thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Devotional thoughts”

The Ninety-nine

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who has 100 sheep. Somehow one gets lost, and the farmer is faced with a dilemma.

What does he do?

The obvious answer, it seems, is to leave the 99 and search the land over until the stray is found.

It seems like shady math to me, but I’m not telling the story.

That lost sheep is pretty darn lucky.

But I wonder about the 99. What keeps them in the fold? How is it that they don’t wander?

Jesus never addresses this. It’s obviously not the point of his story. It’s all about finding the lost sheep.

I’ve always assumed that the 99 had played their cards right. They must have had their act together. It’s to their credit that they hadn’t strayed.

But is it?

Some of us stay in the fold more out of fear than virtue. We aren’t convinced that if we venture out of the safety zones of life that there’s enough love in the Father’s heart to come find us if we happen to get lost.

Fear becomes the fence that pens us in.

There’s something to say for those who dare to risk, to live life fully.

Being secure in the Father’s love and grace provides us the courage to fully express ourselves. We can leave the confines of the familiar and predictable and discover life beyond.

It’s risky.

It’s dangerous.

Sometimes we get lost.

We’ll need a shepherd to search and find us.

Jesus is clear on this point. He will do just that.

And it’s the lost sheep who gets the party.

The victimization card

A common game we play in life is the victimization game.

Something undesirable happens to us. Someone hurts us. Something is withheld from us. We make a horribly sinful choice.

Such experiences are painful. But their real power comes from the meaning or beliefs we assign to them.

We tend to give painful events great power over us. We believe they’ve robbed us of our future. We believe they take away our power. We assume we now have no options.

We’re victimized by the event.

Not just at the time the event happened, but perpetually.

The rest of our life.

Victimization goes something like this: “Because ______ happened, I cannot _________.”

Fill in the blanks.

  • Because this person hurt me in that manner, I can never be happy again.
  • Because my parents withheld the love and affirmation I wanted from me, I cannot have good relationships in my life.
  • Because I was not given that promotion, I’m stuck in this job and can never move forward.

Consciously or unconsciously, we choose to become stuck. We wait for the offending party, or some other power-that-be, to undo the hurt done to us. We believe that since they are the one who took away our opportunity, only they can give it back.

We find ourselves stuck. Helpless. And often bitter.

In the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13ff), we see this dynamic. But with an interesting twist: the disciples play the victimization card on Jesus.

The day has grown long. The large crowd is hungry and tired. It’s late.

The disciples grow anxious, feeling the responsibility to feed the mass of people who’ve been clamoring for Jesus’ attention.

How do you feed that many people on very limited supplies? All the disciples seem to have on hand are five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. That might be enough to feed their own small group (Jesus and the 12), but it won’t come close to meeting the needs of this crowd.

So the disciples do what we do when we are anxious. They shift the responsibility to someone else, in this case Jesus.

“Do something about this Jesus. Send them away so we won’t have to deal with this. We don’t want to be responsible. You take charge.”

Jesus refuses to take on their anxiety. Their perceived problem doesn’t become his.

“It’s not necessary to send them away, You go ahead and feed them,” Jesus counters.

The disciples, probably feeling backed into a corner, play their victimization card.

“We can’t feed them, we don’t have enough food here. Not even close.”

Who knows what they didn’t say that told the real story?

  • “If we start feeding them, there won’t be any for us. And we’re really hungry!”
  • “You should have told us about this earlier. You should have planned better.”
  • “This is a bit irresponsible of you Jesus to wait until now to address this problem. What did you expect to happen?”

The disciples feel helpless. They assume there’s nothing they can do to meet this challenge. And it’s obvious they are waiting for Jesus to do something to rescue them, to take care of it.

Assuming this posture, they are victimized by their own story.

Theirs is not an accurate assumption. They do have something they can use. They have some bread and fish. And they have a choice in what they are going to do with these resources.

They can hoard them for their own use. They can give up and quit.

Or they can give what they have to Jesus and partner with him. They can take this seemingly small step of faith and see what happens.

