Wait For It

Wait For It

The band Arcade Fire touched on something in their song “We Used to Wait”, from the 2010 Grammy winning album of the year “The Suburbs”.   It’s a song about how fast our pace of life has become, how complicated things have become, about how even though we tell ourselves everything will be alright, we just can’t sleep at night.  If everything is so alright, just why can’t we sleep at night??   Here is a partial lyric sheet from that song…

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name

I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain

Now our lives are changing fast.
Now our lives are changing fast.
Hope that something pure can last.
Hope that something pure can last.

Now it seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

We used to wait.
We used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait.
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown

We used to wait.
We used to wait.
We used to wait.
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
I’m still moving through the pain

Now we’re screaming “sing it again”

I used to wait for it

I used to wait for it

Hear my voice screaming “sing it again”

Wait for it

Wait for it

Wait for it

Now I’m going back 4000 years.    Going back to a time when we used to wait for it…

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….”

Genesis 18:1-2 ESV

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mare, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….Do you have this image??   We can look at the Bedouin people in the Judea wilderness.  Arcade Fire sings that our lives are changing fast, but not for the Bedouins…Our lives may be changing fast, but theirs are not.  We can imagine what this scene is like, we can know what the tent looks like.  We can imagine old man Abraham sitting at the door of his tent.   We can imagine Sarah bringing to him a bowl of dates. Old man Abraham, it’s hot outside, just sitting in the door of his tent under his canopy.  Old man Abraham with his long beard, just sitting there.  Doing nothing more than occasionally eating dates, spitting out the pits, drinking from his jug of water.  He’s just being…alive in the heat of the day.  He can taste the sweetness of the date, see the blue sky, feel the heat of the day, hear the insects drone, he can smell the sheep….

Then in the shimmering distance on the horizon, he sees three men drawing near.  Three strangers, he doesn’t know them.  So Abraham does what Bedouins do to this day, offer their famous hospitality, he invites them to stay for a meal, and they do.  Abraham sits down in the heat of the day at the entrance to his tent with his three guests and they share a meal.  But over the course of the meal, and the conversation that ensues, Abraham slowly begins to understand that this more than three strangers, but this is in fact an encounter with God, the God that he worships, the God that he has followed out of Ur of the Chaldeans.

God begins to reveal more if his will and make more promises.  This time God makes promises to Sarah and Sarah laughs and thinks it’s funny.  Sarah says “I didn’t laugh”, God says “Yes you did.”   Because she did laught, because it’s funny.  God says that she, Sarah, at 90 years old will in a year give birth to a child by Abraham who is 99.  It’s funny stuff…

What is Abraham doing??  Ultimately he’s saving the world.  He’s establishing the line of Abraham that becomes the nation of Israel.  That becomes the people through whom Messiah comes and brings us salvation.  He’s living the most important life in history before Jesus Christ.  Not Moses, not David, not Solomon, not Elijah, but nobody is more important than father Abraham.

What does he do?  He doesn’t do much in life.  If you add up everthing he did in the Bible it wouldn’t take much more than a week.  Abraham spent most of his life waiting.  Just being, just waiting…

We used to wait for things.   That’s what Arcade Fire recognizes in their song as a change in our society.  We don’t wait much anymore.  Now our lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last….

One of the biggest changes over the past century, the whole of the twentieth century but even more so now in the twenty first century is the speed of life.  It just keeps getting faster and faster and faster…the speed of life.  Much of our technology has been utilized to make things happen that much faster.  So fast that we don’t have to wait for it.  As a people, we have learned to dislike waiting.  We hate to wait

I am writing to myself far more than you.  This might be for you but I know it’s for me.  I’m writing out of my own need.  We have been cultured in speed and instant.  We have learned to hate the idea of waiting for anything.  I am the worst, and it’s a defect in my character I’m asking Jesus for help with.   So when a band like Arcade Fire tells us to wait for it, they are speaking to me.  I know  this is something I need to hear, probably we all need to hear…

The Bible really has almost nothing good to say about being in a hurry.  In fact, the Bible seems to view being in a hurry as a kind of temptation.  A kind of lust to have things in an inappropriate way.  When the Bible portrays people who won’t wait for it, It usually means they are heading in a wrong direction….

