Friday, February 28, 2014

The Pineapple Story

This week I bring to you a message from a fellow UM preacher.
I think this will be especially helpful in our discipleship journey.
This story has to do with the ownership of things.

This message was given by the Reverend Stephen Hoffman
when he was pastor at the First United Methodist Church
in Palmetto, FL.

“The Pineapple Story”
Ephesians 4:1-7 
 click the link to be taken to the First United Methodist Church of Palmetto's website

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tripping Over Your Own Feet

Always make sure you lead with the correct foot first.

Tripping. Who hasn't done that awe inspiring, face planting, shin cracking thing where your feet don't carry you properly to the next step in the road?

How does a person trip and fall?
Apparently, if one foot is not properly placed in front of the next, you run the chance of falling.
Sounds rather remedial to the full grown adult. We learn how to walk at an early age.
It can be taken for granted very easily that walking is just that...easy.
But, if you have tripped and fallen and even hurt yourself, learning how to walk again can be very painful and strenuous.

My father would be someone who would know alot about this subject.
At an early age in elementary it wasn't tripping that caused him pain. At least it wasn't himself that tripped. It was the kid whose shoulders he was riding on. My dad found out the hard way why playing "chicken" was something he had been told not to do. The kid below him either tripped or lost his balance. Some kids went down in a heap. My dad broke his leg.

In the 1950's you didn't go in for a magic surgery get a pair of crutches and be back on your feet by the end of the week. No, you laid there. Wrapped in a cast, dad laid there in bed for weeks before they would let him get up. It's amazing what our body fails to remember once it has not had the chance to continue using the knowledge that it once knew. My dad's body knew how to walk. He learned 8 years prior as an infant and toddler. Now, he had to learn that skill all over again. Ask someone who has had knee surgery or an amputee with a new limb attached. Learning to walk again is no easy process.

The Apostle Paul has the difficult job of teaching people what this Christian life is all about. He is basically teaching them how to walk. In a spiritual sense, he has to show them how to lead with the proper foot so they don't trip and fall down. If it can happen in the physical life then it most assuredly can happen in the spiritual life, also. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul has the job of making what sounds legal into what is spiritual. In other letters, Paul is quite legal and business like, with the Galatians and Corinthians, per se. With the Ephesians, Paul seems to be taking a very spiritual angle on a rather legal type matter. The matter of grace and works.

Ephesians 2:8-10

New International Version (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

An an infant and toddler, we learn how to put those feet on the floor slowly and cautiously. Usually, with the help of a mommy or a daddy right there behind us. To sum up Paul's introduction in the first chapter to the Ephesians, he lets them know who their parent is. Their spiritual father gave them life, brought them into this world, had this whole thing planned from the beginning. Most parents do. They have a plan in mind. Sometimes we come across situations where people weren't thinking ahead about what they are doing. In the case of our spiritual lives, God knows what he is doing. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" Maybe we have no idea what we are doing or where we are going, but somehow God does. He wants us to be his children and made plans before the earth had it's foundation that this is how things would go. He knew we would need saving. He knew we would need redemption. He would give up his one and only Son to make it possible.

By the time we enter chapter two, the toddler stage is full on. This child is walking and talking. Jibbering away in a language that only he or she knows what they are saying. Maybe mommy and daddy make out a few words or a sentence if they are lucky. It is also at this early age that we begin to understand what it means to trip and fall. How many of us were told as children to not run in the house? How many of us are now shouting to our own children to walk in the house? It seems my little dude just runs everywhere! And, on occasion, there has been the full face plant as he loses his footing and lands in a heap, crying and balling. Getting picked up and placed on a shoulder while telling him, "I told you not to run in the house! Maybe next time you'll think first before you go running..." Wasn't the first time. Probably won't be the last.