This is the nature of victimization, and our way through it.

I’m most prone to playing the victimization game with God. I perceive he hasn’t provided me enough of whatever I believe I need to have (usually clear direction for my future), and I hear myself mimicking the disciples in this story.

“I can’t go forward. I don’t have enough resources. I can’t do anything until you do something more for me.”

I blame my sense of being stuck on God. I hold him responsible for why my life isn’t working the way I want it to. I grow inactive and waste potential opportunities under the guise of “waiting on God” to act.

I want (read “demand”) guarantees.

I acknowledge there is a time and place to wait on God. Rushing ahead under my own steam is dangerous.

But most of the time, I believe Jesus is telling me to put what I already have to use.

This is both liberating and terrifying.

It’s liberating in that I don’t have to be a victim. There is something I can do. I do have a choice. I have some leverage, no matter how small it may seem.

It’s terrifying because Jesus calls me to take responsibility. To partner with him calls me to face my fears, step into the unpredictable and move forward with faith. It calls me to own my desires and choose accordingly. I no longer have the luxury of being helpless.

It’s only when I quit playing the victimization card that I get to discover what potential miracle awaits on the other side.

Who knows how many we can feed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?

Reading with different eyes

A recent reading Luke’s combined stories of Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage (Luke 8:40ff), prompted me to ask God to read them with new eyes.

In the past I read stories like this assuming there were only a few options:

  • Read them as literal accounts (I still believe the miracles happened), which left me wishing miracles like this would happen for me.
  • Read them with the expectation (read pressure) to manufacture enough faith, or the right kind of faith, that would produce similar miracles. This led to a couple of outcomes: 1) wishful thinking that surely if I keep trying I could figure out the formula to make such miracles happen; and 2) frustration and discouragement because I could never pull it off.
  • Read them in from a dispensational framework. Miracles happened only in Jesus’ time because God treated people then differently, more specially, than He does today. Plus, they needed such miracles because theirs was a simpler, more gullible time. Now that we are so much more enlightened, we don’t need miracles. We have the Bible, after all.
  • Read them as fairy tales. Legends of miracles are helpful for little kids and those immature in their faith. But such miracles didn’t and don’t really happen.

None of these are particularly satisfying.

This time I found myself wondering what it would be like to read these stories from a first century, middle-eastern mindset? After all, it was such a perspective they were originally told and written. I still don’t know what that would be like.

But a new thought did occur to me. What if I read the stories from a shame perspective?

This seems consistent with their context. The Jewish world was one of hierarchies. People were put in categories and their qualification to merit God’s favor was ranked in order of most deserving to least. Those on the lower end were shamed by those in the upper level.

Both Jairus and the woman were facing their own form of shame that made approaching Jesus a monumental task of faith and courage.

I relate to that perspective. It takes the impact of the story to a deeper level than the extraordinary miracles that both experienced.

I find myself particularly relating to Jairus.

His stretch consists of facing the shame of admitting his need. He’s a respected religious leader with influence. Yet he faces a need that his position and reputation cannot solve. His knees buckle.

If he wants help and healing, his only recourse is to humble himself and go to Jesus.

The same Jesus that no doubt has been criticized and vilified in his synagogue.

He swallows his pride and confronts his sense of being “right” and goes to Jesus. He names and owns his need, his weakness.

Been there and done that.

I know what it’s like to have position. I know what it’s like to believe I’m above the problems others have. I know what it’s like being convinced I’m right.

I know the crushing reality of failure. Of facing brokenness. Of experiencing pain that brings me to my knees.

I know the fear of naming and owning. The power of shame in those moments can be lethal.

Thankfully, I’ve also discovered Jesus doesn’t play the shame game.

Jesus is more than happy to accept Jairus and respond to his need . He’s more than happy to take me in as well.

The story doesn’t end there. The woman with the hemorrhage interrupts the action. She has her own shame battle, but that’s a story for another time.

Jairus’ courage seems to be slapped in the face. Just when it appears all is going well and hopes are raised that his daughter will be spared, the woman butts in line and steals Jesus’ attention and power.

