Dealing with Disappointment

As we read Matthew 26:36-46, we can see Jesus dealing with disappointment. Just like Jesus, we will deal with disappointment in our lives. How we deal with disappointment is important in our walk with Christ. In this blog we look at how to deal with disappointment with wisdom and love.


We are in the third week of this series on God as our Deliverer taken from the last part of Matthew. We began with a general idea of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit as our D
eliverer. Last week, we talked about how the life of Jesus reflects deliverance from betrayal. This week, we are going to talk about deliverance from disappointment.

We can all think if times when we have been disappointed with another person. In the Wednesday night Bible study this week, I asked the group to close their eyes and think of an instance when they had been disappointed by another person. Every single person immediately smiled! Disappointment is a part of the human condition. Sooner or later we are all going to be disappointed and we are all going to disappoint another person.

Since it’s a political year, I thought I would begin with a story without mentioning a person or political party. Some time ago, I voted for someone in an election. I felt extremely good about my vote. I felt this person was honorable, experienced, and wise. As time went on, I began to change my mind and began to believe I had been mistaken about this person. in other words, I was disappointed in my vote and in the person for whom I voted. Even to this very day, I’m occasionally angry about that vote.

There are few human emotions more common or more discouraging than feelings of disappointment. images-1One movie scene I have watched over and over again in more than one movie has a workaholic parent promise a child that he or she will be at a soccer game or other sports activity. When game time comes, the parent is missing. The camera always focuses on the child’s face—and the look of disappointment. Disappointment is a strong and moving emotion. It can scar us for life if we do not learn how to deal with it.

A Moment of Disappointment.

On the night Jesus was betrayed, three important episodes occurred: First, Jesus met with his disciples for a final Passover dinner, during which Jesus acknowledged that he would be betrayed by Judas (Matt. 26:25). Later, Jesus let the disciples know that they would all desert him (v. 31). When Peter assured Jesus that he would never desert Jesus even if everyone else did (33), Jesus responded that Peter would desert him before the rooster crowed in the dawn (v. 34). Finally, when Jesus stopped to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked his disciples to pray with him (v. 36). In each of these instances, Jesus might have been disappointed and discouraged by the behavior of others.

images-3Our text this morning is from Matthew 26. Hear the word of God as comes to us from the Gospel according to Matthew:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46).

Let us Pray: Faithful God: you are the only one who will not disappoint us, and you are the only one who can teach us how to avoid disappointment. Please share with us your wisdom and your love. Amen

What is Disappointment?

Disappointment is a sadness, anxiety, or displeasure when a person, persons, or situation does not fulfill our expectations, hopes or dreams. I have already given a couple of examples. If a politician does not live up to our expectation of what kind of person he or she will be as a leader, we are disappointed. If a parent does not live up to our expectations, we are disappointed. If a child does not live up to our expectations, we are disappointed. If God does not live up to our expectations, we are disappointed. This last kind of disappointment can be the most devastating kind of disappointment of all, if we do not learn how to deal with it. imgres-2Philip Yancy, years ago wrote a book called, Disappointment with God. We can actually desert God because God does not do what we expect God to do.

Here is how one psychologist described the feeling of being disappointed:

When sadness is triggered, a heavy emptiness or longing is felt because your brain‘s appraisal system has determined that you have experienced a lasting loss. You may want to have someone or something that is unattainable or to bring back what was lost, even if what caused your sadness has to do with finally recognizing something that you had subsequently denied. Sadness is a painful emotion of disconnection from someone or something that you value or had wanted to value…..Sadness helps you to remember, rather than forget, what it is or was that you desired. … Thus, the emotion of sadness attempts to assist you by giving you an opportunity to consider the impact of your loss and the necessity of revising your objectives and strategies for the future. One study found that sadness tends to decrease one’s confidence in first impressions (Schwartz, 1990). Another found that the experience of sadness leads one to struggle with the painful, existential question of “Who am I?” (Henretty, Levitt, & Mathews, 2008). If sadness can help you to remember and accept reality, achieve insight that can realign your goals, alert you to be cautious before making decisions, and create an opportunity for you to observe yourself, then perhaps its adaptive purpose is evident: like all emotions, sadness, in spite of how it makes you feel, is simply trying to protect you. Disappointment is a profound way in which sadness is experienced. In any case, disappointment is the experience of sadness involving unfulfilled hopes or expectations. When you consider what might have been, in contrast to what exists in the present, you may experience disappointment. [1]

Not surprisingly, disappointment can impact us for years after our disappointment. One reason for Christians to learn to deal with disappointment and its pain in our lives is that not doing so can actually harm us and those we love.

The Big Requirement.

Not everyone agrees with this, but I think generally disappointment requires that we have a personal relationship that causes our disappointment. Even though an institution or event causes a disappointment, there is normally a person or persons behind that event. In other words, disappointment is  a relational emotion. We are disappointed because we are in relationship with other persons who fail  to meet our expectations. imgres-3Once in a while you see on the Internet or on a poster words to the effect of: “If you want to avoid disappointment, don’t expect anything from other people.” The problem with this advice is that only a person without deep relationships can avoid the disappointment that inevitably comes from human relationships. Such a person would not be fully human. If we want to experience the joys of human life, we run the inevitable risk of disappointment.

We do have reasonable expectations of friends, spouses, parents, children, bosses, employees, leaders, followers, neighbors, and fellow church members, even of God. These expectations are part of our relationship with that person. Friends, spouses, parents, children, bosses, employees, followers, neighbors, church members, all have expectations of performance and loyalty of care and concern—we all have many expectations. Sometimes people, even God, can fail to meet our expectations.

