Seeing The Wrong Question

Jesus changed the question! The original question was “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus asked, “Who WAS a neighbor?”

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Well, the Holy Spirit did it again. He did a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap the back of the head moment with me. It came from J.D. Walt in The Seedbed Daily Text, a daily reading I do. (You can click here to find it) Truthfully, I have been a bit lax in reading it, so I’m behind a bit. But I am catching up.

This morning I was reading it and the text was Luke 10:25-27. You may have heard it referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve read it and preached it many times over the years. But this morning…like I said, it was that Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head moment. Let’s review the passage one more time.

An “expert” came to Jesus to test him. Imagine that, an expert “testing” the Son of God. The story has 5 questions:

  1. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (The “Expert”)
  2. “What is written in the Law?”  (Jesus)
  3. “How do you read it?” (Jesus)
  4. “And who is my neighbor?” (The “Expert”)
  5. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (The “Expert”)

It’s questions 4 and 5 that got me that slap on the back of my head. Truthfully, it felt more like a baseball bat on the back of my head. I’ve read it, preached it, heard it taught, heard it preached with the emphasis on question 4: And who is my neighbor? And so we walk away thinking that the point of the story is that we need to be looking for and helping that poor person beat up and left on the side of the road for dead. Then taking responsibility for their most immediate needs. Sounds like a good theological perspective to me.

But J.D. Walt pointed out something I had overlooked–and thus–a lesson I had not learned,,,until this morning. It’s Question 5: Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Did you see what Jesus just did? In case you missed it, and since I can’t reach out and slap you on the back of the head, I underlined it for you. Can you see it now?

Good grief folks! It’s as clear as the baseball that hit me on the back of the head. Jesus changed the question! The original question was “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus asked, “Who WAS a neighbor?” Thanks J.D., for helping me see that I’ve been asking the wrong question! Perhaps what we, who claim to follow Jesus, needs to ask ourselves the question J.D. posed to me: What kind of neighbor do I want to be?

Spend the rest of your day…and the rest of your life, asking yourself the question that Jesus posed to this alleged expert. But don’t just ask the question–find the answer. The right answer will be to become the kind of neighbor who reflects this magnanimous and extravagant grace of God.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM! Oh, and unless you want to be slapped on the back of your head by the Holy Spirit, remember to ask the right question!

The Light Of The World!

We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord!

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(This is the third in my Lent Series: YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM)

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made when He Claimed To Be The Great I Am.  Our focus verse is Exodus 3:15 “Say this to the people of Israel:  Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”  It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  Though it was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name and He backs up that claim in another moment when He uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 8:12-20 (NLT)

12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

13 The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself!  Such testimony is not valid.”

14 Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself.  For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. 15 You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. 16 And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. 

17 Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. 18 I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked.  Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is.  If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” 20 Jesus made these statements while he was teaching in the section of the Temple known as the Treasury.  But he was not arrested, because his time had not yet come.

Jesus is now making His move toward the ONE reason He came:  The Cross.  Jesus is making the calculated steps toward His Purpose.  And in today’s passage, Jesus lets us in on yet another dimension of His Eternal Name:  Light.  Have you ever given serious time thinking about “light”?  Light tends to be one of those things we typically do not think about, until—until we find ourselves in the dark. 

Let’s review where Jesus used that Name.  Jesus has dramatically called people to come to Him.  To the Samaritan woman thirsty for God’s presence, He explicitly called Himself YAHWEH—the eternal name for all generations who provides us Living Water. 

Last week by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus clearly called Himself YAHWEH—The Bread Of Life.  They asked for a sign like the manna in the wilderness.  Jesus contrasts the Life He offers to the life they were wanting.  Unlike Manna that never lasts and never inspires us to the Great Adventures with God, He calls us to a relationship that satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts.  And now He refers to himself in a most startling way, saying, I Am The Light Of The World.  If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord!  This claim to be the Light Of The World, like the claim to be the Living Bread, has a setting.  This is it!

It’s the Feast of Tabernacles, where they remember how God led their ancestors by the pillar of cloud in the day and the pillar of fire at night to the Promised Land.  In this feast there was a lamp-lighting ceremony that took place in the temple every evening of the Feast.  Large lamps were set up in the Court of Women and lit.