I hate to admit it, but I project my own thoughts and feelings into Jairus’ experience at this point.

I’ve had those times when I’ve been jealous and angry that others seem to get immediate answers and blessings from God. I’ve gone through the pain and angst of having my knees buckle, cry out to God, face my shame, name my failures and flaws, receive initial assurance of grace, have my hopes raised and then . . .

Wait.

And wait.

I expect circumstance to change quickly. I assume the pain and discomfort to ease immediately.

But they don’t.

Sometimes, nothing seems to change at all.

While I wait, others seem to get immediate answers. New job opportunities appear out of nowhere. They get promotions they didn’t ask for. Somehow they figure out how to plan their future and success seems to follow. They have clarity. They reinvent. They get what they want.

And I wait.

I imagine Jairus doubting. At some level, it doesn’t seem fair. Why did this woman have to show up at this time and interfere? Why does she get preferential treatment? Why are her needs met immediately?

In my better moments, I’m still conscious that I have much to be thankful for. But that doesn’t always keep these thoughts from coming. It doesn’t keep me from being jealous or angry. I doubt God’s fairness and goodness.

Back to Jairus, I find myself hearing Jesus tell me to not fear but keep trusting (v. 50).

What does this mean for him?

For me?

I don’t believe that Jairus immediately turns a switch that changes his thoughts and feelings and doubts and pain. I don’t believe he’s suddenly convinced, confident and elated.

Interestingly, Jairus doesn’t say a word. He just follows Jesus back to his home and his now dead daughter. My hunch is that while walking home, following Jesus, he’s filled with grief, his mind swirling with anguish, confusion and pain.

But, still he follows Jesus.

That’s where I find myself at times. Even when it seems others have it figured out and are getting more immediate and clear answers from God, I still hang in there with Jesus.

Answers come in increments. Hope is revived a little at a time. Just when I’m ready to throw in the towel, a breakthrough, however small, surprises me. I am encouraged. So I keep following.

That’s how I understand faith.

Reading the gospel story in this light makes sense. I find connection and meaning.

What do you want?

The story of Jesus healing the man at Bethesda (John 5) intrigues me on several levels.

The obvious is the remarkable healing. The man’s affliction had severely impacted him for 38 years. No doubt all hope had been long lost. Things weren’t going to get better. He just as well accept his fate and move on with life the best he could.

Jesus apparently didn’t get that memo. He isn’t limited by what conventional wisdom says is a hopeless cause. Jesus has no problem healing this man.

I’m also intrigued by the man’s difficulty in giving a straight-up answer.

When Jesus asks him if he’d like to be well (v. 6), the man launches into a lengthy explanation of why he hasn’t been able to get into the pool (read vv. 2-4, for the background on the significance of the pool). It was a simple, yes-no question. But the man never gives a clear answer.

Later some Jewish leaders corner the man on why he was carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. Such a simple task violated their strict interpretation of Sabbath laws.

The man again ducks and dodges. Rather than owning his own actions, he shifts responsibility (another way to say blame) to the “man who made me well” (v. 11).

The leaders want to know who that healer could be. Curiously the man doesn’t know the healer’s name. I don’t pretend to know the full contextual nuances here, but I can’t imagine there being too many options other than Jesus.

Regardless, what strikes me is the man’s difficulty in finding his voice and speaking what is true in his life. Perhaps he wasn’t in touch with his own soul.

This particularly seems to be the case in Jesus’ initial question. Jesus straightforwardly asks him, “Do you wish to get well?” This is a no-brainer. A slam-dunk.

The man has been lame for 38 years, for goodness sake. Why would Jesus even need to ask such a question?

Yet the man doesn’t answer. He can’t say what he wants.

I can relate. Sometimes the most difficult question to answer is when I’m asked what I want.

Shame, insecurity, distorted spirituality, and the fear of becoming responsible for my desires intertwine to make seemingly obvious, straight-forward question complex and difficult.

