Friday, January 29, 2010

"We Would See Jesus"

It's a small brass plaque, sort of like this one, that's followed me from Juliette GA to Valparaiso, FL. Given to me at the beginning of my ministry as a pastor, it has been placed in front of me on every pulpit I've preached behind. The idea behind it is sobering - to remind the preacher that no one should be coming to hear his words. People should be drawn to Jesus.

"We would see Jesus" John 12:21 (KJV) Is what's written on it.

We don't use the pulpit here at New Hope anymore, preferring to try to give the congregation an unencumbered shot at the preacher. :) Actually, since I don't use notes very often, and space is at a premium, we chose to remove it. I was walking by it yesterday and removed the plaque. But I'll never remove the instruction from my mind and heart.

When I stand up in front of the congregation, I do so believing that the Holy Spirit has breathed words into my mind that He will use to exalt Jesus and draw people to Him. As much as possible, I prepare by studying the texts, looking at the contexts, searching for the most illuminating commentaries and illustrations in order to file in my mind the material that could persuade sinners like me to step out of the status quo and into the life giving flow of the Spirit.

The best preparation I do though, is pursuing Jesus - personally and searching for more of Him just as "those certain Greeks" did. I want to see Jesus, too.

Pray for all of us who are given the honor of preaching the Word this weekend. Ask that our Father might be glorified as the Son is lifted up and people are drawn into the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are You Afraid of Jesus?



Sitting here in my home office getting ready for a very busy Wednesday night at New Hope. They are a blur of activity from every angle - worship practice, fellowship meal, kids, youth, and adult study and prayer. Over the last few weeks I've been praying over and through every step we take each week, asking God to be known to us and for Him to use our imperfect efforts for His perfect will.

We have to go into every gathering not wanting "a good service" or "a good small group" or whatever, but wanting God to be glorified and Jesus exalted. Praying that today and realized just how dangerous a prayer it is. You see we make plans. On a normal Wednesday we have several servant leaders who work very hard to prepare to lead their areas of ministry. Hopefully they are wanting the Kingdom advancement I pray for too.

So what if it happens? What if Jesus shows up and does more than we'd expect Him to? What if He changes things we never even hoped or prayed would change because we thought it wasn't very likely. What would our reaction be?

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed).37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41 (NLT)

They've seen Him heal dozens - lepers, paralytics, whoever came forward to Him with a need. No one had ever done that in the history of Israel. And yet, when circumstances changed, they panicked and forgot all that - forgot everything. Desperately they asked Him to do something.

He did something. Something beyond anything they'd ever thought to ask for.

And it scared them more than the prospect of imminent death

Here's my question.

Are we afraid of Jesus - of what He could do if we prayed without restrictions or reservations, believing fully in His power and authority over everything in this life and beyond?


Think about it. Pray about it.


"Do you still have no faith?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

 A Little bird told me....

Bunny and I are wishing Spring forward with everything we've got. After last week's arctic weather here, we've stepped our efforts up even more. We look for every possible sign of progress toward the wonder that is Spring. Just last evening we noticed that it wasn't dark when we left the church whereas it had been in December. The tree trimmers are at work pruning in preparation too. Good signs.

We need it. Darkness and cold weather can really discourage folks who live for the light and warmth of summertime like us. Add a dash of tiredness, a little grief, and sprinkle a pinch of worry and you have yourself a real discouragement casserole.

What do you do when you get discouraged?

Do you sink back into the gloom?
Pretend you're not?
Or do you look hopefully for signs that no matter what you see, God sees you?

For some reason this old song popped into my head while I prayed this afternoon. I wonder how many people it has helped over the years to remember - If God is for us, who can stand against us?

Why should I feel discouraged
and why should the shadows come
why should my heart feel lonely
and long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion
a constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
and I know He watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
and I know He watches over me

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
and I know He watches me

29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin*? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

God is good. All the time.

Grace and peace,

David

Family... Matters




God brought me here going on eleven years ago to pastor a church named New Hope. My dream was to come and live among a group of people for the rest of my ministry. To stay here long enough, and to go through life together enough for Bunny, me, and Sean to be adopted into the family of believers that were already here. That happened a few years back, and since then we've grown together as family. We're an average sized church for the Southern Baptist Convention. Students of church growth would identify us as a "family-sized" congregation which carries the idea that we know each other well enough to know when one of us is missing or hurting. Doesn't mean we're all related by blood.

But then again, it does.

All of us are sinners who were saved through grace thanks to the blood of a sinless Savior shed for us.

I love my family fiercely. Whatever the time day or night, I am there for them, offering my heart and whatever else I can bring to the point of need. They have done the same for us. Didn't come immediately upon my arrival here, though I had the position of pastor right away. But as I have seen them hurt, seen them laugh, seen their tears, shared their joy, helped with their trials and shared life - New Hope is my family.

Was reading Shaun Groves' blog today. Shaun's got a great heart for the least of these and mad skills as a singer songwriter and ambassador for Compassion. He captured what being part of a church family like New Hope is all about.

Around Jesus that day was a ragtag group of followers who shared a common purse. Judas was the treasurer. Money went in. Money was shared. But more than cash, the group shared life – dust filled walks with the Rabbi, fish for breakfast on a lake’s shore, narrow escapes from angry mobs, blind men seeing.
They shared it all.
Jesus didn’t ask the rich official to give all and then live a lonely miserable life. He asked the man to give all and join a community that would give him all of themselves.
“Then come, follow me.”
That kind of intimacy can't be "programmed" or ordered from the latest Outreach catalog. You can't download it from Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll or the like. It acknowledges needs, flaws, and failures - and embraces them in a way that redeems them. It always hopes for and believes the best for each other, but doesn't run away when things go bad. It stays and prays - stays and works - stays in anticipation of what God is going to do next through us.

All it asks for - is all of you. Just as you are. Not the "let me clean up and put on my happy church face" you. The one that has doubts and fears. The one with the kid problems, marriage issues, that struggles with finances and relationships. The needy, sinful, everyday - you. And I can not imagine living life any other way.

For me, family matters.



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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Recap - Sunday 24 January 2010 @ New Hope

It's so good to be able to gather with friends to worship the Lord at New Hope. It was awesome to see Bill and Harriet Standifer back from their holiday travels as well as others who were visiting. I shared with the congregation just how grateful I was for the  blessing of worship today.

