Christianity 201

April 18, 2013

Zacchaeus Meets The Christmas Story

Ever wondered what you were thinking when you wrote something years earlier?  This was first published at Thinking Out Loud in November, 2009.  I read this three times before I finally noticed what the reference is to the Christmas story. This has actually appeared here before as well, in 2011; I hope you don’t mind a repeat.

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-9 is the ultimate children’s Bible story. Think about, it’s got:

  • zacchaeusa short key character; kids can identify
  • a parade — or something similar — about to pass by
  • tree climbing; what kid doesn’t like that?
  • unlikely guy gets singled out for special treatment
  • Zacchaeus and Jesus have a tea party, at least according to the children’s song; actual serving of tea may have been unlikely
  • restitution of unfair trade practices; he did something bad and is going to make it right

But the tree climbing is the fun part of the story, so much so that we omit to notice the fact that respectable adults in the culture don’t climb trees. In the book Preaching the Parables to Postmoderns, Brian Stiller reminds of another story where we miss the cultural nuances.

Stiller notes that in the story of the prodigal son, the father sees his returning son in the distance and runs to meet him. To run meant to lift the lower hem of the tunics worn at that time, which would expose the ankles and lower leg. While that may not seem out of line with the bathrobes worn in most church plays you’ve seen, it in fact is out of line with norms in that society. Besides, the patriarchal head of household doesn’t run, period.

Zacchaeus climbs up a tree because he doesn’t want to miss Jesus. The father in the story of the two brothers runs because he doesn’t want to miss a moment with or hide his enthusiasm for the return of his lost son. Both actions involve a considerable loss of dignity on the part of both parties.

David understood this. Consider this account from II Samuel 6:

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

The line I like is verse 22: I will become even more undignified than this. Nothing reinforces this like the Matt Redman song,

I will dance I will sing
To be mad for my King
Nothing Lord is hindering
The passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more
Undignified than this
Some would say it’s foolishness but
I’ll become even more
Undignified than this

David’s removal of his outer garment ought to remind you of something else. Think about this moment from John 13:

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.

The outer garment that Jesus removed was the fine piece of clothing that symbolized his authority as a rabbi. Hours later, Roman soldiers would gamble for the chance to walk way with this prime specimen of clothing as a souvenir of their day’s work.

This action symbolized his servant leadership, but as he told Peter, there was a bigger picture yet to be grasped. I believe that the removal of his outer garment symbolizes something else entirely, as shown in Philippians 2:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor…

Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven — took of his outer robe — to enter into our human condition. But then, as John 13:12 shows us, he puts that outer robe back on, i.e. he returns to the glory he had known before at the right hand of the Father.

There are lots of words we could use to describe this, but the key one for today is that he made himself undignified.

Now, he invites you to find a place where you can lose your own dignity in order to accomplish his purposes in your generation.

I Samuel and John passages – NIV; Philippians passage – NLT

A edgier version of Undignified by David Crowder appears here

February 5, 2012

Just in Time for Valentine’s: Biblical Ways a Man Gets a Wife

Terrace Crawford‘s posted this the day prior to Valentine’s Day three years ago.  We have a lot of deeper topics here so I thought we’d start out with something light.  If you don’t recognize some of the the situations listed below, you can always look up the story.

  • Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
  • Find a prostitute and marry her. (Hosea 1:1-3)
  • Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock. (Moses – Exodus 2:16-21)
  • Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal. (Boaz-Ruth 4:5-10)
  • Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That’s right. Fourteen years of toil for a wife. (Jacob–Genesis 29:15-30)
  • Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife. (David–1 Samuel 18:27)
  • Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and definitely find someone. (It’s all relative, of course.) (Cain–Genesis4:16-17)
  • Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest. (Xerxes or Ahasuerus–Esther 2:3-4)
  • When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, “I have seen a … woman; now get her for me.” If your parents question your decision,simply say, “Get her for me. She’s the one for me.” (Samson–Judges 14:1-3)
  • Kill any husband and take HIS wife (Prepare to lose four sons, though).(David–2 Samuel 11)
  • Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It’s not just a good idea;it’s the law.) (Onana and Boaz–Deuteronomy or Leviticus, example in Ruth)
  • Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity. (Solomon–1 Kings11:1-3)
  • A wife?…NOT? (Paul–1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

