How Long Must I Call for Help?

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Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

 

There is a great deal to learn from Zacchaeus. First, remember the tax collector from last week. In the parable, he confessed to God that he sinned and sought forgiveness. We repeat that with today’s reading, with a different slant.

We also repeat part of the story of the Rich Ruler in that Zacchaeus is also rich. In addition, Chapter 18 ended with the account of a blind beggar asking for vision.

The very next account is of Zacchaeus who climbed into a tree so that he could see Jesus, about whom he had heard so much. Both he and the beggar were able to see Jesus. The beggar believed that Jesus was the Messiah because of the gift of healing.

Zacchaeus believed Jesus was the Messiah, not because he saw Jesus, but because Jesus treated him as a son of God. Zacchaeus saw the real Jesus/Messiah and believed in him.

Now for the rich ruler. Both men were rich, but Zacchaeus immediately announced that he would give half of his wealth to the poor and pay back everyone he had cheated out of his remaining money; pay back four times what he had taken. Notice that Jesus was happy with rich Zacchaeus keeping plenty of money to live on and if the rich ruler had been willing to give a large chunk of his wealth to the poor, Jesus would have been happy as well.

Notice, please, that the money was to go to the poor in each account, not to a church building, art museum, university lecture series, or TV evangelists.

How does Zacchaeus tie into Habakkuk?

The prophet asked, O Lord, how long must I call for help before you will listen? TLB   Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head. MSG Billions have asked this question over the generations of humans. We seem to believe that we are the first.

Our problem is, we don’t like God’s answer. We want a quick fix. Instead, He said, For the vision is meant for its appointed time; it speaks of the end, and it does not lie. It may take a while, but wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. “Look at the proud: he is inwardly not upright; but the righteous will attain life through trusting faithfulnessCJB Again, Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really aliveMSG

 

Paul has the answer in his comments to the church at Thessalonica. We are happy to tell other churches about your patience and complete faith in God, in spite of all the crushing troubles and hardships you are going throughTLB

Following Jesus is not about eliminating problems in our lives. War and crime thrive and always will. No President or Congress will bring about World Peace.

As followers of Christ, we are to do as much love in the world as possible, even in the face of great danger.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Lord Will Rescue Me

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Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

 

Last week we read in Luke about a widow who badgered an official into listening to her case. Jesus used her as an example of prayer, to be constant, to not give up. The very next verses, today’s reading, take up prayer in a different context.

In the first parable, Jesus encouraged us to pray without ceasing (the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV). This second parable tells us something about how to pray. The obvious lesson regarding the Pharisee and the Jewish IRS man is that God does not reward pride. He does reward genuine repentance of sin.

There is more depth to the parable when we read the whole chapter. After telling the crowd that we are to pray constantly, Jesus asks an important question. Let me give you five versions of that question, though the NIV seems to be close to the Greek.

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? NIV

Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him? Phillips

But when the Son of Man comes, will he find this trust on the earth at all? CJB

But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns? MSG

When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith and are praying? TLB

In spite of the closeness to the Greek of the NIV, I think the interpretation of The Message comes closest to our American meaning of what Jesus was saying. He had just told us to pray without ceasing, so it seems he is wondering if many of us will be doing that.

The very next verse reads, He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common peopleMSG The way Luke writes this section, it seems that 18:1-14, and perhaps 15-17, happened at the same time. It may be that 17:20-37 opened the day’s events. In any case, Jesus gives us two valuable lessons on prayer.

The third lesson on prayer comes in verses 15-17, with the final verse giving us the lesson. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get inTLB Too often we pray like adults. We pray as though we don’t believe God knows what’s going on. We tell him what is happening and what we want him to do about it. Pray like a child. “God, here I am, and I really don’t know what I need. Help me, please.” Prayer, for us, should be ninety percent listening. How do you think all those prophets knew what God was saying? They listened for the still, small voice.

One more thought. Inviting the children to him gave Jesus a perfect setup for the next event, the Rich Ruler. Before the man opened his mouth, Jesus knew that wealth ruled his life, so he asked the man to sacrifice the love of his earthly life so that he could share in the eternal life.

Think of two children. One lives in a family where food is in short supply for the child and is generally neglected by the parents, who eat well. The other child is loved by the parents; they have little food, but share it more than equally with the child. Give each child a package of twelve cookies and ask them to share with their parents. Which child is most likely to share?