The Ephesians seem to need some reminding as well. How did this life begin for them? How did they enter into it? Who taught them to walk? What are they to do now that they have their walking feet on? It is possible to trip in this spiritual life just as it is physically. If we put the wrong foot in front of the other and don't lead properly we can find ourselves in a spiritual heap and a face plant. A person has to learn how to walk. What Paul gives the Ephesians are some good points to help them walk and not stumble. Keeping these thoughts close to heart will help a Christian walk the walk.

It is by grace you have been saved - We are saved because God wants it that way. He sees us in our sin and wants to bring us out to better pastures. His sheep need green grass. Before the foundations of the world he knew we would need saving. Creating something with the freewill to choose also brings about the possibility that wrong choices will get made. We'll need somebody to right those wrongs. In his grace, he makes things right.

through faith - We enter into this life by grace and faith. God reaches out to us. We believe that this is what God wants. That's what faith is. Believing. 

and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - Have you ever been handed a gift? Something that you can't pay back or give back? Paul need to make this clear to his Ephesians readers in a way he hasn't made clear to other readers. You didn't do this. You are not a self-made person. God wants to give you this gift of salvation. It comes from Above, not from yourself. 

not by works, so that no one can boast. - Here's our tripping point. This life begins with grace. We are in this life because God wants us to be here. If it were by our own means or by something we could do then our religion would be no different than any other perspective in the world. Every other religion on the planet is about "doing something" to earn eternal life or a reward in the hereafter. God gives it freely in the name of Jesus Christ. People can boast about what they do, if they are the ones who built or invested in a project or person. The only one with boasting rights here is God. He planned it, provided for it, built it and simply asks us to believe in order to be a part of it. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus - Paul would be emphatic to all of his readers - God made you. In a culture with men sitting on thrones claiming to be "god" and a system of works based religion in place, Paul cannot stress it strongly enough. This all rests in the realm of what God can do. And, God does what he does in the name of Christ Jesus. This spiritual life we have was created in Christ Jesus, and because of that...
to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - The subject comes full circle. Good works are a part of the equation, but just not where the equation starts. We enter into this life by grace and faith. We learn that this life is about God, who created us and gave us life. We learn that Jesus Christ makes a way for us to have this spiritual life. Then we find out there are good things for us to do. Learning how to walk means learning which foot to lead with. Grace. Faith. New Life. Good Works. Not the other way around. God wants us to do good things. He set this plan up ahead of time with the idea in mind that we would do good things, not as a reward system, but as a response to the grace we have received.

As the subject of discipleship unfolds before us in 2014, it is always interesting to see themes that people need to hear and learn, again. This message that Paul shares is one that many should have learned early in their spiritual walk. Grace, faith, then works. But, it's one that needs revisiting because this hustle and bustle world we live in causes us to so wrapped up in what our responsibilities are that we lose focus on what our center is - God. The focus and purpose of our lives is to be his child. That comes first and foremost. Doing good works in the Christian life comes from putting God first. What we do here on Sunday morning is about God, not us. We are not here to fulfill some sort of responsibility. We are here to worship the Creator. When we put our money in this offering plate, it is not to perform some good work or responsibility. It is to worship God and show Him how much he means to us. It's not about us. It's about God. If we get it wrong, it's like we are tripping over our own feet. Putting works in front of grace always leads to giving off the wrong impression about our faith. 

My dad has had to learn this lesson a couple more times in his life.
A few years ago he was up on a ladder out front of the store. He probably should have asked for some help. Dad is known for taking on too much. He feel from the ladder and landed on the sidewalk. He broke his hip, snapping the ball joint clean off the top of the leg bone. Unlike his labored recovery in the 50's he would have surgery to replace the ball and be back on some crutches in a short time. Having to learn to walk again would not be as difficult since he was not off his feet nearly as long.

This past week my father fell again. This time as he went down to the local drive-thru on an errand. He would slip and fall. This time a couple of hairline fractures in the leg down down further from the hip would result in a plate and five screws being place on the bone. He is on crutches, again. He'll be that way for a few weeks as he recovers. Fortunately, there's a chair lift going upstairs that my grandmother used to use. Now, my dad gets some help up and down those stairs.