Adam and Eve.  Think about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Knowing good and evil, that in and if itself probably was not an evil thing.  What was evil was for Adam and Eve not to wait for it and let God in his way, in his time, teach them good from evil.  Instead, they listened to the serpent, couldn’t wait for it, and went and plucked from that tree and put the whole human race into trouble.

Abraham and Sarah, most of the time they did pretty good.  But then they had a hard time waiting for it.  So they wanted to speed things up, make it happen faster.  They got tired of waiting for it.  So Sarah gives Haggar to Abraham.  Let’s just say that created some tension in the home…brought some trouble about.

Maybe you remember the story about King Saul was waiting for the prophet Samuel to come preside over the offering of the sacrifice.   Samuel was delayed, Saul was waiting.   He had to wait for it. He didn’t want to wait any longer, so he offered up the sacrifice himself, something he was not authorized to do.   It got Saul in trouble, and it began his whole downward spiral until finally he would be rejected by the Lord from being King.  Because he wouldn’t wait for it.

Or the Prodigal Son.  He wouldn’t wait for it, he wanted his inheritance NOW!  It’s a defect in out soul when we won’t wait for it.

We need to realize that the pace of the Bible is slow.  The Bible is very pre-modern in that sense.  We, as modern people, have decided that there is nothing that can not be improved by making it faster.   But the Bible resists all of that.  The pace of the Bible is deliberately slow.  You will find that God makes a promise and then fulfills it…maybe 700 years later.   That happens with Isaiah.  Isaiah brings forth a promise from God that God is going to do a certain thing, and then seven centuries roll by before God gets around to doing it.

Who would like to be used of God to bring forth a great promise of God that will be fulfilled about 2718????

Wait for it

John Lewis

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Saving Zacchaeus

Saving Zacchaeus

Jesus touches the untouchable. The leper and the unclean, Jesus touches them. Jesus loves the unlovable, the tax collector and the prostitute. Jesus includes the excluded, the Samaritan and the prostitute. Jesus welcomes the banished, the prodigal and the scapegoat.

Zacchaeus has a role to play in Jericho. He has a role to play in their religious framework. They do it unconsciously, the crowd. They don’t know what they are doing, this is what Jesus prays from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV. They don’t know what they are doing, but they need Zacchaeus, because they’re whole religious system needs a scapegoat.

The word religion, in its origin, means “to bind together.” It’s what gives us cohesion and binds us together in culture and religious similarity. But from the dawn of religion, it works like this – we’re all afraid. We’re all afraid that we won’t belong, we’re all afraid that we’ll be the outcast. We’re all afraid that we don’t measure up. We’re all haunted by this lurking fear that we’re not good enough. So what we do collectively, and largely unconsciously, is we take that fear and insecurity and we project it on someone that we have determined is really bad

So we see one like Zacchaeus, chief tax collector, chief of sinners. What we are saying is I don’t know if I’m good enough, but I’m not as bad as that one!! We all agree that we can be included, because we’re not as bad as that one!!! This is really the origin of religion. Throughout the world, that’s primarily how religion works. It’s very sophisticated, it can be done in much more elaborate ways, in fact that’s where sacrifice comes from.

The only problem is Jesus comes along and will not play the game!!! You can get the feeling they all want to take Jesus aside and say “Don’t you know how this works? The only reason we feel good and secure is because we are able to take our fear and insecurity and project it on someone ekse. But you go and keep having lunch with those guys! It’s messing up our who system.” To which Jesus says ‘Yeah, Pretty much…”

This is the radical hospitable of Jesus that Luke desperately wants us to see. It’s why Luke shows Jesus going from table to table, from meal to meal, eating and drinking with all the wrong people, as if Jesus is constantly saying to those who have been excluded “You belong here. I know you’ve been told that you don’t belong. That you are forbidden, that you cannot come here. But I am saying that you belong here, you tax collector, you sinner, you prostitute, you leper, you unclean, I say you belong here.” Some of us may applaud Jesus for that, but not everyone did. Jesus practiced a boundary pushing, kosher-challenging, line crossing, Pharisee infuriating radical hospitality. The question is, do we?

