Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis

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Coming to the Table

If you pay attention, you may have noticed the frequency of these messages becoming less…frequent.   Sometimes we all go through certain struggles and challenges in doing things we think are important,  and i am going through some of those struggles in my spiritual life right now.  You might say I’m in a “dry spell”, a rut.   Not much is getting my attention these days.  It doesn’t mean it’s not still a priority to me, I am still spending my same time devoted to prayer and study every day.  It just means I need to get through it somehow, get to the other side, have an epiphany of sorts, maybe a Eureka! moment.   Whatever it is, I’m convinced the way through does not involve foregoing my prayer and meditation time.

That being said, I did have a moment in my church a week ago.  Our pastor shared in his message something regarding Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, son of King Saul and friend of King David, so now I’m going to share this with you.

Just a quick backstory, David and Jonathan were kind of like best fiends, as much of best friends as you can be when Jonathan’s father wanted nothing more than to see David dead.   In fact, the Bible tells us that you could say Jonathan loved David as he loved himself – “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:3 ESV.  Ultimately, King Saul and Jonathan both perish in the same battle (read about that in 1 Samual 31), and David is then anointed King of Judah (2 Samuel 2), then all of Israel (2 Samuel 5).

Fast forward again, David has won many battles and is having great success as King.   But he never forgets his friend Jonathan.   And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?    Ultimately this question is answered by Ziba, a former servant of King Saul.   Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”   So David sends for Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan.   And you might imagine what’s going through the mind of Mephibosheth as the kings servants come calling.  In these days, it was normal for an incoming king to eliminate all potential threats to his crown.  As an heir in the line of King Saul, Mephibosheth may have been seen as such a threat.  So he probably thought it was curtains for him when King David sent for him.   Why else would the king be calling?

And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 

Do not fear David tells Mephibosheth.   Sounds like the angel of the Lord, or Jesus himself, all those time we are told Don’t be afraid.   So Do not fear.  Not only am I not going to kill you,  but I’m going to restore all the land that belonged to your grandfather.  I’m going to give all that you once had and thought you would have.  All that was lost when you lost your father and grandfather that day.   All that you could not acquire for yourself because of the accident that left you crippled.   Just because i loved your father Jonathan, I will show kindness to you, and you shall eat at my table always.

And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?   I am hearing echoes of the psalms of David where it says to us “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalms 8:4 ESV.  Who is Mephibosheth, but a crippled man hiding from the king out of fear.   What is man but a crippled spirit, hiding from the King out of fear of not being good enough, trying to convince ourselves that we are equal with Him?   Who is Mephibosheth that the King would seek him out for such extravagant treatment, that he might have all he would have had.  Who are we that God would seek us out while we are lost, while we are rebellious, and so extravagantly give of Himself that we might be restored to Himself?   That we might have all and be all that we were meant to?

And here’s the point my pastor made with this story – that we are all Mephibosheth.  We all are called by the king, yet when we come before him we come in fear and trembling, because we know what we deserve, yet we are told Don’t be afraid.   We limp before the king, crippled, battered and bruised by life.  We come before him and know that we are poor in spirit.   We limp before the king, expecting an angry God who wants to strike us down in the lightning cloud, and instead he invites to his table.

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.   And we sit at the table.   We sit at the King’s table, and we share a meal with him.  We bring our pain, our shame, our limp, our hurts, our habits, our hang ups.

We are called to the Kings table, but we can barely walk to get to it, can barely bring ourselves to approach.   We’ve heard the judgement, we’ve been told we don’t belong, we thought there was a gate around the table, and no way were we getting a key.   But the King calls, and we just focus on that.

We don’t know what to expect when we get there.   But not only does the King invite us go the table, always, to share a meal, but we get there and find that our King has become the meal.   “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Luke 22:19-20 ESV.

So the invitation stands, the meal is always available.  We thought he would strike us down for all that was in our hearts, but instead of taking our lives, as we so expected and continue to expect, he gave up his own.  He gave up his own flesh and his own blood, gave us a new covenant.   And just as King David remembered his covenant with Jonathan and looked for anyone from the house of Saul to show kindness to,  so we remember God’s covenant with Abraham, and Jesus’ blood of the covenant, and we can know that he will always remember to show us kindness to his children.   We are always welcome at our King’s table.