Grace. It's where it all begins. 

And, it accompanies us through the moments that cause us to trip and fall. 
God's handiwork needs some help now and then.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Takin' Out The Trash

 Because, it's stinking up the house...that's why!

Our weekly chore.
Everybody has to do it. Taking out the trash.
As I read this week's scripture, this is the phrase that came to mind.
Maybe you see the correlation as you read it over...

1 John 1:9

New International Version (NIV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Recently, we got a new trash company in town.
As I came home on that day I noticed there was a long line of green cans down the street.
We had one too. Seems the new company gave everyone in town a brand new trash can.
And, it's a good can too. Not like my old brown cans with the tiny wheels that I lugging behind me out to the street each Monday. This is a big green cans, with the BIG wheels on the sides.
AHHHH. So nice. So easy to roll up and down the driveway. 

We'll talk more about trash removal in a moment...

Our scripture comes from an apostolic letter.
Many of these letters were written in response to a need or an issue that our church fathers saw going on in the Christian community. Many of Paul's letter were written after he visited a place. Some time later he would write to them about issues or people he encountered while ministering in their city. Ephesus. Galatia. Corinth. 1 & 2 Corinthians being his two longest letters. There were lots of issues there to be discussed in that city and church.

John's epistle, or letter, is no different.
One major issue that is going on in the Christian community that causes John to write his letter is the issues of other "teachers" outside of the apostolic leaders who have entered in to instruct people in what they feel is a "higher understanding" about Christ. Historians have noted that these "teachers" have sited that they were divine. More important to this discussion is what they taught about Jesus and the nature of sin. Concerning sin in themselves, they would tell the people they, themselves, had no sin. I can only try and imagine the firestorm brewing at the end of John's ink pen as he is writing to his fellow Christians about these subjects. He would start off his letter with these words...

1 John 1

New International Version (NIV)

The Incarnation of the Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our[a] joy complete.

These people think that they know more and have a "higher understanding" than people who actually walked and talked with Jesus, himself. John jumps right on it. His gospel starts off with similar tones. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John starts his letter opening as he does because, as a follower of Christ, he has first hand knowledge. And, there's nothing that can refute first hand knowledge. No "higher understanding" can trump what someone actually saw for themselves.  ...we have looked at and our hands have touched...we have seen it and testify to it...We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard...
I've many a conversation as to the validity of the gospel. Some want to say it's just a fairytale. Just a story. There are those who know that's something more than that, however. A person who has first hand knowledge.

These "teachers" are the beginning of what will be known in a couple hundred years as Gnosticism.
There is something very mystical and without absolute about these teachings.
I like to describe it as built on a foundation of jello. What was to old saying about jello?
"Watch it wiggle. See it jiggle."
Jesus would talk about building on a solid foundation.

Matthew 7:24-27

English Standard Version (ESV)

Build Your House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

In Gnosticism, nothing gets a truly solid foundation. Everything is left up to a shaky stability of figuring out how to understand God without any absolutes. And, for many a gnostic, the subject of sin is either not explained or not dealt with at all. These "teachers" now present in John's time are saying they don't have any sin at all. Paul would be very blunt about sin in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 3:23

English Standard Version (ESV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Nobody gets a free pass here. Everybody has sin to deal with in their lives.
John has to explain the issue here in his epistle also.

1 John 1

New International Version (NIV)

Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.
Sin is the spiritual equivalent of trash.
Trash needs to go. If we let it sit around, it starts stinking up the place.
Jesus has something he'd like to do with our sin. Purify us.

John takes the sin issue a bit further as he continues to the verse we ready at the beginning.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Sin has to go. How far to we go with the subject of it's removal, however?
Is it enough to simply bag it up and take it out to the can in the garage?
Well, the house smells better. But, what's going on in the garage?
Next time you go to get in the car, you'll find out how it smells out there.
The can has to go out to the street. Is it enough for it to just sit out at the street?
Nope. Eventually that odor is going to drift back at the house and when we open the front door...
WHEW! Man, that stuff has to go. And, here comes the trash truck to take our junk away for us.
Sin is very real issue in a human being's life. Jesus is the trash removal expert.

