God must have a sense of humor, don’t you think? God must do some things just because they are fun to do!
Several years ago, I thought I saw God’s funny bone at work overtime. Margaret and J were members of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, and I was serving as the chairman of the Missions Committee. It was during the time when there had been floods of Southeast Asians coming to this country, so our church had sponsored quite a few of them. There were so many Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians coming, and there was such a need, that we persuaded the Baptist Home Mission Board to send us a missionary to work with these folks. Some of you know him, Rev. Joshua Tran. He’s still here, still serving as a missionary to this population.
Well, I recall the Sunday morning when Rev. Tran arrived and was introduced to our church. He had been in this country several years, doing his seminary studies and serving in another city, and so he had learned to speak English, more or less.
Now you may know that many Asians have trouble with some of the sounds in the English language. Asians have trouble with what we call the liquid consonants, "L" and "R". "L" and "R" are formed with the mouth and the tongue in almost the same, position, and it’s hard for many Asians to get them right. You’ve heard the old jokes about "fried rice” becoming "flied lice", and so on.
Well, the Lord in His good humor really poured it on us that day, because here was this bright young man, trying to make a little speech of greeting, and, first of all, the Lord had brought him to a church named "Luther Rice Memorial". Brother Tran worked on that one for a while. And then we introduced him to the chairman of the special committee set up for this ministry. Guess what the chairman’s name was: Larry Rollins. Poor Joshua! He tried. "Rarry Rorrins at Ruer Ris Memoryar Chuch". He knew that wasn’t right, and he tried again. Five "L’s" and five "R’s"! "Rrry rrns at Rr Rs". The “Memorial Church” part he just dropped completely. We couldn’t avoid giggling, even if it was out there in church, in front of God and everybody. Brother Tran tried one more time, "RRR. RRR." He frowned. Then he smiled. And putting his hands together, he silently bowed to everybody in sight!
Now that’s called frustration! Frustration is trying so hard to do what you know you want to do, and just not being able to make it work. Frustration is being put on the line to achieve something, you’ve promised to achieve it, you’ve been told you must achieve it. But the harder you try, the worse things get. The more energy you put into it, the farther the goal slips from you. As Pogo Possum said it in the old cartoon, "The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get." That’s frustration.
And some of us are stuck in frustration. Some of us have made being frustrated not just a momentary problem, but the pattern of our very lives. Some of us have tried so many times to do, but we just couldn’t do. And we’ve built up a pattern of frustration; we’re stuck in it.
Now I know that you have experienced frustration. Who hasn’t? Who has been able to do everything you’ve set out to do? Think back on those frustrating moments, when all you wanted to achieve just kept slipping through your fingers. What did you feel? What did you do?
When there was a promotion on the job, you kept applying for it, but they insisted on giving the promotions to somebody else. What did you do? Did you feel hate? Did you consider telling a lie ... just a small lie ... about somebody, so that you might get the promotion? Frustration does strange things to us.
You’re a student. That math problem just wouldn’t solve. The answer to that history question just wouldn’t come up out of your subconscious, where you buried it last night during the MTV show. That chemistry experiment just wouldn’t give you the results it was supposed to give. What did you think about doing? Or maybe you did it? You leaned over to "borrow" somebody else’s answer. You wrote down measurements in your lab book that were closer to what should have happened than they were to what did happen. Frustration made you feel like cheating, didn’t it? Frustration does strange things, terrible things to us.
When you get stuck in frustration, it’s sin. And it is death.
Judas Iscariot is a fascinating study in frustration. Here is a man who was trying to get something done. Trying very hard to achieve a goal, but not succeeding. I see Judas as a frustrated man, one whose feelings of frustration pushed him over the edge and into sin and death. Let’s learn from Judas Iscariot what it means to be stuck in frustration.
First, when we get stuck in frustration, we forget about the needs of others in our hurry to do what we want to do. When our lives stick in a pattern of frustration, we run over others, we become inconsiderate of others, we are in such a hurry to do what we want to do.