And so I will remember.  Even though it’s been a struggle, I, like Mephibosheth, will always eat at the Kings table.   Doesn’t matter how I feel at the moment, doesn’t matter what someone says about me, doesn’t matter what you think about me.   It only matter what King Jesus says, and he says come to his table, and do this in remembrance of me.   I may be crippled, I might barely be able to get myself to the table, but my seat is saved.   I have my seat, and I will eat at the king’s table forever.  And i will keep coming to the table, spending time with the King in his word.   And maybe if I listen closely I will hear him say don’t be afraidyou shall eat at my table always.

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.”

2 Samuel 9:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.9.1-13.esv

“Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.”

2 Samuel 4:4 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.4.4.esv

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

1 Samuel 18:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1sa.18.3.esv

John Lewis

They Wanted a Hero

Five days after the crowds waved their palms and cried their hosannas as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was on trial.  The Prince of Peace had come, but they didn’t want a prince of peace, they wanted a hero.

They wanted a hero.  Like Barrabas.  Mel Gibson misrepresented Barrabas.  He got Barrabas all wrong.  Barrabas was not just a bloodthirsty cutthroat criminal.  He was a national hero.  He was a freedom fighter.  He had led an insurrection against the Roman occupation.  Some Roman soldiers had been killed.  He had been arrested.  He was a political prisoner set to be executed.  And he was a hero among the Jews.

He had a first name.  Jesus.  Jesus Bar-Abbas.  Jesus, son of the father.  He was a false messiah.  Jesus Barabbas?   Or Jesus of Nazareth?  Pilate says which one do you want?   Do you want the violent freedom fighter hero??   Or do you want the peaceful, riding on a donkey too small for him messiah from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth?   Give us Barabbas.  As for Jesus, crucify him.

The Palm Sunday crowd said all the right things, but they said them in the wrong way.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus as king, we have to know what kind of king he is.   If we think that Jesus is a king after the model of the conquering pharaohs and Caesar’s, we actually are rejecting Jesus.   And refusing the Price of Peace always has terrible consequences.  That’s why Jesus says a generation from now Jerusalem will become a fiery Gehenna where the worm  never dies as it eats those corpses, and the fires are never quenched.

That’s what Jerusalem did to itself in rejecting Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace.  Jerusalem did not want the new Kingdom of God, they just wanted to win at the old game of payback, get even, and vengeance.  The old game is power enforced by violence.  They didn’t want God’s new kingdom, they just wanted God to help them win at the old game.  But God had already said through the prophet Zachariah that he was done playing the old game.  That when the messiah comes, god is done with the old game.   No more old game, behold I do a new thing.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 ESV.   And I send my son, the Prince of Peace to teach peace to the nations.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10 ESV

But Jerusalem did not want the new kingdom, they wanted to win the old game.  Their desire to play the old game led to their destruction.  The Prince of Peace had just ridden into town offering a new way of being Israel and they had missed it.   Their desire to beat their enemies at the old game had blinded them.   They got Jesus wrong, and it set them on a wrong path that ended in their destruction.

If you had asked the chief priests if they believed Zachariah’s prophecy will ever be fulfilled, if they believed that someday the son of David, the true king of Israel, would ever really come humble and lowly, riding on a foal of a donkey, that he will come and teach peace among the nations, do you believe that will ever happen??   They would have said yes, but not now.  Now is not the time for peace.  Now is the time to fight.  Now is the time for war.

This is not a history lesson.  This is a warning for every follower of Jesus.  Do we want Jesus and his new way of peace, or do we want Jesus to help us win the old game?   Are we making the same mistake?  Do we say that someday the prince of peace will come, we believe he will come someday, but not now!!   If we do, we play the same game the chief priests played when they led Jerusalem to hell.

But the Prince of Peace has come!!   The prince of peace HAS COME!   Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday HAVE HAPPENED.  The Prince of Peace has come.  But do we want the Prince of Peace?  Or do we want our heroes?    When we play the game of saying we believe the Bible, believing it’s all going to happen, but NOT NOW, that’s how we play the game of rejecting Christ but still believing the Bible…

The chief priests would have told you they believed in Christ.   They would have said they accept Christ, they believed in Messiah, they believed Messiah was coming, but NOT NOW.   NOT NOW.  Yes, we believe the Bible, but it’s not for NOW.  We believe all those verses, but they’re not for now.  Someday, but not now.  Now we fight.

