There’s Just Not Enough

There’s Just Not Enough

Back to the feeding of the five thousand.
 
In John’s poetic prologue to his gospel, which is so important, John tells us something about the beauty of the Infinite entering into the finite.   “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….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14, 16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The word became flesh, we are told.   The logos became human, incarnation.  Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…this word could also be understood as beauty.   We have seen his [beauty], the beauty of a Fathers only Son, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   

From the fullness of Christ we have all received grace upon grace.   But the human condition, as a problem, suffers from a kind of emptiness.   We can ask the question What’s wrong with us?   There are many ways we can answer this question, but one of the ways we can answer this question is to say we suffer from a kind of emptiness.  Not just spiritual emptiness, there’s that too, but we live with a pervasive mentality of scarcity and insufficiency, this is very important.   We are infected in the way we think about life itself.

As human beings, we can only survive in a social structure, our lives are intensely social by necessity.  So here we are, thrust into this social structure that is the human condition, but we come with a problem.  Or at least as young children we are scripted in such a way, unknowingly, that there’s just not enough.  There’s not enough to go around.   There’s not enough for everyone, you know?   This, really, shapes the way we view the world in a very negative way.  There’s just not enough.   So we have a paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.   There’s not enough, because there’s just not.  So I have to make sure there’s enough for me and mine, because there’s just not enough.

So this is our problem.  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Seriously, why did Cain kill Abel?   Was it because he thought there just wasn’t enough?   Was there not enough land?   There’s not enough land for Cain’s crops and Abel’s flocks, at least that’s what Cain thought.  So Cain has to get rid of the competition, even though it’s  his brother.

We are the sons and daughters of Cain.  It is not Abel’s legacy that we have inherited as a human species, but Cain’s legacy.  Certainly we are the sons and daughters of Cain, why else do we covet and why do we fight and why do we exploit?   Because we view the world through Cain’s lens of scarcity and insufficiency.   We don’t see ourselves as blessed with abundance, we perceive ourselves as cursed with scarcity, so we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of the void, we’re afraid of emptiness, we’re afraid of insufficiency, we’re afraid of empty bellies, we’re afraid that there’s just not enough.

We are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and that creation is a closed system.  I don’t think we are formally taught that at any point (although I do work in sales and deal with a company that absolutely believes in the concept of zero-based budgeting…so maybe the world is starting to formally encode this belief).   At some point philosophy may creep into exploring this line of thought, but by the time we are three years old we already know this.   We may not know any of the words at three years old, but we certainly are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and creation is a closed system.  Or, as we might say, that it is finite, that creation is limited.

Now we are getting to it.  The jumping off point I spoke of previously.  This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency lies at the heart of our systemic sins.   Stay with me here.  There are personal sins, and that is what we mostly focus on,  because we feel so hopeless in doing anything about our systemic sins. But the real problems of humanity stem not from our personal sins, but from our sins as a whole, as a human race.   As human beings, as we build our societies, we build them in sinful ways.  No one person or group is responsible, but are are all culpable in it.   We are all implicated.  It’s because of our paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency that we build systems that are in and of themselves sinful.

We fear that there won’t be enough oil.  There won’t be enough land.  There won’t be enough food.  There won’t be enough water.  There won’t be enough money.  There won’t be enough labor to go around, so we build and maintain sinful structure to guarantee that WE have OURS.   We fear that there’s not going to enough for us, however we define US, so we use force against THEM, to guarantee we have enough for US.

Still with me?  Try.  We create an organized, slow motion version of anarchy.  You know anarchy, think of lawlessness, the rule of law thrown out the window, it’s every man for himself, people are smashing windows, just grabbing whatever they can.  Think about times during riots when suddenly when all law and order dissolves, it’s pandemonium,  it’s anarchy, the zombie apacolypse comes upon us…

What we have done in our systemic sins is to create a slow-motion version of anarchy.  We don’t recognize it for what it is because it takes place over decades or centuries.  Native Americans were victims of the slow motion, organized anarchy known as Manifest Destiny.   Just grab what you can and the rest will just have to get by as best they can

This way of viewing the world is absolutely dominant.  We take this to be truth.  If there is a truth we believe in, this is it.  That there is not enough, there is not enough so we have to be committed to our side and we have to grab and clutch and hold on and fight and make sure we have enough for ours.  We view this as truth, as reality, as the way it is.   But it is not…

It is into this sad world dominated by the paradigm of scarcity that the Son of God appears.  And on a grassy hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives us a sign of just how mistaken we are…

Again, that’s enough for now, to be continued.
 
