Zacchaeus

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! – Psalm 32:1

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So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way…Luke 19:4

 

The streets of the city were crowded that day,

The Teacher was coming – He was heading this way.

My heart leapt within at the sound of His Name,

This man who healed lepers, the blind and the lame.

 

But the crowds all around me were blocking my view,

And try as I might, I just couldn’t push through.

Not much to be said for my stature – it’s true,

So I ended up right at the back of the queue!

 

Then ahead of the crowds in the distance, I see,

Down the long dusty road,

There’s a Sycamore Tree,

I was desperate to see Him,

So it had to be done.

I kicked up the dust and I started to run!

 

My robes snagged on branches as I scrambled up high,

And I hoped, against hope, that He wouldn’t pass by,

Still my heart skipped a beat when He stopped by that tree,

And He peered through the leaves,

Looking straight up at me!

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What would He say to a man such as me?

What was I doing here?

How could it be?

That this wonderful stranger should call me by name?

In that moment, I knew, I would not be the same.

 

The people were outraged- He was going to eat,

At the home of *Zacchaeus, the swindler, the cheat!

But whenever He spoke, all my pride fell apart,

And something was changed in the depths of my heart.

The tears started falling, my heart overflowed.

I would pay it all back, every penny I owed.

I would give it all gladly,

I would do anything,

For this wonderful Man,

For this beautiful King!

 

The love that He showed me,

The grace that He gave,

Swept over my being, like wave after wave,

What joy filled my soul, and what gladness within,

When the Son of God cleansed me,

From all of my sin.

 

 

  • Amazed to discover today that the meaning of the Hebrew name Zacchaeus means, “Clean, pure!”

 

 

Abundant!

 

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This morning, a well known image kept coming to mind.  It was that picture of a half filled glass of water, and that all important question….is the glass half full or half empty?

What do you think?

Well, before I’d even had time to ponder the answer, I sensed God’s smiling response:

“That question is completely irrelevant in my Kingdom!  When I fill a cup, it overflows!”

Ha!  Isn’t that wonderful?!

You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows! – Psalm 23:5

There are no half measures with God!  Nothing about Him is ever stingy or miserly or half hearted!  Everything about Him is abundant and lavish and overflowing!  What a joy!

I felt today that God wanted to remind me, and maybe some of you, of His absolute abundance!  In Him there is no lack.  He is great in might.  He is awesome in power, He is abundant in loving-kindness!  He really, really is a GREAT BIG GOD!

Feast your heart on a few of these ABUNDANT truths today – if necessary speak them out loud over your circumstances:

GREAT is the Lord and mighty in power.  His understanding has no limit – Psalm 147:5

But You O Lord, are a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness – Psalm 86:15

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom – Isaiah 40:28

Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways are past finding out! – Romans 11:33

Your loving-kindness O God extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the mountains of God.  Your judgements are like a great deep – Psalm 36:5-6

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love for those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us – Psalm 103:11-13

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness! – Lamentations 3:22-23

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  for His loving-kindness is everlasting – Psalm 118:1

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen – Ephesians 3:14-21

What an amazing God!

 

 

Alive!

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My four year old daughter Emily has an incredible imagination.  She spends hours creating imaginary worlds, using little animal figures such as Playmobil and Sylvanian Families.  She is also rather fond of a lovely set of Lion King characters that I found on ebay.

“Mum” she begs, “make Simba talk!”

So, somewhat reluctantly, I have to put on this really deep American voice and try to bring this inanimate, plastic Lion to life.

“Oh no!” I say, “There’s a big problem in the Pride-lands!”  I pause…not really too sure where this is going.

Emily looks at me with wide eyes.  She’s hanging on my every word and is desperate to find out what the problem is.

Shakily, I continue.  “You see…the waterhole has dried up.  And if we don’t get water soon… we’re going to die!”

Crikey.  Should I be that morbid with a four year old?