The book of Job is one long examination of the Jewish expectation that wisdom and righteousness would be rewarded with blessing. The wise men of Israel knew, of course, that this does not always happen, and Job examines that problem. I have known people to become deeply disappointed with God and lose their faith, I myself have experienced the deep disappointment that comes when we cannot figure out why God permits a situation to exist or continue. In the end, we all expect God to do many things that, in his Divine Wisdom and Love, he does not do. We have to learn to live with this aspect of God’s Divine Personhood.

Two Kinds of Expectations and Disappointments,

At this point, I need to introduce an important distinction: We can have two kinds of expectations and two kinds of disappointments. We can have warranted (justified) expectations, and we can have unwarranted (unjustified) expectations. Therefore, we can have justified and unjustified disappointments!

For example, I may expect Kathy to always have dinner ready when I get home, despite the fact she has no idea when I will arrive and never arrive at the same time two nights in a row. Furthermore, I may never inform her of my plans. If I expect Kathy to have dinner ready at any moment just in case I arrive home at any given moment, I have an unwarranted expectation! If I expect a child with average athletic abilities to play college football, I have an unwarranted expectation. If I expect God to answer all my selfish prayers, I have an unwarranted expectation.

This leads me to a conclusion we all need to remember: When we are disappointed, the first questions we should ask ourselves are, (i) “Why?” and (ii) “Am I justified in feeling disappointed?” If the answer is that I have an unjustified or unwarranted expectation, then my disappointment is not the other person’s fault. It’s my fault, and I need to do with myself! This is especially true of God, where our human expectations are almost always finite, limited, and self-centered. As Job finally concludes, we human beings are simply too limited to understand or appreciate all that God allows or does in our lives. Sometimes, all we have to rely upon is our faith that God loves us and the hope that comes from that faith. We also have the example of Jesus, who after all, was “A man of suffering, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus and Disappointment.

Every part of the last night of Jesus’s life was disappointing. Judas should have been a loyal to Jesus, but Judas disappointed Jesus. Peter and the other disciples should not have deserted Jesus, but they did. The disciples ought to have stayed awake, waited, and prayed for one hour, but they did not. In the case of Peter, he was the leader of the disciples. He had a responsibility to set a good example. He failed.

In each of these cases, Jesus had a reasonable expectation! He was the Son of God and their leader. He had a right to expect their loyalty, their diligence, and their prayers. images-4Jesus’ expectations were completely reasonable, and any disappointment he felt was fully justified. We can even tell that Jesus was disappointed. The phrase, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (v. 40), expresses his disappointment.

When we are disappointed, it’s a good thing to remember that Jesus was disappointed too. In Hebrews, there is a phrase that reads, “He was tempted in all ways as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). This phrase is a reminder that Jesus experienced the human condition. He experienced every emotion, every trial, every disappointment, every hardship, and every experience, we will ever experience. He suffered as we suffer. He even suffered the disappointment of human failure and prayers not answered as he desired in his humanity.

If we look closely at how Jesus dealt with his disappointment; we can learn some things.

  • First, Jesus understands. He understands Judas. He understands Peter. He understands the disciples. He recognizes the human condition. Often, we base our expectations on a misunderstanding of what human beings are capable of achieving. My mother expected me to make my bed, but sometimes I disappointed her. Children are capable of cleaning up their rooms or making their beds, but they are not capable of doing it every day without error.
  • Second, Jesus communicates his expectations and his disappointment. The phrase, “Could you not watch with me for one hour?” expresses exactly what Jesus felt. Often, we do not communicate our disappointment and allow our pain and anger to fester. Early in our marriage, being a good husband, I told Kathy how much I liked boiled chicken. She responded by cooking a lot of broiled chicken. Unfortunately, I was just being nice. I really am not that fond of broiled chicken. She was shocked when I finally told her that I didn’t like boiled chicken all that much. Since that time, we only have one chicken once in a while, and I’ve come to like it. People cannot meet our reasonable expectations if we never communicate to them what they are. Once again, we should be careful about communicating unreasonable expectations.
  • Third, Jesus tries to help the disciples meet his expectations. At one point, Jesus looks at Peter and says, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (v. 41). Jesus knew that the disciples had just consumed a large Passover dinner. He knew they had had a glass of wine or two. He knew they were sleepy. Therefore, he understood they needed to exercise self-control. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to stay awake and pray. So he encouraged them, voicing his understanding of their situation to help them.
  • Fourth, Jesus did not get angry. He didn’t say, “Okay, I’m dying for the rest of the world but not for you guys. You don’t deserve it.” He doesn’t say, “The soldiers are here, and if you guys had not slept God would save me!” He simply said, “Rise let us go!” (v. 46). Jesus does not play the blame game.
  • Finally, Jesus did the right thing. Even though the disciples disappointed him, he continued on his divine mission to save the world and them. When we’re disappointed, it’s important for us to remember that the fact that another person has failed us does not give us the right to fail them. In fact, when another person fails us and we continue to love them and do what is best by them, we are doing exactly what Jesus would do.


Jesus could not avoid being disappointed with others, and neither can we. It is part of the human condition. What we can do is deal with disappointment with the same wisdom and love Jesus did. This means recognizing the fact of human frailty, not having unrealistic expectations, and dealing with disappointment with the same wisdom and love that Jesus did. In the end, this is not possible without the Spirit of God working in our lives to give us that wisdom and love and empower us to move forward.

Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Mary C. Lamb, PhD, “Expectation, Disappointment, and Sadness” in Psychology Today, www. (Posted November 20, 2011).

Loyalty, Betrayal, and the Wise and Loving Life

This week, our focus is on Matthew 26:1-5; 14-18 and the character of Betrayal and restoration.

