Friday, May 28, 2010

Fair warning. (part 3)

Ok. So Maybe I should just really sort out everything I want to say on a subject before posting....

just occurred to me what Jesus was telling the rich man when he told him to sell all his possessions. Earlier, in Matthew 13:44,45 Jesus told two parables. One about a hidden treasure and one about a pearl.

In the parable of the hidden treasure a man has unexpectedly found a hidden treasure. In his joy he sold all his possessions to buy the field it was in.

In the parable of the pearl, a merchant was looking for fine pearls and found one of great value. He went and sold all his possessions and bought it.

How had I never made the connection before....arghhh.

Nonetheless, and in spite of my obtuseness, in these two short parables, Jesus reveals His reasons and motives behind telling the rich man to sell all his possessions. Jesus wanted to be the man's joy. Jesus wanted to be the man's treasure. Jesus wanted to be wanted.



Fair warning. (part 2)

One thing I forgot to say about the stories of Zacchaeus and the rich man, the very thing that was my first revelation when I revisited the story, was this, that Jesus was not the one who called into question either man's sin or righteousness (in fact the men themselves brought it up). Jesus was not, nor is He, sin obsessed (like the modern church seems be at times). He was fully confident in the power of His presence and love to transform the hearts and natures of those that believed in Him. Fully confident in the person of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, and righteousness, and judgment as the gospel of John tells us. And I can tell you from experience, I've never made friends with somebody by them telling me what was wrong with me. Never fell for a girl who was bent on bringing to light my shortcomings. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. Our kindness that expresses that to a fallen world. We all know John 3:16. But John 3:17 is just as mind blowing. That God sent Jesus to save us, not to condemn us. Amen!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fair Warning.

This feels like a sermon. But here goes....

Last week I was revisited by a sing-song melody of my distant childhood. As I placed it I began to sing along. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see." And so on.... So I reread the story of Zacchaeus, the miniature tax collector and found it quite compelling especially in contrast to another rich man in scriptures that met Jesus.

In Luke 19:2 we learn that Zacchaeus was a wealthy high ranking official. The next 8 verses sum up his encounter with Jesus. The itinerant Jewish rabbi was entering Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Of course as the song clearly notes, due to his diminutive stature and the throngs of gawkers, Zacchaeus was having a great amount of perturbation in that respect. So he ran ahead of the crowd and he climbed a tree. Now as much as I know about first century customs, which isn't a lot I suppose, this activity of running and climbing was very unseemly for a man, especially one of prominence. But it was an earnest act. One of apparent desperation and humility, and Jesus not only noticed but responded by inviting himself to the tiny taxman's house for dinner, an act in Jewish custom that signified in no uncertain terms the commencement of a friendship. Zacchaeus instantly renounced any and all fiscal impropriety and promised four fold reparations to the wronged at which point Jesus declared that salvation had come to the wee little man. Amen!

In Mathew 19 verse 16 another rich man has his life collide with Jesus. The short account has the man asking Jesus what good thing he can do to find eternal life. After a rhetorical question that might have been more a comment on the mans motives, Jesus gives him the Mosaic response telling the man to obey the commandments. This the man had done without fail since his youth. So Jesus said simply and yet improbably "If you want to be perfect sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor." (And as Luke 18:22 adds, to follow Him.) We all know how that went over, for the man was very rich and sulked away. Prompting Jesus to tell his disciples that "it [was] easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven". Ouch.

Two rich men. Two completely different outcomes. But why? What struck me first was each man's desires. The rich man in Matthew was looking for eternal life, Zacchaeus, well, he was looking for Jesus. The bible says God gives us the desires of our hearts. The ones we state and the hidden ones that rule us I suppose. Zacchaeus wanted Jesus. He got that and eternal life. The rich man wanted eternal life, but the price was too high. His desire was for his wealth more than anything else. He didn't get eternal life because he didn't desire the one in whom eternal life is found. He wanted heaven, and so Jesus offered it to him, but in the future tense, if he would spend himself on behalf of the poor. (Not, I suspect to "buy" his eternal salvation by some "good" work, but to show the humble repentance of his heart.) Zacchaeus just wanted Jesus and Heaven was given to him, that day, right there, "salvation came to his house". God responds to our urgency, our desperation, our earnestly, humbly seeking Him.

Secondly, Jesus says in Luke 19:10 that he came to seek and save that which was lost. Zacchaeus knew he was lost, knew his own corruption and greed. Certainly everyone else did as per their reaction when Jesus decided to eat with him. The rich man on the other hand was righteous by the religious standards of the day. He had obeyed the law and the prophets and this would have been well know in such a close community. In his pride, or maybe his religious conditioning, he missed what Jesus had asked him, albeit cryptically, "Why do you ask me what is good? Only One is good." In essence, there is no eternal life through your good works, but only in heaven's good work- The coming of the Christ, to seek and save the lost. And then the man's true desires were exposed, as desire's always are, in the self-evident truth that "where your treasure is there will your heart be also".