Most likely, the first child would be the rich ruler and keep all the cookies.

We need to be like the child who is loved because God loves us.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Internal Covenant

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Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

 

For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,” says Adonai: “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their heartsCJB  In his commentary on this passage from Jeremiah, Augustine wrote, Then consider what follows, and see in how clear a light the fact is placed, that people who have faith are unwilling to trust in themselvesACCS

His comment put a new light on the lesson for me. Why would people of faith be unwilling to trust themselves? The Teachings that God gave to Moses were written out for all to read and know. The presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is unseen and unheard. How can I know if the Spirit is speaking or I am speaking?

The Psalm reading today, from the middle of the alphabet Psalm, speaks of learning the law. I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with meNIV That is old school. The New Covenant is written in our beings. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and guides us.

I can study the Teachings, the History, the Prophesies; I can memorize Scripture; I can enter every worship service, and still not know God. None of that is of use until I have the Spirit.

Think of Abraham. The Scriptures had not yet been written. Moses had not been born. Still, he knew God. He knew Him through faith. The Spirit of God was present in his life, and he trusted the Presence.

Once we allow God into our lives, He remains with us to guide us, as Paul wrote, Yet you must go on steadily in all those things that you have learned and which you know are true. Remember from what sort of people your knowledge has come, and how from early childhood your mind has been familiar with the holy scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good livingPhillips

It is when we combine the reading, studying, praising, and memorizing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we come to trust in that Still Small Voice. Sometimes we allow our voice to dominate, but with constant referencing scripture and others filled with the Spirit, we can learn to hear the Truth and trust that it is the Truth.

Be as persistent as the widow.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Man from Samaria

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Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

 

An interesting thing happened on the way to the Temple. Jesus was doing his thing in Galilee, as usual, when he announced to his followers that they were going to go to Jerusalem for Passover.

People from Galilee adhered to the religious beliefs of the people of Judea, unlike those who lived in Samaria. In fact, the Samaritans were so far removed from the religion of Jerusalem that no serious Jew (short for Judean) would ever walk into the territory. That created a bit of a problem for the Galileans since Galilee was in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea in the South of the country. To avoid the contamination of walking through Samaria, most Jews traveled the road that traversed the Jordan River valley. That is, they went around Samaria—at least a three-day hike.

Jesus chose to walk straight south into Samaria itself—basically in the middle of the region. We do not know from the text how much time it took them. We know that Jesus did much teaching, as well as healing. Why that is important to note is that we can be sure it took longer than three days. It was not a shortcut.

Why did he do it?

He knew he was on his way to death and resurrection, and he knew he would be leaving his ministry in the hands of his tiny band of faithful followers. In his Great Commission, uttered after resurrection, Jesus told his followers to go into Samaria, and eventually into the whole world. I think Jesus wanted to show the talmidim (the Apostles and disciples) that there was nothing to fear.

While in the region, he healed lepers, again, nothing new. Except—one of them came back to Jesus and bowed to him. The man was a Samaritan, perhaps the only one of the ten who was. In any case, Jesus treated him the same as if he had been a devout Jew—or Galilean fisherman.

The reading in Jeremiah anticipates Jesus’ act by telling the Judeans carried into captivity in Babylon to make themselves at home. Be sure to contemplate verses four and seven. God takes full credit for the captivity. We know from our reading of the history of Israel and Judah that the kings and their followers were unfaithful. It was their evil choices that led them to exile.

God reminds us that He is in charge. Yes, God could stop war, famine, and cancer, but to do so would take away the very characteristic that makes us human: we have the freedom to choose between God and the Lier.

Timothy, who had traveled with Paul and learned many lessons from the experience, became the spiritual leader of the church of Ephesus. The city was nearly as Roman as Rome. It was considered the leading city of the Eastern half of the Empire. Wealth oozed from every pore.

All of that made life difficult for Christians, as it made leadership difficult for Timothy. Paul’s advice to Timothy was to live in the city as a good citizen, but never disobey the command to Love. You may be forced to pay tribute to Caesar before you can shop, but that is only money. The law may encourage people to place unwanted babies in the city dump, but that is your opportunity to love by adopting the babies into your families.

We all live in a foreign land. This earth is not my home. But I can choose to live here as if I were at home with God

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence