escape his eternal destiny that the physician Luke tells us that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44, KJV).

Nothing proves the full humanity of Christ more than Gethsemane. This lonely, agonizing night in that beautiful garden shows the world the Son of Man.

In an age of convenience and comfort, we do not wish to look upon this garden scene. We are repelled by the unpleasantness.

Yet we must look. We must see. We must contemplate. And we must force ourselves to think. We must somehow try to grasp – though it is a great mystery beyond us – the pain and suffering and agony and terrible despair of that night.

More amazing still, perhaps, is the transaction between Father and Son.

Mark says that Jesus cried out “Abba! Father!” The Arabic term of filial endearment is best rendered, “Daddy”. In prostrating himself before the heavenly throne, the Son employs the name that bespeaks their intimate union.

Jesus appeals to the Father’s omnipotence: “All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me.” (Mark 14: 36, NASB). “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26: 39, NASB).

Jesus knows God can; he’s asking that he will.

At his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus, in predicting his death, had asked, “Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!” (John 12:27, NLT).Now, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays that same prayer in order that he might indeed be saved “from this hour” and escape this destiny.

The Father and the Son have not come to a parting of the ways in the garden, but they have come to a parting of the wills. The plan from eternity past to secure a bright eternity future is turning now on the Son’s obedience.

The Son wants to obey but he doesn’t want to go to the cross.

He’s praying to his Father – pleading with his Father three separate times – and he hopes his prayers will be answered.

According to the Son’s will, that he may not have to suffer and die.

“Yet”.

On this little word pivots the world’s salvation.

“…yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, NASB, emphasis added).

In the end, Jesus surrenders his will to the Father’s, though he knows what it will mean – for both of them. When he was asked to teach his disciples to pray, Jesus said: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 10, KJV, emphasis added).

God’s will, Jesus knew, was what mattered more than anything else. It is a truth we must learn – and, at times, relearn. Paul reminds us that Jesus, in giving up his heavenly glory and privileges and coming to this earth, “humbled himself in obedience to God” (Philippians 2: 8, NLT).

If Jesus, in his hour of greatest need – with the stakes and the cost so high – prayed for God’s will and not his own, should his sublime example lead you and me to do any less when we pray?

Receiving his answer, Jesus regains his composure. “Arise, let us be going,” he says to his weary disciples, and the Savior of the world leaves the garden to face his future.

May God bless you and your family.

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A Half Hour Before Dinner

It was a pleasant afternoon in Naples, Florida.

The gentle breeze and mild temperature reminded me of why people always assume you’re on vacation if you’re here in late February.

Actually I had just finished attending Haggai Institute’s annual meeting in nearby Bonita Springs. I had risen at 4:00 AM this Monday to make three trips to the local airport with some of our guests and staff.

Now that was completed and Frank, my former colleague at Prison Fellowship, had picked me up and we headed for Naples. I would attend a one-day ministry conference on the persecution of Christians around the world scheduled the next day.

But first, it was visiting with some of my old friends at PF over dinner that evening.

I was a little tired but felt great.

We would meet in the hotel lobby at 5:30.

In my room, I had just lifted my suitcase onto the bed.

The sharp pain shot through my stomach. I assumed it was heartburn and took some medicine. While it eased, in a few minutes it returned. It was spreading to my chest and left shoulder.

I took more medicine but this was relentless and intensifying.

It might not be heartburn.

I made it the lobby on time but I had a growing sense that there would be no dinner – not for me.

“Jack, are you OK? You don’t look so well.” I told Dick that I was having very bad pain in my stomach. He found an Urgent Care on his phone and Tommie volunteered to drive me there.

“Thank you, Lord, for these friends.”

After an EKG cleared me of a heart attack, I found myself strapped to an ambulance gurney headed for the emergency room.

This wasn’t on my itinerary for the evening. It was on God’s.

Every short breath was followed by a violent stab just beneath my sternum. I hoped I’d pass out.

The emergency room nurse was unable to attach an EKG because I was drenched in sweat.

Finally I got something for the pain but not until a CAT scan revealed either a hole in my small intestine or a perforated ulcer. The doctor told me he hoped it was the ulcer. Both were potentially life -threatening and emergency surgery was required.

Dick appeared from behind the curtain.

“Do you want me to call Beth?”

I had no right to be blessed with a friend like this.

“Don’t alarm her,” I said. And Dick, always a bundle of calm reassurance, handled it perfectly. Then he prayed with me just before they took me in.

Praise God for a perforated ulcer!

I was blessed to be alive.

Over the next several days my friends Dick, Frank and Dave formed a trinity of care and support while I lay in a hospital room far from home.

Dick picked Beth up at the airport.

Frank drove her to and from the hospital each day. He took her to get dinner. When I was released the next Sunday, Frank drove us to Tampa to Dave’s home, where we stayed three more days until I was able to fly back to Dallas.

“Count where all man’s glory most begins and ends,” wrote Yeats, “and let my glory be that I had such friends.”

In the prayers and well wishes of so many, I realized again that the greatest family on earth is the family of God.

The “one-anothers” of the New Testament are eagerly affirmed by all good Christians. They are only truly tested, however, in the unplanned crisis. In the race of life, only a true friend will stop to help a fallen runner.

Friendship is defined not by convivial convenience but by unforeseen interruption and self-denying sacrifice.

My best friend in this life came immediately to be by my side. She didn’t hesitate or complain – not once. Instead, she patiently and tenderly cared for me, encouraged me and watched over me.

Florence Nightingale had nothing on Beth.

Even as I write this, she daily injects me with antibiotics – a nurse showed her how. Yes, it’s a good thing I trust her.

I look back now and marvel in praise and thanksgiving to God. How quickly our well-ordered lives can, in a moment, be suddenly disordered. Our supposed self-sufficiency can be rendered impotent and with one sharp pain our strength can be turned to utter weakness. And then we are totally dependent on the kindness of others and ultimately on the unchanging providence of a sovereign God.

God spared my life. Underneath were his everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

C.S. Lewis was right: Pain is the megaphone through which God often shouts to get our attention.

He got mine and I’m grateful.

I must learn to depend more on him, less on myself. I am so very weak and he is so incredibly strong.

And the thread by which we each hang is so amazingly slender.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I must take better care of this body God gave me.

Like Paul, we have the opportunity, even through intense pain, to glory in our infirmities and to experience in them the power of an almighty and loving God, the compassion of his people and the gift of his healing.

You never know when that will happen.

Sometimes it will be just a half hour before dinner.

May God bles you and your family.

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