RELUCTANT HEROES

Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [Exodus 3:10-11 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkIn the late 1970s, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of what is known as the “imposter syndrome.” Loosely defined as doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud, it is believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The impostor syndrome manifests in failing to realistically assess our competence and skills, self-denigration, a fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing any of our successes to someone or something else, like luck.

When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, He assigned Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response is a classic example of imposter syndrome. As the princess’ son, he spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, was well-educated, and knew the royal protocol, language, and culture of Egypt and, as a Hebrew, he also knew the language, history, culture, expectations, and God of Israel. Although he was uniquely qualified for the task, Moses belittled his speaking ability and showed his fear of failure with the question, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?”

Moses, of course, is not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when called to do God’s work. Isaiah thought he was too sinful, Jeremiah thought he was too young, and then there’s Gideon. When we first meet him, Gideon is hiding in a winepress while threshing wheat, which seems somewhat cowardly. The people of Israel, however, had been oppressed for seven years by marauding nomadic tribes like the Midianites. Their livestock and crops were being pillaged and the people were being starved into submission as they hid in caves. Not about to let his family starve, Gideon had come up with a clever way to conceal his activity and threshing wheat in a wine press may have been wiser than it was cowardly. Nevertheless, when the angel of the Lord called on him to rescue Israel, the man disparaged not just himself but his entire clan of Manasseh. Even though the people had no other leader, Gideon was sure he had neither status nor authority to call up an army.

Convinced that they weren’t capable of doing God’s work, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Gideon listed all that they weren’t rather than looking at all of the things God is. They didn’t see what they brought to the table and certainly didn’t understand the power they’d receive from God. It wasn’t eloquence that caused Egypt’s plagues or caused the Israelites to follow Moses nor was it strict adherence to the law or maturity that enabled Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy. It certainly wasn’t status and authority that led to Gideon’s victories. It was the power of God!

While there are many competent, experienced, and skilled people in the world, God isn’t interested in whether or not we’re qualified. God is interested in our devotion to Him. If we’re committed to doing His work, God will provide the qualifications! If we’re not devoted to God, however, we’ll remain unqualified regardless of our eloquence, status, authority, talents, wisdom, or expertise. Let us never underestimate our abilities but, more important, let us never underestimate the power of our God!

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them. [James Hudson Taylor]

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. [Judges 6:34-35 (NLT)]

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SIMON OF CYRENE

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” … As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. [Luke 9:23, 23:26 (NLT)]

Simon Carries the Cross
Although Jesus spoke of carrying your own cross, it was Simon of Cyrene who carried His. Cyrene was in Cyrenaica, a land just east of Egypt in what now is Libya. We don’t know if Simon had resettled in Judea or if he was there just for the Passover. We only know that Simon had just come into the city from the fields (or countryside) when the soldiers pressed him into service. Carrying a 75-to-125-pound cross-beam (patibulum) of a Roman cross certainly hadn’t been in Simon’s plans that day but one didn’t refuse a Roman soldier.

If we’re supposed to carry our own cross, why didn’t Jesus carry His? Perhaps because that cross was as much Simon’s as it was Peter’s and John’s and yours and mine. That cross weighed more than 125 pounds because it carried the weight of mankind’s sins. It was at Golgotha that Simon surrendered the weight of his (and everyone else’s) sins to Jesus. Not only did Simon carry his own cross but Luke tells us specifically that Simon followed Jesus as he did it!

When they impressed Simon into service, it seems as if the Roman soldiers finally showed some compassion on the man they’d so mercilessly beaten earlier that day. Kindness, however, may not have been their motivation. Not everyone condemned to the cross survived the soldiers’ scourging but they’d been told to crucify Jesus. If He died before getting to Golgotha, they’d have failed at their task. The soldiers may have enlisted Simon simply to keep Jesus alive long enough so they could inflict more torture on Him!

Whatever the soldier’s motive was for conscripting Simon, theologian John Piper posits that God put Simon there for Jesus. Let us remember that the man who healed the sick, turned water into wine, fed a multitude with a boy’s lunch, gave life back to Jairus’ daughter, and called Lazarus out of the tomb had the power to stop his suffering at any time that day. If we thought Jesus’ anguish was great the previous night while praying to do God’s will, His agony that day was far worse. If we thought Jesus’ temptation to yield to Satan was great in the wilderness, it was even greater as He stumbled toward Golgotha. Angels, however, ministered to our Lord in the wilderness and an angel strengthened Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the same way, did God have Simon carry the cross as a way of helping and sustaining His Son so that Jesus’ obedience would not falter?

God works in amazing ways and maybe Simon of Cyrene was placed on that roadside at just that time for just such a purpose! Could God have placed us somewhere today so that we can serve as one of His ministering angels?