I’ve gotten better at owning and stating my wants, but I’m not there yet.

Finally, I’m intrigued at Jesus’ use of words in his dialogue with the man.

Specifically, I find it significant that Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” and not, “Do you want to walk?”

Again, I’m not a contextual or linguistic scholar here. So I may be barking up the wrong tree. But Jesus’ choice of words speaks to me of different levels of desire and need.

Level one is walking. At the risk of minimizing what walking means to someone who hasn’t walked for 38 years (probably this man’s entire life), walking can represent a superficial level of well-being.

Competency in walking can mask underlying incompetence. Many who walk are crippled emotionally and spiritually.

Walking accomplishes a lot of things, but it doesn’t meet the real needs of the soul. It can, in fact, numb us from feeling the pain of our emptiness and meaninglessness.

Level two is being well. This speaks of a deeper, more holistic view of healing. It reaches into the core of our being  to create meaning and purpose. It deals with significance, security, mission and value.

One can be well in this sense and still not walk. It’s not conditioned on walking.

I recognize that many times when Jesus (or anyone else) asks me what I want, I tend to answer in level one terms. I want a good job, a decent salary, good health, a fulfilling marriage and cooperative kids.

I’d rather walk than be well.

But Jesus insists on making me well.

When level two is in place, level one tends to follow. Without a solid level two, level one won’t ever satisfy.

What do I want?

When God asks the “Why?” question

Ever caught yourself asking God, “Why?”

What if He turned the tables and asked us “Why?”

We find one such occasion in Mark 4:35-41.

Jesus and his followers have finished a busy day of teaching. It’s time to leave, and the whole gang loads onto a boat to travel  to the other side of the lake.

As they board, Jesus says something significant. “Let’s go to the other side.” It slips under the disciples’ radar, but comes back into play later in the trip.

Mark notes that Jesus enters the boat “just as he was” (v. 36). I’m not sure what all that means, but it’s clear he’s tired. Jesus makes his way to the stern and falls into a deep sleep.

Jesus is comfortable with his humanity and okay with being tired. He has no qualms about taking care of himself. When tired, he does the appropriate thing. He takes a good nap. We might act a lot more like Jesus if we took a nap once in a while.

While Jesus sleeps, the disciples find themselves in a bit of difficulty. As often happens on the open waters in this part of the world, a storm develops. Waves crash over the side of the boat, and it begins to fill with water.

The disciples sense trouble and begin to panic.

Jesus continues to sleep.

This apparently irritates the disciples. How dare Jesus sleep while they’re smack in the middle of danger? Why isn’t he on deck doing his part?

They accuse him of not caring:

  • Unaware of their danger.
  • Insensitive.
  • Selfish.
  • Cold-hearted.

“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” (v. 38).

It’s quite a slap in Jesus’ face. Jesus being accused of not caring? Really?

Jesus doesn’t retaliate. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t lose his head. He simply surmises the situation and calms the sea.

Then comes his “Why?” question.  “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40).

Apparently not.

We can read Jesus’ question in several ways. Maybe he’s irritated. Perhaps he’s ticked off for having his nap interrupted. Or, he sees the disciples as being lame-brained for their panic.

My hunch is that Jesus’ question is one of compassionate probing.

  • “Why the fear, guys? What’s that about?
  • “What does your reaction reveal about your assumptions about me?
  • “What does this say about the work that still needs to happen in your life?”

Jesus never fears for their safety. He’d stated they were going to the other side of the lake, and that has never changed. He was, and is, fully convinced in His ability to accomplish his goal and fulfill his intention.

The storm doesn’t take him by surprise. “Oh, shoot, I didn’t see that coming!!! Now what do we do???”

They’re heading to the other side, storm or no storm. So, why the fear?

Surely all their experiences with Jesus and the wonders they have witnessed taught the disciples something. If nothing else, they should have got the message that Jesus cares.

That’s easy to say when you’re not in a storm, on the open sea, with gale-force winds, and in a boat that is rapidly filling with water. In those moments, we tend to forget Jesus is right here with us, riding along in our boat. We forget what he’s already proven. It’s easier to conclude he just doesn’t care that much.