Then, lamps filled every courtyard in the city. In the light of these lamps there was great singing and dancing all evening in celebration of God’s salvation, especially His deliverance at the Exodus as He led his people with his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  They were never in the dark when it came to God’s presence and when it came to following God.

In the sight of these great lamps in the Temple and throughout Jerusalem, Jesus proclaims himself to be The Light Of The World.  Light, pure light, is composed of all the colors of the spectrum.  Filter one of those colors out and the light changes in appearance—the hue becomes different. 

When Jesus said, I Am The Light Of The World, He was saying that He alone is all of God, and to follow that Light means we accept Jesus as He is.  When we reshape Jesus to someone easier for us to follow by resisting and refusing to do what He wants, we change the light that we follow. 

We take out a little here, and a little there, and soon we have shaped a formed a Jesus that is easier to follow; but he’s not the real Jesus.  If you take away all the colors of the spectrum and do you know what you have?  Absolute Total Darkness.  For the Pharisees, that Pillar of Fire, God’s Holy Presence, had been replaced by the Law.  Everything For Them Was About A List Of Things To Do And An Even Longer List Of Things NOT To Do.  They pursued and followed what they thought was the light with every fiber of their being.  They Were Religious For Sure

That’s why they didn’t have the time to even care about people who did not fit their description of being religious.  They wrongly believed that following the Law would be the light that would lead them into the very presence of God.  But it didn’t!  All it did was make them feel more important and better than most folks.  And rather than leading them into the Promise of God, it brought the darkness into their life. 

And there they were in the middle of the Holy Days, days that were to remind them that just as their ancestors followed the Light of God in the wilderness, so were they to follow the Light of God in their day to day life.  It must have been a spectacular sight at night…but:

Surrounded By All Those Lamps, Illuminating The Temple Courts, Lights Shining Out Into The Streets Of The City, They Didn’t Have A Clue Of What It Meant To Follow God.

A lot of people today are clueless just like those Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.  They think they’ve got it all figured out—following everything from power and money, to rules and traditions.  And they think in their hearts, “Eureka!  I’ve found the light, I’ve found the light!”  But all around them is darkness—without a clue they follow and follow and follow and then they wonder, “Why is my life so empty?  Where’s the purpose?  What’s the meaning?”

And then Jesus makes the bold statement:  “If You Want Light—If You Want To Know What It Means To Follow God—If You Want To Know That Your Life Is Meaningful And Has A Holy Purpose—Then Follow Me!  I AM—YAHWEH—The Light.”  And let me share with you why Jesus is The Light!

1.  First, His Light Is Revealing

He Is The Light That Reveals The Secrets We Hide In Our Hearts.  We can all be masters of deception when it comes to what goes on inside our hearts.  Any of a number of us could have an Academy Award sitting on a shelf in our living rooms—if others just knew what we were hiding. 

When I think about Jesus as The Light, I must be honest; there are times when thinking about The Light that I shudder.  I tremble because Jesus sees those times that I am living a lie, those things that make me feel ashamed.  Every corner, every dark cave where we try to push down those things we don’t want anyone to see, Jesus sees because He shines The Light in there.  When He shines The Light and reveals the true me, I feel the shame and regret.  But He isn’t disgusted with what the Light shows. His light makes us deal with some dark stuff that resides in our heart.  And here’s why:

His Light Reveals The Solution, The Cure For What Is Ailing Our Hearts And Spirits.  He isn’t content to leave us in the dark because He loves us too much to leave us there.  He wants to lead us out of the dark places of our heart with the Light of His Love, His Grace, His Mercy.  It’s the Light that shines and shows us what we need the most. 

And what we need the most is to kneel, kneel at the foot of the Cross that is soaked with His blood.  If you feel like everything has gone dark in your life, Look!  Look at Jesus because His Light shows us our shame, and His Light shows us the way out of the darkness.

