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Generously Cancelled, Generously Treated

“Once upon a time, there were two men in debt to the same money-lender. One owed him fifty pounds and the other five. And since they were unable to pay, he generously cancelled both of their debts. Now, which one of them do you suppose will love him more?”“Well,” returned Simon, “I suppose it will be the one who has been more generously treated,”

Do you feel generously treated?

This once upon a time story is a response to a man named Simon that asked a much different question of Jesus. This scene  from Luke 7 is a dinner at Simon’s house, Jesus as a guest, other men at the table. A “bad woman” who is most likely a prostitute, walks into the house, massages Jesus dirty feet, uses her tears to wash his feet, kisses them, anoints his feet with perfume and them dries them with her hair. What!? Yeah, that was Simon’s response too. This can’t be happening! He’s gotta be thinking that on a lot of levels, this cannot be allowed. To use Simon’s own words, “If this man (Jesus) were really a prophet, he would know who this woman is and what sort of a person is touching him. He would have realized that she is a bad woman.”

Jesus’ kind, but accurate response to Simon, “I came into your house but you provided no water to wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There was no warmth in your greeting, but she, from the moment I came in, has not stopped covering my feet with kisses. You gave me no oil for my head, but she has put perfume on my feet.”

I read this story and, to be completely honest, a lot of me wants to be Simon. It’s a lot easier and less risky to be Simon. To appear to have it all together, to follow the Law, to “host” Jesus. However, a closer look at Simon reveals that he offered Jesus (and I’m assuming other guests that came to dinner), no water-no warmth-no oil. In contrast, the woman who had no business being in the room is the one that Jesus singled out. And what is it that he said to her, what is the one thing he said? “It is your faith that has saved you. Go in Peace.” Faith is simply belief, so what did she believe? What did she believe about herself and Jesus that caused her to walk into a room full of men, some of whom she may or may not have slept with, single out Jesus and begin to do all those intimate things to his feet?

It’s her belief that she was loved that saved her. This “bad woman” responded to the love of Jesus with, “so much love” because she believed (had faith) that she was loved by Jesus. Simon, the Pharisee, must not have believed he was loved and forgiven. Otherwise, he would have instinctively provided water, warmth and oil. A person who believes that they are loved by Jesus responds with “so much love.”

I want to become more like the “bad woman” who has had her debts generously cancelled, the one who has been more generously treated. God is so generous! We have all been generously treated, whether we believe it or not. God has so much love for us, and we get to respond with so much love toward him and others we encounter today.

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A Dead Man Comes to Life

Have you ever read the story in the Gospel of Luke of the widow who was on her way to bury her boy? It may not have been a boy. A closer reading recently changed the story completely for me. I have read this story quite a few times over the years. When I read it I feel sorry for the woman. She is a widow and now she is on her way to bury her son, that’s heartbreaking. I imagine the scene. The same people who buried this poor woman’s husband, possibly only a few years before, is now burying her young son. But the story doesn’t say anything about this son being a young boy. In fact, the literal translation is, “…a dead man, the only son of his widowed mother.” What if this was, in fact, a 22-year old man? What if his mom was 38, dad died at age 35? Does this change the story? It does for me.

With new eyes, I am able to put myself in the story. It is a great way to read scripture, especially Gospel stories. Read a short passage a few times and ask Jesus if you are any of the characters in the story. I did that and realized that I am the dead man. Not now as a 42 year-old man, but in my early 20’s I was dead and on my way to the grave. Read the story, seriously, take one minute, or maybe two and ask yourself if you are, or have ever been, the dead man in the story.

What I love about this, and most stories involving Jesus, is what Jesus does in the midst of an impossible situation. We are talking about death here, it doesn’t get much more impossible than that! “Then he (Jesus) walked up and put his hand on the casket… then said, ‘Young man, wake up!’” That’s what happened to me as a young man. I was making poor choices in my day-to-day life, addicted to work, caring way too much about what others thought of me, full of anxiety and fear, and Jesus walked up and put his hand on me and said, “Young man, wake up!”

I’d like to say that it has been easy living this new life as an “alive man” the past 20 years, but easy is not the goal. I can say that it has been, and continues to be an extraordinary, more full life than I ever thought was possible. Jesus’ words in this story are for any (whatever our age) who will listen, “wake up!”

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Learning To Rest

I was with a friend last week and he made the comment, “Shawn, I’ve noticed that you rest well when you are off work. How did you learn to do that?” That was quite a statement to me, a guy who comes from generations of work-a-holics. I can only say that because I am a recovering work-a-holic myself, and my dad has confirmed that as far back as he knows our family has seen work as primary.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, business owner in his book How Will You Measure Your Life , says this with regards to making work our primary focus:“The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward.” No wonder we do this! Who doesn’t want proof that we are moving forward?