If we’re not careful, what we like to do is draw the lines, put up the velvet rope, and make sure it’s very clear who’s in and who’s out. We do this lest we be found guilty of going soft on sin. Can’t be seen as soft on sin, can we? Gotta draw the lines, put up the ropes, put up the barriers, because we don’t want to go soft on sin…

But does it work? Does this exclusionary practice actually produce holy people. Or is this more of the real story? – In general, aren’t we just as filled with lust, just as greedy, just as angry, just as self centered, just as broken, just as addicted, but we have with it the added pressure of keeping it hidden. At least in the bar you can say “I’m really messed up. I’m probably an alcoholic. I’m cheating on my wife. I’m really a bad sinner.” And they will put their arm around you and say “Well, you know, maybe things will get better..

But you can’t do that in church, because you will be then excluded. So maybe our exclusionary practice has served only to make us very competent in the practice of hypocrisy. It doesn’t produce holiness, it just teaches us how to hide our problems. All the while, Jexus says this – “Just come to my table. Be honest. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming to the table.”

You can really sum it up like this. Jesus says “Come to my table. Be honest. Don’t pretend, I already know everything. I know you’re a sinner. I know who you are Zacchaeus. I know who you are Bob, Fred, Susie, Nancy, Sally, Ted. I know who you are. I know what your issues are, and I accept you. Just come to my table. But be honest about who you are. And don’t stop anyone else from coming. That’s all I ask.” I think that’s pretty close to what Jesus is asking of people.

For Jesus, salvation is radical hospitality and the redemptive consequences that come from it. For Jesus, salvation is having a seat at the table of grace and the transformation that happens there. Remember, Jesus virtually never uses the word salvation. In fact, he uses it exactly twice in all the gospels. None in Mark, none in Matthew, once in John, once in Luke.

But what Jesus does talk about is the Kingdom of God, and that’s what he talked about all the time. Over and over, Kingdom, kingdom, kingdom. Every sermon, every parable, Jesus constantly talks about the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, the apostle Paul almost never talks about the Kingdom of God, but he talks about salvation all the time. But we must get this, Jesus and Paul are talking about the same thing. What Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, what Paul calls salvation, they are not talking about two different things.

But here’s one of those times where Jesus uses the noun salvation. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.We put up the velvet rope, we draw the lines, we engage in exclusionary practices and tactics because we’re afraid sin will run rampant. All we’re really doing is showing our own lack of faith in Jesus. We need to have a little more faith in Jesus. We need to believe that if people will encounter Jesus, something good will happen.

We like to say love the sinner, hate the sin. That way we can feel extra special pious as we lovingly point out everybody else’s sin. But where do you find Jesus telling us to hate other people’s sin? Nowhere. Jesus says hate your own sin. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?Matthew 7:4 ESV. Jesus says that while we’re busy worrying about someone else’s sin, we have logs in our own eyes. Jesus says to us love the sinner…always. But he says love the sinner, hate your own sin.

So Jesus says he must eat with the worst sinner in town. People said that was Zacchaeus was the worst sinner in town, Jesus says Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today. But to be with Jesus is to be changed. So Zacchaeus says Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold. Zacchaeus didn’t know his Torah. The Torah only required twenty percent restitution. But Zacchaeus declares he will restore it fourfold. And Jesus jumps and says salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.This is what Jesus came to do, seek and save the lost. He came to find those on the outside, excluded, told they don’t belong, and bring them in…

Jesus finds this new commitment of Zacchaeus to economic justice and calls it salvation. It’s not that Zacchaeus earns forgiveness by what he now does with his money. Zacchaeus is saved by the radical hospitality of Jesus, by the fact that he comes to his house and shared a meal with him. But this is what salvation looks like in the life of someone like Zacchaeus. And we should see that to be with Jesus is to be transformed.

Grace is being offered a seat at the table no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Salvation is the forgiveness and transformation that happens as a result. It’s not Zacchaeus eternal destiny that needs to be saved. Jesus never says “I need to save your eternal destiny.” What needs saving is Zacchaeus. If Zacchaeus is saved, his eternal destiny will be fine.

