Thursday, January 30, 2014

WHO IS SEEKING WHOM?

At the beginning of Zacchaeus’ tale, we find a crooked man who is curious about Jesus. He is bold enough to go after what he wants. He is a ‘little person’ who is used to being stared at. Perhaps this has shaped his boldness. 


Like all of us, he has ways of compensating for insecurity, weakness and rejection.

Some find a false security in drugs, alcohol or sex. Some create elaborate public images that they can hide behind. Wealth and power can mask the inner poverty and weakness.

But Zacchaeus hears about Jesus and runs up a tree to catch sight of this holy man. This is very important to him. He is seeking Jesus.

When Jesus comes close, we find out that Jesus is actually seeking Zacchaeus. Who is seeking whom? His immediate request for hospitality shows that Jesus is not above Zacchaeus. He accepts him and wants to be drawn into the hospitality that Zacchaeus can provide.

Why would Jesus want to enter the home of Ebenezer Scrooge? Why would he show favour to such a notoriously, despised white collar crook?

This acceptance and bold love is really quite transformative. Zacchaeus comes into clarity about his faults and desires a great change in the way he treats people. He wants to love radically because he has been shown such indiscrimate love.

Jesus knows that Zacchaeus is a lost sheep in the House of Israel and concludes that he has come to seek and save that which is lost. Jesus seeks before he saves. Jesus still is seeking for men and women who are lost.



Monday, January 27, 2014

THE WAR ON DENIAL


The gospel story of Zacchaeus illustrates the effect that Jesus can have on a person with poor moral history. Think about your own fascination with Jesus and where that curiousity takes you. 



Inevitably an encounter with Jesus leads us to war against our own sense of denial about right and wrong.


Luke 19:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”


As we think about morality, what was Zacchaeus’ condition? The community had an opinion of him. He was a ‘sinner’ with a bad reputation for cheating people.

In his culture Zacchaeus would be regarded totally negatively because his wealth was "extorted" from fellow Jews on behalf of occupying Rome. This explains the public reaction to Jesus' invitation later in the story.[i]

But what did Zaccheus think of himself? In this short story we find a man who illustrates steps four and five. We see a man who has to take a hard look at himself and turn to God.

STEP FOUR: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

STEP FIVE: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.


As a tax collector, he was the chief. He trained and supervised the other tax collectors. They answered to him. He was good with numbers and collection techniques. But in spite of his authority, he knew how to steal and get away with it. He abused his power.

As he encounters the acceptance and loving attention of God through Jesus, he is moved to consider how corrupt he has become. The searching, fearless, moral inventory reveals a history of disregard for the poor and criminal action toward his clients. The man who had good reason to keep secrets is moved to confess and start making things right.

As he looks at what he has unjustly accumulated, he realizes that he could make amends. Half of his assets will be sold or given away to people in need. Secondly, he would go over the ‘fudged books’ and do right to the people he had ripped off.

To repay someone four times over had special significance.

Normal restitution added only 20 percent (Lev 5:16; Num 5:7). The Mishna tended rarely to apply a more severe 40 percent penalty (m. Ketubot3:9; m. Baba Qamma 7:1-5). This rich man, touched by Jesus and responding with faith, exemplifies the restoration of a "lost one" and opens up his resources to be shared with others. He does not have to sell everything to receive Jesus' commendation. His heart is in the right place when it comes to possessions.[ii]

As a step five example, Zaccheus admitted to God, himself and the disciples the exact nature of his wrongdoing.

In the gospel we find that Jesus declares war on our denial. We are moved by God’s acceptance to become introspective and repentant. Our moral compass is remagnetized to point us in the right direction.





[i] IVP New Testament Commentary
[ii] IVP New Testament Commentary

Friday, January 24, 2014

INTO THE JUNK ROOM

Listen to this quote from a recovery website:

Most alcoholics have a deep—almost pathological—sense of justice. If we are wronged (meaning often that we did not get what we wanted), or even conjure up the notion that we might have been wronged, we find full justification to express anger or harbor resentment. It then seems almost a duty to carry a justified resentment. Otherwise those who have wronged us would get off scot-free. And that wouldn't be right, would it? So, we waste our God-given lives judging and punishing our fellows. Relinquishing a justified resentment is one of the most difficult experiences known to the alcoholic.[i]

Have you ever had a messy garage or basement or junk drawer that needed sorting through? Right now I have all three.

When I finally get the nerve to go through my stuff, I usually discover things that I should have thrown away long ago. I also find some surprises as I discover things I need and things I did not need to buy all over again.

We usually keep people away from the junk rooms because we are embarrassed by the mess we’ve created.

Steps four and five of recovery state:

STEP FOUR: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

STEP FIVE: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

These spiritual practices take a hard look through our inventory of experiences, attitudes and behaviours. The dangerous, harmful and unsightly things have to go. Step four talks about looking deep into your closet and seeing what’s there.

I’m intrigued by the word ‘fearless’. Usually when it comes to examining our faults we resist the truth. We may in fact be quite afraid of the darkness in our soul.

It is an examination of our moral condition. Morality is the distinction between right and wrong or good and evil.

The Psalm writer David said,

Psalm 139:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

If David were around today, he might well attend a 12 step meeting. Or he would worship at a church that allowed him to be open and confess his faults. We want church to be a place of healing, but that often depends on our willingness to be vulnerable and confessional.

I don’t think that we start to get ‘fearless’ until we do the earlier steps of admitting that the house is a mess and we need help to get it back in shape. By turning to God we discover that His perfect love changes our mind about changing the mess.

We need God and the company of good people who will not mock and judge us when they see the garbage piles in our life.


Monday, January 20, 2014

BEFORE YOU FALL

Before you have to go to the hospital—before you file for divorce—before you lose your job—is this the time for you to pull out of the spiral dive? God is with you when you are utterly failing and wants to give you a window of opportunity.

The Apostle Paul told us to look at the stories from Scripture to see examples of God’s willingness to work with us.


1 Corinthians 13:
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 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.


It starts with realizing that you are on common ground humanly speaking and God wants to restore you. God can show you the way when you have exhausted all of your own ways. He has a path for you that will build endurance.
  
Jesus said,

Luke 12:
57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”


In other words, why let fate have its course? Instead of waiting for the final judgment and punishment you deserve, take the opportunity to be restored. You will not be restored to God or disconnected relationships until you admit that you are in a powerless condition. You have to see that you cannot manage anymore.
  
You cannot be the Cat In The Hat balancing everything. Pride and folly lead us to believe that we are invincible and can have our own way as the centre of the Universe.

If you haven’t yet discovered this truth, you will find out that pride goes before a fall. God lets you get tripped up, but restores the humble.


Step One: We admitted we were powerless over sin - that our lives had become unmanageable.



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