2.  Second, His Light Is Restoring

Jesus Came Because God Wanted To Restore His Image Bearers Who Are Held Captive By Sin.  He came to set back right everything that was wrong.  He came to put things back right—to put us back right with our Creator!  What Sin Takes Away, What Sin Destroys Is Our Birthright To Be The Daughters And Sons Of God.  Jesus Is All About Restoring Everyone Who Is Broken In Their Heart—Alienated From The Father

Don’t overlook what happened just before this revelation from Jesus.  Earlier that day, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had dragged a woman into the presence of Jesus.  They publicly shamed her.  They publicly declared this woman was worthless.  She was wasting space and oxygen.  They did that when they said, “Rabbi, this woman is guilty of adultery.  The Law says she should be stoned to death.  What do you say?”  But Jesus ignored the question and quietly started writing something in the dirt.  They push Jesus for an answer and it never ends well when anyone tries to push Jesus

So He does, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one who is without sin.  Then the rest of you can join in.”  Then he goes back to writing.  Do you ever wonder what Jesus was writing?

I do.  Maybe it was from Numbers 14:18—“The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.”  Maybe it was Psalm 107:1—“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”  Whatever it was, it must have been powerful because one by one the rocks hit the ground and they drifted away until it was only Jesus and her.  And what does Jesus do? 

He restored her by forgiving her and releasing her from her shame and guilt—restored her back into fellowship with God.  He came in the flesh, died on the Cross, Rose from the grave to Restore us to the relationship we were created for—with God our Father.

3.  Third, His Light Is Renewing

There Are No Chains, No Fears, No Prison That Can Stand Against The Light.  When the way gets hard and difficult; when the pressures and stresses of life puts the squeeze on us; when it feels like the last drop of energy is about to leave us—The Light comes to put everything back in us, and more. 

In Those Times When The Life In Grace Feels More Like A Routine Than A Relationship—

  • The Light breaks the shackles that have imprisoned us.
  • The Light cleans and heals those wound caused by the shackles.
  • The Light rekindles the Fire of the Holy Spirit in us. 
  • The Light places the song back into our heart. 
  • The Light puts the step back into our dance. 

His Light Lifts Up Our Hearts With Joy, Hope And Purpose. The Light IS the Life.  It’s all about the relationship. 

It’s not just a dim light, but the Light that literally shatters the darkness.  He is the Light of the World!  The word John used from the Greek was “kosmos”.  It means more than just the globe we call earth.  It means literally everything around us—what we see and what we can’t see—what we understand and what we don’t understand!  It’s the realms of both time and eternity.

And He Wants To be The Light in us, but He wants something more from us.  He wants to be The Light that shines through us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16—“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” 

Motel 6 had a very popular slogan:  We’ll Leave The Light On For You.  God has left the light on for you first.  Will you allow Jesus to be the Light that will guide you to the very throne of your Heavenly Father?

Next Steps

It’s the same as last week.  Our world needs the Light of Jesus.  It’s our responsibility to get it out there.

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect With Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

Elevator Truth

Before His Resurrection, Jesus pushed the down button, twice! First, when He left Heaven to enter Mary’s womb. And then as He died on the Cross and was placed in that tomb.

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It took going to the funeral of a friend which lead to a dear friend reminding me to write, and the phone call of a close friend telling us she was dying, to kick me in the butt to get back to writing. So here I am, more resolved to not set His gift aside; rather to use it even more.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written, allow me to explain the purpose of these, call them insights. I’m reading the Book of Acts every morning. As I read, I’m looking and listening to The Spirit for those things I’ve overlooked over the years. Today I want to share something else I’ve missed all these years. It’s Acts 2:32-33

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.  Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.”

I call this Elevator Truth. Think about an elevator. I find here a microcosm of life, and a spiritual truth. What do you see and hear? Of course, Elevator Music! Music that rarely if ever moves the heart and stirs the soul. My hypothesis is that they use that kind of music so that you will quickly get off so the elevator can go to its next assignment.

Face it, sometimes life is as boring as Elevator Music. But that’s not the truth I want to share. It’s those 2 buttons outside the elevator door: Up or Down. Unless, of course, you are on the bottom floor (or the top floor). Elevators will take you up–elevate you–or they will de-elevate you–take you down.