Jesus is not wanting to save your eternal destiny, he wants to save you. Zacchaeus was a messed up man. He was malformed, misshapen, twisted up. He twisted out of shape by societies pliers, he valued money more that people. But one meal with Jesus and his transformation has begun. He says wait a minute…people are way more important than money.I’m going to give half my money to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them four times as much. And Jesus says Today salvation has come to this house….Jesus says that looks like salvation to him. It looks like Zacchaeus is getting it, Zacchaeus is being transformed, he is becoming a new creation.

As surely as Jesus called Zacchaeus down from that tree by name, he calls you by name. He says “come to my table.” Eat the bread, drink from the cup. Just come. If you’re willing to come, Jesus will receive you. Be honest, don’t come to the table and pretend. Don’t come and pretend to be more righteous than you are. Jesus knows you. Come honestly about who you are. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming. Take down your barricades, take down your velvet ropes. If anyone will come, let them come to the table of the lord…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.1-10.esv

John Lewis

Little Rich Man

I’ve been working my way through the gospel of Luke, now we are into chapter 19. Ever since chapter 9, Luke has been retracing the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. From right after the transfiguration in chapter 9 to the triumphal entry at the end of chapter 19, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The story becomes more and more ominous as we go. There is a dark ominous cloud lingering over Jesus as he’s on his way ultimately to be crucified. He talks more and more about what is to happen once they get to Jerusalem…saying things like “”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.””Matthew 26:2 ESV. And…“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””

Luke 9:22 ESV

But today we have the final event before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. What Luke is doing today is once more showing us that salvation and the kingdom of god are expressed as radical hospitality.

Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus as moving from table to table, meal to meal, announcing and enacting the kingdom of god. He wants to show us one more time, with the story of Zacchaeus, what that kingdom looks like. They are nearing Jerusalem, arriving at Jericho. They are one days journey from Jerusalem. The very next day Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem. This is the final event recorded before we move into the actual passion week, the Holy Week of Jesus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

By now we are encountering what should be a familiar theme. Once again we have a tax collector, not just a regular tax collector but a chief tax collector. He is rich and he is despised. The Pharisees thought that land based wealth based on production of the land was a sign of being blessed by God. We saw before that Jesus didn’t agree with that. He didn’t agree with the assesment that you can determine God’s favor and blessing based upon wealth and riches. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that great wealth accrued through the production of the land was a sign of Gods favor, but wealth accrued by collecting taxes for the hated occupying gentile force of the Romans was seen as a great evil. Tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the consummate moral outcasts, excluded from the synagogue and temple life. A chief tax collector would be seen as completely excluded from the covenant of Abraham. You might as well think of Zachaeaus as the chief of sinners.

Zacchaeus is banished from the synagogue, he can not participate from synagogue life. Being banished from the synagogue, he’s also banished from the Kingdom of God. There was a great sense of anticipation at this time. There was a great Jewish anticipation something big was about to happen. The Kingdom of God really was going to come. They believed that God was about to act decisively and definitively very soon, and would establish his reign, rule, and government among men. They were equally convinced that people like Zacchaeus would be excluded from it. They would not be a part of what God was doing. They would be left out.

But – by this time I hope you have learned that we must not be so quick to dismiss those who appear to be outside of the kingdom of God just because they don’t presently participate in accepted forms of religious life.

This is Zacchaeus’ situation. He is an outsider, an outcast. He is banned from the synagogue. Everybody views him as a despised sinner, and he will not be a part of what God is doing.

But Zacchaeus has something going for him. He is fascinated by Jesus. He has heard that Jesus is coming. Word of Jesus had spread, this prophet from Galilee who works miracles, heals the sick, helps the lame walk, the blind see. I’m sure that had gotten Zacchaeus attention.

No doubt he’d also heard about his table practice. He’d heard how this miracle worker from Galilee would also share his table with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the outcasts, those who’d been banned from the synagogue. This is very fascinating to Zacchaeus.

We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not just as a celebrity. He wanted to see who Jesus is. He was fascinated by Jesus. I want to see who this guy is. What is he about? What’s he really like?