 
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis
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The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something.   So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots.   These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs.  They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs.  If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around.  Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him.  What they are is baptistries.   They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs.  They are used for ritual purification.  Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi.  Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.

So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah.  They are empty.   Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity.  If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here.  So Jesus tells says to the servants Fill the jars with water.”    To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes.  “Oh brother.  Another super religious guy.  Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.”   But they do it.  It’s going to take a while.  Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up.  This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.

“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

But Jesus has done it!!  The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.  And Jesus gives a wink to his mom.   “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11 NLT.  And John says Jesus revealed his glory.  Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty.    Imagine being one his 6 disciples there.   Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.

And Jesus revealed his beauty.   This is a beautiful story.  There is something fun, something whimsical about this story.  Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario.  A leper, his life ebbing away.  Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm.   Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died.  There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles.  But this one, there’s none of that.  Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything.  This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign.  It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.

What’s the sign pointing to?   In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing.  Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God.  So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this  – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV.  It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…

That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision.  So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived.   Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now.   John’s gospel is very sophisticated.  It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it.  So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not?   Jesus is the bridegroom…

So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine.  In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine.  In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine.  But then, the exile.  For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine.  The wine has run out.  The good days are gone, they have no wine.

But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!!   Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!!   We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!!   AMEN!

When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen.  Why was Jesus at this wedding?  Because he was invited!   Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth?  He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy.  What’s his name?   Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth.   And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle.  So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus.  JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing?   I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come?   And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him.  Because you never know what Jesus is going to do.  Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine.  Nobody would have ever dreamed that up.  Only Jesus.  So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing.  Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen.  But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.

So invite him.

John Lewis

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

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

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

Ninety-nine Sheep

ninety nine sheep

Looking at the grace of God, a grace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension.  A grace which just makes no sense to us, because the only ways we can understand are the ways of our world, the ways we have learned and lived our whole lives.  Consider this story of a shepherd and a particular lost sheep.

Lost-Sheep

“”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 ESV

open country

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting this one.  It seems simple enough, but when I really consider it, what about those other ninety-nine sheep?   Jesus tells us this man (God the Father) would leave ninety-nine sheep in the open country to chase after this one fool sheep who wanders away.   In the open countryunprotected, there would be thieves, wolves, and any number of other threats.  More could simply wander off.  What if he comes back with this one lost sheep, celebrating and thanking God, and twenty more are missing?  Then what?

wolves_at_2

It makes no sense to us (at least me) because I am too busy counting. I like to know I’m doing the right thing, making the right decision.  So why would I leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep vulnerable to attack, unprotected, to go chasing after one scoundrel who never should have wandered off in the first place?   In trying to win back this one little sheep, I’m not going to risk losing any of my good sheep.

Name in 3D coloured lights

But here’s the thing about God and his grace – if you’re busy counting, doing the math, you’ve missed the whole point.  In the words of Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing About Grace?, “Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.”   God’s grace is a free gift, not something we can ever earn.

healthy people

God’s not doing the math.  God is not about making sure we have done ten more good things that bad things in our life so we can then somehow be found worthy of his love.  God is not even about distinguishing “bad” from “good”.  (What was that tree Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from in the garden?)  If he were, he had ninety-nine perfectly “good” little sheep and would never have left them to chase after that one “bad” sheep.   But, as Jesus also says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” Luke 5:32 ESV.  That one lost sheep is the whole reason Jesus ever came…

grace2

God did not come to us in the form of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, because of how righteous we are.  He came to chase us down because we are all his lost sheep.  He comes out of heaven, walks with us on earth, joins us in our mess which we have made, and guides us back.   He is gathering his flock.  If we have been brought back into the fold, now we get to join Jesus in chasing down the rest of those lost sheep.  We are out in the open country, there are wolves watching and waiting.  If we are just standing still, how easy will it be for the wolves to pick us off?

jesus searching

So we don’t stand still.  We join Jesus in his search.  In our search, we draw closer to Him, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we too begin to stop counting.  We too begin to see the value of one lost sheep.  We too will leave ninety-nine in open country to chase the one who has strayed.

harvest is plenty

There are so many lost sheep.  So many that, as Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2 ESV.   If you are that lost sheep, Jesus will not rest until he has tracked you down.  He’s come all the way from heaven to find you.  If you’re one of those ninety-nine in the open country, the wolves are watching and waiting for their chance to strike.   Quit standing still, go with Jesus, and find that lost sheep He is looking for.

John Lewis