I’ve been there.

And the question comes, “Why?”

  • Why do I forget?
  • Why do I doubt Jesus’ character and integrity?
  • Why do act as if Jesus doesn’t care?
  • Why do I assume he can’t handle things?
  • Or worse, why do I assume that he won’t respond to my need?

I find it comforting that Jesus works with the disciples doubts. He doesn’t abandon ship, stomp off in a tiff, and leave the disciples to fend for themselves. In spite of their doubt, he still calms the sea and quiets the wind.

The disciples are dumbstruck. “Just who are we dealing with here?” But that’s a whole new set of questions to deal with.

Jesus gently asks us why we doubt? He intends on getting us to the other side–safely, intact, together. He’s well able to accomplish what he sets out to do. He’s committed to getting the job done.

We can relax in the boat and let him do his thing. We’ll be amazed at what he accomplishes.

I have to admit, however, I’m more often like the disciples and their futile attempts to keep their boat steady in the storm.

I’m sure Jesus asks me “Why?”

When God speaks to us

I’ve never been comfortable when people say, “God told me . . .”

Apparently, God talks to some of my friends quite a bit. They frequently report on their latest conversation with God. God tells them whether or not to use salt on their food and if they should have ketchup with their fries.

Hearing God has never come easy for me. I try hard to hear that “still, small voice.’ Sometimes I’ll muster all my concentration in one spot, remove all distractions and quiet my thoughts, determined not to leave my place of prayer until I’ve heard from Him.

The next thing I know, I’m waking up from an unplanned nap.

While God is telling my friends what to order off the menu, I can’t seem to get God to tell me if I should change careers or move my family.

I’ve expressed my frustration to the Lord a time or two, but that doesn’t seem to persuade him to become more vocal.

A while back I came across a Bible story that helped give me some perspective.

Joshua 13:1 reads, “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the Lord said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years.”

This is one of the strangest verses in the Bible.

Imagine Joshua praying one day, and God shows up and gives him this message, “You’re old and advanced in years, Joshua.” Joshua looks at his body and then back to the Lord and says, “Uhhh, thanks for bringing that to my attention, Lord. I hadn’t noticed.”

It seems to be a case of stating the obvious. But maybe God is up to something here. Maybe I can learn something about how God speaks to me.

Here are some thoughts I glean from Joshua’s experience.

First, God often speaks the obvious. This is somewhat disappointing, because I want God to tell me something sensational like sure-fire formulas to get rich or to solve all my problems.

But God seems to focus on more basic, fundamental issues.

When God shows up and says, “You’re old,” he wasn’t kidding. The description of Joshua’s age, “You are old and advanced in years,” speaks to a specific stage of life for Joshua.

Jews divided old age into three periods. The first period was between 60 and 70, and marked the onset of old age.

The second period was between 70 and 80. It was known as the gray- or white-haired stage of life In Jewish tradition it represented the age of respect.

The final stage went from 80 until death. People in this stage were said to be “old and advanced in years.” It was considered as the closing period of life and the final preparation for death. This is the stage of life we find Joshua in this story.

Joshua’s age was clear to everyone. But we need to be careful we don’t dismiss God’s message just because it seems to be stating the obvious.

One of the dangers in our contemporary Christians culture is our love-affair with information. We have more information available now than in any time in history. Collectively we know more than any other generation of Christians. Yet no one would mistake us for being the most spiritually mature and Christ-like generation.

Knowledge by itself doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s the practice of truth that counts. So God often has to bring us back to the obvious, the basics. As one author reminds us, what we really need to succeed in life we learned in kindergarten—how to play nice, how to share, and the need for naps.

Joshua apparently needed to be reminded of the obvious. “You’re old and advanced in years.” We need to listen for the obvious from God as well.

Second, God speaks to shake us out of denial and lethargy. One of the great thing about stories is that we can look at them from a variety of angles. A little history helps us here.