Jesus wants to do two things according to verse 9.
Forgive and purify or cleanse.
It's not enough to have the sin forgiven. Jesus wants to make sure it doesn't come back again either.
There's a story Jesus told back in the gospels about a person who had demons cast out of him.

Matthew 12:43-45

New International Version (NIV)
43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

It's not enough to simply have our sins forgiven. Jesus wants to purify us also.
The house has been swept and put into order. But, trash can begin to pile up again.
The impure can find its way to our home again. In the case of the impure spirit, it came back and found nobody was living there. We discussed Jesus standing at the door of our hearts when we covered Revelation 3.20 a week or so ago. Is there anybody living in the house of our heart? Or, is it empty? Will the trash begin to pile up again? Or, have we sent it away, never to return?

Jesus is cleansing us from "unrighteousness" John's letter says.
What is that? Righteousness has to do with right living.
Maybe we are more familiar with a term like "self-righteousness".
Who does our world revolve around? Us? Me? Do i determine for myself what is right and wrong?
Or, does someone higher than myself determine that? Where does my righteousness comes from?
Jesus wants to cleanse, purify us from all unrighteousness. Wrong living.

As the 2nd chapter begins in John's letter, he makes his proclamation clear as to the intention of this letter.

1 John 2

New International Version (NIV)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
He cleanses us from unrighteousness so that we will not sin. That is what he wants. For us to live life without sin in the mix. But, life is not easy to live. And, if anybody has a problem with living out this wish to live with out sin, there is someone who intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.

Here's Plan A. God wants to live this life forgiven and purified, cleansed of sin.
In anybody is having a problem with living in Plan A, here's Plan B.
Jesus Christ makes forgiveness possible. Come to him and find what you need.
But, Plan B is no place to live. Plan B is simply a means to get us back on track with Plan A.
Plan A is where we are supposed to be. Believe me, I've been back and forth between A and B over the years. I've prayed at the altar on Sunday and felt high on the mountain. OH, but here comes Monday morning and I actually have to wake up and begin to interact with the world around me.

The trash needs to go out. And, not just out to the garage or the curbside. It's needs to go. Out of here.

Is there anything you need, not just forgiven, but cleansed and purified from the mix of your life today?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Are You Lost?

You don't have to go far to not know where you are.

Luke 19:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

What does it mean to be "lost"? Have you ever been lost before?

I have. When I was about 4 years old.
Back in those days I was a tricycle man. I triked it all over the place.
We lived at the corner of Second St and Smiley Rd in Shelby when I was 4 years old.
I had a nice stretch of sidewalk to cover around that corner in two directions.
But, I was not supposed to go any further than where our property ended.
I had our driveway to the east (on Smiley), down to the corner and around to our neighbor's driveway on the north (on Second St). And, as it is with little ones, especially, I did not or was not listening, or thinking, about what I was doing as I turned that corner and headed towards the neighbor's driveway.

Being so long ago, I'm not sure what I was thinking or doing exactly. I seem to remember humming a tune (which is still like me after all these years). And, I guess I made it to my neighbor's driveway and I just...kept on going. Without really thinking about it I simply went uphill on the sidewalk and began to roll down Second St going north without a care in the world. Before long I actually looked up and around at all the houses and realized that I did not recognize any of them. Unbeknownst to me, I was still on Second St. I was 4 and I had never ventured away from home before. Now, I was scared.

Our passage of scripture can be a scary one.
Unless interpreted properly, scripture can be used in an improper way.
This line of scripture has been ripped from the passage it is included in and been caused to stand alone. Many people don't even realize what's included behind this verse. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. Seems like universal truth. But what else is going on in the 19th chapter of Luke that leads to this famous line from Jesus?