Kathy and I have become occasional, and in Kathy’s case, reluctant, watchers of the television show, “Agents of Shield.” [1] 5432f52971f7fIt currently appears that Agent Ward has betrayed his colleagues, and especially “Skye,” who is emotionally attached to him and to whom he is also emotionally attached. It turns out that Agent Ward is not really a loyal agent of Shield; he has betrayed Shield, his team, and his love, having been an agent of the enemy, Hydra, all along. In addition,

A scene in which Skye confronts Agent Ward mesmerized me. She was really mad. Her love for Grant Ward has turned to disgust at who Ward really is and what Ward has done. She turns him into the police, she berates him publically, and she finally reveals that she would rather die than give Ward what he wants from her. The actress who plays Skye does a wonderful job of portraying the anger and fury one feels at betrayal.

Today, we are visiting about the subject of betrayal, forgiveness, restoration, and the life of wisdom and love. Betrayal is a feature of fallen human existence. Everyone to some degree feels betrayed by someone during the course of life. Lovers, spouses, business partners, friends, fellow church members, sooner or later all feel betrayed to some degree at some point in life. Worse, we all betray someone who is entitled to our trust to one degree or another at some point in life. It can be a big betrayal, or as small as disclosing some trivial secret. Therefore, we need to understand how to be delivered from betrayal.

This week, I wrote a  meditation for Facebook and to be included  in the bulletin that says, “There is no worse experience than the experience of being betrayed. The experience of being betrayed is unbelievably painful–and so is the shame and guilt of being a betrayer. The betrayed needs to be delivered from the anger that comes from being betrayed, and the betrayer needs to be delivered from the shame and guilt of betrayal. Judas dies because he cannot escape his guilt. Peter is restored because he can accept forgiveness and change.” This points out an interesting fact: Everyone involved in a betrayal needs a kind of deliverance.

Text and Prayer.

Briefly, our  occurs on Wednesday of Holy Week. Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem. He has confronted the priests, Pharisees and Sadduces. He has cleansed the temple. The leaders of the people have had enough and are looking for ways to get rid of  him. Just before today’s text, Jesus has made his prophesy of the end of the Jewish Temple and of the Final Judgment. You can imagine the fear and anger of the religious leaders. Jesus has now finished his active ministry. All that is left is his betrayal, arrest, trials, suffering, and death. This is how Matthew describes what comes next:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:1-16).

Prayer: Faithful God: You are eternally faithful to yourself, to your promises, to your creation, and to your people. We, however, are not always faithful to you, to creation, or to other people. Forgive us. Come and allow us to sense your presence and your healing power in our meditation. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Character of Betrayal.

There is no sadder figure in American history than the figure of Benedict Arnold. Arnold was a brave, skilled military leader, pershps the best combat general serving under General Washington. Washington respected and admired Arnold. images-3
Unfortunately, Arnold could be abrasive and made enemies in the Revolutionary Army. Other men were promoted above him. He began to be resentful. In addition, he lived beyond his means and engaged in practices that the Continental Congress found objectionable. He was court marshaled. Even then, Washington protected him and gave him a very mild reprimand. He wanted to save a good general’s career. Unfortunately, Arnold had married an English sympathizer, who led him into treason. He proposed handing over West Point, where he was in command, to the British. When the plot was uncovered, Arnold fled to the enemy lines and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London, in relative obscurity. Today, to call a person a Benedict Arnold is to call that person a traitor.

What makes people so deeply hate a betrayer? I think it is the fact that betrayal involves a breach of trust personally, publically, financially or otherwise. We can only be betrayed by people with whom we are friends, partners, spouses, lovers, fellow soldiers, etc. Those who can betray us owe us a duty of loyalty. We are relational people. We need relationships; however, we can be hurt in relationships. Because vulnerability is a part of any deep relationship, betrayal is especially terrible.

When a spouse, partner, or public servant betrays our trust, it strikes at our sense of security in a deep and terrible way. We are filled with a kind of fear and horror that we can be so vulnerable.  The result for the betrayer is either shame or a slow journey into a deep lack of character. A betrayer cannot be trusted by anyone. The result of any betrayal is deep anger and pain among all those involved, and especially for the one betrayed.

Judas the Betrayer.

With this background, let’s look at the man we call Judas Iscariot. Judas was one of the original Twelve Disciples. He must have had a good mind and some kind of financial expertise, because he was made the treasurer of the Twelve and was responsible for the common purse they kept. He was with Jesus  from the beginning of his ministry. He heard Jesus’ powerful teachings. He witnessed Jesus’ many  healings and mighty deeds of power. He saw demons cast out. He experienced Jesus’ prayer life and love for people. Judas is a reminder that going to church, being surrounded by Christian brothers and sisters, participating in Christian activities, and even experiencing the blessings of the Christian life, does not guarantee faith nor does it guarantee we will not betray Christ and our faith.

Everywhere Judas is mentioned in the Bible, he is spoken of in a negative way. How could Judas have betrayed Jesus? Judas, like us, probably didn’t set out to become evil. John indicates that he was greedy and took money from the common purse (John 12:6). I imagine it began innocently.
images-4He would take a few shekels into a city to buy food and forget to put the change back in the common purse. Off on an errand, he bought a few personal items without reimbursing the little group of disciples. Gradually, ever so gradually, Judas began to lose his moral bearings. He first became a thief, and then became a betrayer.