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. [Mark 1:12-13 (NLT)]

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. [Luke 22:42-43 (NLT)]

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TAKE THE RISK

Be strong and courageous! … Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. [Deuteronomy 31:6a,8 (NLT)]

Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” … The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? [Psalm 118:4,6 (NLT)]

great egret
Judge Guido Calabresi regularly asks his Yale law students to imagine receiving an offer of an amazing invention that could improve people’s lives in every imaginable way. In exchange for this invention, however, the lives of at least 1,000 randomly selected young people would be taken every year. When asked if they’d accept the deal, his students inevitably conclude they wouldn’t. Calabresi then asks them the difference between that offer and the automobile. The very thing that allows us to travel, see loved ones, easily move products across the country, and do things that couldn’t be done otherwise, kills even more than that! Over 2,600 teens (16-20) accounted for auto accident fatalities in 2019 and, with over 46,000 car fatalities last year, more than 150 people of every age die each day because of a car. Be that as it may, we’re not about to give up driving!

Calebresi uses his example to illustrate how selective we are in our fears. We underestimate and accept chronic risks like riding in a car while overestimating prominent ones like a terrorist attack or plane crash. In actuality, rather than dying from either of those things, we’re more likely to die by choking on food or slipping in the shower or tub but, preferring bathing, eating, and even driving to the alternatives, we decide they’re worth the risk. On the other hand, after assessing the perils involved in things like free solo climbing, running with the bulls, or base jumping, most of us probably decide they’re not worth the risk.

In contrast, any risk we take in obedience to God always is worth it. Regardless of the danger, we must obediently accept the risks in the challenges and tasks He gives us. Think of what Abraham risked by packing up his family and leaving Haran for an unknown destination. Think of the risks taken by the midwives Shiphrah and Puah when they defied Pharaoh by letting boy babies live or the risk Moses took when he returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. It was a huge risk when Gideon and his 300 men took on an army 400 times their size and when David faced Goliath with just a sling and stones. In spite of the risk, Esther approached the king, Daniel defied the law by praying, and the bleeding woman touched Jesus’ robe. Joseph of Arimathea took a risk when he asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and Peter and John risked imprisonment and worse when they defied the Council by continuing to share the gospel. When we search Scripture, we don’t find people who assessed the risks and played it safe. We find God’s version of bungee jumpers and wing-suit flyers—faith-filled and obedient risk takers.

Every God-sent risk comes with a God-sent promise. He will remain faithful to us and be present in the risk. He will protect and empower us and we’ll never need more than what He supplies. As followers of Jesus, we don’t walk by sight. In spite of the risks, we walk by faith because faith means we’re willing to risk anything for God!

Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished. When all is said and done, there is a sort of risk in faith and its exercise. But trust is firm belief; it is faith in full bloom. Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are aware. [E.M. Bounds]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:20 (NLT)]

…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

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LETTING GO

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. … Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. [Matthew 16:24-25,19:21-22 (NLT)]

Like any mother, I remember my children’s first steps. After hesitantly pulling themselves up and taking a few tentative steps, they soon realized they could cruise along while holding onto something or someone. Eventually, the tots became bold enough to let go of one piece of furniture and reach toward another to continue their adventures. A fair amount of parental urging, however, was usually needed to get them to finally let go of furniture, walls, or people and walk completely on their own. But, after taking those first solo steps, there was no stopping them. Off they went exploring a new, wonderful, and limitless world while I ended up chasing them and wondering why I’d been in such a rush have them walk.

Like a toddler learning to walk or the rich man in today’s verse, are we reluctant to let go of something that is keeping us from a new, wonderful, and limitless world in Christ? The rich man was unwilling to let go of his wealth—are we afraid to release our grip on possessions that encumber us? Could we value things more than a relationship with God? Is there an unhealthy relationship holding us from a relationship with Jesus or have we become too comfortable in old patterns of behavior or attitudes to face new ones? Are we hanging on to anger or loath to let go of resentment and forgive?

Are we simply afraid of the unknown—of trusting? Are we unwilling to cede control and give charge of our lives to Him? Are we more interested in our own version of happiness than God’s or more interested in following our plan than His? Are we afraid of what He might ask of us? Could we think we’re simply not worthy of His love? Once we release all that is holding us back, the Kingdom of God is waiting for us. It’s there for the asking! We just need to let go and take that first step to experience His unconditional love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and eternal life!

The difference between the toddler and the Christian, however, is that while the toddler learns to walk completely on his own, once a Christian releases all that is holding him back, he is never alone. God’s hand will hold and sustain him and he need never stumble or fall.

19th century evangelist (and publisher) D. L Moody called profit, pleasure, and preferment “the wicked man’s trinity.” What are we willing to release for the Holy Trinity?

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. [Philippians 3:7-9a (NLT)]

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LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR

Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” [John 9:13-15 (NLT)]

great blue heronIt’s easy to assume the Pharisees were irate just because Jesus had worked on the Sabbath but, for these sticklers for the law, it was as much about how He healed the man! Spitting on the ground on the Sabbath was forbidden because plowing was one of the 39 types of work prohibited on the Sabbath! Using their convoluted logic, that meant that digging any hole was prohibited and, when spittle landed on soil, it might cause a small dent in the ground (which would be digging a hole) and dislocate a small amount of dirt (which would be plowing)! Compounding Jesus’ violation of the law by both healing and plowing, He made mud. Kneading, defined as joining small particles into a mass using any liquid, was another of the 39 kinds work prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus broke this law the moment his spittle wet the dust; the mixing of his spittle and the dirt together to make mud was an additional offense! To them, the restoration of sight meant nothing when compared to His many transgressions of the law!