In life, you have the choice to elevate your life or de-elevate your life. The News of the Kingdom of God is countercultural and revolutionary. Our world thinks that to elevate your life you need to push the up button (thus, my elevator analogy). But here in Peter’s sermon, elevation comes through the example of Jesus.

Before His Resurrection, Jesus pushed the down button, twice! First, when He left Heaven to enter Mary’s womb. And then as He died on the Cross and was placed in that tomb. Because Jesus was willing to push that down button, and because He did it out of love for the Father and love for us, The Father then elevated Him. And what an elevation it is! The world changed then, and it continues to change now, all because God elevated Jesus.

And remember WHEN that elevation occurred–after Jesus died! If you want your life elevated–lifted above the muck and mire of this culture–then you need to do what Jesus did: DIE!

  • Die to guilt
  • Die to fear
  • Die to sin
  • Die to self promotions
  • Die to your agendas
  • Die to self-importance
  • Die to who others say you are
  • Die to ________________ (you fill in the blank)

In order to be elevated, then you need to surrender–anything and everything–in your life. The good, the bad, the ugly–ALL OF IT! In an age of self-promotion this is radical and revolutionary–but it works. It worked for Jesus. It will work for you.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! And the next time you stand outside an elevator and see those 2 buttons, remember which button Jesus pushed, TWICE!

Everybody Has A Present!

(This is Part of my current 3 Part Sermon Series I’m calling Everybody!  Next week I’ll share the third, and final installment.  Click Everybody Has A Past to read the first.)

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Everybody Has A Present!  Joshua 24:14-15 (N.L.T.)

We’re in Week 2 of 3 of the series that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The Holy Spirit is inspiring this series because we live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.

Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.  This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  Remember that it’s not always been like this.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.   In the beginning, God designed life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  But this “Everybody That Was Together” was shattered when Adam and Eve made their tragic decision to be their own god.

But God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.  The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.

Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still EverybodyEverybody has 3 conditions in common.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:

Your Present Will Either Echo Your Fears Or Express Your Hope.

The Scripture this morning is all about echoing fears or expressing hope.  It comes from Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly.  Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt.  Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.  Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates?  Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

This particular passage has been applied to the thought that God wants us to have Christian families.  All kinds of pictures and wall plaques have been manufactured and sold.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  God does want Christian Families.  Christian families are the most important battle formation in God’s fight to reclaim what Satan took away from Him in the Garden.

But, if you would indulge me, I would like to give you a lesson in good, solid biblical exegesis.  Oh, that big word like Mahogany—exegesis.  Exegesis means to study in ways that helps understand a passage so that we can find ways to apply it to our lives.

Now, you certainly can apply these words of Joshua to you home, family, kids, grandkids and so on.  BUT. . .before you can do that, you need to understand the original setting.  Joshua has been leading them in the conquest of The Promised Land.  They’ve occupied most of the territory, but there’s still work to be done.  And Joshua is getting old.  This is his retirement announcement.

He’s not going to be around much longer—so they need to decide what they are going to do now.  Keeping walking with God in the present moment, or go back to some point in their past.  It’s about choice.  This is a defining moment for them.

In this moment, this defining moment, what are they going to do?  Joshua has made his own decision.  Joshua understands the importance of the Present.  He’s made his decision.  Now they have to decide—make their own decision.

I realize not everyone has had equal opportunities.  Not everyone has had a wonderful family background—not everyone has had a good past.  Bad choices were made.  Unfair situations happened to them.  But. . .we can allow the past to make us its captive—or—we can use it as a classroom where we learn to mold a new future.  And that New Future begins with The Present!

As with Joshua, our Present is all about The Covenant With God and What He Is Doing.  Just as at the foot of the Cross, we are all equal, so it is with The Present.  Everyone of us has The Present—it contains 60 seconds in a minute—60 minutes in an hour—and 24 hours in a day.  It’s the same for everyone.  How you choose to spend this time—what you choose for The Present—is your own decision.

Everybody needs The Present.  The Present is for everybody because some need a fresh start, all of us need to adjust our course and we all need to live out our true purpose.  Let’s look at each of these reasons.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need A Fresh Start

Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives a remodel won’t do the trick.  Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives an upgrade won’t do the trick.  A fresh coat of paint won’t work.