The final thing that I wanted to mention was this. Zacchaeus met Jesus and instantly gave half of his possessions to the poor. In the early church those that had experienced Jesus had all their possessions in common. This was the reoccurring theme of those having experienced the redemption of the cross and the Person of Jesus, and their subsequent desire to give back all they had in worship of the one who Sacrificed all of Himself for them. A primary external manifestation of a heart being filled with the loving presence of God is the desire to love others, to meet their physical needs, and to share in their suffering. A heart that has been transformed by God's sacrificial love will do this instinctively, organically, and spontaneously with great joy. It is the fruit of the Spirit that naturally grows from the seed of salvation. Which begs the question? What do we, the elect, do with what we have on behalf of the poor? Are we so incredulously fulfilled by God's tender longing for us that the world and it's possessions have dimmed and faded in importance? Or are we sulkily resisting the Holy Spirit when he asks us to take care of the least among us, to really love our neighbor as ourselves? If we really have met Jesus, if He is really the desire of our hearts, is He enough for us down here? Is He our treasure?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two Weeks in India

I have wanted to put words to my I think are better suited. What a beautiful people. What a deeply humbling and heartrending two weeks.

This little girl was a bit self-conscious. She was very wary of the pale person with the camera. And rightly so I suppose.

At the Bay of Bengal I met this girl with an infectious smile. She was quick to volunteer for a picture though her siblings were a bit more suspicious.

The younger brother of the girl at the Bay of Bengal. I especially like his American flag patch on his jean jacket. He wore it proudly but wore nothing else. His shyness I suspect was not modesty though. Naked and half-naked children were everywhere. With the heat index approaching 115 everyday I think they had the right idea. Jean jackets notwithstanding.

This young man wore his very best and suffered a bit for his trouble. Even in the shade of a porch the heat was suffocating. His sweating didn't in anyway dampen his song though and what an incredible voice he had. I didn't understand his Taligu language but his passion and his faith were evident.

These kids lived at an orphanage. They were timid and slow to smile. When contorting my face into ridiculously silly gestures failed to illicit smiles and probably served only to reinforce my alienness, I got them to pose with my sunglasses. This brought the smiles by the bucketfuls. Though the consensus was that I looked like Jesus I spent considerable time trying to convince them they were created in God's image and that Jesus was Arab and probably favored them more than me. I hope my interpreter conveyed those sentiments better than I felt I did.

The shelves in the orphanage were empty. There was not a single toy. They had nothing save for the kindness of believers and each other. These girls took to spinning and twirling and their laughter was the most amazing sound! There are 35 million orphans in India, 18 million of whom are homeless. After putting 20 some faces to a small percentage of those statistics I can only say that it leaves one shaken and sick.

This was taken in the village of Vata Pradhi (?spelling?). I cannot find this village on a map. I was told I was the first American to ever visit them. By the looks on their faces I'd have to agree. They, like so many others I met, were shy and standoffish. So I decided to frown desparatly in an attempt to make them smile. It worked! And oh what smiles they had!!

This woman defied description for me. She had this fierce look of independence in her eyes that was tempered with a deep compassion. Her story must be incredible. She tenderly corralled the children on to a porch where they sat covered in flies and lice, their clothing with stitches on stitches and safety pins doing what zippers and buttons once did.

This was my favorite picture that I took. Something about her dingy, tattered dress and her intense beauty personified all of India for me.

Love this shot. The henna vine wrapping around her arm, her silver bracelets and pink dress. And again, though you'll have to trust me on this one, what a smile.

This precious woman was the first believer in Vata Pradhi, 20 years ago. She flagged us down as we were leaving to offer us cookies and tea and to give the pastor her offering; A rooster, a bag of field peas, and some rice. It was a little hard not to get choked up by the exchange.

The aforementioned rooster with a most extraordinary man. His servant's heart and generous smile were indefatigable. Again, everything about him defied description. Certain people's story must be told in their own words to avoid sounding contrived or inauthentic. I suspect this gentleman would fall into that category of autobiographers.

My last day in Tuni I went to a traditional, albeit small, Indian wedding. The service proper started at 4 a.m after a night of dancing and singing. For the first time in two weeks I was not the only one lost in the language. The ceremony was entirely in Sanskrit. The bride and groom had to be continually prompted through sign language to fulfill their ritual obligations. What struck me the most were the elements of foot washing and the use of veils. It seemed to me in a culture where so many hopes, dreams and societal standings are tied to marriage that the gospel could be contextualized in a powerful way drawing reference to the mystery of the church as the bride and her bridegroom Jesus. A reoccurring thought I had and one I'd like to study.

There are other pictures of course. Ones not taken, ones not shared. Of the abject poverty and grotesque suffering. I suppose they should be shown, but not right now. Right now I wanted to introduce you to India at her best. Through the beauty of her people. In her innocence and lack of modern sophistication. What i want you to know about India, what I want you to learn from her, what I learned from her is this. In the villages anyway, the people I met were truly thankful and had no sense of entitlement. They were not spoiled, in any sense of the word. And maybe that's why I feel I owe them both an obligation and an apology. First to protect them from being westernized and secondly, I hope I left nothing of myself there. Nothing but the love of God. And if I did, I am truly sorry.