the wonderful story of Zacchaeus

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. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

It is interesting how Jesus approached different people. There was the rich young man whom Jesus told to sell his possessions and give to the poor and he would have treasure in heaven. Then to follow Jesus. Although this man had taken the initiative by asking Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life, Jesus’s answer left him despondent. He would not because in his mind evidently he could not. His possessions were so much a part of his life, who he was. He was after all quite wealthy. The Lord knew what was in his heart and what he needed. Just perhaps he repented later, though sadly, as far as I know, and certainly from scripture itself we have no indication of such (Luke 18:18-30; Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30).

Zacchaeus is a different case. A chief tax-collector, wealthy. Curious when he heard Jesus was passing through Jericho, of course we know on Jesus’s way to the cross. He happened to be short in stature, and so he had to maneuver in some way to hopefully see the Master. And what did he do but run ahead and climb up a sycamore fig tree. And as if on cue, the Lord stops and looks up at Zacchaeus in the tree, and calls him by name, telling him that he must come to his house that day.

Zacchaeus received him gladly, and others were present with them that day. But people were taken back, muttering that Jesus was going to be a guest of a sinner. Zacchaeus’s response is so refreshing. He tells the Lord that he’s going to give half of his possessions to the poor, and if he has cheated anyone, he will pay them back four times the amount. Zacchaeus’s heart is made evident by his words and then the actions which backed them up. Jesus affirmed and confirmed that, when he said that salvation had come to that house that day since he was a true son of Abraham. And that this all figured into what Jesus had come to do: to seek and save what was lost.

Such a wonderful story. In line with scripture’s passion, really God’s passion and priority of helping the poor. I am looking forward to meeting Zacchaeus someday, and hearing more of his story. It brings joy to the heart, just what God can do in our hearts and lives in and through Jesus.

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the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.

a story of the Lord’s power over the demonic

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

This may seem an odd story, especially in our western rationalistic world today, but it’s really quite a beautiful one if one walks slowly and thoughtfully through it. Jesus deals with a profound brokenness of humanity when seized by the demonic realm. Ordinarily Satan works undercover, especially here in the west, where the idea of demons is largely dismissed, yes even true in some Christian circles. Of course in parts of the southern hemisphere the people know only too well the reality of such.

The story goes to show how those demonized can lose control and essentially their humanity. In the story Jesus casts the demon out, which turns out to be a host of demons, and the man who had been uncontrollable either by himself or others was now normal so that at last he could be himself.

The people who lived in the area were overcome with fear given the change and all that had happened. Really it was both a rational and irrational fear. Change and disruption: the large herd of pigs was gone. But good which would go on: the man who had been possessed by the demons would tell the story of how Jesus delivered him.

God never forces his way on us. When asked to, Jesus departed. But the Lord wants to help us, indeed deliver and save us. We should never act on fear. Instead of letting our faith be overcome by fear, we need to let our fear be overcome with faith. That can take time, but we need to settle in and wait because by faith it will come.

A great story. Telling us something of the salvation that has come in and through Jesus.

faith is ultimately never on our terms, but God’s

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Genesis 22:1-2

I usually don’t care too much or even enough about titles for blog posts, which are more or less important to the overall post. But in this case, I think the idea that faith is never on our terms, but God’s, is actually crucial, the point of the post. What I’m wanting to get at is simply the idea that faith to really be mature biblical faith has to venture out into territory that none of us left to ourselves would do. Think of Jesus’s life on earth. And the passage above, where God tells Abraham what is infinitely awful, and just as infinitely makes no sense.

This doesn’t mean in the least that we shouldn’t bring all of our troubles and cares to God, because indeed we should. We need to come to God as the Father God is, and let God know the details that we are concerned about. Of course for our benefit and faith, thanking him for blessings, at the same time (Philippians 4:6-7). God as our Father does care about our wants and needs (Luke 11:11-13).

Faith finds God’s answer which oftentimes is simply God’s rest and peace through the most difficult circumstances, when we refuse to take matters in our own hands, and instead, put them in God’s good hands. Casting all of our cares on God, since he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). But this requires a faith which holds on regardless of what the situation looks like to us. Oftentimes a big part of our problem is our focus. We are fixed on the problem itself, instead of the God who can fix the problem, and help us go through it. Of course sometimes the answer is simply to let it go.

And we either struggle or are weak in believing in both God’s greatness and goodness. Somehow we think it depends on us, when God in God’s infinite wisdom and grace, is going to work everything out for good somehow. The best we can do is far from foolproof. But what God does in his wisdom is ultimately meant for salvation.