There are times in our life when no amount of tweaking will be enough.  It may be bad choices, lots of bad choices.  It may be that we’ve been hurt so deeply that the grudges have caused bitterness to take root and grow like kudzu.  There are lots of reasons why some of us need a Fresh Start.  And the Grace for that Fresh Start is available now—in the Present.  Now, I’m not saying that there may not be grace for you in the future—because grace is always there for us.  But. . .but there’s no guarantee that you will have that future.  Grace works in the Present—it’s made for the here and now.

And when you look at others—remember!  Remember that their past is not so horrendous that God doesn’t have a fresh start for them.  God’s grace is all about a fresh start for anyone and everyone.  Grace isn’t reserved for the brightest and best.  It’s for the least, the last and the lost.  Here in the present, we remember that it is never too late for God’s grace for anyone.  We need to stop judging people by their politics, their addictions, or anything with their outward appearances.  God can use anyone and everyone.

He used a dishonest tax collector to write a Gospel.  He used an unstable fisherman to be a leader in the very first churches.  He used a murderer and hater of Gentiles to be the one HE sent to the Gentiles.  Look at the genealogy of Jesus.  He used a prostitute to be the great-great grandmother of Jesus.  He used Jonah to show grace to the Ninevites, even though Jonah didn’t want to go, and even hated that God showed mercy and grace to the Ninevites.  That person you look down own, has a Present—This moment for God to give them a fresh start.  Stop judging others on their past.  Know that God has a Fresh Start—with their name on it.  And who knows, there may come a day when in your life, YOU need a fresh start.  The Present is for those who need a Fresh Start.

  1. The Present Is For Those Who Need To Adjust Their Course

I remember reading this years ago from Chuck Swindol—I don’t remember which book—but I remember what he wrote:  “Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  Thinking that we are hitting the mark, we can miss it by a mile.”  While else would David write in Psalm 139:23-24—23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Can I be honest with you?  This is about me.  I have learned more about God, about this relationship with Him, and about His design for my life in the last 15 years than I learned in the first 47 years of my life combined.  I now know it all started in that moment when I was broken.  And I know I still need some more course adjustments.

David points out 3 things in Psalm 139:23-24—

  1. We don’t know everything about our hearts. If so why did David invite God to dive deep into his heart?  Test me.  Know what makes me anxious.  Like when we’re taking a trip and there’s a blocked road or detour—the GPS does this thing called “recalculating”.  We need that for our hearts as well.
  2. We all have blind spots. David asked God to point out anything that was offensive to God.  Why?  Blind spots.  Sin has this sneaky characteristic of slowly changing our thoughts—changing them to beliefs and attitudes that are not those of God.  We need that course correction when we become blind to our own sinful ways.  They are called Blind Spots for a reason:  We can’t see them, but HE can.
  3. We don’t know it all. David asked God to lead him along the path of everlasting life.  David knew he couldn’t get there by himself.  He needed a Guide.  The Holy Spirit is with us to help us get to where God wants us to be.

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:14— For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  The leader is out front, making those adjustments in the course so that we can reach the goal of holiness in this life in Grace.  And the last thing:

  1. We All Need The Present To Live Out Our True Purpose.

What I am about to say, may upset someone–but just hang with me and listen to the whole thought:

Jesus didn’t die on the Cross just to get you into Heaven.  He saved us to get Heaven into us and into this world right now. 

Right now, in The Present, is where we live out our true purpose.  And true purpose is  live and love in ways that makes God real to each other—and to the world.

You can’t put off the work of the Kingdom of God.  It’s for here and now.  God has a plan, a purpose and the Power for your life.  You can’t put off doing what God wants done now.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10—For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  It means we begin now, in the present moment.

We all have the Present.  Your present will either echo your fears or express your hope.  Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now, In The Present—YOUR Present!

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Everybody Has A Choice With What To Do Right Now. You can follow Jesus, get closer to Jesus, or not. . .
  2. Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now. If you know anything about Jesus, if you’ve given Him your heart and life, you already have enough to make a difference now.  And by doing it now, you can make a bigger difference down the road.