Like the other disciples, Judas expected Jesus to be a messianic King. He expected Jesus to overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. He expected to be part of the leadership of a kingdom that would never end—at least not in his lifetime. As Jesus moved closer and closer to Jerusalem and to that last Passover, Judas, like the other disciples, was probably disturbed by Jesus’s prophecies that he would be betrayed and die a terrible death. As Holy Week went on, Judas could see that the religious leaders and powerful people were lining up support to get rid of Jesus. I suspect Judas did not want to die.

Knowing that someone was going to betray Jesus, and that sooner or later Jesus and his followers were going to come to a bad end, Judas decided that those who came to a bad end would not include him. Eventually, he went to see the religious leaders and cut a deal with them—Jesus for safety and thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15). At that moment, Judas walked over a line. He might have just quit and gone home. He might have stood up and spoken against what Jesus was doing. Those would have been honorable courses of action. Betraying Jesus was an act of moral cowardice.

Judas’ life is a reminder to all of us. Very few people set out to betray a spouse, or lover, or a friend, or a business partner. It happens slowly, one compromise at a time. There is a kind of slow moral slide. A lunch that should have been avoided, a deal that should never have been done, a present that should never have been accepted, a word that should never have been spoken. That is how betrayal begins. Then, one day, we’ve done something and become someone we never intended to do or become.

Judas, Jesus and Peter.

It appears that Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed and that Judas was the betrayer. imgres-4The New Testament clearly records that Jesus identified Judas as his betrayer, and that Judas left the meal before it was over (Matt. 26:23-25; John 13:18-30). We know this to be true because Judas had to go to the high priests home and get the military officials who would actually arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-44; Luke 22:47-48; John 18:1-4). Confronted by Jesus and his understanding of what he was about, Judas walked over the boundary line between good and evil, became a true servant of evil, and betrayed the Messiah.

There was another person present that night who would betray Jesus. We are going to hear his story in a few weeks when we talk about disappointment. Peter was there when Jesus prophesied that all the disciples would desert him and he would die abandoned and alone. Filled with pride, Peter told Jesus that he would not desert the Messiah even if everyone else did so (Matt. 26:33). Jesus knew otherwise. He told Peter that, before the rooster crowed in the next day’s dawn, he would betray Jesus (v. 34). Sure enough, that evening, filled with terror, Peter denied the Lord three times.

The Bible tells us that, after Jesus was betrayed, Judas regretted what he had done. Apparently, he tried to give the thirty pieces of silver he had received back to the High Priest and Sanhedrin. When they refused to take the money back, Judas committed suicide (Matt. 27:3-5). In Mark’s rendition of the first Easter, the Angels tell the women to go tell the disciples, and Peter, to meet him in Galilee (Mark 16:7). Peter, you see had abandoned Christ.  He was a deserter, no longer a disciple. Nevertheless, at the end of John, we see Peter speaking of his leadership with the risen Lord (John 22:15-19). images-2

Both Judas and Peter were betrayers of the trust Jesus placed in them. Both owed him loyalty and were unfaithful. Why did Judas commit suicide and Peter become the chief of the apostles? I think the answer is this: Judas, filled with pride, shame, and guilt, could not go to the Lord and asked for forgiveness and be restored. Peter repented of what he had done, accepted his guilt and shame, asked for forgiveness, and was restored. The big difference between Judas and Peter is not what they did, but how they reacted to the love of God.

Everyone Needs Deliverance from the Deliverer.

Everyone needs deliverance from betrayal and its consequences. There are people whose lives are ruined because of a betrayal. Some of these people are the betrayer who never repents and turns his or her life around. Others are the betrayed who never release the anger and pain and whose lives are twisted by desire for revenge. Both betrayers and the betrayed need their own deliverance.

Wednesday evening someone shared with our group the following story. A loved one was betrayed by someone who could not overcome an addiction. The loved one ultimately died. It was a young, tragic, and unnecessary death. Naturally, the family had a hard time forgiving the one who betrayed their daughter. The person who was an addict ultimately became sober and embarked on a new life. The parents, however, still had to cope with the loss of a daughter. One day, in a conversation, the addict said that, “The one thing he could do was to provide a sober parent for their child.” In that moment, a healing began. I want to share with you just a little bit of an email I received this week:

“Then I told our Bible study what you said to me, something I’ll never forget that a changed me. You told me that the one thing you COULD do for [our daughter] was to be a sober dad for [our granddaughter], that you being [her] dad was the one thing she wanted more than anything, which was so true. That stuck with me from that moment forward. It was a beautiful thing to say & gave me a lot of comfort. Then we were able to spend Christmas together and talk about things regarding …. I’ll be honest, at first I had to pray every day for God to change my heart so I would love you & care about you, that I would let go to all that stuff in the past between you & [our daughter]. And God did – and you did. I’m so grateful that [we] are working together to parent [our granddaughter] and to raise her. I never would have thought. I didn’t know you well and didn’t understand how deeply devoted you are to [her] and that you did love [our daughter] … I wanted you to know how I feel and how grateful I am for everything that is happening…. “ [2]

I wanted to share this with you for a reason. The healing that began on the phone call did not make what happened any less tragic. It did not excuse past behavior. It opened up the potential for a new future.imgres

Our deliverance does not eliminate the past or all the consequences of the past. It does not eliminate the need to change or make amends. Instead, it provides a point for a new beginning. It provides a way to healing and wholeness again for both the betrayed and the betrayer, so we can experience that healing and wholeness in this life as far as possible and not be trapped in the past and its pain.

The spouse that cannot forgive a betrayal, the parent or child who cannot forgive a past betrayal, the business partner who cannot forgive a past betrayal becomes trapped in the past they cannot forgive. Such persons need a healing.