Emily doesn’t seem to mind at all.  She’s in the zone completely!  So we spend the next half hour racking our brains to try and come up with a solution.  And eventually we decide that the elephants are our best option.  They can suck some water up (from somewhere or other – minor detail) with their trunks and fill the water hole back up.  And all the while, of course, the evil Scar is trying to stop us at every turn.

For a moment, those plastic characters seem almost real.  But pretty soon, they go back in the toy box.

No matter how convincing my Simba voice is, or how entertaining my story, those characters will never, ever be real.  They’re just plastic.  Even Emily knows that.

And then, in Genesis, i read this:

“Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” – Gen 2:7

Hang on a minute!  Did you get that?  I mean, forget about trying to animate plastic lions… God moulded a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and that pile of dust became a REAL PERSON!  A living, breathing, blinking, yawning, walking, talking human being!  It’s jaw-dropping!   We can become so familiar with the creation scriptures, that we forget to marvel at them!  No wonder the Psalmists say time and again “There is no one like the Lord our God!”

And then the really mind-blowing thing!  Right at the outset of things, way back in Genesis, God was already revealing His plan of salvation.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.  The same thing happens when we are born again.  God takes a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins – and breathes His very life into their spirit, so that they become a LIVING BEING!

Dead.  Stone cold on a slab.  No heartbeat.  Like a pile of dust.  We were all dust-men!   But then suddenly the breath of the Holy One began to rush into the hollow caverns of that dead old soul and BOOM!  Suddenly we have a pulse!  We’re alive!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love, with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made is ALIVE together with Christ!  – Ephesians 2: 4-5

Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gleanings from The Book of Ruth – Part Two

He has brought me to His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love – Song of Solomon 2:4

Our story resumes at mealtime, when the harvesters have a break from their labour and sit down at the table to eat.  Ruth’s natural inclination is to sit on her own, apart from the others.  She is a Moabite, from the wash-basin of Israel, and so her tendency is to separate herself from those who belong at the table.

But Boaz beckons her: “Come here that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.”

So Ruth is offered a place beside the reapers where Boaz serves her roasted grain.  She eats her fill and is satisfied and has some leftover.

The symbolism here of Christ’s love for sinners is beautifully striking – immediately a verse springs to mind:

The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are afar off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” – Acts 2:39

There’s something strangely familiar about this scene, isn’t there?  Bread being given out, with some leftover?  Was there not once a man who broke bread around a table, serving His disciples, and saying “This is my body, broken for you?”

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As I read this scene, I feel my heart being strangely warmed, just like those two travellers on the road to Emmaus who finally recognised Jesus only as he broke bread.  Do we not now recognise our Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, in this lovely little scene played out between Ruth and Boaz?  What a wondrous foreshadowing of our Saviour’s redeeming love, of how he took on the nature of a servant to redeem the poor and the unworthy – the Bread of Life giving bread to those who were once afar off!

Jesus has called each one of us to come close, to come to His banqueting table, to eat of the bread of life and be fully satisfied!  What an invitation!

And from here, the story continues.  After a series of  sweet little twists and turns, Boaz and Ruth go on to become husband and wife!  A story that begins with death and famine and grief, ends with a wonderful wedding!  Though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning!  God takes a poor, destitute woman, from the washbasin of Israel,  and makes her into a fruitful bride!  A woman with no prospects, no wealth, and nothing to offer but her exemplary devotion to Naomi, ends up becoming a joyous bride, and goes on to bear for Boaz, and indeed for Naomi, a much longed for son!  The child is named Obed, and he grows up to become the Father of Jesse, who grows up to become the Father of none other than King David – surely the most notable King in the bible.

Does this not make your heart sing?  How extraordinarily wonderful!  Ruth – a Moabite, a poor woman from a nation that is despised and looked down on, becomes the Great Grandmother of King David – thus sharing in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself!  I don’t know about you, but this completely blows my mind!