That kind of sinner is far more common than you think. Our world is filled with people who have zero interest in going to a church, but they are fascinated by Jesus. And if they see some means by which they really might actually know what Jesus is actually about and like, the are interested in that. That’s Zacchaeus…

Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. All those people that we think are on the wrong side of God, that don’t do things just as we do, Jesus wants to sit down and share a meal with them. And they are far more willing to sit down with Jesus than we, or even they, might think. Trouble is, the body of Christ in the world is far too often putting up barriers, putting conditions in coming to the table. Instead of putting up barriers, maybe we just need to wash the dishes, set the table, prepare the meal, and have a seat.

Yes, these people are messed up. But do we trust Jesus enough to simply allow him to sit down those whom we think are lost? Of course there is more to say on this, I will be back…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

John Lewis

Standing Firm

Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry.  It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.

That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV.   Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols.   Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry.  Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away.  Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day.   Dying by snakes.  It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel.  1 Corinthians 10:10.

As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real.  Sometimes, we forget this.  We get a little bit of sober time.  We get a lot of sober time.  We get clean, we stay clean.  We claim the victory over whatever ails us.  But we forget.  We forget that those consequences are still out there.  We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.

We forget.  We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We forget how close we are to falling.   In recovery, we call this relapse.   For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away.  That’s all it took, was just one look.  That’s all it takes.

People ask me, how do I keep from drinking??   I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo.   But, I do get asked about the drinking.   Y answer is always the same.  It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal.  I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks.  I’m just not drinking one.   The first one.

Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not),  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.   You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that.   It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes.   And in a way, that’s true.  None of us walks the same walk.  Each of us has a unique story.   But our struggles, this is what we have in common.  We all struggle with something in our lives.   And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come.     For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV.  But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.   We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives.   But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear.   Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter –  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV.   Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it.  John tells us what that way is.    “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV.  Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   

Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you?   Confess it.  To somebody.   On this point, those of us in recovery  have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor.  So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together.  Until we don’t.

Those consequences, remember them?   They are still waiting.  You might forget them, they will not forget you.  Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away.  Think you are standing firm?   Be careful that you don’t fall.  Find someone you trust, and talk about it.  Don’t hide.  “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18 ESV.  It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV

http://bible.com/111/1co.10.11-13.niv

John Lewis

What is Hell??

What is Hell??

The Pharisees theology always had the danger of causing them to be unkind to the poor and sick.  When they mocked Jesus for saying they could not serve God and money, Jesus gives them the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  Or, we might say, a story of hell and how to get there.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every dayThis rich man is straight from lifestyles of the rich and famous.  He’s a one percenter.  A billionaire maybe.   He’s very wealthy.

And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.   At the gate of the rich man is Lazarus.  A poor man, sick, covered in sores.  Maybe crippled, certainly hungry and homeless.  He would love to have the crumbs from the rich mans table.

 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  They both die.  They both are in Hades, the place of the dead, the underworld.  The poor man is with Abraham, the rich man is in torment.  From view of the rich man, the poor man and Abraham are way off in the distance.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  The rich man still had not learned to love and see Lazarus as a person.  He still immediately sees him as an inferior whose purpose in life was to serve him.

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’   You might find it interesting that up to this part of the parable was an existing folk tale,  everybody had heard this before.  This was a common story.  It shows up in at least 7 different versions in rabbinic writings of the time.  Sometimes it was maybe a rich man or merchant, sometimes a poor beggar, poor slave or a servant.  They interact in life, but not really.  But in death, the roles are reversed.  It’s a very common story.

But Jesus adds this next part about the five brothers.  And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’   This is Jesus’ way of bringing the story from the afterlife to the here and now.  Jesus refocuses and says I want to talk about right now.

The original point of the story was that there would come a day when there will be a great reversal.  Here, in this life, some are rich, some are poor, but don’t expect things to stay that way once we are taken down to Sheol, to Hades, to the place of the dead.  In that place, a great reversal is going to come, some of the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus point is that that day has arrived.   That time day is now..  That’s what I’m announcing with the Kingdom of God.  Now is the time for the poor on the ash heap to be lifted up  and be seated with the princes of his people.  If the rich don’t believe it, if they stand in the way, if they don’t get on board, they will find themselves tumbling down,   Many who are last shall be first.  You know that story you’ve been telling about how the day will come, that day of a great reversal, that day is now.  That’s what Jesus is announcing with the Kingdom of God.