The person who betrayed that person, if they cannot repent and turn their life around, and accept the forgiveness of God, becomes trapped in the past as well. Like Judas, they commit a kind of emotional suicide, and morally,  spiritually and emotionally hang themselves on the rope of their past betrayal.  It is only when a betrayer (and we) repent, forgive, accept forgiveness, and make amends for the past  that we receive the healing and  new life that Christ offers us.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Marvel: Agents of Shield: Season 1, (ABC Studios, Marvel Studios, 2013-2016).

[2] Personal Email, February 18, 2016. Used by Permission.

Deliverance and our Deliverer

Those who love military history may remember an event known as, “The Great Raid.” [1] God is involved in a great rescue operation. He wants to deliver us from our captivities. He wants us to join him in his Kingdom of Light to which he draws us by his love. Happy Valentines Day!

imagesIn January 1945,121 volunteer U.S. Army Rangers, with a few “Alamo Scouts”  and  Filipino freedom fighters, conducted a rescue mission to save more than 500 allied survivors of the Bataan Death March. Early in World War II, the Bataan Peninsula fell to the Japanese. About 500 American and Allied soldiers were eventually sent to the Cabanatuan prison camp. The conditions in the camp were terrible. There was disease, malnourishment, brutality, and torture. By early 1945, it was clear that the Japanese were losing the war, and the Philippines were certain to be conquered by American forces. The Japanese High Command ordered that the prisoners be killed if there was a danger of their liberation. After an early atrocity at another camp, the Allied High Command determined to rescue these prisoners. I don’t have time to tell the entire story. However, on January 30, 1945, 513 prisoners were rescued. I do want to mention that Lt. Col. Henry Mucci was in overall command; and Capt. Robert Prince led the raid.

During the raid, many prisoners could hardly believe they were being rescued. One prisoner resisted even when he was told the rescuers were Americans. The prisoner, who had not seen an American uniform since 1941, said, “No Yank ever wore a uniform like that!” One prisoner said the following: “I think I was the first American out of the prison camp. First thing I knew I was standing outside with a big yank. His name was Capt. Prince of Seattle Washington, and the first thing I did was grab the captain and hug and kiss him right there.” You see, after so many years in a living hell, he had been rescued, and he was thankful for his deliverance!

Prayers for a New Church

The letter of Paul to the Colossians is one of the letters called “Prison Epistles.” Somewhere around the year 60 A.D., while Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter to the church at Colossae, a small city in what we know today as Turkey.imgres-2 The little church had some problems, and so Paul set out to write them a letter. Paul begins his letter by thanking the Colossians for the faith, hope, and love they are sharing throughout the world (Col. 1:3-7). Then, he prays that they will receive spiritual wisdom (v. 9), that they will live a life worthy of Christ (10), and that they will have the strength that only the Holy Spirit can give so that they might be empowered to live the Christian life in difficult circumstances (v. 11).

Our text picks up as Paul is giving thanks for the Colossians:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:9-14).

Let us Pray: O God, our Deliverer: this Lenten season we pray that you would come by the power of your Holy Spirit that each one of us might experience your saving grace in the new and precious way. In Jesus Name, Amen

The Gospel of Deliverance.

Sometimes, we have too small a view of our salvation. We reduce the gospel to a way to experience heaven when we die. Unfortunately, this is not what Jesus or the apostles meant by Good News. Did you notice that, in what I read to you a few moments ago, Paul tells the Colossians that they have become citizens of the “kingdom of light,” having been rescued from the kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:12-13). It is as if the Colossians had been trapped in a dark world in which there was no light. God by his mercy has rescued or delivered them from their dungeon and brought them into the Kingdom of Christ—a heavenly kingdom—a kingdom described by John as being like the city as beautiful as a bride descending to dwell in among men (Rev. 21:1-3; 22:1-5).

The British scholar, N. T. Wright, has written a new book entitled, “Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good.” [2] imgres-3In his book, Wright emphasizes that the Good News is not just about getting forgiven for being a sinner and going to heaven when we die. The Good News is that a New King has come to establish a New Kingdom, and we are called to give up our citizenship in our earthy kingdoms of darkness and become citizens of this New Kingdom. Jesus was not killed by the Romans for claiming to be God; he was killed by the Romans for claiming to be a king (See, Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:17-18).

Wright describes what Jesus was about as follows:

“Jesus wasn’t content to leave existing structures in place and start of a nice, quiet unobtrusive movement somewhere else. He didn’t want the rest of the world to go on with its idea of kingship while he started a sect, a separatist movement that wouldn’t challenge that notion. That might have been the effect of allowing human rulers to keep the word “king” while choosing a different slogan altogether. What he was doing was far more radical. Not only was Jesus plugging into the ancient scriptural promises that spoke of God coming back at last to be king of his people and the whole world. He was insisting that this kingdom of God, this new reality, the heart of his good news, was a different sort of rule based upon a different sort of power. And that it was designed to challenge the present powers of the world with a new kingship that would trump theirs altogether.” [3]

Like all kingdoms, Jesus did not expect his kingdom to be established without trouble. This is why Jesus foresaw his death (Matt. 26:2). The struggle for the Kingdom  is also reflected in Paul’s letter to Ephesians when he says:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Ephesians 6:10-18).

The rulers of the people and Pontius Pilate did not understand exactly what Jesus was about; they could not understand the true nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, they correctly understood that Jesus intended to found a Kingdom that would eventually supplant or at least threaten their kingdoms. Religious leaders, for religious reasons, and political leaders for political reasons couldn’t really tolerate his claim of Jesus. And that’s why he was crucified. The rulers of this world, the powers and principalities, also resist our entry into God’s Kingdom of Light and our spiritual growth after we enter God’s kingdom.

