Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Zacchaeus, Make Haste and Come Down!

Ah, Zacchaeus. Most of us who've been to Sunday School or know our Bible stories have heard of him. He's the short little tax collector who's famous for climbing a tree to see Jesus. What you might not know, is that Christ met him in Jericho, literally minutes after talking to Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho. It has always fascinated me, in reading Scripture, how much Christ got done in a day. His days were filled with ministry. If you do a quick search of Scripture for the words "that same day", it might surprise you what stories are linked so closely together.

These two stories are not linked by a "that same day" passage, but Christ met these two men one right after the other at the end of Luke 18 and the beginning of Luke 19. Let's consider it.

Jesus was followed by a multitude of people. A crowd followed Him when He passed Bartimaeus on the road, and it was this same crowd of people that surrounded Him once He entered into the city. Within this crowd, was a short man named Zacchaeus. He wished to see Jesus, but because of his stature, he couldn't see a thing (Luke 19:3). So he had a bright idea. He would climb a tree! (Luke 19:4)

Christ saw him, bid him to come down, and stayed at his house (Luke 19:5).

The interesting thing to me while studying the Lord's interlude with Zacchaeus, was how very alike the Rich Young Ruler he was, and yet, his story takes the opposite path. I have compared and contrasted Bartimaeus' life to that of the Rich Young Ruler, but it struck me when reading this passage in Luke 19:1-10 that Zacchaeus is also a parallel to him.

We aren't told how old Zacchaeus is. I have seen him portrayed in movies as an older, rotund fellow, likely with a balding head, but we don't know. The passage doesn't say. What it does say is that Zacchaeus was a tax collector. But not only that, he was the chief tax collector (Luke 19:2). In this way, he was a ruler, a rich ruler. Whether or not he was "young" makes no difference.

Now think of what he did when he tried to see Yeshua. He climbed a tree. Climbing a tree is something children do, certainly not a grown man. Certainly not an important, rich, chief tax collector! Why, he might stain or rip his clothing. He might fall. He might be made a laughingstock. But in the moment, he simply doesn't care. He wanted to see Jesus! I don't think this was necessarily a conscious effort on Zacchaeus' part to humble himself, but that's certainly what he did. And I believe it is this humbling moment that caught our Lord's eye.

The text says Christ called him by name. It's possible that He knew it simply by being God, but with a multitude around Him, it's also likely many were pointing and laughing at the "hated" tax collector in the tree. "Look at Zacchaeus!" I can imagine the crowd mocking him in that moment. Perhaps Christ overheard his name. Whatever the scenario, what is important here is that our Lord called him by name (John 10:3).

I have made mention on this blog that Christ defended Mary of Bethany's tender heart when she anointed Him with oil. He made sure her act of love did not fill her with shame when those around them began to rebuke her. I wonder if He did the same with Zacchaeus? If those in the crowd were indeed taunting the man in the tree, Christ's words that He must stay at his house today would surely have quieted the crowd. Zacchaeus would have been well aware he was not a popular guy. Tax collectors were hated, Jews who turned on their own people to serve Rome and line their own pockets. Perhaps Zacchaeus would have felt a certain amount of shame for being short, for climbing a tree, for looking the fool.

But this humbling moment is when Christ honors and exalts him by declaring to one and all that He'll be dining at his house that evening. This makes more sense to me when the crowd begins to grumble in Luke 19:7. How miffed they were Christ didn't choose them, such upstanding citizens!

As for Zacchaeus, the text says he received Christ joyfully (Luke 19:6). This reminded me immediately of the short parable Jesus gave in Matthew 13:44, of a man who finds a treasure in a field and sells all he has with joy to obtain it. Imagine - everyone hates you and all that you stand for, and yet this man who people say is the promised Messiah wants to eat at your table. What a glorious honor! Zacchaeus didn't take it lightly.

The honor Christ bestowed upon him compelled Zacchaeus to honor Him in return. Perhaps Christ gave him a sermon similar to the one He preached to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22). But unlike the Rich Young Ruler, Zacchaeus gladly gives away his riches. He immediately gives half of it to the poor, and the other half is spent paying back those whom he defrauded fourfold (Luke 19:8).

He knows his joy is not wrapped up in his wealth. He has found in Christ something far greater than money. I doubt Zacchaeus started the day knowing he'd give up his wealth, but that's certainly how it ended. He ended the day infinitely richer than when he began! The Lord Himself declared salvation had come to his house (Luke 19:9). Zacchaeus chose what the Rich Young Ruler had given up - treasure in Heaven (Mark 10:21).