Joshua was called to succeed Moses. God assigned him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. This area wasn’t vacant. It was inhabited by a variety of tribes. Moving in required going to war.

The first 12 chapters of Joshua tell about those battles. By chapter 13, the job is pretty much completed. Joshua and the Jews are resting and enjoying their victories. Perhaps they thought the mission was accomplished.

But God had a different idea. There was plenty left to do. There were several tribes to conquer. Joshua still had to assign territories where each Jewish clan would live.

Joshua was getting old. Time was short. Joshua didn’t have the luxury to kick back and rest on his laurels. So God speaks.

In this context the words are a blunt wake up call. “You’re old and not getting any younger. You’re advanced in years and your body is giving out. It’s time to get moving and get the job done. There’s more to do.”

From time to time we need God to give us a wake-up call, to snap us out of our denial.  He can be quite blunt:

  • “You’re being selfish.”
  • “You’re letting work become more important than family.”
  • “You’re eating habits are out of control and are killing you.”

The third thing I notice here is that God speaks words of affirmation. Entering into this phase of life, it would be natural for Joshua to think that he’s washed up, his productive life is over and he’s not of much use or good anymore. Perhaps he thinks he no longer has what it takes. The job requires someone more skilled and energetic than he.

But God is having none of it.

God speaks words of affirmation to Joshua. “You are old and advanced in years, but I’m not done with you yet. I still have plans for you. You’re still productive. You still have what it takes. There is still purpose for you.”

God speaks similarly to us. It may be our age. It may be our sin and failure. It may be our perception of being unskilled, ungifted or under qualified. Whatever it is, we put ourselves on the sideline, believing we’re not worthy, able or adequate for the purposes God has for us.

God comes and speaks to us, “There’s a job for you. Yes, you may be old and advanced in years, but you can get it done. With me, there is still hope and a future.”

These words sound strangely familiar to me. Maybe I’ve been hearing God more than I thought.

The Zaccheus principle

In previous posts I’ve discussed my current reading of the Gospels with an aim to become better acquainted with Jesus. I find this challenging, because I’ve been programmed to read the Gospels (and the rest of the Bible) for information–Bible truths, principles, precepts, theology and life answers.

Truth be known, Bible information often hides Jesus.

In my quest to read with a different set of eyes, I came across the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. Luke identifies three things about this man.

  • He collects taxes.
  • He is rich.
  • He is short.

All three are significant. They speak of the public shame Zaccheus experienced, particularly at the hands of the religious community.

The Jewish public deeply resented tax collectors. Taxation reminded them of Roman occupation and control–a constant reminder that things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. To collect taxes for the hated Romans represented the ultimate betrayal.

Adding insult is the fact that Zaccheus is rich. He’s darn good at what he does–ripping people off. He does so for Rome’s benefit as well as his own. The only thing that chaps us more than someone taking advantage of us is when they seem to get wealthy doing it.

Finally, Luke takes note that Zaccheus is short. God has nothing against being short, but society tends to marginalize based on physical appearance. Tax collecting was so abhorrent in Jewish culture that town folk couldn’t find enough reasons to dislike, shun and marginalize those who stooped so low.

Any fabricated flaw justified their contempt. “He’s short? All the more proof that he’s scum!”

Enter Jesus.

As Jesus walks into Jericho, crowds begin to line the streets. There’s such commotion that it becomes difficult to get a view of Jesus as he makes his way through town.

Especially if you are short.

Not to be deterred, Zaccheus climbs a tree. We discover a fourth description of this man. He is a seeker of Jesus. Twice Luke tells us that Zaccheus is intent on “seeing Jesus.”

Perched on a branch, Zaccheus not only gets his desired view, but Jesus walks directly under the tree and invites himself over for the evening.

What is Jesus doing here?

If we’re not careful, we’ll immediately rush to theology and biblical principles.

  • Jesus is making a statement about prejudice and how we are to love the most despised and shunned people of our society.
  • Jesus is demonstrating inclusion.
  • Jesus is showing us that God operates on a different economy than we do and extends his grace to all, even the most undeserving.