Judas had an agenda. Very likely it was a selfish agenda. He had been pursuing this plan for a while. Maybe for three years, maybe longer. And he couldn’t wait any more. He had to have what he wanted to have. Money. Riches. He’d already stolen from the disciples’ treasury. But frustration breeds frustration. He wanted more. He had to have more now. And nobody was going to get in his way.
And so he sacrificed Jesus. He betrayed Jesus. For the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver he gave in to his frustrations. He was so anxious to have what he wanted to have that he ran roughshod over his friend and brother.
I’ve done a fair amount of work around our house. A little plumbing, a little electrical work, some carpentry. You will ask if I’m any good at it. Well, my son would tell you about that. My son used to watch me work around the house. He learned a lot that way. Mostly he learned what not to do. I just recently found out what he thought about that. He told his mother that he noticed that when things didn’t fit, I would force them to fit. Square pegs in round holes, big screws in little nuts, six-inch boards in five-inch spaces. Force it to fit.
Isn’t that a parable of our lives? We try to make things fit. We force people to fit our notions of what we want. And when they won’t fit, when they resist, we forget that they are people with feelings. We forget that they can be hurt. We just plunge ahead, impatient to make a name for ourselves, hurrying to get where we are going. We are stuck in frustration, and we take it out on others around us.
I recently got a wake-up call from one of our church committees. I had proposed a particular program, and thought I knew exactly how it should be done. I had the materials in mind, I had the plan in mind, I had the strategy in mind, I even had some of the leaders in mind. But when I came to the committee meeting, watch out! They didn’t want to do it that way. They had another idea. They thought they had a better idea. And basically what they said to me was, pastor, you sometimes impose your way of doing things on everybody in the church. We don’t like it when you do that.
Guess what? They were right on target. It’s easy to get rigid. It’s easy to have an idea, even a good idea, and to impose it on everybody else, when you feel frustrated. It’s tempting to ram through your own plans and not give two hoots about how anybody else feels about it. That’s stuck in frustration, and that’s sin.
Judas betrayed Jesus. He betrayed Jesus because Judas Iscariot was going to have his way, right here, right now, he was tired of waiting, and the devil take the hindmost.
Being stuck in frustration is sin. It makes us forget the needs of others in our hurry to have what we want to have.
But now let me take that a step deeper. A very big step deeper. Not only is it that when we are stuck in frustration, we forget how others feel. It is also that we forget how God feels. We have decided that we are going to do things our way, not God’s way. We are going to take over from God, who is impossibly slow and never gets around to giving us what we want!
Let’s give Judas the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s suppose that it wasn’t just greed for money that drove him to betray Jesus. Let’s suppose that it was, as some scholars think, because he thought that God would never let Jesus die, and so, if he, Judas, would just push things along, then God would have to bring the Kingdom, the hated Romans would be driven out, and poof! Everything would be all right. Let’s just suppose that Judas thought he was helping God out by what he did.
Still the issue is that you cannot use immoral means to gain a moral end. You cannot use wrong methods to accomplish right goals. Let me say it very simply: you cannot do good by doing bad! And most of all, you cannot take over from God. That’s why being stuck in frustration is sin. It leads us to take the place of God. We quit asking, "what does God want?" and we decide we already know.
I don’t know about you, but I am always very suspicious of people who say to me, "The Lord told me ... ". The Lord told me this, the Lord told me that. I’m suspicious for two reasons. I’m suspicious because, in the real world, I, for one, do not have too many experiences of hearing the voice of the Lord in unmistakable terms. I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m just saying it is a rare and unlikely thing.
But mostly, I am suspicious because I seem to hear people saying that the Lord tells them things to their own advantage. Somehow they always hear the good stuff and never the painful stuff!
I had a student at Howard University who was always saying that the Lord had promised him a new car after graduation. He just kept talking about that Corvette! “The Lord is going to give it, I just know it. Black, five-speed, leather interior." Seemingly the Lord revealed things to him in Technicolor! But now bear in mind that this is the same student who said he was going to go to dental school because he had noticed that dentists made enough money to go out and play golf twice a week! Isn’t it interesting how when we mess round with the Lord’s will, we think we’re going to get something? I’m suspicious.