Upon backtracking behind verse 10, we see that this is the story of Zacchaeus.
Was Zacchaeus lost? Well, lets look at this passage and find out.

Luke 19

New International Version (NIV)

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

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

As children we were introduced to the little, short guy who couldn't see Jesus. So, he climbed a tree.

But, I don't ever recall having the idea of being 'lost' ever coming into play as a Sunday school teacher taught the story to us. This statement that Jesus makes seems, at first, like an out-of-place sentence or a whimsical, off the top comment being made as the passage closes.

It is in understanding a bit more of the background of who this little man was that opens our eyes.

Our scripture says that Zacchaeus was a "chief tax collector" and he was "wealthy".
What do either of those phrases have to do with being "lost"?
Well I harken you back to last week's passage to make some correlation.
What was it that Jesus said about the Laodiceans?
He said they they thought they were "rich".

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
Can the 'rich' feel like they are lost? They most certainly can.

Well, lets take a closer look at both words, rich & lost, before we answer that.
What does it mean to be rich?

Full Definition of RICH

1:  having abundant possessions and especially material wealth
2 a :  having high value or quality
   b :  well supplied or endowed <a city rich in traditions>
3:  magnificently impressive :  sumptuous
4 a :  vivid and deep in color <a rich red>
   b :  full and mellow in tone and quality <a rich voice>
   c :  having a strong fragrance <rich perfumes>
5:  highly productive or remunerative <a rich mine>
6 a :  having abundant plant nutrients <rich soil>
   b :  highly seasoned, fatty, oily, or sweet <rich foods>
   c :  high in the combustible component <a rich fuel mixture>
   d :  high in some component <cholesterol-rich foods>
7 a :  entertaining; also :  laughable
   b :  meaningful, significant <rich allusions>
   c :  lush <rich meadows>
8:  pure or nearly pure <rich lime>

Our scripture suggests that Zacchaeus was "wealthy". Jesus said the Laodiceans were "rich".
There's nothing in the definition of rich that leads me in the direction of being lost, however.
Maybe there's something unspoken here that we are missing. Maybe we need to hear it right from "the horse's mouth", in a manner of speaking. What is it like to be rich and where does it lead?

Upon searching the subject of being rich at Google, there was one word that gets associated with the subject - lonely. Lottery winners have noted that upon winning their millions the one thing that changed drastically was their social life. Money changes things. In all social criteria. People feel differently about socializing with someone who seems to have it all. Having more than the neighbor across the street can cause a social divide. Even if it's not millions in dollars and cents, having more than someone else in your neighborhood or demographic can cause there to be a bit of animosity. In the family, in the neighborhood, in the social climate.

The best place to go for that insight is go to someone who has nothing. 
Just ask the kids down in Hindman, Kentucky.

My in-laws went there for a mission trip a couple years back. My mother-in-law will tell you right away that what stands out is the stark contrast in the social & economic divide between life in Fairfield County, OH and the backwoods of Hindman, KY. Many of the kids have nothing. Upon sitting down with them to do VBS during the week, one of the little girls called my mother-in-law "rich". Looking at her shoes and the shirt she was wearing, the little girl immediately realized her teacher from Ohio had life a little better than she did. Now, my in-laws are no "rich folks". There are hard working, blue collar people, just like anybody else around here. But, take what you have and put it up against the backwoods life of a small child growing up in Kentucky with barely the essentials to make it in this world, and you'll feel like you might be "rich".

Is it possible to get "lost" being "rich"? We established that being "rich" doesn't have to mean that you have millions. It just means that you have to have more than somebody else. You have enough the fold your hands behind your head and feel like you have it made. You have all you need. Jesus called the Laodiceans "rich" and claimed they thought that they needed nothing. Its funny how people become content in their own little world. Its funny how people look down on other because other of their social and economic status, either poor or rich. The "rich" folk want nothing to do with those "poor people" because they smell or don't dress very well. And, the rich get alienated because they have too much or dress too well and common people can't relate to them.