When Jesus healed a man who’d been lame for thirty-eight years, it also was on the Sabbath. [John 5] Once healed, Jesus specifically told the man to pick up his mat and walk. Carrying anything more than six feet in a public place, however, was prohibited on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders accosted the man for carrying a burden, he explained that Jesus told him to do so after healing him! Again, the Pharisees were more concerned about work being done on the Sabbath than the miraculous healing that occurred!

In all, seven Sabbath healings are mentioned in the gospels. Although Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in private, the rest of His Sabbath healings were done right in front of His critics. When He healed the man with the withered hand, the crippled woman, and the man possessed by evil spirits, Jesus was in the synagogue and He was having dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee (possibly a member of the Sanhedrin) when he healed a man suffering from dropsy (edema).

Like His other Sabbath healings, this didn’t appear to be a life-or-death situation and, for all we know, the man was there as a way of entrapping Jesus into another violation of the law. Nevertheless, after asking the Pharisees if it was right to heal on the Sabbath and not receiving an answer, Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. He then exposed His critics’ hypocrisy by asking which of them wouldn’t rescue his son or cow if they were to fall in a pit? His question exposed their convoluted thinking since rescuing an animal from a pit on the Sabbath was acceptable even to the Pharisees! In fact, a primary principle in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures, and the Talmud specifically permitted rescuing an animal in pain or at risk of death and even permitted moving prohibited objects to relieve their pain. Yet, the Pharisees seemed unwilling to have compassion on their fellow man!

Once again, when it comes to the law, Jesus made it abundantly clear that every other law is subordinate to the greatest one of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The next time we see someone in need, along with asking, “What would Jesus do?” we might also ask, “What would I want done for me in a similar situation?”

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. [Matthew 5:17 (NLT)]

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PROFILING

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)]

We know that four of the disciples were fisherman and one was a despised tax collector but have no idea what careers the others left behind to follow Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t carpentering, the fishermen weren’t fishing, the tax collector wasn’t collecting, and others weren’t doing whatever it was they did, how did these men support themselves? For the most part, they probably depended on the hospitality of strangers or friends like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus but we also know that the disciples were in Sychar purchasing food when Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Like any ministry, the group needed money for everyday expenses and Scripture tells us that people like Joanna, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene provided for them out of their resources.

Accepting money, pooling resources, paying expenses, and giving to the poor necessitated the need for a common purse and someone to act as the group’s treasurer. At first, it would seem that the former publican, Matthew, with his bookkeeping experience, would have been the logical choice to carry the group’s moneybag, but it was Judas who carried the purse. It also was Judas who stole from it and betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver!

We don’t know if it was Jesus or the disciples who gave Judas the position as the group’s banker. I suspect Jesus let the disciples work it out among themselves—it seems the sort of thing He would do. That Jesus allowed a thief like Judas to handle the money appears to be a poor example of stewardship but Jesus’ relationship with Judas may have been an example of another kind. Judas certainly proves Jesus’ point that one can’t serve both God and money. Moreover, in His relationship with Judas, Jesus lived out His words that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us!

Jesus could look into Judas’ heart and see the deceit but the disciples looked at appearances and Judas didn’t come to them with a tarnished reputation as did Matthew. The disciples probably were cautious about a tax collector in their midst and unwilling to give their money to Matthew—a man once considered an unscrupulous thief. They may have been afraid that their supporters would hesitate to place their money in the hands of a man who once collected their taxes. People may not have trusted Matthew but they never suspected Judas. That last night, when Jesus said someone sitting at the table would betray Him, they asked one another who it possibly could be. They never even questioned Judas’ abrupt departure from the upper room because they thought he was leaving to pay for their food or give money to the poor.

The people of Nazareth weren’t much better at assessing people than were the disciples. In spite of Jesus’ wisdom and miracles, His fellow Nazarenes disparaged the man who was just the son of a carpenter and whose family still lived in their obscure little village. Before meeting the Lord, even Nathanael scoffed at Jesus’ hometown and asked Andrew if anything good could come from Nazareth.

One of my Lenten fasts was profiling—the underestimating of people, especially when I might be dismissing people who would be welcomed by Jesus. I can’t help but wonder if I’m as guilty as were Nathanael and the people of Nazareth of dismissing people because of their background, upbringing, or family. Am I as guilty as I suspect the disciples were of holding people’s past mistakes against them? Jesus loved and welcomed flawed people like Matthew, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and even Judas. Do I? Will you?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. … So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. [James 2:8-9, 12-13 (NLT)]

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