The  Pharisees, who Jesus is addressing this to, are the five brothers.  They’re not dead yet, they are not in Hades, but they have a belief system that causes them to overlook people like Lazarus.   The rich man knows they’re in danger, he’s worried what will happen to them…

The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers – the Pharisees.  He asks Father Abraham to send him to my father’s house— Jesus has used that phrase before in a parable…for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ It’s too late for me, but send Lazarus to my brothers to save them….

But Jesus has Abraham say this – But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  They don’t need Lazarus to go back.  They just need to listen to the law and the prophets.   How does Jesus sum up the law and the prophets??   “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love Lazarus, your neighbor sitting at you gate, as yourself.

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’   And Jesus, through Abraham in the parable, says this…He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

The rich man thinks that if someone would rise from the dead, that might change his brothers mind.   Jesus says he’s wrong.  Think about this.  Did the dead Prodigal Son coming home to the Fathers house change the self righteous older brother?   It did not.  That is exactly how the father describes the brother, remember?   “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”” Luke 15:32 ESV.   You have to put these two parables together.  Jesus is creating both these parables for the same group of people, the Pharisees.  In the parable of the prodigal, we have a dead brother who comes to life again, and it doesn’t change the older brother.  So here we have Abraham saying that if those brothers are not listening to the message of the law and the prophets to love god with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as themselves, then they’re not going to be changed when a dead prodigal comes to life again.

Or even when a crucified Messiah is raised to life again on the third day.  

The fact is that if you do not love God and you do not love your neighbor, the resurrection of Jesus is probably not going to mean much to you.  You will do whatever you must to find a way to wiggle yourself out of the implications.

So, about Hell and how to get there.  Refuse to love.  Refuse to love God, refuse to love your neighbor, and you’ll find your way there.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a means by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and still have everything turn out alright.  Be careful that you don’t create a theological system by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and have everything turn out alright.  Seriously…

Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets.  He came to fulfill them.  He said that, didn’t he?  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 ESV.  What is Jesus summary of the law and the prophets?  Again, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you have created a theological system where you don’t have to love God or love your neighbor and think everything will still be ok, what have you done?  What kind of madness is that?

Whatever you think about what salvation is, know that Jesus did not come to save you from loving God and loving your neighbor.  That’s not what he’s saving you from, that’s what he’s saving you to.  Jesus has come to make that thoroughly possible.   He’s come to form a people who will actually live out the intent of all the law and the prophets.

Both Lazarus and the rich man are in the same place.  They are both in Sheol, Hades, the place of the dead.  But one is comforted, one is in torment.  So, what is hell?  The suffering of no longer being able to love.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov.

“”There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'””

Luke 16:19-31 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.19-31.esv

John Lewis

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,  but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable.  In other words,  I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus.  We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different.  The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people.  As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.

So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   Did you hear that?   I hope so.  Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point.   You can not serve both God and money.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it[or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’  I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”   

This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.  He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like.   This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.   In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation).   The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it.  Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.

So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money,  what happens?   The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed himThe Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money.   They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.”    They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking.   Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce.   You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed.    If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).

The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing.  On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.

Jesus disagreed.  Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing.  Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil.   Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man.  So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil.  In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing.  But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.

This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.   That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man.  He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.

The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment.  Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system?   Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!

Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees.  Again, Jesus disagrees.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV.  Who are we going to blame here?   The man or his parents?   Jesus says “neither”.  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.   So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…

So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Luke 16:13-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.13-17.esv

John Lewis

Reckless

Reckless

Spent the past weekend being reminded of the truth that God laid out for us so long ago, all the way back to the beginning, as in in the beginning…a truth which we’ve all heard and we all know inherently within our being, even if we are not actually conscious of it in our minds.

In the Genesis creation account, God declares much to be good, and when I say he declares much to be good, I mean he declares everything he has created to be good.   And God saw that the light was good.   God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.   Over and over again, And God saw that it was good.   Until we get to the sixth day, And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.   All that God made, the heavens and the earth, the waters and the land, the seas and the heavens, the plants trees and vegetation, all the animals of the sea and on the dry land, everything God created in and on this world, of which we sing in songs so joyfully that it is not our home, is all goodgood, and then, just in case you missed it, very good.  God gave us a beautiful, wonderful, good, good and very good creation (His words, not mine).   Take and do with that what you will.