Back to the question from my friend, how did I learn to rest? It was a great question. How does a man whose tendency is to work all the time (not just at a job but around the house, on projects, etc) make time to rest? Well, it started slow for me. I began by taking an hour here and an hour there to schedule something that I wanted to do. Yes, I scheduled it and still do. I eventually moved to 4-hour increments of a day once a week. Four hours of no work at all. At this point a couple of little kids came on the scene for my wife and me. You would think that rest went out the door at that point, but I (we) stayed with it. In fact, as our kids got older I began scheduling a day off for our family, an actual Sabbath day. It wasn’t always Sunday, it was the day of the weekend when we could most likely take a full 24 hours to rest. Practically, it stated in the evening of one day and ended the evening of the next. We are six years into this rhythm and most weeks we get this day off.

I was enjoying these times of rest so much that I decided to take it a step further and plan a weekend once a year when my wife and I could get away and rest. That turned into two then three, and most years we now do a quarterly two nights away. Along with that my wife and I began to look six months in advance to when we could get our kids away for a week to rest and play together. Then after that, again as our kids got older, we looked for a week when she and I could get away for at least seven days together to rest without our kids.

So how did I learn to rest? I just did it. It is one of the best decisions I even made (am making). Rest is a gift from the Lord. One that we can all receive.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

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Gnawing on Jesus

No one really “makes time” to eat, it’s just what we do. We make skip a meal (or two) because we got up late and rushed into the day, then think we don’t have time to grab lunch because things are too hectic, but eventually at some point during the day we eat.

Jesus loved to eat with friends and new companions. He was even accused of eating and drinking with the wrong crowd on a number of occasions. As Jesus gets further and further into his time hanging out with the disciples he makes a statement that often gets overlooked:

“He who keeps on eating my flesh and drinking my blood, in me is continually abiding and I in him.” (John 6:54)

The actual word used here for eating is τρώγω, which is best translated from the Greek as gnawing, “He who keeps on gnawing…” Gnawing takes time and is not in a hurry. We have a dog and she gnaws for a while on a bone, takes a break then goes back for more, she loves it!

If we look at verse 54 in the NIV we can easily miss Jesus teaching, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” In this standard translation his message sounds past tense. It sounds like something we can do occasionally, like we occasionally eat broccoli, but that was not Jesus teaching that day. He was telling the crowd that in order to have eternal life we have to gnaw on him.

“Unless you do eat (gnaw on) the body of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you are not really living at all.” (v.53) Are you living?

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Man I’m thirsty

Every morning I wake up thirsty, how is that?! I am a water drinker, it’s primarily what I drink throughout the day, so how is it that I wake up thirsty? Shouldn’t I have something in the reserves from the day before? It’s bizarre, or is it?

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me… 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life.

It sounds like Jesus himself is saying that we can never thirst again. If that is true then why is it that “accepting” him at some point in the past still leaves us thirsty today? Then I noticed something I have never paid attention to before. Jesus says that if we come to him we will never be thirsty, that if we believe, we will never be thirsty. It’s about coming to him and it’s about believing, and neither of these is a one-time event that we can trace back to a time or day. Coming to him and believing sound like daily activities.

I looked back at the story miracle of the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus just performed and saw this:

32 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

 Jesus is referring to manna here, the food which came miraculously from God. The food which showed up every morning, the food that could not be stored up but could only provide sustenance for one day! Coming to him and believing is the same as the manna. It is something we need every morning, a hunger and thirst that time with him and him alone each day can only satisfy.

It sounds like my thirst for water each morning is appropriate. It is a physical reminder of a spiritual thirst (and hunger) that can only be satisfied by turning to the only one who can truly nourish.

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Believing “Into” Jesus

There are only a few stories that all 4 Gospels writers tell, the feeding of the 5000 is among them. After the story, we get a unique perspective from Jesus’ best friend John,

“Believe me,” replied Jesus, “you are looking for me now not because you saw my signs but because you ate that food and had all you wanted. You should not work for the food which does not last, but for the food which lasts on into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you, and he is the one who bears the stamp of God the Father.” (John 6:26-27)

Jesus’ statement, “You ate that food and had all you wanted…” sounds like he is getting onto the people for coming back for a simple provision of food, for missing the bigger offer, for believing “small”. Jesus is indicating that the people are coming back for another light meal. He sensed they were timidly asking for “just a little more Jesus and we will leave you alone… If it’s not too much trouble Jesus we will be over here…if you have time.” Sound familiar?

Jesus overlooks the small thinking and continues,

29 “The work of God for you,’ replied Jesus, ‘is to believe in the one whom he has sent to you.’”