What does this mean for us? It means that right now, today, we are called to follow a new king. We are called to resist our culture, our natural impulses, our friends, and/or impulses when they would lead us into a kingdom of darkness instead of the kingdom of light. We are not just called to be saved; we are called to be changed and to change. We care called to become new people fit to inhabit a New Kingdom of Light and Love.

The First Conquest: the Conquest of Self.

As Paul lets us know in Colossians, the first step in becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God is to be delivered by Grace from the Kingdom of Darkness (Col. 1:13). [4] The word “deliverance” has gotten a bad name among Christians because some people, when they talk about deliverance, only want to talk about demons. The word “deliverance” is used over and over again in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The words used for “salvation” or “rescue” in Hebrew and Greek can, and often are, translated “deliver”. [5] The word used in Colossians also carries the connotation of been moved to another situation or place.

In the Old and New Testaments, God is often seen rescuing his people. God delivers the Jews from captivity in Egypt and delivering them into the Promised Land. God rescued David from the hands of his enemies and delivered the Kingdom into his hands. God rescued the Jews from captivity in Babylon and delivered them home to the Promised Land. In the same way, in the New Testament God rescued Jesus from the grave restoring him to an eternal life. God delivers those who are sick from their diseases to health. God delivers the demon possessed from their demons to sanity. God is a God of deliverance, which means that God is in the business of moving people and nations from one state to a better state!imgres

The delivering power of God means that we can and should pray to God for deliverance—to be rescued from our captivity to dark powers in and around us and delivered to a better state! We should pray to God to be delivered from our captivity to our secret sins, to our character flaws, to our brokenness, and to our unwillingness to change. Wednesday night, we had an Ash Wednesday service, during which we talked about the meaning of Lent and the meaning of the ashes. The ashes remind us that we are finite, mortal, flawed, sinners in need of salvation and a Savior. The good news we celebrate is that Christ is a conqueror who can deliver us.

Coming into the Kingdom.

Several months ago, I used an illustration that we have been learning in Salt & Light. [6] Imagine a throne. The throne symbolizes your life. In the beginning, most of us want to sit on the throne of our lives. We make mistakes, we betray others, we commit injustices, we do immoral things, we hurt ourselves, and we suffer. Then, imagine a second throne. You’re still on the throne, but somewhere sitting at your feet there is God. God is there to help you manage your life when you get into trouble. Most Christians spend most of their lives in exactly this situation. Finally, imagine Christ on the throne of your life and you sitting at Christ’s feet. Now, you are part of God’s kingdom, filled with the wisdom and love of God, you live in fellowship with God, the world, and others. You are in a better place.

A week or two ago, I came up with another illustration. Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I think it’s a good day to share with you. Imagine a huge heart. imgres-1 Inside of that heart, there are three interlocking circles representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bound together in eternal, unending, self-giving love. Imagine yourself far away from that heart. This is life lived without any relationship to God. Then, imagine yourself right at the edge of the heart with, perhaps, one arm kind of holding the heart in case you need it. That’s most of us: we want to be near God, we want to be able to touch the heart of God when we really need to, but we don’t want to get too close. Finally, imagine yourself being drawn inside the heart until you are surrounded by the love of God. Imagine your entire personality being permeated and changed by that transforming love. That’s what being in the kingdom of God means. [7]  To be in God’s Kingdom is to be drawn into the place of deep love and peace we have always dreamed of experiencing.

Response to Grace.

If we truly understand what God has done for us in Christ and what God wants for us, we will be overcome by the love of God. I hate to use two military illustrations in one sermon; however, as we celebrate Christ as deliverer, I think the movie, Saving Private Ryan has an important message. [8] If you remember, at the very beginning of the movie an old man is walking down the rows of a cemetery in Normandy, France. He finally finds one grave. He stands there, and then collapses in tears. images-1The man is James Francis Ryan. In the movie, Capt. John H Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and a small squad of men are asked to rescue the last surviving son of a woman who is already lost three children in the Second World War. Capt. Miller is not particularly anxious to set out on this mission, but he goes, and in the end saves Private Ryan. During the final moments of the rescue operation, Miller is killed. In his last moments, Miller asks Ryan to earn his rescue.

God has decided to mount a rescue operation. He has decided to deliver us from our sin, from our brokenness, from our poor thinking and foolishness, and from all of our brokenness into his Kingdom. In order to do this, he had no choice but to send his Son, his Only Son, his Beloved Son. It so happens, that his son, like Captain Miller was killed in the operation. That’s how much God loves us.

Now, we have a choice. We can deny the whole story and live on the basis of our own desires. We can just fondly remember what Jesus did on the cross, only really responding when we are in trouble. Or, we can allow ourselves to be drawn into the heart of God, trusting that the same God who sent his Only Begotten Son to give us eternal life can be trusted to save us from ourselves and deliver us to a much better place.  God can be trusted to rescue us from whatever keeps us from experiencing the joy of his Kingdom of Love and to deliver us into that place where we can experience the life of which we have always dreamed.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] You can learn more about the Great Raid at The quote below is from an interview with Captain Prince in his 85th year, as he remembered the raid. Several movies have been made about the raid, including one called, “The Great Raid.” Captain Prince was 25 when he led the raid.

[2] N. T. Wright, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (New York, NY: HarperOne, a division of Harper Collins, 2015). In this section, I am drawing heavily on this book.

[3] Id, at 63.

[4] As I point out below, the word translated “rescue” in Colossians can be and is sometimes translated “deliver” in the King James, Revised Standard, New King James, and other versions.