Can you see how it has always been in heart of God to take the far off Gentile, once excluded from the Household of God, and bring them to His banqueting Table?   To take the hopeless sinner into His heavenly home to become the bride of the King!  Doesn’t it make your heart leap for joy when you put yourself in the place of Ruth, when you understand all that God has done for you?

Today as I reflect of all of these things, my heart echoes with great joy, the words of the Psalmist:

“He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,  to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.  He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.  Praise the Lord!” –  Psalm 113:7-9

 

Gleanings From The Book of Ruth – Part One

“Priceless gems have often been found in unlikely places.  Many a choice flower has been found blooming in a rocky crevice.  Rainbow artistries have suddenly lit up the drabbest skies.  Beauty spots have charmed the traveller at surprise turns on the least promising road  It is even so with this superbly beautiful little idyl, the book of Ruth”

Sidlow Baxter, Explore The Book (Bible Commentary)

Imagine my delight, when I checked the Sunday School Rota a few weeks back, and discovered that I had to deliver a lesson to our 3-4 year olds – on the book of Ruth!

My thoughts whirred as I considered the complications of trying to explain to our wide-eyed pre-schoolers, what a ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ is!   It had been years since I’d read the book of Ruth, but I vaguely remembered something about sheaves of barley…and wasn’t there that part when Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his cloak?  Hmmm.  There was no doubt about it…this was going to be one interesting Sunday School session!

Despite my initial reservations, things went really well! (three cheers for Pinterest for a whole host of craft ideas!)  I even managed to find a beautiful sheaf of dried wheat on Amazon, which the kids were fascinated by.   On-line shopping – what a life saver!

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Once the Sunday School was out of the way, however, I began to sense that there are absolutely no coincidences. God was drawing me into the book of Ruth.  There were delightful hidden treasures within the story that He wanted me to discover.  It was time for me to plumb the depths of the bible’s most quirky little love story.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is the basic backdrop of the story:

  • The story begins when a Judean woman called Naomi, who has spent the last ten years residing in Moab to escape a famine in her homeland, is left destitute when her husband and two sons die.
  • Her two sons had been married to Moabite women – one called Orpah, and one called Ruth.  (This was an ungodly alliance, and was forbidden in Levitical law).
  • Naomi decides to return to her people, where she fairs the best chance of survival.
  • She means to set out alone, and urges her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and go back to their childhood families.  Naomi has no other sons to be given in marriage to Orpah or Ruth.  Their best bet is to remain in Moab, where they have the best chance of finding new husbands.
  • The two young women have an agonising decision to make.  They have come to love Naomi, yet if they go with her, they will have to live in Judah as sojourners in a foreign land – this is a huge risk to take.
  • Justifiably, with much weeping, Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth ‘clings to her Mother-in-Law’, refusing to be parted with her.

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I go, and where you lodge, I lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

So what becomes of the lovely, loyal Ruth?

Well, it just so happens that the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Barley Harvest.  Their arrival does not go unnoticed.  Everyone is curious.  What has become of Naomi?  Where is Elimelech, her husband?  And what of her two sons?  And who is this strange Moabite woman at her side?  I bet tongues were wagging!

One of Naomi’s relatives, a wealthy, upright man named Boaz, owns several Barley fields and employs teams of servants to harvest the barley.

The key to Ruth and Naomi’s survival can be found in a strange harvesting custom, found in Leviticus 19:9

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Nor shall you glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard.  You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the Lord Your God.”

Wow!  Isn’t that just like our God?  Always making provision for the needy and the stranger?

So Ruth becomes a “gleaner” in the fields of Boaz.  She follows behind the team of harvesters, gathering up the scraps that they accidentally drop.  She has to keep her distance.  Moab was known at the time as the ‘washbasin of Israel’ – basically, a foot basin for washing feet!  She is totally vulnerable, putting herself at the mercy of others, and showing herself to be utterly destitute.  She is therefore open to any kind of mistreatment.