Now, before we venture much further you might be wondering what any of this has to do with being lost. And, then it dawns on you....we are lost. THIS is how people get lost. Focusing too much on themselves or their own economic and social status or the economic and social status of others. THIS is not where God intended for us to live, alienated from one another. Being lost implies that we are on our own, with no guide to show us the way. For the sake of discussion lets look at the word...

Full Definition of LOST

1:  not made use of, won, or claimed
2 a :  no longer possessed
   b :  no longer known
3:  ruined or destroyed physically or morally :  desperate
4 a :  taken away or beyond reach or attainment :  denied <regions lost to the faith>
   b :  insensible, hardened <lost to shame>
5 a :  unable to find the way
   b :  no longer visible
   c :  lacking assurance or self-confidence :  helpless
6:  rapt, absorbed <lost in reverie>
7:  not appreciated or understood :  wasted <their jokes were lost on me>
8:  obscured or overlooked during a process or activity <lost in translation>
9:  hopelessly unattainable :  futile <a lost cause>

Hmmmmm. How was Zacchaeus lost?
Well, the mere mention of his trade or profession should tell us lots about what people thought of him. He was a "tax collector". In fact, the "chief". In a culture being run by Roman rule, this man had been chosen by his Roman overlords to be the one who had to go throughout the land taking the hard earned money from the common man. He became wealthy. Zacchaeus was compensated well for his work. I think of Zacchaeus as a biblical 24 hr loan shark. Nobody likes these check cashing places where you can get an "instant loan" and end of scarring your credit history for life because you can't pay it back. And, yet, people go there any way. Writing a check they can't cash to get a loan they can't pay back. Here comes Zacchaeus asking for money that people don't have to pay off taxes they can't afford. That's the kind of reputation I see Zacchaeus earning for himself. He has to go out and collect the money from people who probably can't pay it in the first place. This is how he became wealthy. Taking from those who don't have it. He has gotten lost in his wealth, in his social status. In doing so, he has lost a bit of his humanity, looking down over his nose at the poor in his society.

What is it about Jesus that wakes a person up to who they are and what they have become?
Why in the world would a person like Zacchaeus want to see Jesus any way? He has everything he needs. And, yet...maybe he realizes that there is something he does not have. Peace. For all the money he has collected, for all the social status he has achieved, there's one thing Zacchaeus still does not have. And, the one person who is rumored to be able to give it, to make things right in a human being's life, is walking through town at this very moment. And, this "little man" is so short Jesus isn't going to be able to see him. So, Zacchaeus has to make sure Jesus is able to see him. Or, at least, Zacchaeus, himself, can get a glimpse of this Jesus character.

Sometimes, human beings don't always do what they're told, or, do the right thing. Zacchaeus hasn't listened or done the right thing in God's eyes for a long time. But, now is his chance to make things right. And he takes full advantage of the situation. Jesus calls him down from the tree. Zacchaeus invites Jesus home for dinner. Jesus accepts. And, the social world erupts with a groan and complaint.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”Not, just the Pharisees and religious leaders, whom we have become accustomed to hearing the complaints from..."All the people". Step beyond the rich and poor issue for a moment and realize that there are people who just don't like the man. For whatever reason. He's a "sinner". And, this 'holy man' Jesus is going to go eat with him. 
Maybe it's not just the "rich" who are lost. Maybe when we begin to look down over our nose at other people because they don't live up to our standards, because there's just 'something' about them we don't like, because they don't do or say what we want them to do or say...maybe we have lost something of who God wants us to be. We didn't listen to the cries of humanity. We didn't respond to the Love that God has shown. We have gotten lost in ourselves and in our own wants and cares. 

We're looking for peace. And, peace just happens to strolling through town today.

I found my way back home on my trike that day.
But, not before I stopped in front of a small red house as I cried my head off.
I didn't know where I was or how I had gotten there. This old lady came out the front door and saw me sitting there on my trike crying. I explained to her, through my tears, that I was lost and I didn't know how to get home. She did her best to calm me down. I think I got a treat from her and I met her dog. I cried some more as I didn't know where I was or how to get home. And, then she asked me, "Which way did you come from?" I thought about it for a second and then I pointed back down the street. "Well, why don't you just start riding that way and see where it goes?", she suggested.