This phrase “the work” occurs 150 times in the Hebrew and Greek texts. The first time we see “the work” is in Gen 2:2 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” God was obviously doing the work that, “lasts on into eternal life” (above), and any Jewish male raised in that culture would have been very aware of the work. So when Jesus uses this phrase he is connecting the listeners that day all the way back to the beginning of the story. That was the work then (for God) and this is the work now.

Jesus uses a phrase right after the word believe that is only fully understood in the Greek, εἰς (into). Believe into. This is a much different idea than believing in something. To believe in is to buy into a concept or accept something as factual. To believe into is to commit to someone not knowing what the outcome will be. “I am with you Jesus and I believe that life with you is the only way to go.” Believing into is going “all in” without any guarantee of how things are going to go in this relationship with Jesus. It involves commitment, risk and trust in the person not certain outcomes.

So, are we believing big or believing small? Do we believe in, or into Jesus? The promise is eternal life (which is not some time in the future but includes today) for those who believe big and believe into himself. I want that…I want Him.

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Unbelief Has Power Too

In Luke 10 Jesus makes it pretty clear that there will be serious consequences for any family or town that does not believe. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.” (v.5) Jesus then takes it a step further, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you.”

Not quite sure what that says to us today living in homes, cities and towns, but it doesn’t sound too good.   Jesus seems to be saying to his disciples that if people in a home or town or city do not believe, then they will be left to do life on their own, apart from God. I drove by a church a few weeks ago that had the scripture on their reader board,

“Bless’ed is the country whose God is the Lord” My thought: Great verse, not encouraging.

Unfortunately that verse does not describe the United States, not even close. I’m afraid if Jesus or His followers were to enter our towns today He would seldom be welcomed. Oh wait, he does visit.  He’s here, are we welcoming?

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“Do you believe…”

If there is a pinnacle question in the 4 Gospels, it is revealed in Matthew 9. Jesus has just come off of a pretty good run of healings that he attributes to belief. “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘It shall be done to you according to your faith.’”(27-29)

Do you believe that I am able to do this? This is the question that stopped me in my tracks ten years ago in a car ride with my friend Stu. That is a primary question that you and I are being asked every single day, throughout the day. I literally think about this question or some variation of it each day. Actually, it’s not so much a question as it is a statement, often said out loud by me, directed to Jesus. I have the same response as the two blind men, “Yes, Lord.” As I encounter a situation, a relationship, the stress of the day, something that I didn’t expect, my response is, “I believe that You can do this.” Nothing in me at the time may feel like this is possible, whatever this is in the moment, but I still proclaim belief. The two blind men that day had no reason to believe Jesus would heal them, but they believed anyway and Jesus honored their belief.

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To Deny is To Believe

The humanness of Jesus is refreshing. He is a lot like us and wants to know how things are progressing. He spent a few years telling and showing people who God is and is looking for a report from his closest followers about how things were going. “And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?’ They answered and said, ‘John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.’” (Lk 9:18-19)Not exactly the response Jesus was hoping for, but at least his friends were being honest with him.

Now for the bigger question: And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.’” (v.20) Now Peter was a Jew. For him to say that Jesus was the Christ meant that he believed that He was the Messiah that the Jews were looking for. This is huge! Most of the Jews didn’t let it cross their mind that this one named Jesus could be the Savior.

In his next statement to the disciples that day, Jesus defined what it meant to truly believe in Him. “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.’” (v.23-24)

What?! That can’t be what it means to believe! Ask me to do anything but put my selfish desires aside. Jesus knew the impact of this statement, and He knew what it would mean for those who chose to deny: life!

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Butch, Sundance and Jesus

One of my favorite Western movie scenes is from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the scene “The Kid”(Robert Redford) is accused of cheating. The man who accuses him stands up, puts his hand on his gun and is ready for a fight. Butch (Paul Newman) says, “Sundance, let’s just get out of here.” The man’s response, “Wait, you’re the Sundance Kid, I didn’t know that….if I draw on you…you’ll kill me.” Sundance: “There is that possibility.”

There is a sort of Sundance kid feel after Jesus heals a blind man in John 9. The blind man is confident in who he is and in what Jesus has done for him. Of course, the Pharisees question the validity of the man’s new found sight, so he states very clearly to them what happened. “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” (Jn 9:11) The Pharisees weren’t having it! They didn’t believe the man so they called his parents. After the parents caved to authority they went back to the man to try and get him to admit that Jesus was not from God. I love this next part! “I have told you already what happened and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (v.27) This infuriated the lawmakers and they threw the man out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man? The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him. Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?” “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

It wasn’t just sight that was restored that day. This man came face to face with the God of all things and his life was radically changed for the better.  Once he realized it was the Son of Man standing in front of him, he worshiped and believed.