Not only did Jesus declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' house, but that he is also a son of Abraham, thus reminding the people that he, too, was an heir according to the promise, and giving him back his respect in the community. Since he gave up his wealth to the poor and to those whom he defrauded, it's highly likely he also laid down his job. The end of the passage has Christ saying the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). All would now know that Zacchaeus, this lost, wretched tax collector, had been restored by the promised Messiah. And if that was true, then no one was without hope!

This was all for the glory of God. Christ's words about seeking and saving the lost confirm that He knew Zacchaeus was a sinner, but in His mercy, He saved him. Not merely a tax collector, but the chief tax collector. He went straight to the top, the most corrupt of them all! And yet Zacchaeus, being a son of Abraham, who humbled himself before the Messiah and gave all his riches away, is now - praise the Lord! - a son of the King of Glory.

The lesson we learn from both Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus is not necessarily giving away all your money. Bartimaeus had no money, he was a mere beggar on the side of the road. Zacchaeus was not a beggar, he was a very rich man. However, the lesson remains the same: they both gave up everything they had to follow Yeshua. They surrendered their all to become all of His. They gave it up with joy. They rejoiced in leaving it all behind, not for their own fame, but for the glory of the One whom they loved with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That is the cornerstone of true faith in Christ - turning from your idols to follow the one true God. Loving Him high and above all other loves. Praising Him no matter the personal cost to you. Crying out to get His attention when you have no hope left to give. Climbing a tree and humbling yourself in the process just to get a glimpse of Him. Does this describe your walk with Christ? Are you desperate to get closer to Him no matter what? Even if someone tells you to be quiet? (Mark 10:48) Even if they call you a sinner? (Luke 19:7)

Within the lives of these two men, we see the fruit of true salvation. It is a devotion to Christ that is so strong, it transcends this world with its riches and comforts. It follows Him no matter what it costs. It is forgoing all that you've known to know Him. It's glorifying Him to such a degree, that it is the glory of your life to praise Him. It is realizing nothing else in your life has eternal value except knowing Him and making Him known.

Praise the Lord! Let us live as these men lived, and leave this world behind as we follow our Good Shepherd all the way to Glory.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Surrendered to Christ

The first time I heard the above quote by C.H. Spurgeon, it grabbed a hold of my heart and my imagination. Well, the same might be said of anything Spurgeon wrote, as he is my all-time favorite preacher. But the reason why it stood out for me was because these words are a glaring contrast to the soft sermons I've heard over the years from various pulpits.

I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on Sunday morning emphasizing the immeasurable worth of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord finally led me to faith in Him, I remember coming to the realization that we must seek God for God, and not solely for His blessings. Christ is worthy because of who He is, and not because He is a way out of Hell. That rocked me, because even though I loved Christ to a degree, I came to realize by the Spirit that He must be treasured, as where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34). That means Christ doesn't want "love to a degree", He wants our whole heart, our entire devotion, and every ounce of our adoration.

The Spurgeon quote, "If Christ be anything, He must be everything", captured my imagination because ... with this understanding, that Christ is worthy and must be treasured, then Spurgeon's words are true. If Jesus is God who came down to save us and give us union with Himself unto eternal life, then He is everything, the only thing, that has ever, will ever, or for ever matter.

We, as Christians, are fond of saying that we have surrendered our lives to Christ. The word "surrender" inspires a picture of laying down our arms and accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. Usually this refers to one's conversion, the moment they repented and turned to Jesus. However, many of us, if we're honest, are tired and weary. We don't understand why we strive so hard. We've surrendered to the Lord, but a struggle remains. It's not always easy, living this Christian life.

I believe there are two reasons for this.

First of all, I don't believe it is possible for this body of flesh to continue in the strength of the previous day. Even Christ Himself told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." (Matt. 6:11) Just as our flesh needs to eat physical food daily, our spirits likewise need to eat spiritual food daily, namely the True Bread from Heaven, which is Christ (John 6:32-33).

This means that we surrender to Christ, not once upon our conversion, but every single day. I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "dying daily" or "taking up your cross" to follow Him. If we fail to do this, we're trying to borrow from yesterday the strength we need today, and that simply cannot be done. Yesterday is gone! Have you ever wondered how some Christians seem to live by the Spirit, day in and day out, with a certain otherworldly endurance? These are the ones you recognize that have been with Jesus. They are feeding their souls upon Him in prayer and study. But not only that, they have chosen - that very day - to surrender to Him as they did the hour they first believed.

