Posted in Different Learning, Different Thoughts

shortages

As we were living in Hungary, one thing we could not miss when watching international news coverage, was the fascination and humor most of the world watched with as the United States somehow panicked for the last remaining rolls of toilet paper. It was mind-boggling to us, as we’d never seen such a scramble for the white rolls of bathroom tissue. Surely it was just being over-dramatized, we thought. Perhaps this is just happening in the large cities. But as we talked with friends, and checked online, we saw that the strange phenomenon was happening widespread, even as most people confessed to being mystified by it themselves. Even as it was happening, memes popped up and late night talk show hosts made fun of…well….Americans who seemed to find comfort when facing the unknows of a pandemic with the dependable reality of knowing we could at least “take care of business” through it all.

Since returning to the US, it does seem like “Shortages” continue to pop up in the news. It doesn’t even take someone with a conspiratorial eye, to begin to wonder if many of these are simply well-placed advertising campaign strategies. But some legitimate shortages (most recently, Maple Syrup in Canada or Cream Cheese in the US) are still causing people and companies to think strategically, or to alter plans for consumption altogether.

Some might say that the reason Western Culture seems to notice “shortages” in ways that seem newsworthy, is that many of us have grown up or become accustomed to knowing that pretty much every “commonly-used” product we could imagine was readily available somewhere within a drive or an online order. It hasn’t taken long for this to impact our kids as they grow – with Christmas lists that often show no known limitations or boundaries. There are aspects of this we can be proud of – whimsical notions of “anything is possible” that we believe is healthy for our children as they grow. But it can also create a false sense of reality that most of the world still does not experience. Most places in the world continue to live with limitations, (and we do, if we’re honest enough to confess it), and that does not always mean a negative thing.

Now toilet paper is in a very unique category of “things I really hope we don’t have to learn how to do without.” But there is a sense in which limitations, and shortages, should be embraced a bit more readily as a positive path to spiritual growth as they come.

We live in a giant world with changing seasons, shifting climates, varying cultural backgrounds, many geographic features, and challenges as we tend to sowing and harvesting products in ways that justly care and provide for all of those involved. With so many variables, we should have limitations. We should have some foods that are only available in certain seasons. We should be thankful for what we can attain easily, and have a bit of wonder about what they have in other areas.

One of the beautiful aspects of Advent, is that we not only imagine what it was like to anticipate Jesus arriving for the first time, we imagine what it will be like when Jesus arrives fully. When Christ is revealed finally to be Lord over all things, and the Love of God swallows up all the cosmos, bringing together Heaven and Earth like never before – all things are made New. In those days (yet to come), there will be a growing shortage of shortages – as the full provision of God and His Good creation are revealed as enough (and also our hungers and consumption are brought into full alignment with His good and pleasurable ways).

In response to remembering this, we can celebrate in many ways. I would highlight two today:

  1. When possible, we can order/purchase something simple that doesn’t seem like it should be available to us because of season or location. Enjoy it on purpose, and share it with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or child – imagining with them the coming age when all necessary things will be available and provided by Lord Jesus right on time.
  2. Purposefully choose to limit yourself of something. Sure, it may be at the store – but it’s not technically in season, or you’re not sure of the just working conditions/pay for those who labored. Choose something that you purposefully will “go without” this year. If it impacts the lives of others, don’t get all preachy – but if it involves kids – explain to them why you’re choosing to go without. Talk about being purposeful in our anticipation of the day when all that we need will always be provided – and not only us, but those brothers and sisters all over the globe.

No matter how we respond to Advent in particular, may we Christ-followers be leaders of the Way when it comes to responding to product shortages with peaceful confessions of our limited resources. We should not be surprised, and should be among those who generously seek community-beneficial adaptations when such shortages impact those around us.

May the peace of God who has already begun providing everything we truly need, fill and dwell in our hearts – and arrive through us as we share life together in community…both this Advent, and into the new year…

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Posted in Different Scriptures

Zacchaeus: The Sequel

When the loving presence of God arrives in Jesus, it transforms our lives with a Love-Driven Justice that bears fruit for generations, for the sake of others…

I want to imagine a story we’ve never read before (because I wrote it recently). It’s a story of some early Christians visiting the city of Jericho many years after Jesus had been resurrected and gone to be with the Father. They heard there was a ministry there that needed to be encouraged, and so they made arrangements to visit and see what God was stirring in that place.

As they arrived in town, they began simply by asking where they might find the leaders of a movement known as “Balm from Balsam”.  Balsam was a very expensive product produced mainly there in Jericho, and it was a ministry that helped to ensure that those people profiting from the sale of Balsam gave support to workers who previously hadn’t many rights.  It was widely known that the Balsam trees in the area of Jericho produced a large amount of profit – most of which was taken by Rome, but some of which also lined the pockets of powerful people in the Jericho area.  The slaves who were forced into labor to extract and preserve the balsam juices and wood, however, often lived in horrible conditions, and were seen simply as tools to attain more product.  

The story was, years ago there was a man named Zacchaeus who had his life dramatically changed when Jesus came to visit his house.  Followers of Jesus had heard the story over and over again, and they had seen it in the lives of others, but the story of Zacchaeus had always been a bit of a mystery beyond the day Jesus shared a meal with him.  Different versions of the story existed, but they all seemed to agree – the heart of Zacchaeus was dramatically changed after that visit.  Zacchaeus gave away more than half of all his possessions and finances – paying back all of the people he had defrauded over the years, 4 times whatever he had taken from them.  This was not a simple matter, as he had been a meticulous record-keeper. He knew exactly how much he had overcharged so many people, and how his entire household had benefited from the money that had been taken.  

The story goes that the Jews in that area already hated him for overcharging taxes all of these years – and when he went around town handing out money, they began to actually fear him.  He was accused of being possessed by a demon, since it was the only way some people could make sense of such a dramatic change, and a seeming disregard for his own financial state.

Not only that, but Rome began to want Zacchaeus dead as well.  He’d been charged with treason over and over again, but somehow continued to slip through their grasp.  As soon as he began to charge people honestly for their taxes, Rome began collecting less and less money from the region of Jericho.  He demanded that all of the tax collectors who served under him be honest in their dealings, and he would check their records to make sure no one was being unfairly treated or oppressed.  He found one tax collector under him who continued to line his own pockets by over-charging people – and fired the man from his position. That man went over his head to Rome, and came back declaring that Rome had put him in charge now as the new chief tax collector for the area.

After he lost his position, Zacchaeus offered himself as a sort of “financial advisor” still, helping people to calculate what they should owe the empire, and stirring all kinds of controversy when he helped people stand up and demand financial transparency and accountability. After a while, he and his family went into hiding, and it was rumored they were traveling to share the gospel. But after years, when this new movement, protecting and promoting fair wages for Balsam workers started, people began to wonder if some son or grandson of Zacchaeus had returned to Jericho. The people who helped to run it were so meticulous in their record keeping, it certainly sounded like the man himself was somehow returned.

Sure enough, after a few conversations with other trusted Jesus-followers, they located the grandson of Zacchaeus.  He was sitting at a desk, and in front of him were ledgers of the names of local workers in the Balsam industry.  He explained that he begins each new day by praying for these workers by name – because they are usually treated as if their name doesn’t even matter.  He makes note of whether they have been baptized as a follower of Jesus yet, and prays for opportunities to share about Jesus with them.  He then devotes himself to working and serving their interests however he can.  When the visiting followers of Jesus  asked him why he works so hard to do such work each day, he simply told them the story he’d heard of his grandfather many years ago…

Luke 19:1-10

As we look at the story of Zacchaeus, we find a bit of a mystery. It’s hard to put a finger on when or how the heart of Zacchaeus was transformed. We don’t see an obvious gospel presentation. There was no altar call. There was no physical blindness or lameness, and then a healing that transformed his heart. We simply move from Zacchaeus in a tree, curious to know more; to Jesus welcomed as a guest in his house, to Zacchaeus declaring a transformation of heart by his tangible responses of repentance.

Was it simply the fact that welcoming the presence of such LOVE is enough to bring New Life?  Was the indwelling presence of Jesus that came to break bread – transformational in ways that made Zacchaeus a completely New Creation – even before knowing all the truths and vocabulary to describe what had happened?  

Is it possible that, even if you aren’t sure who Jesus is – inviting the presence of His Love into your home and life can bring transformation to your understanding of self, of God, and your ability to Love others in a new and Just way?

Is it possible that simply bearing the loving presence of Jesus in the midst of your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and wherever your day takes you – is enough to transform those environments for His glory?

The Loving presence of God in Jesus inherently brings redemptive righteousness (rightness/justice). Will we notice Jesus today, looking into our eyes, inviting us to welcome Him into new areas of our lives?

Posted in Different Scriptures, Spoken Word

Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41

There are some leaders
Who only want the good news.
As if their prophets had
The ability to choose.

King Zedekiah was
A very powerful man.
But he led God’s people
So far from God’s plan.

He sacrificed children
Upon altars of lies,
And God would use Babylon
To help them realize.

But God would regather
His people one day.
After an exile
They’d return to stay.

When they do return
They would be single minded,
Their hearts to Gods’
They will have binded.

God makes a covenant
To never stop doing good,
When their hearts and minds
Turn to Him as they should.

They will be firmly planted
In the land of what’s New,
Trusting in God
To guide all that they do.

(So if we’re not living
In unending good,
There’s a chance idols
Have more room than they should.)