And, so I did. Pretty soon my neighbor's house was in view and there was my house on the corner. I could see it as I crested the hill coming up the sidewalk. I knew how to get home. I just needed to go back the way I came. Zacchaeus knew the way too. While eating with Jesus, he exclaims "I'm going to give back to everybody 4 times what I took from them!" Righting the wrong. Patching things up. Returning what is rightfully someone else's. Speaking words of kindness in a harsh situation. In a world looking for hope and gladness, Jesus comes walking through and if we could just get his attention...we might find some peace to calm our souls.

He's here today. He came to meet with us. Are you lost? Have you been looking for something and you're not sure where to find it? Have you been praying, asking for peace and direction? Is there something that you feel needs to happen to bring that peace about in your life? A conversation with a person. A wrong situation made right. Do you need to talk to Jesus? Just get his attention and let him hear you out?

He's here. He wants to sup with you. Meet with you. Come down from the tree. It's time to go home.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Let My Love Open The Door

 Sometimes, we have to start over.

To the Church in Laodicea

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

In the mountains surrounding the region of Laodicea are springs. Hot and cold.
These springs flow continuously, either from a source deep in the ground and from off the mountain.
And, there are spots where the water has found places to simply sit and not go anywhere at all.

It is here that Jesus is showing the Apostle John some interesting issues with a church he loves.
In fact, as the book of Revelation opens Jesus has something to say to seven churches that seems to have lost their focus and direction. All seven churches seem to have started out well. And, all seven need to do something to regain their focus and direction.

It is the church at Laodicea that seems to garner the most attention. Maybe it is because of this all important verse at 3.20

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
These are familiar tones if you have spent any time in church at all. You've probably been here at this very scripture listening to a message about hot and cold and lukewarm. Maybe you thought you understood what was being said here. I know I did. That was until I heard a little more about the background on this place and realized I had been looking at the whole situation from the wrong angle.

A few years ago I took part in a study put on by Focus on the Family called "That The World May Know". In the early 90's FotF sent a group of people on a tour of Israel with a guide named Ray Van der Laan. They didn't sight see the normal places around Jerusalem and some of the major tourist attractions. They went to out of the way places. Places where actual biblical events would have happened. After they had covered Old & New Testament events and places, they continued on. The book of Acts and then the letter the apostles had written carried them north of Israel into the world of Turkey & Greece. One of the stops they made was in the hill country near what was known at the time of the Apostle John as Laodicea.

The Laodicean Church was a Christian community established in the ancient city of Laodicea (on the river Lycus, in the Roman province of Asia, and one of the early centers of Christianity). On their trip to this area, Van der Laan showed the group that there were places where hot water flowed freely as well as cold water flowing. And, there were stagnate pool of stench filled water that had gather junk from just sitting. There was no in or out for any of these pools. They had gathered water from run off on the mountain and now the water simply lay there with no where to go.

It is an interesting and yet often misunderstood illustration that Jesus puts to the Laodicean Church.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
The way many of us have learned to look at this message is to think that the "hot" represents something good that the Lord wants the Laodiceans to be while the cold is something bad the Lord does not want the Laodicean to be. Sounds legitimate. Except upon further examination of the message here it is really the lukewarm that Jesus has an issue with. SO, do we equate the cold with the lukewarm them or are they separate things?