[5] There are several words used in the Old Testament for “deliver.” God is often characterized as the deliver of his people (See, Psalm 91 for example). In the New Testament, there are also several words translated as “deliver,” which can be used for both physical and spiritual deliverance. “Sozo,” which means “save” can also mean “rescue” or “deliver.” In Colossians1:13, “errusato” means rescue or deliver by moving from one place or condition (dominion of darkness) to another (the kingdom of light).

[6] For those who have missed it, Kathy and I are writing a new discipleship curriculum we call “Salt & Light. Last spring, we had a preliminary class. This year, we have a draft curriculum and are going through it with three different groups at Advent Presbyterian Church. We hope to complete the writing portion of the curriculum before the fall of 2016.

[7] In the Greek, there is a form called, “the spherical dative.” This tense is used when, for example, Paul speaks of “being in Christ.” The notion of the spherical dative is one of being surrounded by, in the sphere of the power of, the object. By the power of God’s Grace, which is his self-giving love,  a Christian should be drawn ever deeper into the sphere of the power of God, surrounded by the wisdom and love of God.

[8] Saving Private Ryan, wr. Robert Rodat, dir. Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Tom Sizemore. (Amblin Entertainment, Dreamworks, 1998). The movie is based on a true story from the Second World War. The Niland brothers were four siblings from New York. Although two brothers survived the war, there was a time when the Allied Command believed only one brother had survived the war. They therefore had what they assumed was the final surviving son, Fritz, sent home.Bob Niland was killed at D-Day. Preston Niland was also killed on D-Day. The final brother, Edmund, was missing and presumed dead, but was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

The Power of Prayer and Preparation

As we end this five week look at the Great Commission and its implications for our discipleship, we are focused on prayer and preparation for the future. It will help if you read Acts 1 either before or after the blog.What's Next Logo

Just about twenty-six years ago, Kathy and I were at an awkward stage of our marriage. When we married, I was a lawyer. For many years, we thought, argued, and prayed about going to seminary. However, the circumstances and time never seemed right. Then, in mid-January 1990, Kathy announced that she was ready to go to seminary and thought now might be the time. There were obstacles, like winding down a business, and selling a house, but we were pretty sure it was the right thing to do.

You can’t just decide to go to seminary and go when you have a business, children, a house, debts, and other obligations. Therefore, we were not finished praying and preparing for what was to come next. In fact, we entered a period of six months of extreme prayer and a lot of preparation! Life did not stand still because we had made a decision. We still had four children, family, a church, and other obligations.

As I remember, it began kind of slowly as we told a few friends and family about our decision. However, it got really busy really fast. We began praying about where to go to seminary. Over the next four months or so we visited seminaries, and applied to seminaries and workout financial details. In addition, there were clients to turn over to someone else, and the need to earn a living for the next six months! Our home needed to be sold or leased. We needed a place to live and schools for our children. Finally, it seemed certain that the best alternative was to attend Union Theological Seminary in Richmond Virginia. Seven months after we began, we left Houston for seminary.

Today, we are talking about the disciples and how they faced the interlude between the time that they received the Great Commission and the time they actually began accomplishing it. Our goal is to understand how we can wisely and productively use the “in-between times of life” while we are waiting for what comes next.

Commissioned to Wait.

Luke begins Acts by advising us that in the Gospel of Luke he told the story of what Jesus began to do before he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-2). In Acts, Luke tells the story of what Jesus continued to do through the disciples and the church after he ascended into heaven. Luke begins by briefly reviewing what Jesus did during the forty days between the time he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. This time was spent assuring the disciples that he was alive and teaching them what they would need to know to be witnesses of the resurrection (vv. 3-6).

On one occasion, he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift God had promised them: that the Father was going to send the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5). The disciples, still believing that Jesus might create a physical new Kingdom, asked him if this was the time when God would restore Israel (v. 6). Jesus replied with these words:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-9).

Luke goes on to tell us that, after he said this, Jesus was taken up before their eyes (Acts 1:9). wniebowstapienie-panskieNow, the disciples had received both the promise of the Holy Spirit and their commission to witness to what God had done in Jesus Christ. Still, there was waiting, praying, and preparation ahead of them.

Let’s Pray: God of power and might: we ask that you would come upon us this morning with the power of your Holy Spirit that we might deeply understand the importance of our cooperation in receiving your grace. Enlighten us, Change our hearts and conform our wills to Your Divine Will. In Jesus name, Amen.

Background to the Wait.

For the past five eweeks, this blog has been looking at the Great Commission as it appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and now Acts. Our theme has been, “What’s Next?” This is not only the theme for this initial series of blogs this year; it is our theme for the entire year of 2016. We are looking forward to what God is going to do next in our lives, families, neighborhoods, community, churches, and relationships.

Jesus was with his disciples for three years. He preached, taught, healed, cast out demons, and was the undisputed leader of his followers. Naturally, on a purely human level, the disciples relied upon the physical, human presence of Jesus. That’s why they were so fearful and confused when he died. They had been followers; now they had to learn to be leaders.

If Jesus had risen from the dead, stayed one day, and ascended into heaven, I honestly doubt the Christian faith would have made it. It’s a human tendency after a miracle to begin to explain it away in our minds. It’s natural to begin to wonder if you have misunderstood. It is natural to say, “I must have been dreaming; God would never do anything like this!” Therefore, Jesus took forty days to be with his disciples, assure them that he was alive, teach them the final lessons they would need to be his witnesses, and prepare them for the future.

The disciples, as they left the mount of the Ascension and returned to Jerusalem, were entering their final time of preparation. Soon, they would go into the entire would sharing the Gospel. Now, however, they must wait just a little while longer, putting to work what Jesus had taught them, and waiting for the gift of the Spirit.