To choose heavenly glories over worldly vanities gives our spirit a certain transcendence that even the unconverted recognize. This is the peace of God which passes all understanding. We can only obtain this peace by surrendering to Christ in the moment and communing with Him right then and there. This gives us the strength to overcome the lusts of our flesh. I suppose this is why the Apostle Paul counseled us to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This isn't some cute verse to slap onto a coffee mug, but a necessary requirement to live a life fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to walk by faith, by the Spirit, with a heavenly endurance, we must be a people of prayer.

The second reason why I believe many struggle to live a victorious Christian life is that they haven't fully surrendered to the King of Glory. I am not questioning the sincerity of anyone's faith, rather I want to stress a very significant truth. What does it mean to surrender? It means to lay down one's own "reign" over their lives. In days of old, the surrendering king forfeited his lands, his people, and his riches to the conqueror. In the same way, when we surrender to Christ, all things that once belonged to us now belong to Him.

This means we live life with open hands, not clenched fists. We are freed from selfish ownership and have become selfless stewards. Surrendering to Christ breaks us of our idolatry. If our possessions, our careers, our family, our pets, our wealth, or our health belong to Him, then we rejoice if He shall give -- or if He shall take away. Thus everything in life becomes a focus of praise and worship.

Hear me now, if we have genuinely surrendered to Jesus, we don't get to set the terms of our surrender. All too often we have heard stories or know someone who lives with clenched fists (or perhaps even ourselves?). They are angry at God. They assumed the Christian life would be easy. They've come to realize that God often works through suffering, and they have grown bitter. They don't want poverty, illness, or pain to intrude upon the perfect picture they've created in their mind's eye. They don't want sweat, tears, or agony along the way.

But Christian, here's a sobering question - have you truly surrendered your life to Christ? If you have, then your life belongs to Jesus to do with as He wills. If He has chosen to glorify Himself through your pain, then you should thank Him and praise Him for the opportunity to glorify Him at all.

We must ask Him how we can glorify Him even more. We need Him to show us how and to give us the strength to do so.

If our lives aren't going as we had planned, then we rejoice, as it is being lived out according to His plan. God tells us that His ways are higher than our ways, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9). Since the moment of our surrender, the "title deed" of our life is now in HIS name. We are His purchased possession (1 Corinthians 6:201 Peter 2:9), bought with His own precious blood. Many of us sing about this in church on Sunday, but are we then to deny Him throughout the rest of the week?

If you remember nothing else from this blog, remember this singular shining truth -
We don't set the terms of our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our lives are His to do with as He pleases. We know Lord Jesus is not some frivolous Greek god who's bored on Mt. Olympus and makes us jump for His own entertainment. No, our God works all things for our good and His glory. It is up to us to have faith, to pray, and to praise Him, no matter our circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Therefore, in order to absolutely lay down the autonomy of our lives to this blessed God, we must come to see that "if Christ be anything, He must be everything." And if He is everything, then it is our privilege to glorify Him no matter our circumstance. True surrender to this King is not weakness, it is strength, and I daresay it is the only true strength in this universe. Why? Because we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us, the very same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Nothing is impossible for Him. He is able to preserve us through the strength of His power. And it is God's magnificent power, sustaining us through weakness, which glorifies Him to the world.

How amazing, Christian, is this glorious gem:

Victory is gained through surrender!

Praise God!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

O Lord Jesus, Grant Us Godly Repentance

Many who know me would say I have been a Christian my whole life. Since I was thirteen, I've had a certain affection for Jesus. A friend of mine once told me I needed to ask Jesus into my heart, and I did - many times. I watched all the religious movies. I knew many Bible stories. Even read the Bible and had some of it memorized. I used my allowance money to buy Christian music and posters, I went to youth group, and I wore Christian t-shirts to high school.

But to my amazement, God opened my eyes to a truth that had me seriously take stock and ask myself some hard questions. For most of my life, I was not regenerate. I wasn't granted the repentance leading me to a knowledge of the truth in 2 Timothy 2:25 until 2011.  

Don't get me wrong; I knew about repentance. It was spoken of in certain circles. It was generally taught that if one accepted Jesus into their heart, that's all it took as far as repentance was concerned. That was the definition of repentance as I had understood it for years - accepting Christ into your heart and generally being sorry for your sins. It was a "change of one's mind", yet never once did I hear that repentance was a change of one's life.

However, what I didn't know, and what the Lord has only recently made clear to me, is that I had no idea there are two different roads of "repentance". The first is worldly sorrow which leads to death, and the second is godly sorrow which leads to life. Only one repentance is true.