But Boaz notices Ruth.  He makes enquiries about her.  And it seems he is deeply impressed by her loyalty to Naomi.  He speaks to Ruth, showing kindness to her in three ways:

  • He instructs her to glean only in his field
  • He commands his servants not to touch her
  • He invites her to drink from the water that his servants draw if she gets thirsty

It must have been fairly unusual for a foreigner to be treated with such kindness, as Ruth falls on her face, bowing down to the ground, saying: “Why have I found such favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

And here is Boaz’s response:

“All that you have done for your Mother-in-law, after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your Father and your Mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you previously did not know.  May the Lord reward your work and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

Someone once said that you can find Jesus in every book of the bible.  Like a golden thread woven through the whole tapestry of scripture, is the overarching theme of Redemption.  Every now and then, if we examine the tapestry in the right light, we catch a glimmer of this glinting gold.  The book of Ruth is no different!  Boaz is a type of Christ.  And here we begin to get the first glimpses of a man that possesses amazing integrity, kindness and generosity.

It also may be worth noting here that godly men are drawn to godly character.  They are not merely impressed by the outward appearance, but by the inner qualities a woman displays by her conduct.  Boaz was deeply struck by Ruth’s courage and commitment.  He also recognised the evidence of her new found faith – By cleaving to Naomi, Ruth had ultimately chosen to put her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God never turns away any that would seek Him.  The time of salvation for the Gentile had not yet come.  Yet God seems unable to resist showing compassion, grace and kindness towards this young, courageous Moabite woman, who has so selflessly thrown herself upon His mercy.

As the story unfolds, we get to see how sweetly Boaz and Ruth become increasingly drawn to one another.  And we begin to see more of God’s wonderful, extravagant heart towards the Gentile.

Part Two to follow soon…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner, a Sinner and a Saviour

 

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise – Psalm 51:17

There are two stories in the New Testament which so wonderfully portray the dynamic power of forgiveness. Interestingly, they both share the same three elements: Dinner, a sinner and a Saviour.

Story number one takes place when a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus round for a meal.  It’s not clear whether Simon is being genuinely hospitable, or whether he has an ulterior motive, but what we do discover later on, is that Simon fails to show Jesus the customary Jewish welcome of a kiss and a bowl of water for the washing of feet. As they are reclining at the table, things take an interesting turn. A woman with a jar of perfume and a bad reputation, gate-crashes the party.  She breaks open the alabaster jar of fragrance and starts to anoint Jesus’s feet. Weeping and crying, she dries His tear-stained feet with her hair, and kisses them again and again.  Talk about awkward moment!

Suddenly Simon gets all fidgety in his seat. Ha! If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have been able to discern what kind of woman this was. If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have this woman thrown out into the street.

But Jesus with x-ray-like vision, sees right into the depths of Simon’s soul.  And He begins to tell a story about two debtors.  One who owes a little, one who owes a lot.  Both of them receive good news- their debts have been cancelled by their Creditor.

“Now which of these two will love the most?”

“I suppose the one who has been forgiven the most,” Simon rightly answers.

Which leads us nicely onto story number two- the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector in the Jericho region and let’s just say ‘popular’ is not his middle name. He takes what people owe…plus a little bit extra besides.

But he’s heard a rumour. Jesus is coming to town.  “I’ve gotta’ see him”, thinks Zacchaeus.  “I’ll do anything to see Him”.

But Zacchaeus is a little on the…err, little side.  As Jesus passes through Jericho, vast crowds press in around Him.  And try as he might, Zacchaeus cannot see above the crowds.

So what does he do?  Give up and go back to his mansion?  No!  He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up into a Sycamore Tree!  Now this man was rich.  He probably had swag!  But nothing was going to stop him!

And Jesus stops right underneath that Sycamore Tree and peers up into the branches, right into the face of a man who is outwardly rich, but inwardly profoundly empty and says:

“Zacchaeus!”

Jesus knows his name. He knows all of our names.  “You’d better climb down because  I’m coming to your house today!”.  This time Jesus invites himself round for dinner!