It would be nice if the time between the promises of God and the fulfillment of those promises were instantaneous. However, it is rarely the case. There is always a time between our assurance that God has a future for us and the time in which we are actually empowered to enter that future. The big question then is, “What shall we do while we wait?” It is important how we spend out time as we wait for what comes next. We need to learn to wisely spend our time as we wait for what comes next.

Praying in the Future.

Luke tells us that the disciples returned to the city of Jerusalem to the Upper Room where they were staying (Luke 1:12-13). They were not alone. Mary Magdalene and the other women who had found the empty tomb, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his family, were also present (vv. 13). They did not, however, just sit around and wait for the Holy Spirit. We are told that they spent their time worshiping in the Temple (Luke 24:53) and praying (Acts 1:14).wait-forty-days

God wants many good things for all of us; however, there are things that we could have but will not have unless we pray. Is one of the mysteries of life that God, who already knows what we need before we ask him, still desires us to ask and pray (Matthew 6:8). Because God wants to have a relationship with us, God wants us to communicate with him about our needs. He wants us to open our hearts to his Spirit. Prayer does change things, and one thing it changes is our hearts.

The fact is that our spiritual relationship with God is no different than our physical relationship with friends and family. If we want to have a strong relationship, we have to communicate with our family and friends. Study after study shows that the single biggest problem with human relationships is a failure to communicate. Some of you may remember the movie Cool Hand Luke. Luke repeatedly tries to escape from prison. On the first such occasion, the prison warden others the most famous line in the movie: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”. [1] The warden was an evil guy, but he spoke an eternal truth: If we want to enjoy the full future that God desires for us the first thing we have to do is communicate with God and pray. With God and other people, a lot of problems come from a failure to communicate.

Preparing for the Future.

The second thing we have to do is prepare. As Acts tells the story, at one point during the ten day period before Pentecost, Peter stood up and spoke to the apostles. It seems that Peter had been contemplating the teachings of the Old Testament and thinking about what to do next. He concluded that, in the Old Testament, it was prophesied that, when the Messiah came, he would be betrayed (Acts 1:15-20). Peter quotes a number of scriptures in support of his idea. Then, he recommends that a replacement for Judas be elected (vv. 21-22).

You may ask “Why did Peter think this?” In my mind, the best answer is pretty simple: there were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve disciples, one to act as a representative of each tribe. If God was going to reconstitute Israel, as the disciples hoped, it makes sense that there ought to be a full complement of twelve disciples to do the job! [2]

It’s really interesting how exactly the disciples replaced the Judas. It shows their complete reliance upon God. First of all, the disciples accepted the leadership of Peter. They accepted that it was necessary to choose someone who had been with Jesus from the time of John the Baptist until the Ascension. Jerusalem56Having accepted Peter’s leadership, two names were proposed to the group, Barsabbas (called Justus) and Matthias. Then, the entire group prayed over the decision. Finally, they cast lots, leaving the final decision to God. Matthias was chosen (vv. 23-26).

This often overlooked passage tells us a lot about what we should be doing while we are waiting for God. There are always practical things we can do to get ready for the blessing God has for us. We can study our Bibles and ponder any biblical teaching we need to know to make a decision. We can think about what exactly we might do to accomplish our goal. And finally, as we make decisions, we can trust God.

Any elder who has participated in a serious decision in our church will tell you that we follow this model in making decisions. When faced with difficult problems we never act quickly. Instead, we pray, sometimes for hours (and sometimes for longer than many of the elders wish)! We also discuss the problem, hoping to come to a solution with which everyone agrees. This isn’t always possible, but it’s always our objective. These practices of praying, meditating, thinking, and preparing as we wait are ones we can all follow in our daily lives as we make decisions and move into the future.

Remembering Whose in Charge.

The story of the ten days between the commissioning of the disciples and the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit is a story of obedience. It is a story of the Twelve showing that they were ready to be leaders by putting into practice what they had learned from Jesus. They trusted God. They prayed to God. And then, they prepared for the future as best they knew how.

Lent is a period of time in which we meditate on our brokenness, our sorrow, our shortcomings, even our sinfulness. We don’t meditate on this so that we can feel bad about ourselves. searchWe meditate to prepare for Easter Sunday morning and our celebration of God’s victory over sin and death. I hope that this Lenten season we will all take the opportunity to pray for the forgiveness and healings we need from God and prepare for the future God has in store for us.

We are not finished with 2016 nor are we finished with asking the question, “What’s Next?” Now, however, we are moving into a new part of our journey: For the next several weeks we’re going to ask, “What changes do I need to make to receive the future God has in store for me?” and “How can I become spiritually ready for what comes next?” These too are questions worth asking. The next few blogs will be more painful than those we’ve had recently. They force us to consider who we really are and what needs to change in our lives so that we can experience the Spirit and the power of the resurrection.


[1] See, Cool Hand Luke, wr. Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson; dir. Stuart Rosenberg; starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy, and Strother Martin (Jalin Productions, 1967). The sadistic warden, in response to Luke’s escape, speaks the line. Some commentators have seen Luke as a kind of Christ figure and the warden as a kind of devil. However, the quote is true about many human relationships. George Kennedy won an academy award for his acting in the movie and Newman was nominated for an award.

[2] The number twelve is important to the disciples and important in Jewish history. Originally there were twelve tribes of Israel. By Jesus’ day, ten were lost. One expectation was that the Messiah would reconstitute Israel—meaning that the Twelve Tribes would be restored. This is probably one of the expectations that the disciples had of Jesus. It is clear that this expectation continues to be a part of the early church’s hope. In Revelation for example twenty-four elders bow down before God (Revelation 4:10 and before the lamb (Revelation 5:8).