We had rehearsed four songs which is a lot for us. We usually only do three in the set, but we did all four today plus the commitment song.

Better Is One Day
God With Us
In Christ Alone
I Will Rise
My Jesus I Love Thee

We did pretty well I thought with them, but I didn't like the way they didn't flow together (or feel like it, anyway.) I'm praying about how we can find a "zone" in worship where we just let God be God and exalt His name in praise. Sometimes it all just seems so "this is the part when we sing", and now "here's the preaching." Really going to spend some time praying through it this week. Pray with me.

We continued the focus on going deeper with a look at the parable of the soils in Mark 4. There's so much information and contextual depth that it's a real challenge to preach. I opened with a video of world famous violinist Joshua Bell playing in the Washington DC metro station as commuters just stream by without stopping to listen. Bell sells out performances all over the world, performing with his priceless Stradivarious. But in that context, with those people, very few heard him. The music and the messenger were the same that had sold out the theater the night before. The problem was the listeners didn't "have ears to hear."



Then I began the message. The powerpoint is below.



It's hard to gauge response after sermons like today's. Having been here for over ten years now, I know a lot about the "back stories" some of us come to worship having lived. The personalities and struggles of some are known as well. But for me, my hope is that I teach the truth in a way that lets the Holy Spirit do the convicting and not the pastor's words. My prayer today is that some who found themselves as one of the three "soils" who were not growing to become what God had planned for them will decide to change.

If they don't, it's not because the Word failed them.

He who has ears to hear let him hear.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Greater Love






No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends.


The apostle John knew what love looks like first hand. He saw in the life of Jesus someone who would go into places to rescue people when no one else would. Jesus deliberately went to those who were in the grip of sin that would lead to death, and rescued them. That came to mind in a vivid way this week.


Friday morning I was honored to be invited to the graduation of 1 Lt. John Vandivere from the Explosive Ordinance School which is based on Eglin AFB. While I was there, I kept looking past the line of men and women that were graduating to the wall behind them. The EOD school is unique in that it's the only school in the military that brings all four services together to train them. It's a demanding school with a high failure (wash-out) rate. We're so proud of Jon for making it through.


The ceremony was held at the EOD memorial, and the wall held strips of brass under the seal of each service. On each strip was the name of someone who had paid the ultimate price for the love they had for their friends.  There were so many. All I could think of was that each one on that wall made decision after decision to give their life away.


EOD deals with the most wicked and dangerous weapons in the enemy's arsenal. The devices they see can be hidden, booby trapped, remote detonated, even hidden in children's toys. If as the office in command said only 6% of Americans volunteer to serve through the military, the percentage of people who then say "I'd like to run toward explosive devices when everyone runs away" must be a sliver of a percent.


The danger is obvious. The reward, less so to many. And yet the wall and the line of people of Jon's class and the ones before and after it will give testimony that some do get it.


Friend, true love always runs to the needs of others and usually regardless of the personal cost. C.S. Lewis said "To love at all is to be vulnerable..." - that is, open to be hurt. In a sense, every person who follows Jesus has to be ready to go and to give everything to see others rescued by Christ's love. Love is action. Following Jesus is to go where He leads and just so you'll know, it isn't always to the easy places with "nice" people.


What have you risked for the love of Jesus and His love for all the world?


Pray about that. Then Do Something!


And Jon...



Our prayers go with you as you serve our Lord and our nation. Godspeed, brother.


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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deeper Into the Parables

JesusImage via Wikipedia


The overarching theme I feel God is leading us by this year is to press forward for greater intimacy with Christ through study of and transformation by His Word. Our outreach and ministry plans are far beyond our earthly ability to do. We need God to do what only He can do or we'll fail. And so we want to dive deep into the Scriptures.

Mark's Gospel Chapter 4 is one of those passages that can take us there. We'll be examining it and being examined by it Sunday. The parables found there will force us to think about the Kingdom of God and how it works. We want to know.

Unlike what the author of one of my favorite books wrote as a prologue.


NOTICE
PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

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So start reading Mark 4 again and again, and allow the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What? Who? When? Now what?



Been prepping all week not just on tomorrow's message but looking at the calendar and trying to plan the weeks up to Easter. Having had a church conference last week where we sketched out where we are headed this year in ministry and outreach, I got some understanding of what God is calling us to do. I LOVE being in those situations where the people of God get together and listening to the Holy Spirit, we come together with a shared sense of His call to all of us.

We've challenged ourselves, that's for sure. But it's God's call on our lives and we'll go forward trusting in Our Father to guide and to provide.

We're going to drill a well in Africa with the Water Project. The girls in Child2Child worked with them last year. 53 people will have clean water for ten years as a result. But with a deep well, thousands will benefit over the same period. It'll cost $4500. That's insane for New Hope to take on. And yet, I believe if you ask anyone who was at the conference, they will tell you it will happen because it is God's will for us to be the conduit His resources flow through to the least of these.

We're going to do it by telling the story of what God has done in us and through us to as many people as we possibly can. We'll have a booth at the Saturday in the Park here in Valparaiso and we hope to build on the success we had with our Advent Conspiracy store to help us fund the well while also helping other ministries fund their work.

We're going to help our friends at Relay for Life twice again this year.

We're going to show movies in the local parks at least twice to give back to the community and also to give them the opportunity to bless others.

We'll do the "Rice and Beans" event again to benefit the Amazima ministry in Uganda. God blessed amazingly last year through New Hope and we want to see that happen again.

And there's more. VBS, mission trips...

Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Beach Baptism, Thanksgiving and Christmas ministries and whatever else God sends our way.

If ever there was a church that could give a follower of Jesus something to do that would make a difference, it is New Hope Baptist in Valparaiso Florida.

Lord God, let us see You gathering workers and resources and scattering both in the dry places. Multiply New Hope's people and her impact.


Friday, January 15, 2010


Found!

After two days trapped in the rubble of his own home, toddler Claude Redjeson was running out of time. But in the aftermath of the destruction, rescuers from around the world have and are converging on Haiti with one mission in mind - save lives. Ordinary people from around the world with an extraordinary passion for saving lives.