Worldly sorrow and godly sorrow are outlined by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Worldly sorrow is being sorry you got caught. It's being upset that you can no longer participate in a favorite sin. It's crying that you've violated your morality, and asking forgiveness in order to avoid Hell. It's wanting to be saved from sin's penalty, but not from sin's bondage, therefore sinful patterns continue. It is having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). This is the repentance of the Pharisees, who cried out to God in a loud voice, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men." It can manifest itself as self-righteousness, thinking you do not need a Physician, or it can even become somewhat bitter at God for denying you from doing all the fun things in life. Worldly sorrow, according to the Apostle Paul, leads to death.

Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is having the Spirit unveil to you exactly how wretched you are before a holy God. It is humbling, a stripping down to the bare bones of who you really are, realizing you have no righteousness of which to speak, and that all your deeds are evil. It is being shown how your life does not align with Scripture, and overhauling your entire existence to obey Christ's commandments. It is having your affections changed, to hate the things God hates, and to love the things God loves. It's coming to a realization that you want to be holy as He is holy, regardless of the cost. It is throwing away anything this life has to offer for Christ and Him crucified. This world and it's trinkets no longer hold any sway over you, and you find them all to be as cardboard, smoke and mirrors, or ash in your mouth. The sins you used to love now revolt your spirit. You recoil from sin as if from a hot stove. If you should stumble into sin, you weep, not because you have violated your personal morality, but because you've sinned against Almighty God Himself. Anything that grieves Him now grieves you. You see yourself as the "chiefest of all sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). Therefore you beg Him with a tearful plea to create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you. Christ has rightly become the object of every ounce of your loyalty and affection.

In other words, godly repentance is putting away your sins (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:1) and becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), having new affections by the power of His Spirit (Psalm 45:7, Philippians 4:8), while conforming into His image (Romans 8:29) by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6).

Let me be very clear - worldly sorrow is very deceiving. Many who read this might scoff and think, "That's not me, I'm obviously a believer." I'm still reeling from what God has revealed to me. But let me outline for you why I believe I was never truly converted in the first place.

I cussed. I drank, not overly so, but I have been roaring drunk a few times in my life. I had sex before marriage. I rarely read the Bible. I certainly never studied it. If I prayed, it was for material things, or for my own personal advantage. I would get angry when God didn't "follow through". I pursued fame and fortune in the romance novel industry more than I pursued Christ. I compromised myself and wrote erotic fiction. I never cared about making disciples. I never taught my children about Christ. I didn't care about church. I didn't think I needed to learn anything about theology. I made excuses for the smut I would write, justifying it because it was popular. I honestly believed my books wouldn't be so blessed if God didn't honor them. I frequently prayed for God to advance my erotic stories. I had no problem with writing "Jesus" or "Christ" as cuss words. No problem with open-door sex scenes. No problem with slang and erotic jargon for body parts. No problem with lude jokes or crude words.

The list goes on and on and on.

Folks, if you haven't read my testimony about "returning to Christ", I highly suggest you do. However, reading the above paragraph and truly taking inventory for the first time about the fruit of godliness in my life, I can trace back my true, godly repentance to this moment in 2011: Saying No to the World and Yes to Jesus - My Testimony.

Please note, however, that I no longer believe I have "rededicated my life to Christ" but that this was the moment I became a true believer.

What happened to me? Giving you the short version, I decided to read the book of Acts one day because I'd never read that book. I was bored, so why not? After finishing it, I wept, knowing the utter bankruptcy of my "belief" when held up in comparison to the bold, courageous, and marvelous faith of the Apostles. You could argue, "But those were the APOSTLES!", however, even ordinary members of the first century church put my faith to shame.

In that moment, God pulled back the curtain and made me come face-to-face with my idolatry and sin. I needed to make a choice - my sins? Or my God? I wrestled with Him on this issue, I won't lie. While my testimony linked above has a "dialogue" between myself and God, please know I never heard God's audible voice. These convictions were raining down on me, confronting me every time I opened Scripture.

"Do you love Me?" 

The question our Lord asked Peter plagued me. Over and over again, Christ asked me this same question, and I knew in my heart of hearts that if I truly loved Him, I needed to be obedient and lay down my sin. I knew it would be hard and it would be painful, embarrassing, and quite possibly I'd face a backlash. But how much did I really love Jesus? O, brethren, with my whole heart! That was the moment I turned from all that vile wickedness, retired from writing lude romance, and decided to live my life solely for Him and His glory alone.