All these are beautiful realities. But I think there’s something more basic and real going on here. If we simply settle for theology, we’ll miss Jesus.

Jesus genuinely likes Zaccheus and wants to hang out with him. This is the real point of the story.

I can’t see Jesus going into this with other motives. Jesus doesn’t spot Zaccheus in the tree and say to himself, “This would make a great teaching moment. I’ll blow everyone’s mind and go over to that guy and see if I can get him to invite me over for supper. That will drive home the point to these self-righteous religious leaders. Imagine the sermon illustrations this will make.”

Nor can I see Jesus saying to himself, “Hey, if I go over to that short guy in the tree, it will make a cool song for Sunday school kids. I can hear it now, ‘Zaccheus was a wee-little man, a wee-little man was he . . .'”

If these are Jesus’ motives, then he’s just using Zaccheus. He reduces Zaccheus to an object lesson.

Jesus is in the moment. He loves Zaccheus and naturally wants hang out with the guy. He can’t seem to help himself from taking the initiative and inviting himself over for the evening.

To add to the beauty of the story, Jesus no doubt knows all about Zaccheus’ background and lifestyle. But they don’t seem to matter a lick to Jesus.

Later, we hear Jesus laughing with delight, celebrating Zaccheus’ repentance and new-found faith. No one is more thrilled than Jesus to see salvation come to this ‘wee little man.” Zaccheus will no longer be known as a filthy rich tax collector.

Jesus becomes even more clear against the contrasting response of the respectable Jewish community. They’re indignant and incredulous. “How could Jesus stoop to such depths by hanging out with such a scum of a low-life? ”

They certainly don’t like Zaccheus. They don’t want anything to do with him. The only good purpose Zaccheus provides is sermon fodder for what sinners look like.

This leaves me questioning myself. Why do I extend myself to others? Why do I do this thing we call “ministry”?

  • Do I tell someone about Jesus because I genuinely care about them and like them, or because it will make a cool story to tell my Christian friends?
  • Do I give my money to Christian ministry because it’s a genuine expression of love for Jesus and others, or is it more about trying to live by biblical principles?
  • Are my acts of generosity and compassion calculated efforts aimed at setting good examples or satisfying my conscience, or are they authentic demonstrations of love?

Hopefully as I keep hanging out with Jesus in the Gospels, I’ll find myself relating with other like Jesus did with Zaccheus.

The audacity to stand up straight

I continue to be impressed with how audacious grace is.

In Luke 13:10ff, Jesus encounters a woman who’s been bent double for 18 long years. Jesus breaks all kinds of rules by initiating a conversation with her, touching her, and healing her of the affliction. She stands up straight and begins to worship God.

All this in the synagogue. And on the Sabbath day, to boot.

It just isn’t proper.

Jesus is duly reprimanded by the synagogue official. The official, after all, is responsible to ensure that rules and order are maintained.

  • Sex-roles.
  • Social propriety.
  • Religious rituals and regulations.
  • Tradition.
  • Respectability.

Either Jesus isn’t aware of such propriety, or doesn’t care. He has one concern–a woman stooped under a burden of infirmity. She’s carried the load long enough.

Compassion locks Jesus’ focus on her need. All the concerns the official thought so important fades into Jesus’ periphery.

Grace doesn’t care if her healing is proper. Isn’t concerned if it obeys the rules. Doesn’t listen to the religious arguments of why it isn’t the time or place. Doesn’t question if the woman deserves her affliction or merits her healing.

Grace restores and heals and liberates. Everyone and anyone is a candidate. Any time, any place. No prerequisites required.

What have we been carrying around that has us bent double? How long have we been under its load?

What rules, regulations and expectations tell us that we have to keep hauling it around?

What are the voices we fear will criticize us if we let it go?

Jesus has the audacity to release, forgive and heal now. He doesn’t demand we jump through hoops first.

His grace has one intent–to empower us to stand up straight and get on with a life that brings delight and glory to God.

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