We know how the story of Abraham and Isaac going to Mount Moriah ends. Abraham is pushed to the brink in trusting God, ready to plunge the knife into his son. God intervenes at that point. But when it came to God’s Son, Jesus, God did not intervene, not even in answer to Jesus’s plea to take the cup from him if possible. For Jesus it was a matter of not his will, but the Father’s will. For the joy set before him, enduring the cross, even scorning the shame. In and through Jesus, faith believes in God, therefore committing everything to God in trusting and obeying him.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

 

45 years ago today when I surrendered my life to Christ

On October 22, 1973, on a Monday afternoon after school, my senior year in high school, in the bottle washing room at Hefner Dairy, all alone, I surrendered my life to Christ. I still remember that day rather vividly. I think I remember musing at school over the thought of that possibility in something like these terms: “What if I would commit my life to God because of what Christ has done for me on the cross?” Something like that. And the Holy Spirit was working on me, convicting me, and helping me see the truth of the gospel. That Christ died for our sins, and was raised from the dead to give us new life.

That had been going on for some time. I was tired of my life. Friendships seemed empty, and whatever I amused myself with, such as smoking pot when I could get my hands on it, just wasn’t enough, or more like, didn’t matter.

I was raised in a church in which we were faithfully taught Bible stories in Sunday School as children growing up. And whenever Billy Graham was going to be on television, our church bulletin would let us know. And our mother regularly read Bible stories to us, and prayed for us, along with her singing of hymns. I had made a profession of faith I think in my early teens, which I don’t think was real, because it didn’t stick. And I was pretty rebellious in those days in something of the spirit of the 60s, even if I wasn’t quite old enough to join that when it was most compelling (the Woodstock era).

The change in certain ways was immediate. I used to routinely cuss up and down, but that was now gone. And I really cared about everything, especially in terms of doing what was right and good. Whereas before, I would do what I had to do, but diligently enough because I was trained by hard working parents to work hard.

Of course it was a new love that hit me, a deep love for Christ which spilled over into an indiscriminate love for others, which was probably misunderstood in those days by women, because of my naivete. I was fortunate, because I was able to quit my cigarette smoking, which I had done for a year immediately, and was never tempted to smoke the weed.

Since then, the Lord has been faithful to keep me on the straight and narrow, though for a time I was off track in some ways. And I know I can easily get off track now. But God’s grace continues to be at work in my life. For which I am thankful. And I long to see that same saving grace break through into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

a psalm for the troubled times in which we live

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

We live in troubled, conflicted times. And there’s not much any of us can do to make it better. What we might do often brings unintended consequences. But we can’t fold our hands and do nothing. But just what are we to do?

We need to look to God. And God’s promise for us and ultimately for the world in Christ. And we have to remain there.

That is hard. It’s too easy to get caught up in the latest problem. And it’s not like we’re supposed to be mute in the face of evil. At the same time, we’re called to follow the way of Christ, who went like a sheep to the slaughter. But we do so as those in and of Christ. In God’s care. And as witnesses to the world of God’s salvation.

The call in this psalm when other voices would drown out everything, is simply to be still and know that God is God. To cease striving ourselves, and let God work it out. We are present as those in Christ, to be in prayer, and to be moved both individually, and especially together by God’s Spirit.

When all hell seems to have broken loose, or the the bottom seems to have fallen out, God is God. God’s will will be done. We only need in faith to believe, and in a sense let go. Not only for us, but for the world, for everyone. That is a senseless exercise, it would seem. But in doing so, we are putting our faith in the God who is at work, even in the world. Even in these troubled, conflicted times in which we live. God will work it out, actually regardless of whether we have faith or not. But we can learn to rest and remain in that rest for ourselves and hopefully for others. In and through Jesus.

the fresh breath/air of the Protestant Reformation

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3

I really don’t care to identify as Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, or whatever, but rather, as Christian. I know that even Christian carries with it some historical baggage which is not helpful, and actually distracts, not to mention, contradicts its true meaning.

But on Spotify today, while trying to scroll down to see the albums playing my favorite music artist, Johann Sebastian Bach, and being blocked from doing so by an add, I either purposefully or inadvertently hit an album which has beautiful singing (likely in German), but I lit on Bach’s chorale music, so beautiful, this album. Bach himself was a Lutheran, in a pietist Lutheran setting, one that had as an emphasis a personal relationship with Christ, or knowing Christ. I was reminded of the beautiful early Lutheran music at the time of that great Reformer and Church Father, Martin Luther.

What I identify with is the emphasis on scripture being the authority to which we appeal, while taking tradition seriously, yet subjecting everything to the test of scripture. For me that’s a breath of a fresh air. And not only lifts one’s spirits, but brings new life, so that a song of praise and thanksgiving to God is indeed appropriate. It is God’s word, scripture, the essence of which is the gospel, God’s good news in Christ, which indeed is transformative. For us and for the world, someday to fill the new earth after the final judgment and salvation, in and through Jesus.