But now to the point.  What is the first thing in the Bible that is called not good by God?   “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”   Men – don’t miss this and don’t get this twisted.   It is not good that the man should be alone.  It is not good for man be alone.  Yes, man, it is not good for you to be alone.    Including you.  And you women also, but of course women don’t seem to struggle with this as much as men.

Because we men, well, after all, we are men.   We are born and raised, proud, red-blooded, pick ourselves by the bootstraps, don’t cry, never let ‘em see you sweat, American men.   This is the script we live by, that is how we are taught to live.   And even when we are surrounded by a crowd of people, we live this way, isolated, behind our own walls, sharing nothing of ourselves.

This is BS.  This is not how we were created.  The first thing in the Bible that is declared to be not good is for man to be alone, yet we all think we are supposed to be the Lone Ranger.    This, as God the Father would say, is not good.   We are not meant to be alone.

We are made for community.  You are made for community.  You were made in the image of a God who has never not been part of a community himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  We are born into community, community is not something we add to ourselves after the fact.  You are born of a father and a mother, brought forth from your mothers very womb.  We came out naked as a jay bird (Who told you you were naked?), unable go do anything for yourself.  Literally, without the community you were born into, you would not survive more than a day or two.

Think about this minute.  Not only does God tell us it is It is not good that the man should be alone, but he follows through and does not leave us alone.   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14 ESV.  The word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God created our world that is good, good and very good.  There was perfect peace and perfect harmony in the world, until we came along.   He created mankind in his own image, but we abandoned our call to be God’s own image bearers within his creation.  Yet he does not abandon us to be alone in our broken-ness, he comes and joins us in it.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:16-17 ESV.

Do we believe that God’s creation, of which we are a part of, is good?   God still does.  He believes this so deeply that he sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, into that creation, to join us in our brokenness and reconcile us to himself.  He did not come to condemn the world, God’s good, good, and very good creation, but to save it.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8 ESV.   Ever since the fall, we’ve been hiding our true selves.  We’ve been isolating ourselves from the community we were created for.  We isolate ourselves, both from God and each other, and our walls build ever higher around us.   Fear grows, love withers, anger and resentment rage within.

The point is, don’t isolate yourselves.   Despite our modern culture’s lies to the contrary, we can’t walk this life, Christian or otherwise, on our own.   The very first thing the Bible tells us is not good is for man to be alone.

Stop hiding behind the bushes.  Come out, forget that you are naked, get honest with yourself and others who love you, and find healing that can only come from the love and support of those around you.

One last thought – why do we isolate.  I think it’s mostly because of fear.  We fear what others might think or say about us.  Maybe you fear what God might think or say about you.  But, from one of our favorite passages in all of scripture, Paul tells us “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 ESV.  God is Love, never forget that.  That is really the point Paul makes here.  I think that one of the great fears we have in being open, being honest, with ourselves and others is that what we’ve done is just so bad, or that somehow we just aren’t worthy of God’s love or anyone else’s love.  But Paul tells us here so many different things that can not separate us from the love of God.  Not death.  Not the powers that be.  Nothing here and now or that can come in the future.  Nor anything else in all creation.   

Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God.   Question – are you a created being?   Yes, you are.  Guess what?   You do not have the power to separate yourself from the love of God.   God has given us many powers and abilities, this is not one of them.  There is nothing that you can do to separate yourself from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  You can run, but you can’t hide.  He will leave the ninety to come and find you.   His love is a reckless love.  Nothing you have done can separate you from that reckless love.

God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But – you can isolate yourself and never know it.  Why would you want to do that?

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Genesis 2:18 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.2.18.esv

“And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”

Genesis 1:4 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.4.esv

“God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.10.esv

“The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:12 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.12.esv

“And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:17-18 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.17-18.esv

“So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:21 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.21.esv

“And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.25.esv

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Genesis 1:31 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.1.31.esv

“And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.”

Genesis 2:12 ESV

http://bible.com/59/gen.2.12.esv

John Lewis