And they talk.  And Jesus explains that He came to this earth to cancel the huge debt of sin that people like Zacchaeus, and the woman with the alabaster jar – people like me, and you- simply couldn’t pay.

And once again forgiveness has its transformative effect. Zacchaeus is a changed man.  Repentance flows from his heart just like the perfume that flowed from that alabaster jar.  Because the point of the story was not so much the broken jar, but rather a broken, sin-weary soul, kneeling at the feet of a merciful Saviour. And Zacchaeus promises to pay back anybody he’s ripped off four times over!

You see it’s true.  He who is forgiven much, loves much.

 

 

Giant Slayer!

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David was a shepherd, he was Jesse’s youngest son,

And although he was the smallest, he was God’s anointed one.

He had seven older brothers who were big and strong and smart

But the outer things don’t matter when God’s looking at your heart.

 

Now three of David’s brothers – the eldest of them all,

Were camped outside the city with the Armies of King Saul.

But David wasn’t old enough to join in with the battle,

He stayed at home in Bethlehem, attending to the cattle.

 

One day his father handed him a bag of grain and bread,

Take these to your brothers, bring back news of them he said.

So just as day was dawning, young David rose and went,

He ran to meet his brothers, with the food his father sent.

 

The Israelites came marching out with shouts and battle cries,

But as David followed after them, he got a HUGE surprise.

For marching round the valley, a giant of a man

Was challenging the Israelites “Come fight me – if you can!”

 

This Philistine was massive, he was over nine feet tall!

And the Israelites would tremble, every time they heard him call.

His spear was like a weaver’s beam, his armor weighed a ton!

“Is there no-one that would challenge me?” he boomed at everyone.

  

For forty days he taunted them, but no-one volunteered,

“You call yourselves an army, huh?” Goliath loudly jeered.

But David wasn’t frightened, as you’d probably suppose,

In fact this mouthy Philistine got right up David’s nose!

 

“Who is this heathen Philistine?” young David boldly called,

“He dares defy the armies of the true and living Lord?

What’s the prize for killing him?” He went and asked the others,

“Just go back home and feed the sheep” warned David’s older brothers.

 

King Saul heard the commotion, so he summoned David in,

“You’re just a lad, for goodness sakes, you’ll never EVER win!”

But David was determined, he was totally persuaded,

“The Lord will keep me safe”, he said, “I do not fight unaided”.

 

King Saul was flabbergasted but this kid was on a mission,

“Very well, young David, you may fight on one condition –

You must wear my finest armour from your head down to your toe.

And may the Lord watch over you, and bless you as you go!”

 

But David wasn’t used to wearing bronze from head to toe,

He could hardly move a muscle and he wasn’t good to go!

A shepherd’s stick, a pouch and sling were all that David took,

And five flat stones he gathered from the peaceful, babbling brook.

 

And when he neared the battle line, Goliath roared with laughter,

“I’ll eat you up for breakfast and I’ll still be hungry after!

Goliath was no gentleman, he didn’t mince his words,

“I’ll tear off all your flesh and then I’ll feed it to the birds!”

 

But David stood his ground, his faith was bigger than his foe,

“Listen up Goliath, ‘cos there’s something you should know!

You come at me with sword and spear and javelin, it’s true,

But in the name of God alone, I’m coming after you!”

 

Goliath moved in closer, he was ready to attack,

David ran to meet him; he let nothing hold him back.

He reached into his bag and popped a pebble in his sling!

And suddenly with lightning speed, he hurled it with a fling!

 

It smacked the mighty giant man, right between the eyes,

The stone sank in, the armies gasped in terror and surprise.

You could have heard a pin drop – as no one made a sound!

Then like a fallen tree, Goliath thundered to the ground!

 

The Philistines were terrified, they panicked and they fled!

They couldn’t quite believe it, their champion was dead!

A shepherd boy, had conquered, with a stone and with a prayer,

And with faith that moves a mountain, he became a giant slayer!