A team that had been in Spain the day before, and arrived in darkness amid devastation, defied the dangers and pulled Claude from the jaws of death. Félix del Amo, a Spanish mountain rescuer and diver, along with Óscar Vega Carrera, a Spanish firemen, succeeded in getting Redjeson out of the rubble.

Look at the picture of Claude as he's presented to his mother. Awesome!!!

He was lost, but now he's found.

I know how that feels.

A rescuer came for me one day and pulled me out of death's grip. Forever. His name was Jesus, and all I had to do to be rescued was acknowledge my need, His ability, and accept His leadership over my life. I chose faith in Jesus.

It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. 9 Say the welcoming word to God—"Jesus is my Master"—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. 10 With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!" Romans 10:8-10 (MSG)

Do you know someone who is trapped?

Bring them to Jesus. Or bring Jesus to them. But go!

Are you trapped? Pick up a Bible and read it. Spend some time asking Jesus to reveal His love for you. Decide to follow Jesus.

You should see the look on HIS face when you do.

Grace and peace,

David
Visit with me at my blog:
http://itslikeherdingcats.blogspot.com/

Visit with Bunny at her blog:
http://henleythegreatdane.blogspot.com/

Or visit New Hope!
http://www.newhopevalp.org/

Reading Through The New Testament - Mark 7



Just to refresh your memory, I'm using the Discipleship Journal's reading plan to journey through the NT this year in my devotional reading. The plan has you reading a chapter a day 5 days in a row with a two day break for reflection. I've kept the pace in reading but journalling here - not so much. I'll try to catch up.

One of the challenges for me is not pulling out the tools I use when preparing to teach and just reading for the purpose of allowing the text to work on me. So if the comments seem to be "top of mind" and not theologically deep or particularly precise - that's by intention. I'm determined to let the Word work in my heart without my "help."

So, Mark Chapter 7

- Rituals and traditions and traditional people. Apparently Jesus didn't go through all the ritualistic washing of hands that the professional religious people did. And His disciples picked that up from him, or perhaps there was a big disconnect between what the common people did in practice and what the priests and those like them did. Always one of the biggest sources for friction in churches - one person or group decides what everyone should do/follow.
- They called out Jesus on it and He was having none of it. "Hypocrites!" Then He played the prophet card and quoted Isaiah.
8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.
Mark 7:8-9 (NLT)
- and He gave examples. This confrontation was sharp and personal. And Jesus kept giving example after example and said there were "many more." No doubt the Pharisees were furious.
- Then He called the crowd over and let them know what the specific problem with substituting man made tradition for God's way is - you live the wrong way - valuing the wrong things and not relying on God in everything.
- Then He left and went into a home to get some peace and the disciples pressed Him for more information. He tried to help them understand that following God wasn't about food or traditions but about how you lived in response to God's grace. Your actions - not what you ate or drank - helped you see where you are with God and determined whether you could count yourself as His.
- Then a curious episode with a gentile woman follows. Given the mess with traditional Jews just prior, this seems especially harsh on one end and especially Jew-centric as well. Given Jesus' response though, I think He was testing the woman to see if she had heresay faith in what Jesus could do, or faith in Him for Who He is.
- The chapter closes with a trip north to Tyre and Sidon where the crowds were warm and Jesus healed a deaf man in a way He never had done. Perhaps there was some regional belief that method played into - don't know as I read this. But the man was healed and miraculously was able to hear and to speak plainly.
37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”
Mark 7:37 (NLT)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reading Through the New Testament - Mark 6




Picking up again in my journaling through the New testament.

5 And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.6 And he was amazed at their unbelief
Mark 6:5-6 (NLT)
- Well, two things here "he couldn't because..." and "he was amazed..." So what happened here to limit God's work and amaze the Lord of the Universe?
- Is unbelief "kryptonite" to God's work? And again - to "amaze" God's Son? makes me wonder if the people there were so sold out to their own beliefs of what God could do that they acted as if they had never considered the possibility that God cared or could care about them.

Then the disciples (including Judas) were sent out...
- sent out - with the bare minimum and forced to contact and persuade the people they met to support their mission, even if only by simple hospitality.
- what must it have felt like to those disciples to have the power of God flow through them and do what they knew they could not have done?
- is there actually a "dust off your feet" action today?
Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.
Mark 6:20 (NLT)
- wonder how many of my friends who are preachers know the feeling that some of the people looking back at you on Sunday have some of the same traits - appreciate you for what you are - but are disturbed by what they hear and still keep coming back.

37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.” Mark 6:37 (NLT)

-I keep reading the account of the feeding of the 5,000 and always stop right here. Jesus was a miracle worker for sure, but there's usually a human connection and in this case it is especially strong. He has the disciples do everything THEY can and then He does what only HE can. Following Jesus has always been that way.
They were totally amazed,52 for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in. Mark 6:51-52 (NLT)

- "They" and "their" here are the disciples. If they still don't get it after all they have seen and heard by this point, I wonder what the average person today needs to cross the line to faith in Jesus. Are we artificially compressing the timeline when it actually might take years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Great? Awesome? - Not Us - Him




We're coming off the most successful year in the history of New Hope Baptist Church and yet Bunny and I had a very in-depth conversation recently about where we are as a church. And the consensus was that we really have some areas that need improvement. There are places where we are doing all we can do that need improvement and some that we could benefit from some help. Nothing new, but something to pray about and work through as we go into the new year. Some things need to change.

Sitting here praying/thinking about that conversation. "Best year ever!" still echoing.

If you take a look at what happened through the people of New Hope in 2009, then went back and took a roll call of how many we are I think you'd come away from a strictly human perspective and say "I don't know how they did all that."

Most of you have probably had the experience of having someone bring up in conversation how great their church is and how glad they are that they go there. "We have awesome _________ ." Our ________ is great!" They have a story to tell about some part of their church that they see as excellent and carry that belief into action by sharing it.

What I could tell people about New Hope is that we have a great God, loving people, and a passion for seeing the Kingdom of God draw near. But we're not great.

We have people who love God and serve people both within the church family and far, far outside the walls. I love them deeply. Bunny and I have poured our lives out here and walked down some hard roads with our friends at New Hope and also experienced many many joys in the journey. Our teachers are devoted to God and to their classes. Our worship team seeks to lift Jesus and help the rest of our gathering do the same. My heart's cry every Sunday is that when I bring the Word of God to the people that they would find that the Holy Spirit is at work here.

We're a small church with holes. We're not great, or awesome.

God is.

If we as a church accomplish everything we planned to do the other night in church conference, and even more besides, it won't mean that we've turned the corner and are great.

It will mean that God chose us for His glory.

And that what happened was only possible because He was in it. 

We'll keep working to improve, but I never want to lose the wonder and amazement of looking back at what happened and knowing that it was impossible for us to do.

God is great. God is awesome.

We're not.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? 5 When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, 6 and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' 7 Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.
Luke 15:4-7 (MSG)

Saturday I came up to the church to do some work that I normally do on Sunday morning. My thought was that it would be a lot warmer then. Actually the difference between anything below 40 degrees seems to be irrelevant to my body, but I digress. :)

Some of our young people were up here playing their Star Wars RPG and came walking over to the office followed by a cute dog. "Brother David, this dog just showed up and we don't know where he came from." The dog didn't have a collar or any identification and I didn't recognize it. But I told them I'd figure out what to do with it.

It was a really cute pekinese type dog, with beautiful fur and was very friendly. Yes, it was a little unsure of all the strangers, but when I picked him up his shivering quickly ceased. Still, it was so cold I could not see leaving the dog to find it's way home. The picture of that puppy outside later when darkness fell was unacceptable.

I saw Jim, Mary, and Ka'rin Quinnell over in the fellowship hall and walked over to ask them what they thought I should do. They agreed that the pup was too well kept to be homeless and probably belonged to someone nearby. They suggested I call the Valparaiso Police and ask them if they had any reports of lost dogs. So I did. You get an idea of how small Valparaiso is by the dispatch operator's offer to send a police car to pick up the dog. I told her that since I had to pass the city hall on the way home, I'd drop it off, but first I wanted to drive through the neighborhood and see if anyone had lost him.

So I started praying that God would help me find the owner and that this little one would be able to be in the arms of someone who loved him. I walked over to the Honda dog-mobile and we drove away from the church. 50 feet past the first corner, I saw a couple of women loading up an SUV. I had the dog in my lap and it went off into vibrate mode and they lit up like the sun.

"Kiki! Where have you been?" And the celebration began. :)

Mission accomplished.

As I drove on home, I couldn't help but think of what it must look like in heaven when God's children are "found". I know that the good people who are part of our churches need care, need instruction, need everything we can reasonably give. But my heart tells me that God's heart for the lost should be our heart too.

It's an awesome feeling to be a part of getting someone (or some dog) "found". I hope we get more opportunities to experience that here at New Hope in 2010.

Grace and peace,

David Wilson

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Christmas - Again!



Franklin the postman just left me a Christmas present that Bunny had ordered for me but which couldn't be delivered until after Christmas. It's a T shirt that is just COOL looking and the proceeds from it go to help the Dixon family adopt a child from Africa. Their website is here. Go Seek Love

The Dubois family produced the shirts originally to help fund their own adoption, but now are helping others.

Awesome that the Body of Christ is finding new ways to reach out and to draw closer.

Thanks to my beloved, it's Merry Christmas!  for me today and for the Dixon family and their hoped for child later.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Stand Firm!






Was reading earlier about the some of the darkest times in history. Moments in time when it looked as though all was lost  - and would have been if it wasn't for some individuals that said "I will stand firm."

Christopher Columbus was under great pressure the last few weeks of his journey to find the New World. His crew was threatening mutiny, but he kept telling them, just a little while longer. In the face of opposition that would have robbed him of the fulfillment of his mission, he stood firm.

George Washington, if he had been pragmatic about the army he commanded at Valley Forge, would have seen only the army of that winter, not the renewed and strengthened one he saw in Spring. He looked ahead and stood firm.

Winston Churchill looked across the Atlantic where Germany had consolidated its conquests by kicking the last British troops into the sea at Dunkirk and went before the English people and told them not to quit - that this would be their finest hour.

They held onto hope until things changed. They stood firm. What's the secret to doing that?

The great British General Wellington, when asked after Waterloo the difference between his victorious troops and the beaten French said this "My men are not braver than the enemy. They are just brave 5 minutes longer."

If we can learn from history, we can certainly hear and learn from God's Word right?

3
 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.14 And do everything with love
1 Cor 16:13-14 (NLT)

15 With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.2  Thess 2:15 (NLT)

There are far too many times people quit when if they had just held on a little longer they would have realized what they longed for.


My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.
1 Peter 5:12 (NLT)

Peter - biggest failure there was, who once He experienced the risen Christ became the Rock Jesus saw he could be.

Rocks stand firm. Peter did once he let his love for and faith in Christ rule His life and overcome his fears..

There's still time to decide that your future is not going to depend on your goodness but on God's grace. Still time to rely on the strength of God in you rather than your own strength. Still time to retrace your steps back to where you stepped out of God's will. Go back and decide that the next time you are tested, you'll stand firm.

Grace and peace,

David





Was reading earlier about the some of the darkest times in history. Moments in time when it looked as though all was lost  - and would have been if it wasn't for some individuals that said "I will stand firm."

Christopher Columbus was under great pressure the last few weeks of his journey to find the New World. His crew was threatening mutiny, but he kept telling them, just a little while longer. In the face of opposition that would have robbed him of the fulfillment of his mission, he stood firm.

George Washington, if he had been pragmatic about the army he commanded at Valley Forge, would have seen only the army of that winter, not the renewed and strengthened one he saw in Spring. He looked ahead and stood firm.

Winston Churchill looked across the Atlantic where Germany had consolidated its conquests by kicking the last British troops into the sea at Dunkirk and went before the English people and told them not to quit - that this would be their finest hour.

They held onto hope until things changed. They stood firm. What's the secret to doing that?

The great British General Wellington, when asked after Waterloo the difference between his victorious troops and the beaten French said this "My men are not braver than the enemy. They are just brave 5 minutes longer."

If we can learn from history, we can certainly hear and learn from God's Word right?

3
 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.14 And do everything with love
1 Cor 16:13-14 (NLT)

15 With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.2  Thess 2:15 (NLT)

There are far too many times people quit when if they had just held on a little longer they would have realized what they longed for.


My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.
1 Peter 5:12 (NLT)

Peter - biggest failure there was, who once He experienced the risen Christ became the Rock Jesus saw he could be.

Rocks stand firm. Peter did once he let his love for and faith in Christ rule His life and overcome his fears..

There's still time to decide that your future is not going to depend on your goodness but on God's grace. Still time to rely on the strength of God in you rather than your own strength. Still time to retrace your steps back to where you stepped out of God's will. Go back and decide that the next time you are tested, you'll stand firm.

Grace and peace,

David

Follow up to Mark 5 -




MAN OF THE TOMBS
Bob Bennett
© 1989 Matters Of The Heart Music (ASCAP)

Man of the tombs
He lives in a place where no one goes
And he tears at himself
And lives with a pain that no one knows
He counts himself dead among the living
He knows no mercy and no forgiving
Deep in the night he's driven to cry out loud
Can you hear him cry out loud?

Man of the tombs
Possessed by an unseen enemy
He breaks every chain
And mistakes his freedom for being free
Shame and shamelessness equally there
Like a random toss of a coin in the air
Man of the tombs, he's driven to cry out loud

   Underneath this thing that I've become
   A fading memory of flesh and blood
   I curse the womb, I bless the grave
   I've lost my heart, I cannot be saved
   Like those who fear me, I'm afraid
   Like those I've hurt, I can feel pain
   Naked now before my sin
   And these stones that cut against my skin
   Some try to touch me, but no one can
   For man of the tombs I am


Down at the shoreline
Two sets of footprints meet
One voice is screaming
Other voice begins to speak
In only a moment and only a word
The evil departs like a thundering herd
Man of the tombs, he hears this cry out loud

   Underneath this thing that you've become
   I see a man of flesh and blood
   I give you life beyond the grave
   I heal your heart, I come to save
   No need to fear, be not afraid
   This Man of sorrows knows your pain
   I come to take away your sin
   And bear it's marks upon My skin
   When no one can touch you, still I can
   For Son of God I am


Dressed now and seated
Clean in spirit and healthy of mind
Man of the tombs
He begs to follow, but must stay behind
He'll return to has family with stories to tell
Of mercy and madness, of heaven and hell
Man of the tombs, soon he will cry out loud

   Underneath this thing that I once was
   Now I'm a man of flesh and blood
   I have a life beyond the grave
   I found my heart, I can now be saved
   No need to fear, I am not afraid
   This Man of sorrows took my pain
   He comes to take away our sin
   And bear it's marks upon His skin
   I'm telling you this story because
   Man of the tombs I was

Reading Through the New Testament - Mark 5




- The demon-possessed man - always reminds me of the Billy Crockett song about this event. Very moving.
- So this crazy guy runs up to Jesus and his followers and "bows low before Him." The picture I get is of Jack Nicholson in the Shining. Had be to kind of spooky.
- Looking at the way it plays out, Jesus apparently noticed him at a distance and called to the spirit to come out of him before the man ran up to him.
- Then Jesus demanded that he give his name.
- Poor pigs.
- "And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone."
- So He left.
- But the picture of the man, now in his right mind wanting to go with Jesus seems very tender. "No, go home to your family and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been."
- All the way home the man told everyone he met.
- How tiring must it have been for Jesus to be constantly around needy people - giving.
- The Jairus encounter is moving on several levels. A father's desperate plea - a woman's last chance - and Jesus once again noticing people in need.
- "daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over."
- So the man with the daughter is standing there - what is he thinking? is he charitable about the woman's need being met, or is he thinking "my daughter is dying."?
- And now the news comes that she is dead. They told the father directly but Jesus overheard. The father's heart must have broken at the news, but Jesus said "Don't be afraid. Just have faith." I cannot imagine the range of emotions in the father's heart.
- The crowd was already beginning to react to the news and Jesus stopped them and made sure He took only those He wanted with Him to the home.
- The wailers and mourners already had begun their work when Jesus arrived. "Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn't dead; she is only asleep."
- The crowd laughed AT HIM. Not sure that's going to be something they wanted to answer for later in judgment.
- But maybe by the force of His personality or sheer force of will He forced them to leave.
- Jesus then took the girl's mom and daddy and the three disciples and went upstairs and taking her hand in His said to her "Little girl, get up." How many times have we done that with the boys when they were little, smiles on our faces anticipating another day of joy. Jesus gave this girl many more days of joy.
- Everyone was blown away by what happened and it seems that they had trouble getting a grip until Jesus spoke again and told them not to spread the news of what happened and to get the girl something to eat.

Baffles me how much the disciples saw during Jesus' ministry and still seemed to harbor doubts about Him. Just how many times did they need?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reading Through the New Testament - Mark 4



The last chapter really was packed with events and repercussions. This one begins with Jesus back near the water, teaching. I decided to pick up the Message to try and take some of my tendency to bullet point away.

- He taught by using stories. Parables. I like the way Eugene Peterson's Message paraphrase has Jesus asking "Listen, what do you make of this?" at the beginning of the story, then again "Are you listening to this? Really listening?"
- then it became for the disciples about how to understand the stories and what the stories were for more than what the stories said.
- "There are people - whose eyes are open but don't see a thing, whose ears are open but don't understand a word, who avoid making an about face and getting forgiven." (MSG)
- "There is such shallow soul of character that when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it." I've certainly seen that happen in the lives of people over the years. When everything's wonderful, God is good. But when trials come they wonder where He went.
- I love the picture of the ones who "hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams." To embrace the Word is in a sense to embrace the One Who gave it.
- "Are you listening? Really listening?"
- I have to think back over the years to all the sermons I have heard and spoken. How often did anyone really hear? How often did I embrace the Word and go out to produce fruit?
- "Giving, not getting is the way."
- "God's Kingdom is like..." When I hear that, I think of someone trying to explain to another what a place they have lived is like. It's hard to really capture the sights and sounds of anywhere, isn't it?
- So Jesus tells another story that the people who are listening can relate to. Peterson writes "He was never without a story when He spoke."
- "When He was with the disciples, He went over everything, sorting out the tangles and untying the knots."
- Then Mark presents an event where Jesus showed His power over nature and the disciples showed their lack of faith. "Teacher, is it nothing to you that we are going down?" seems hurtful to me. To presume Jesus didn't care just is jarringly wrong. The reprimand that follows is harsh but deserved.
- "Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?" I think for most of us though there are times when if we aren't careful, we are overwhelmed with the situation we are in and forget Whose hands we are in. If His eye is on the sparrow, I know He's watching me.
- "They were in absolute awe." - seems to me to be the absolute best response to everything Jesus did and is doing right now.

Lord, I pray that my faith will stand the storms and that I will never doubt Your concern or Your care.

Reading Through the New Testament - Mark 3




- Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand
Mark 3:1 (NLT)  "The Noticer."
- Why were people so determined to defend a religious system that left people like that without hope?
- Jesus asked great questions that not only made people think, but that caused them to have to reevaluate what they believed and why they believed it. Great example here of one of those questions.
- They would not answer.
- He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.
Mark 3:5 (NLT) When you love and it's rejected, it hurts. "Hard hearts" has a ring to it from the OT. I'll bet that stung when people read this gospel.
- Wow - 3rd chapter and the death panel is already being organized. Notice why. Jesus didn't obey men's ideas of what God would have Him do.
- strange bedfellows too - usually it was the Sadducees and Herodians that were tight. Apparently the Pharisees see Jesus as a mortal enemy.
- Yet the people are drawn to Him and the demonic opposition falls down before Him.
- Jesus calls out the ones he wants to multiply His ministry and then places some into leadership. He gives them a pretty concise outline of what they'll be doing.
- list of the twelve disciples - funny how we don't really hear about some and how Mark lets people know already that Judas is a traitor
- Jesus - even in the midst of great success - was still thought of by His family as in need of their help. They still don't get it, do they? Why in the world would they say "He's out of His mind?" given what incredible things He's been doing.
- the Jerusalem bunch seem to feed on that and amplify it and Jesus doesn't let it go. He calls them over and confronts. It's chilling to read about the unforgivable sin. "eternal consequences..."
- this passage is tough for people to grip. We have been conditioned to put family matters before everything else. But Jesus didn't, and He makes it clear here that God's higher purpose trumps everything else. If you believe "it's not about me" then you also need to hold the conviction that "it's not about my family" because there may come a time when you have to follow God even though your family will suffer and you know it. Lots of pastors know this from personal experience and have seen the effects of their calling to serve God on their family. I know I have.
- I trust my Father with my family more than I trust anyone, anywhere.
- Follow God and... no, just follow God.

Mark 2 - Reading Through the New Testament



- So Jesus circles around and winds up back where mark began the story - Capernaum - which has quickly claimed Him as their own "He's home!" and the people are drawn to Him.
- He's preaching to an overflow crowd and others with needs can't get close enough.
- Unless they get creative. Love will cause that. Even if the person on the mat didn't have a lot of faith, the people who carried it did. And this was a planned operation. You don't lower someone without ropes. Otherwise it would be "he fell down from a hole in the roof."
- Notice Jesus says "their faith" not "his faith." Church can do more together than people can apart.
- All heck breaks loose when Jesus forgives his sins. Wonder if He knew that the majority of people there that day held to the idea that most birth defects were caused by the sins of the parents?
- Fight's on.
- Jesus identifies the heart as the problem and then says "so you will know..." - how in your face is that?
- “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”12 And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers
Mark 2:11-12 (NLT) Contrast this with the leper. The healed man did EXACTLY what Jesus said to do.
- the result?They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”
Mark 2:12 (NLT)
- Jesus' recruiting by walking around snags Levi from the tax collector booth. Again a man leaving his life's work to follow Jesus.
- Levi immediately went through his Rolodex and invited his coworkers and friends to meet Jesus. That must have been quite a crowd of sinners!
- Pharisees took notice and rather than learn from Jesus, criticized both Him and His followers.
- Jesus had the ability to take the heart of Scripture and make it plain. "healthy people..."
- Jesus was talking with the disciples all the time about how to live in harmony with God. They made choices about that life that others didn't and people noticed.
- Jesus wasn't afraid to be different than religious people. "We never did it that way before" wasn't part of His boundary markers.
- Jesus was also not afraid of ordinary life - He knew about wine and wine skins because that's what common people drank.
- Again, Jesus didn't make the practice of religious acts anything more than ritual that points to God.

Reading Through the New Testament - Mark 1



I'll go through each day's readings and give the impressions I get as I read it devotionally. Resisting the urge to do word studies, examine contextual clues etc. may be tough, but remember, we're listening here each day and it's very hard to listen when you are talking.

- Never really hit me that Mark immediately goes to the OT as a beginning foundation, but it makes sense. At this point nearly everyone who'll read the gospel is Jewish or Gentile. So for his Jewish readers he's pulling a Paul Harvey - "and now, the rest of the story."
- "All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John.Mark 1:5 (NLT)" John the Baptist must have been like the Beatles were on their arrival in America if "all of Judea" came out to see and hear him. I guess that tells us just how hungry the people were to hear from God.
- That clothing - interesting. The food choices - ugh
- So John gets all this notice, fame really - and he immediately takes it and uses it to point toward Jesus. How rare is that in today's celebrity culture?
- When Jesus comes to be baptized, is He the only one to hear God's voice? Mark doesn't say. But I love that translation "you bring me great joy."
- You know how you have those times when great joy is followed almost immediately with some really tough challenge? Well, I think Jesus does. Baptism to the wilderness. Tough day. Mark doesn't supply the details the other writers do.
- John never forget what he was here for right to the end of his life. How many people falter toward the end. Not John.
- Jesus' recruiting style seems to be as you are going, make disciples. Hmmm... I read that somewhere else.
- They were fishermen. All they knew and all their family knew. How much faith did it take to leave all that behind?
- Jesus immediately went to work explaining the good news that the Kingdom had come and that living in it would be different. He taught differently because of His intimate connection to the Word. Authors do that.
- For every action... didn't take long for the opposition to pop up, did it? Even the evil spirits are doing publicity work for the Kingdom. "I know who you are - the Holy One (Messiah)"
- Now the people are buzzing about Jesus.
- Jesus prepared for great ministry with great prayer and listening to the Father. No frills or fancy program. Just time spent with God.
- Jesus also resisted the urge to stay where the crowd was warm and receptive while other people were in need. Easiest thing for a church to do is to turn inward. Easiest thing for a person to do is to seek to meet their needs instead of seeking to serve Christ first.
- Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”
Mark 1:41 (NLT)  A leper was the outcast of that society and was literally untouchable. And yet Jesus' heart was so tender to people's needs His every action reflected that.
- Jesus tried to get the healed man to do what was proper so that the religious authorities would see first hand that God had sent him. While I understand the man's emotions led him to do what he did, what did it cost the Kingdom? When we let our emotions lead us to do things that we know aren't what God's best is for us - how much do WE cost the Kingdom? This man brought the ministry to a standstill keeping other people from getting help. Every time we forget it's not about us - there's a cost to the Kingdom.

- Mark 2 next

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reading Through the New Testament



One of the goals for this year for me was to up my everyday reading of the Bible for personal devotional use. Through the course of preparing different teaching materials I read the Bible a lot, but that reading is mostly focused on what it means and how to convey it. I also read the Psalm and Proverb corresponding to each day, and some in either the gospels or the letters each day. But again, a lot of times I see something there that I can use for others and get drawn into treating the text as a tool.

Devotional reading is an appointment to meet with God each day and listen to Him speak through His Word. I looked at a bunch of Bible reading plans and settled on one put together by Discipleship magazine (pdf link) that would take me through the New Testament. This year I want to "Dive Deeper" into my relationship with Jesus, and so reading the NT as much as I can should give me a leg up on a deeper level of intimacy with Him.

What I'd love to do is to come back here the next day after I've completed the reading and share my impressions with you. If you are reading along with the plan, and I know that at least one New Hope Bible study class passed it out Sunday, maybe we can help each other gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for God's Word.

Beginning on New year's day, the plan called for me to begin in Mark and start by reading a chapter a day. I'll be back later with a synopsis of the days we've missed and then beginning tomorrow we'll take it one day at a time. On Saturday and Sunday there are no readings, but a time of reflection.

Let's dive deep in 2010 and let God's Word do its work in our hearts.

Monday, January 04, 2010




It's cold!

January came in like a lion almost everywhere in the eastern United States, and has everyone - including Floridians scrambling to keep warm. Sometimes we forget that there actually is a thing called winter down here. We get spoiled. Even today, with the temps peaking in the mid 40s, I've seen several die hard Floridians in shorts and flip flops. It almost seems as if they refuse to believe it's cold.

But just to repeat once again - it's cold!

At this time of year, with the shorter periods of daylight, and now the cold also acting to discourage much unnecessary outdoor movement, some people struggle with the blues. After all the bright lights and shiny things of Christmas, after you return home or the family leaves, or after you just wake up and realize another year is past, the blues can sneak into your heart.

So how to banish them?

Well, let's hear from a man who at the time he wrote this was imprisoned in a dungeon.

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7 (NLT)

There's a challenge in those words and a promise. First, we need to be proactive in pushing back against the chill of the blues. Just telling yourself "I won't worry" is about as effective as telling yourself "I won't eat that chocolate cake over there." Don't ask me about how I know that. :)


Substitute prayer for that useless worrying. Have a conversation with God in which you remember Who He is and what He has done for you, and where you tell Him what you need.

Then breathe in the mercy, grace and goodness that is God. Make sure He is first in your life in everything. And then you'll experience His peace and His presence - His promise is - He'll guard your heart.


So stop and focus on just what we have received in Jesus. Pardon for our sins. Provision for today. Hope for tomorrow. Strength to meet the challenges regardless of what they are.

Turn the heat up - on your relationship with God.

Grace and peace,

David
Visit with me at my blog:
http://itslikeherdingcats.blogspot.com/

Visit with Bunny at her blog:
http://henleythegreatdane.blogspot.com/

Or visit New Hope!
http://www.newhopevalp.org/

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr



Our friend and landlord Kathy Haugen knocked at the door this afternoon to show me how she was draining the sprinkler system to prevent damage due to freezing. We've been here ten years and in this house almost 4 and it's the first time we've ever had such a sustained cold snap. This is Florida. We're not supposed to be cold.

Our friends the Blakes are snowbirds from Pennsylvania and they were chuckling at me this morning at church.

What can I say? It's cold!

Sunday Recap 3 Jan 2010

New Year and new horizons brought a real excitement to worship today as many who had been away for the holidays returned. I had been working for a couple weeks on what to preach on today and the text in Luke 19 I posted earlier just kept coming back. So Zacchaeus it was.

It seemed to have the potential to challenge people to make some changes to adjust to where God was calling them. That was my hope.

Couple of quick notes about that -

The changes may come, but they might be unexpected and have unwanted effects..
And just repeat that for the second note.



For worship - we did "God of This City", "Indescribable", "How Can I Keep From Singing", "A Shield About Me", and "Softly and Tenderly."

Spent some time after with two of our deacons and their wives at lunch. Very grateful for their service to God and their love for their pastor and his family.

A New Beginning

Haven't written a sermon out in a long time. Here's what I'm aiming at today. Since I don't use notes, it may wind up being more or less (wait a minute - what am I saying? I'm a Baptist preacher, it's never going to be less. :)  ) But I thought I'd share it here. 

1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town.2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd.4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name.

“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will
give them back four times as much!”9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (NLT)

A few months ago, no one had heard of her. Born when her mother was 47, during a difficult delivery in which she was deprived of oxygen for several minutes, she was the target of bullying all through her school years. They called her “Suzy Simple.” Graduating at the bottom of her class with few prospects, she gained employment as a cook trainee. It didn’t last long, but while she worked there, she used to go over during
lunch and watch the actors and singers rehearse for the theatre. She’d always wanted to sing.

People would tell her that she had a nice voice and that “she ought to do something with her talent”, but time and time again when she did, nothing really happened. She’d sung in some local venues, she’d sung at church, at karaoke night in the local pubs, even auditioned for a TV show several times. But nothing ever seemed to go anywhere.

Finally her Mom saw a show called “Britain’s Got Talent” and urged her daughter to give it one more try. You know that show was the forerunner of “American Idol” right? And that both were the brainchild of one of the sweetest people in all of show business – Simon Cowell. Well, when Susan came on stage to audition for the judges, she chose a song that spoke to why she kept on trying to make it. The title of the song was “I
Dreamed A Dream.” At last count, over 150million people have watched it on You Tube, and Susan Boyle’s first album has hit the top of the charts around the world.

The moment you stop dreaming and believing that you can change is the day you begin to die.

Oh you may be 16 when it happens, or 35, or even 65 – age really doesn’t matter. You may take up space on this earth for a good long time after it happens. But inside – in your heart – you’ve decided to die. Nothing’s going to change. It can’t. YOU CAN’T.

Friend, I am here to tell you today that you can change. You can begin again.

There are many stories of changed people in the Bible. But this morning God has led me to draw your attention to one located in the book of Luke, Chapter 19.

The man we’re going to look at is in a tough place in life. He’s hated by pretty much everyone for what he’s done or really, for who he is. When I took the time to think about what he’s gone through I frankly am amazed that he’s even in the Bible for us to get to know. His name of course is Zacchaeus. Those of you of a certain age will never be able to rind yourselves of a children’s song you learned about him growing up in church. What did that song call him?

“A wee little man.”

Well, if he was a “wee little man” then he was an even smaller boy in a culture that was supported by the ability of men to do manual labor. Those who couldn’t soon found themselves the object of ridicule. There’s not a whole lot you can do to change your height in a culture like that either – no platform sandals or stilts. So you go through your life that way and maybe over time those slights and sarcastic cuts pile up. That whole
“sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” deal? Not all that true it turns out.

Meanwhile, things are changing where Zack grows up. His people, the Jews are proud. They are the chosen ones of God and are to be His sovereign possession and His alone. But over the centuries they have been conquered again and again and forced to pay tribute to their conquerors. In some cases their rulers simply worked through the existing Jewish leadership to collect the tribute in taxes. But there’s a new ruler, and he began his rule by having every single male return to his homeplace and be counted. They called it a census and the idea was simply to make sure they got every last bit of coin they could. The Romans were good at a lot of things and collecting taxes was one of them.

In the more settled provinces, those who worked for the government were of the warrior class. But in Judea, there wasn’t one. So they looked for people on the fringes of society that weren’t fitting in and maybe had a grudge against the tight knit Jewish society. People like Zack. Once you crossed that line though, there was no turning back. You had gone against family, against clan, town and people. The only reason you lived was
because were you to be struck down, the Romans would come and grab a dozen or so in the village and crucify them. Served as a strong discouraging force.

Knowing that, tax collectors not only might collect the taxes and a reasonable percentage for themselves, but they might be tempted to see just how far they could go. Most would have done it just to be rich. But I wonder if Zack had other reasons as well. Whatever the reason, Luke makes sure we know that Zack wasn’t just rich. He was VERY rich.

Power and money. Most people dream of them. Fewer find satisfaction even when they achieve them. Zacchaeus didn’t. He wanted to change – to begin again. Lots of people do. Especially at this time of year. It’s the season for it. Resolved – that in 2010 I will… and so it goes. But here we are on the third day of a New Year and I think I’d be safe in guessing that at least some have already fallen short of their goals. It’s always that way when all you do is believe and don’t act on it. “I can finish that.” “I can lose that.” “I can change that.” “yes we can.”

No we can’t, unless we move from passive belief to action. Words. Just words.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal.”

How long did it take for what the founders wrote to actually come true? And how great was the cost of change? I’ll tell you this. If those who followed the founders had acted to make it so instead of just hoping that one day it would happen, we never would have suffered the horrible rending of the Civil War or the costs associated with desegregation.

“We hold these truths…” Great. Then live them.

Zacchaeus knew he was living a lie. On the outside he looked like he had everything. But inside he was cold and empty. He needed a rescuer. So on the day Jesus came to town, he knew his day had come. Normally he would have traveled with his bodyguards and never would have mingled with the common people. But on this day he pushed through the gathering crowds and when he saw that he’d never be able to meet Jesus that way, ran ahead and climbed a tree to be sure to catch Jesus’ eye. BTW, how many trees have you climbed lately? I can assure you that adults back then didn’t climb much either.

So Zach is in position and the crowds and Jesus come by.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.

It worked! Everyone’s thrilled and overjoyed!

Uh, no. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Luke 19:7 (NLT)

Now Jesus was collaborating too they thought. It could be a death sentence. Remember when the Pharisees asked Jesus whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar? The idea was to trap him regardless of whether he answered yes or answered no. A “yes” would discredit Him with the Jews and a “no” would put him in jail as a traitor to Rome subject to execution.

Zack didn’t waste any time.

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 (NLT)

Zach was saying that he was going to follow Jesus by getting rid of the things that kept his focus off God and by actively trying to do the things God would have him do. The words used here are a little hard to get a sense of. A loose paraphrase would be “ Lord, everything under my hand I give half of to those who have been under oppression. And those who I have oppressed, I will now bless. I know that many of the translations say “if I have cheated…” but the word used here means to extort, to use power to manipulate and abuse people. There’s no question Zack did this. The only question is how many did he do it to. When Zack says “everything under my hand” he’s not just talking about his direct actions, but those that took place under his direction as “chief” of the tax collectors there.

Zacchaeus connected the dots and realized that the way to show you love God is to care for the people God has placed in your life. No doubt some of the people Zack is talking about are the same ones who have treated him so badly. Zack won’t have any Roman cover for this either. And the people who were in his chain of command aren’t going to appreciate what he’s doing either. He’s taking a big risk. But he knows that in order to change, he has to.

9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:9-10 (NLT)

When Zach took the job as tax collector, he was instantly cut off from worship at the temple. No longer could he offer sacrifices or even be present when others did. Only those who were of Abraham’s faith could. Ah but notice what happens here. Zack gets what he longed for – rescue from his sins and a new beginning. That changes everything. The Bible in 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that 17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has
become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Cor 5:17 (NLT)

And the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel pronounces him “a true son of Abraham.” Zach achieved that by putting feet to his faith and pursuing hard after God. His deepest desire, his greatest dream was to be in fellowship with Holy God and in harmony with His will. Jesus is telling everyone who will hear that Zack has been restored to God and to his people.

Usually we see that and don’t really pay attention to the last verse. But let’s drill down into it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.

Jesus is telling everyone there that if Zach hadn’t changed, he would have died in his sins. Oh sure, there would have been a lot of stuff around him when it happened, and he might have even been promoted several times by then. But he would have died without God and spent eternity without any grace or mercy. Thank God Zach was moved to change.

Are you?