By the way, the last I saw of this young man, the vehicle in which he was traveling did not read "Corvette" on the side. I’m not real sure, but I think the sign said, "Metrobus".
Frustration, stuck in frustration, makes us run ahead of God. It makes us second-guess God. It makes us try to force God into doing for us what we want, not what He wants.
Judas betrayed Jesus. His betrayal was the result of living stuck in frustration. It was not only a betrayal of his friend Jesus. It was a betrayal of God, it was a shortchanging of trust, it was a short-circuiting of faith. He just could not wait. He wanted to force the issue. He was stuck in frustration, stuck in sin.
What shall we say to these things? What is the way out of frustration? How do you live with not being able to accomplish, right away, all you set out to accomplish? How do you deal with pushing toward some goal for years, only to see it wither away? How do we get unstuck from frustration?
I point you today beyond Judas Iscariot. I point you to the one Judas betrayed. I point you to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. To the pioneer and perfecter, who did finish the course, who did complete the race, who did achieve what He set out to achieve.
But I point you to Him because it didn’t look as though He was going to achieve it. It didn’t seem that Jesus would get done the job He came to do. If you are trying to teach men and women about God and about how to love God, what good will it do if your life ends on a cruel cross? If you are trying to persuade others to love their brothers and sisters and their God, why would they believe you when they see you go to a shameful and painful death?
And yet, men and women, that is exactly what happened. That is precisely the message of the cross. The cross of the Lord Jesus teaches us how we can get unstuck from our frustration. It goes like this: "If anyone wants to save his life, he will lose it. But if anyone will lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, he will find his life."
For if the issue with Judas Iscariot was that he would push everybody out of his way to get what he wanted, then the answer with Jesus is that He would die to give us what we need. He would give up all His rights and privileges, for us. How did Jesus conquer frustration? He made Himself of no reputation, and took on himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Are you beginning to see it? Jesus overcame frustration. He overcame frustration not by pushing us aside, not by running over our needs; but by giving himself to us, by dying for our needs. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the godly for the ungodly.
Oh, and do you see how it was victory for Him? Do you feel the joy? "He made himself of no reputation, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross, wherefore ... for that reason ... God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." He was not stuck in frustration because he chose to give himself first to the needs of others, He chose to love us before he served himself You will not be stuck in frustration if you will seek to serve others first.
And there is more. I say, I point you not to Judas Iscariot, but to Jesus Christ. For if the issue with Judas was that he would even set aside God in order to do what he wanted to do, then the answer with Jesus is that He was obedient. If the issue with Judas Iscariot is that he would not wait for God to be God, then the answer with Jesus is that He was obedient. He sought and found God’s will and was obedient. In that garden on the night before he would go to trial, he prayed. And oh, how He prayed! He prayed not just a two-minute "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer, but He prayed a long and painful, agonizing prayer. "Let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done." He was obedient to what God wanted Him to do. No short cuts. No bed of roses. No convenient sidestepping of the issues. But a cross. Obedient.
Oh, the old song says it, "Jesus walked this lonesome valley; he had to walk it by himself. Oh, nobody else could walk it for him. He had to walk it by himself." He was obedient.
Are you frustrated this morning? There are so many goals you’ve pushed for and you just can’t seem to get there. You just can’t seem to find a way. Are you stuck in frustration?
You have a choice. You can be Judas Iscariot, pushing so hard to have what you want to have. Pushing so hard you care neither for your fellow human beings nor for God Himself. And no matter how hard you push, you will stay stuck in frustration, you will be defeated, exhausted, and dead.
Or you can be with Jesus Christ, who gave His life as a ransom for many. You can press on for the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. You can come unstuck from frustration, pain, and sin. You can choose to follow Jesus, and then you can cry out, as He did, from that cross, "It is finished! It is finished! Hallelujah. It is finished!"