As strange as many of these stories are, there are people who view the unique ways that God works in various in situations as prescriptive for everyone.  That’s not how it works.  God’s calling and outworking of His plan is special for each one of us, and because of God’s infinite infiniteness, he is able to nudge you in ways that will form your singular life journey. 

This applies to us both individually and corporately as the local church.

Sometimes churches try to create formulas following a particular Bible example or copying what God did in another congregation.  But the Bible knows no such carbon copy approach.  In the gospels, Jesus Himself heals two blind men in very different ways, and in His overall dealings with people, He deals with some gently and some harshly.

Hearing God’s voice for your life is going to involve listening to His Word and listening to His Spirit, not looking at what everybody else is doing. 

As the stores in the mall are filled with pink hearts, whether you are single or married or separated or widowed, let the decorations remind you of God’s love for you, and the unique things he wants to do in your life.

~Paul Wilkinson

December 19, 2011

You Can’t Dissect a Miracle

Today’s post is from David Kenney where it appeared today at his blog under the title The Mechanics of a Miracle.

“Just ’cause you understand the mechanics of how something works, doesn’t make it any less of a miracle…”

That was said by a man named Bill Compton. Bill is a civil war veteran, he’s fictional… and he’s a vampire. Yes, he’s actually a character on HBO’s True Blood (no, I have never watched the show, but I heard the quote today and liked it.)

But that quote above made me think a little more about the virgin birth. That’s what we should all be thinking about this week, right?

Matthew 1:18 (CEB) says,

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

Now, if you want to get “hung up” on the etymology of the virgin birth, go right ahead, but the bible says that Mary became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s a miracle, right?

A woman who had never had sex… became pregnant just through the power of God.

And the sad thing is, us theologians who claim to understand the “mechanics” of scripture, we “break it all down” into digestible chunks. The bible becomes a system of words and things we “understand.” And from those understandings we develop “doctrine.”

So here is my question…

Do you really want to turn the virgin birth into doctrine? Do you really want to turn the miracle of Christmas into mechanics?

In Luke 1:34 (CEB) Mary asks the angel about the mechanics…

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

and what does the Angel tell her in verse 35?

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.”

Does that explanation help? How did it happen?

Answer: it was a miracle.

Think about it this way, whenever a human being is born, someone “new” is created; and we call that a miracle. But when Jesus was born, that baby wasn’t new… but was the oldest living being. A being who had already previously existed before, was born.

And we think we can “fathom” or “understand” the mechanics of that miracle?

The virgin birth is also confirmed by the testimony of Jesus.

John 10:27-30 (CEB)

“My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Jesus gives testimony that he and God are equals. At this the teachers of his day pick up rocks to stone him. Jesus says, I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of those works do you stone me?”

The Jewish opposition answered, “We don’t stone you for a good work but for insulting God. You are human yet you make yourself out to be God.”

Ironically there are many today who wish to make Jesus a “human” again.

Jesus replies, “So how can you say that the one whom the Father has made holy and sent into the world insults God because he said, I am God’s Son?”

Jesus never said he was Joseph’s or Mary’s son. He never called himself a carpenter. No, when Jesus talked about himself, he said his home was in heaven and his Father was the author of the scriptures.

How can you or I claim to understand the mechanics of that? Even the people of Jesus’ day who knew him, lived side by side with him didn’t understand it, his own family didn’t even understand it (Mark 3:21) so how can we say that we do?

We’ve heard the Christmas story a million times, told a million ways from a million pastors – so I am sure the miracle can lose it’s luster, but let’s try to keep it in perspective….

When Jesus slept out under the stars on Christmas morning, he was looking up at a night sky that He made.