Van der Laan showed his group that the hot and the cold both had useful purposes. There were many things one could do with hot water - cooking, cleaning, bathing. The cold water also had many uses - washing, cleansing, drinking. It is the stagnate water, the water that's just sitting, that Jesus seems to equate with the life of the Laodicean Church. The hot water is good for something. Makes for a delicious hot beverage. Yummay!! The cold water is refreshing. Makes for a nice chiller or a hot day. Imagine taking a swig of this stench filled water that has just been sitting and collecting filth. What would you do with it if it entered your mouth? That's right! Pitooey!!! "I will spew you out"

And, the illustration for the Laodicean church doesn't end there.
Jesus goes on the say that they have thought of themselves as "rich" and not needing anything.
Can you imagine being so confident in oneself that you don't need anybody else? You can take care of yourself. You don't need anybody else's help or assistance. Independence can be a good thing and it can also lead to a demoralizing way of life. This Christian life is one of dependence upon God. We need him. We need him to support us and guide us. The Laodiceans seem to have gone to a place in their hearts and minds where they don't need anybody else, even God. They seem to believe in Him. They are the church. But, there is some distance there as far as relationship is concerned. At times, human beings seem to get to a self-sufficient place where we seem to have all we need and we want. SO, we kick our feet up, lean our chair back and rest in the 'easy place'. We're doing good.

All the sudden we find ourselves on our backs looking up.
But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
What a wake-up call! What a slap in the face! To be told that you're not doing something right.
To be shown our faults and our short comings. The Laodiceans have to be reeling as they see themselves mentioned in this letter that John is penning. More shocking for themselves is the revelation that Jesus has issue with them and how they are conducting their lives. Nobody likes to be singled out. Nobody lies to be shown where they need to improve, to be better. It's uncomfortable.

You've heard me say it more than once in my time here.
"You have to go through the uncomfortable to get to the comfortable."
In the Gospels, Jesus would say words like - "Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." Then he turns around and says - "Deny yourself, pick up your crossand follow me." More disturbingly, he says - "I came not to bring peace, but a sword."
What does he mean? What does he want us to do? Do we come to him to find comfort? If we do, then why does he ask us to do so many uncomfortable things? And, why is he threatening us with a sword?

The answer is right here in this Revelation passage.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Jesus wants to alleviate our pain and suffering. He wants to bring us peace. But, it only happens when we forget about ourselves, turn our lives over to him and let Him lead the way. The Laodiceans must be dumbfounded. "But...we believe in you. We have all we need here. What are we doing wrong?" Jesus could not be more emphatic. They were trusting in themselves. Can you see it?

When human beings trust in themselves, they begin to think they know it all, they have it all. The Laodiceans were thinking of themselves as "rich". Maybe they thought they were better than everybody else. They became self-sufficient, not relying on anybody. Jesus says, "You guys could not be farther from the truth." He shows them their true state. He does so because he loves them. He does so because he's in the saving business. It's uncomfortable, yes. But, heeding Jesus' words can bring us the long awaited peace we have been searching for.

Now, lets pause for a moment to contemplate something...
Do we read the scriptures devotionally? Meaning, we read it out of habit, because we're supposed to.
Or, do we read it exegetically? Ooo, what's that mean? That means we read it to break it down, study it, apply it, use it. As we are reading this passage from Revelation, is it speaking to us, beckoning us? Is there something we could apply to ourselves? Some way we could respond to what we have read and learned?

Jesus has an answer for the Laodiceans. Open the door.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

He is pleading with them! Open your eyes. See your true state. I can help. You're missing the mark.
! Open the door! There is nothing hurts us inward more deeply than to be pleading with someone to make the right decision. Parents have done it with their children. Teachers do it with their students. And, God does it with human beings. He wants to come into our lives. He wants to sit down with us, eat with us, share in some fellowship. There's no better place to do that than around a meal. "If anyone hears my voice" Do you hear his voice today? Is he talking to you? Have you ever opened the door and allowed Jesus to come into your life?

Listen to these closing words...
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Being 'victorious' imply that we have defeated something. It is quite a thing to rise above ourselves. To admit that we don't have all the answers. To
admit that we are poor, blind, pitiful, naked. We need clothing. Jesus offers it. The clothing of his forgiveness. We are hungry. Jesus offers to eat with us. We are poor. Jesus offers to meet our needs.

It starts when we open the door.