What fruit did my heart bear afterward? More than a mere affection, I now ADORED Christ. His name alone was enough to overflow my heart with a depth of love I had never known before. My affection had turned into a flaming fire. Christ had become my Treasure (Luke 12:34). I had a deep desire to see Him glorified, not just in the world, but in my life. I wanted to make disciples and advance His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. I began studying the Bible and finding how much I loved to read it and unlock its secrets by taking my own notes within the margins. I fell in love with theology and couldn't get enough of Charles Spurgeon, the Puritans, and others who have written of God's great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a heart for the Lord's people. I loved attending church. I stopped cussing. I retired from writing filth. I decided now to write only for Jesus and help others see His great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a deep desire to obey Christ, despite what others might say. Friends and family noticed a definite change in me, some thinking it for the better, while others murmured it being for the worse. Holiness and righteousness became my delight, while ludeness and crudeness repelled me.

Now, while my conversion happened in 2011, I didn't know it until recently. I had been happily skipping through life thinking I had rededicated myself to Jesus. How is that possible? Well, God reveals things in His time. In an effort to know more Scripture, I decided to try and memorize the book of 1 John. While reciting these verses over and over to cement them in my head, they sunk deeper and deeper into my heart. It didn't take long at all for the Spirit to show me the truth of it.

Like a lightbulb going off, I knew I was not a true Christian until 2011. I had not been obedient to His Word. I had been openly and brazenly walking in darkness. There was no fruit of godliness in my life, no sanctification, no resembling Christ. No one would have known I was a Christian if I didn't say, "I know Him!" But there is 1 John 2:4, condemning my own words by my own actions.

Don't get me wrong, we are not saved by our works, but on the finished work of Christ alone. However, our conversion is proven by our works (James 2:20), and by the fruit in our hearts (Romans 6:21-22).

Oh, my sweet brethren in Christ, examine yourselves to see if you are truly in the faith! (2 Corinthians 13:5) What kind of fruit is your heart producing? Do you have a worldly sorrow that leads to death? Or a godly sorrow that leads to true repentance and life everlasting?  

The moment I realized (and was blown away by) the fact that I have not been a Christian for most of my life, I knew I had to be obedient to Christ in all things. 1 John 2:5 says - "But whoso keepeth His commandments, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in Him." When I was sixteen years old, I made the decision to be baptized. It had been my own choice, but I hadn't understood that Christianity is much more than merely "making a decision", the Christian life is about a heart change that leads to a life change which points straight to Jesus. 

Knowing that, I decided to love Jesus and be obedient to Him by getting baptized now, this time as an true believer. Hallelujah! \O/ Why didn't God reveal all this to me sooner? That's a good question, but I don't think I would have accepted it any sooner in my life. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have told you I had rededicated my life to Him. But God makes everything beautiful in His time, and I trust that He gave me this testimony of repentance and obedience at this time to reach someone in His name and for His glory.

Praise the Lord! Let us all repent unto the Lord with a godly repentance that leads to life, and make glorifying the majesty and beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ the sole focus and the greatest purpose for which we live. 

Amen and amen!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Prayer for the Saints

Lord Jesus,

Today, I ask that You teach Your Bride how to love one another. It seems many of us are pounding the drum of truth while also smacking the clanging cymbal of lovelessness. Do not allow those for whom You died to grow bitter or jaded against other believers. Do not allow us to hide in cold indifference, rather beseech us to pray for our brothers and sisters, and also our enemies. Give Your true children tender hearts that do not abide by false doctrine, yet neither do they crush the broken reed nor extinguish the smoking flax.

Let us be filled with both truth and grace.

If our brethren stumble, I ask You help them up through the hands and feet of Your Church. Love them tenderly through us. Break our hearts for their broken hearts. Humble us. Do not allow pride or self-righteousness to eat away at those You love, who look to You and say, "Thank You, Lord, that I am not like other men." Close that vile door to the enemy. This is the doorstep of Hell, and against Your Church, these gates shall not prevail.

If we truly are one of the last generations before Your glorious return, I ask for You to grow us into mighty oaks, with deep roots, fed by Living Water, and pruned by the Great Husbandman Himself. Transform our generation into one that resembles the boldness and faith of Your Apostles, of Your First Century Church, of the martyrs who have died for Your glory through the ages, of the Puritans who expounded biblical truth through the Reformation and beyond, of those stoic men of old, men of prayer, with mothers, daughters, and wives of great faith.

Lead us back to the Rock from whence we were hewn, and polish us into a Bride with no spot or wrinkle, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Yes, Lord, this is my prayer to the God of the Saints today. Breathe LOVE upon us, that we may more perfectly resemble You and bring glory to Your beautiful name.

Call Your sheep into the fold and lead us out of this world to behold Your glory, if only with the eyes of our faith while we remain in this flesh. If we be pillars in Your House, make us strong in spirit though our flesh is weak.

Holy Spirit, teach us to be Christians who bear fruit for our God, namely those most noble fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Sanctify us, most holy God, in Jesus' highest name.