DEFINING OUR FUTURE, which we are going to talk about next week, begins with The Present.  The Future isn’t what you wait for—it’s what you develop and work towards in The Present.  You Have The Present To Change Your Future!  The Present Is For Those Who Want To Have A Future Of Hope.

Cleansers!

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Well, time for my daily class assignment:  What did you learn yesterday?  As the day began I was looking forward to it.  But now?  I admit that it is a bit more difficult than I imagined.  Has that ever happened to you?  Something you thought you could do, easily do, but out of nowhere it became difficult.  Truthfully….I don’t like difficult.  Thinking about what to write was as blank as this graphic.  So what does one do when preparing for test time?  You review your notes.

Set up the beach canopy–check!  Cooler with drinks–check!  Beach towels–check!  Beach chairs set up–check!  Bag with snacks–check!  Reading materials–check!  Sunscreen and applied–check and check!  Feet buried in the sand–check.  What next?  Sitting in the shade of the canopy, looking at the scene graciously provided for us by The Creator.  Listening to the sounds of waves and birds.  When we were a bit warm, going into the Gulf to cool off, floating on the gentle waves.  Then a southerly breeze came in helping to keep us cool.  A couple of naps between finishing that book.

Where’s the lesson?  WHAT’S the lesson?  What am I forgetting?  And it finally hit me.  There was that moment I realized my mind was totally blank. (Please, no comments from the monkey gallery!)  And there were other moments when my mind was blank….cleansed from everything.  No thoughts about writing, the churches, my Dad, my own grief from Mother’s recent death.  My mind has been cleansed.  Think of it as a computer reset.  Cleansers–that’s the lesson.

There are cleansers for the face, microwaves, ovens, bathtubs, commodes, even this thing called a colon cleanse (now try to get that image out of your mind!).  My Father knew what I needed on that day–for my mind to be completely cleansed–to set aside all my thoughts–just to be me in the presence of my King and Creator!

The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts, but what can cleanse our minds?  The mind is more complicated and delicate matter.  A few sentences back I mentioned “colon cleanse”–how many of you still have that image in your mind?  If we try to get some thought out of our mind, say a certain song or a colon cleanse, it only seems to linger and grow roots.  And should we cleanse our minds of all thoughts, what will we replace them with?

I’m thinking about a story Jesus once told found in Matthew 12.  A man seemed to have rid his mind and heart of a demon.  The demon went looking for another home.  Failing to find one, he returned to that man.  Found the home of his heart and mind cleaned but unoccupied.  So he goes and gets 7 buddies and moves right back in.  And the point is???  Once your mind is cleansed, make very sure that it is immediately occupied with God’s presence.

When I had my mind cleanse, I did it intentionally in His Presence.  The result was that He rearranged some thoughts and replaced others.  Along with that process, He provided me with balance, perspective and wisdom.  And I urgently needed that to happen.  So when your thoughts overwhelm you, when you mind resembles that junk closet, take the time to be in His presence.  No agenda, no asking, no searching for answers–just alone with Him.  As you as prepare for this cleansing, and before you begin, make the decision to ask Him to sort it all out.  Add this “cleansing” process to your regular spiritual disciplines.  Allow it to be a part of your spiritual disciplines.  Balance, perspective and wisdom–all are gifts found only in His presence.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Excuse me now, I hear the bell for the next class to begin.  And I am ready for it, more than when this week began because I now have His balance, perspective and wisdom.

A Moving Journal-Day 7

Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack.  And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped.  Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving.  I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed.  OK, I WAS overwhelmed.  But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.

The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed.  The food pantry hadn’t been touched.  So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away.  The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes.  This to pack.  This to move out of the way.  Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load.  The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded.  My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck.  Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday.  I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.

Now it is early evening.  My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore.  Honestly?  I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor.  At the age of 17, that was my plan–until….  So what other lessons did I learn today?

  • There is still much to be done.  The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work.  It is an ongoing work inside of me.  And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
  • We can do more than we think.  Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
  • Stay focused on the main thing.  Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time.  As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 5

Welcome back class.  We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven?  I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class:  Spiritual Navigation Course.  Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure.  By the way, you can’t drop this course.  Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master.  So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily.  Now, on to the next plan:

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God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates.  Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven.  That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:

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Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made.  It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist.  It’s what I call “Legalism Light”.  The biggest rule to remember is #4.  Got it?  It focuses on the external parts of our lives.  Work on Rules Keeping.  Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules.  Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3.  Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions.  If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.