And Jesus said there’ll be hell to pay, and he weeps over Jerusalem.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus.  We can do that and still get Jesus wrong.  We get Jesus right when we confess Jesus as Christ and King.  We get Jesus wrong when we see him as for us and against them.  We get Jesus right when wave the palms as if to welcome the worlds true king.  We get Jesus wrong when we wave the palms as national flags.  We get Jesus right when we acclaim him with the word Hosanna!!   Save now!   We get Jesus wrong when we say it’s hurray for our side

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

John Lewis

Welcome at His Table

Welcome at His Table

Zacchaeus has something going for him.  Zacchaeus is fascinated by Jesus.  He’s heard of Jesus, he wants to just be able to see Jesus.  But Zacchaeus also has a problem.  The problem is the crowd.   And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.   Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.  Like the song says, he’s a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  But he is, despite this, a chief tax collector.   Now being short won’t keep you from a parade.  You just gotta get up front.  Problem is, this is the righteous crowd.  This crowd is full of the fans of Jesus.  The synagogue attendees.  They have their perfect attendance pins on.  And they’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus, wee little man or not.   They feel someone trying to push their way through, they say “Oh, it’s Zacchaeus,” they’re blocking him at every turn.  They’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The crowd of Jesus fans.   “He’s our Jesus.”  They were the good people.  They have their bibles, they pay their tithes.  They go to church.  “He belongs to us.  We’re pro life, we vote the right way.  We’re not going to let any sinners in here.”

Because of the crowd, Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus.  The sanctimonious crowd won’t make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The sanctimonious, belligerent  crowd turned out to be very inhospitable ti sinners.   If we’re not careful, we can become a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we fans of Jesus.   Instead of helping people discover Jesus we become an impediment to them.  When we are a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we become an impediment.  They can’t see Jesus because of the crowd.

This is what happened to the American church when we started fighting for political power.  A politicized Church became a belligerent crowd preventing outsiders from seeing Jesus.  That’s a problem.

Fortunately Zacchaeus was not one to be easily deterred.  He was chief tax collector after all.   He was resourceful, a determined man, used to getting his way.  He was going to see Jesus.

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  So he goes ahead in his Armani suit, his Gucci shoes (he is the richest man in town), he knows the route Jesus going to take.  He goes ahead and climbs that sycamore tree.  He’s got a perfect view of Jesus.  His expectations were modest, he only wanted to see Jesus.   And something wonderful happens.  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.”  If you set your heart on seeing Jesus, you will usually get more than you bargained for.. not only does he see Jesus, Jesus sees him.   Not only does Jesus see him, he invites himself over for dinner.  He says I must stay at your house today.

No doubt the president of the synagogue had planned a meal, a dinner.  But Jesus must have dinner at Zacchaeus house today.  Why MUST Jesus have stayed with Zacchaeus.

Because tomorrow Jesus goes to Jerusalem and the deal is about to go down.  And ONE MORE TIME he wanted to enact the kingdom of god.  One more time he wants to show what it’s all about.  Maybe this time they’ll get it.  One more timr he wants to show them the Kingdom of God.   Who is the last person in Jericho people think will be a part of God’s new thing?

Zacchaeus.   He’s a tax collector.  He’s excommunicated.  He’s banished.  He’s outcast.   He’s a chief tax collector for crying out loud.   If you were to ask people is God on the move???   “Oh yes, yes.”   Do you feel the kingdom of god is on the verge?   Do you feel like God is about to break through as do a new thing??  Of course, yes, yes!!!

And who is not going to be a part of it??   Sinners!!!   Tax collectors, prostitutes.  CHIEF tax collectors!   We got one right in this town!!   He’s the richest man in town and he’s very wicked, very evil, and he will be totally outside of it.   Zacchaeus will not be a part of what God is doing.

That’s why Jesus says  I must share the table with that man, because I need to show the people what the kingdom of God is like.   I must share this table with the outcast for one more enactment of the kingdom of God.

As soon as Jesus says “Come on Zacchaeus, I want to go to your house,” the crowd began to grumble.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”   They don’t like it.   He’s our jesus, what’s he doing going with one of them?

Luke’s gospel is all about the radical hospitality of Jesus in his table practice.    This just keeps coming up.  Jesus will share his table with anyone who will share it with him.  He lives in a culture that is very sensitive to these things.  It’s a taboo culture.  It’s a kosher culture.  It’s a culture where some are permissible, some are clean.  But some are impermissible, some cannot be allowed at the table, they are unkosher, unclean.  Jesus is crashing through all those boundaries.  Jesus will share the table with anyone who will share it with him, and this is radical.

Hear this – Pharisees, Sadduccees, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, prodigal sons, elder brothers, secularists, believers, skeptics, church goers, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Jesus doesn’t care!!   If you’re  willing to sit with Jesus, Jesus is willing to sit with you.

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.

He even welcomes you. But – are you willing to sit down with them?

“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

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis