Posted in Different Scriptures, Spoken Word

Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

I come before You, aware of my faults
Aware of my penchant for error
I know that being unclean in Your presence
Is enough to fill me with terror

I look on my moments of worship
So quick to fill silence with noise
It seems a common self-defense
The shame of my sin oft’ deploys

Yet here I’ve permission for silence
As You’ve also silenced my shame
The accuser unable to point a finger
You’ve covered me with Your own Name

For You are the source of all justice
In You are all wrong things made right
Here as I come and be silent, Lord
Grant me to see with Your sight

It is good to live today all for You
Laboring not for tomorrow, but more
Aware of the context eternity brings
Knowing Your Love is assured

The gift of enjoyment You offer
Joy that integrates all with your Way
Grace that invites New foundation
Not for past, or for future, but Today

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 Moments, Different Scriptures

awe-full freedom…

I have vague memories from my childhood of sitting on a blanket on the rooftop of a vehicle, in the midst of a large crowd of people facing the sky. There were antique cars patterned on the blanket, and it smelled like a combination of my grandparents and a summer field. The collective “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” of the people around me, along with the giant “BOOM” from the sky compelled me to join their upward stares, and enjoy the show as well. It was beautiful. It was loud. It was explosive. All of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each person melted away by the tiny colorful fires blooming across the evening sky. We were united in that moment by the shared experience. The commonality of awe, wonder, and even humility as we felt each “BOOM” with a reverb that shook us to our bones.

As we (in the US) approach the Holiday weekend, there are some who are so grateful for particular Freedoms today, they’d throw the celebrations without wanting to get stuck in the mire of humility or contemplation.  There may be others, repentant of our country’s’ difficult and painful past, who feel there is little cause for celebration.  Still others, focusing on our present need to continually reform and heal, who want to trumpet their particular cause in the direction of healing.  There are important reasons to listen to and value each of these voices.  We are thankful for the freedoms many of us are able to enjoy.  We confess they didn’t come easily, but in many ways painfully on the backs of previous generations.  We also confess that we struggle to distribute the enjoyment of such freedoms equally even today.

As a pastor in a denomination with “FREE” in our title (Free Methodist), I have definitely come to appreciate the word.  We have been liberated from patterns and penalties of sin, and made New Creations, which sets us free from the sources of anxiety and division that threaten to chain us down/apart.  But as someone who has served in a post-communist country, I’ve also been reminded that the word “Freedom” carries a variety of meanings – not all of them positive.  When a conquered country is told they should be grateful for the “freedom” they now have – to not need self-governing – this is no great gift of freedom at all.

With these things in mind, I find it important to pause briefly and reflect on the Freedom I am most thankful for.  A freedom shared globally across every culture and nation.  A freedom that offers to shape & impact our policies at home and abroad.  A freedom I pray is found and experienced by every individual and community.  It’s the merciful freedom we’ve been given to be aware and moved/drawn in by the present and active Love of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit.

There is something about watching fireworks that reveals our experience as a humanity gathered in awe of the wonder and divine power of God.  We can easily get distracted by the smaller details in our environment, but there are moments that compel us all to look collectively at the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, His powerful authority, His gracious Love, or simply His abiding presence.  When we look toward Him together, united in such a moment of wonder, we converge in our reflection of His light in ways that offer to illumine our lives anew.  It is beautiful.  It can speak powerfully to those who are willing to listen. It can transform and provide explosive catalyst for something New.  Abiding with our attention directed toward the fullness of God together can melt away (or give proper perspective) to all of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each of us, as we gather together.  We are united (and sent) by such a shared experience.  It has the potential even to humble us, with reverbs we feel in the very core of our being – offering us a New identity…

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

And as we climb down from the rooftops of automobiles, heading back into the world with eyes still impacted by the dazzling flashes of His Love, we notice that as we freely join such Love – the moments of awe continue…