Slide21Well, there’s a problem.  God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.  It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom.  God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead.  And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions.  Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.

And then there’s this:  Believing we are right, we can be wrong.  In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants.  It’s about what God really wants.  Talk is just that–Talk.  Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.

That’s it for today.  You know what I am about to say:  Keep good notes.  Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen.  And remember…Love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.

Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 4

 

Welcome back class.  We’re already half-way through this subject.  Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time.  In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.

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God is the Cosmic Santa.  The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list.  We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list.  But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents.  The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old.  It’s  what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation.  Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that  In The End, We All Get In.

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Don’t sweat it or worry about it.  Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all.  No, we don’t!  In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so.  Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven.  Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in.  In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.

Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom.  This plan says we are just waiting around.  Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter.  Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator.  This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.

That’s it for today.  Review your notes for THE Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him.  See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.

 

Heaven, You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 2

Good Morning Class, or whatever time of the day it is you are reading this.  I’m so glad you decided to return.  Remember there will be a Final Exam on this class of How Do You Get To Heaven?  I cannot tell you when it will be because, well I don’t know.  This test will be administered at some point, not by me, but by the Head Master.  So pay close attention to this lesson.

As you remember from our last session this question about getting into heaven is really about this question:  How Do I Have A Relationship With God?  Remember from our text book, John 3 that it is this guy named Nicodemus who posed this question to Jesus.  So let’s proceed with today’s lesson with one of the ways some people think they can get into heaven.  Each of these “ways” has a name, that I cleverly came up with; well, truthfully, it was the Holy Spirit that gave me these names.  Here is the first plan:

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This one is really easy to understand.  Raise your hands if you have a checking account or savings account.  OK, you’ve got this plan.  God keeps a set of books with debits and credits—good things we do and bad things we do.  God is the Cosmic Accountant keeping tabs on us.  At the end of each business day, The Cosmic Account runs a tally of your life.  And if we do more good things than bad things, we get into heaven.  The good things we do help cover the costs of the bad things we do.

Now this is very appealing to many folks.  It’s relatively simple.  Some days you make a lot of deposits because you are kind and helpful.  That’s good because some days, well some days you are not so good.  So the Cosmic Accountant subtracts from your good things.  You just have to make sure you have more “good things” deposited to your account that “bad things” that are taken away from your account.

But Sin is more than just a “bad” thing—Sin is rebellion against God, against our Creator, against His design and purposes.  And then there’s what Jesus said God demands from us.  Matthew 5:20—But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  Now these teachers of the law and Pharisees, man they had a lot of deposits.  Don’t misunderstand me–they had their “withdrawals” as well.  But they certainly had more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.  But–you don’t get into Heaven because you think you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.

God is MORE than the Cosmic Accountant.  He IS the Righteous God who expects nothing less from us that Righteousness.  He IS the Holy God who demands nothings less from us that holiness.  Were this so, then it was a waste of time for Jesus to become our flesh.  If it were so, then the death of Jesus on that Cross was a tragedy.  But His life AND death were neither a waste of time, nor was it a tragedy.

Well, that’s it for today class.  I hope you took good notes because there will be a test at the time determined for you by the Head Master.  Until tomorrow…..remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Heaven—You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 1

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This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see.  I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology.  But I do have a question for you.  The most important question you will ever be asked is this:  How Do You Get To Heaven?  Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.

Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question.  I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us.  OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.

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Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK?  Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs.  It’s obvious.  If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left.  HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.

When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs.  So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question.  Look at  John 3:1-12 (NLT)

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us.  Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus.  “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows wherever it wants.  Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”  9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit?  You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t.  The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching.  Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.”  But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.

Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask:  How Do We Find God?  Now here’s where it gets confusing.  Some say there are many ways to find God.  They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City.  We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City.  But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.

There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject.  It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God.  And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism.  It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there.  The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.

So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here.  I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven.  Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

We Are More Than Our Feelings

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This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…