The one who calls himself the “ancient of days” was only hours old.

Let us not forget the miracle of Christmas!

* scripture taken from The Common English Bible

~David Kenney

November 27, 2011

Undignified: Zacchaeus Meets the Christmas Story

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-9 is the ultimate children’s Bible story. Think about, it’s got:

  • zacchaeusa short key character; kids can identify
  • a parade — or something similar — about to pass by
  • tree climbing; what kid doesn’t like that?
  • unlikely guy gets singled out for special treatment
  • Zacchaeus and Jesus have a tea party, at least according to the children’s song; actual serving of tea may have been unlikely
  • restitution of unfair trade practices; he did something bad and is going to make it right

But the tree climbing is the fun part of the story, so much so that we omit to notice the fact that respectable adults in the culture simply don’t climb trees. In the book Preaching the Parables to Postmoderns, Brian Stiller reminds of another story, a different story, where we miss the cultural nuances.

Stiller notes that in the story of the prodigal son, the father sees his returning son in the distance and runs to meet him. To run meant to lift the lower hem of the tunics worn at that time, which would expose the ankles and lower leg. While that may not seem out of line with the bathrobes worn in most church plays you’ve seen, it in fact is out of line with norms in that society. Besides, the patriarchal head of household doesn’t run, period.

Zacchaeus climbs up a tree because he doesn’t want to miss Jesus. The father in the story of the two brothers runs because he doesn’t want to miss a moment with or hide his enthusiasm for the return of his lost son. Both actions involve a considerable loss of dignity on the part of both parties.

David understood this. Consider this account from II Samuel 6:

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

Note especially verse 22: I will become even more undignified than this. Nothing reinforces this like the Matt Redman song,

David Danced by Steve PhelpsI will dance I will sing
To be mad for my King
Nothing Lord is hindering
The passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more
Undignified than this
Some would say it’s foolishness but
I’ll become even more
Undignified than this

David’s removal of his outer garment ought to remind you of something else. Think about this moment from John 13:

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” …

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.

The outer garment that Jesus removed was the fine piece of clothing that symbolized his authority as a rabbi. Hours later, Roman soldiers would gamble for the chance to walk way with this prime specimen of clothing as a souvenir of their day’s work.

This action symbolized his servant leadership, but as he told Peter, there was a bigger picture yet to be grasped. I believe that the removal of his outer garment symbolizes something else entirely, as remembered in Philippians 2:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor…

Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven — took of his outer robe — to enter into our human condition. But then, as John 13:12 shows us, he puts that outer robe back on, i.e. he returns to the glory he had known before at the right hand of the Father.

There are lots of words we could use to describe this, but the key one for today is that he made himself undignified.

Now, he invites you to find a place where you can lose your own pride and dignity in order to accomplish his purposes in your generation.

I Samuel and John passages – NIV; Philippians passage – NLT

This article appeared on November 3, 2009 at Thinking Out Loud

October 11, 2010

Believing The Impossible!

Today’s piece is from Lori Ettel, author of the devotional blog, A Display of His Splendor, and appeared under the title, “Superhero.”


“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine, your servant will go and fight him.” (1Samual 17:32)

Yesterday at soccer practice I had to laugh when I saw this little boy. He is three and is the cutest thing ever. He has blonde curly hair and is such a dude. When I saw him, I told him he’s going to be surfer…that’s what he looks like. And he replied boldly, “No I’m not. I’m going to be Spiderman!!” I love it. He was so doggone cute! That is such a boy statement.

It reminded me of David and Goliath. Here the Philistines thought their guy was bigger and tougher. They thought they had it in the bag. The Israeli army was buying it too. They were so intimidated by Goliath’s size. They were frightened and no one would step forward to fight. They just stood there. Along comes David. He’s not afraid. He’ll fight Goliath.

Now, David was the youngest among his brothers. He was sent simply to bring them food. He wasn’t planning to fight that day. But when he got there and saw what was going on, he couldn’t believe it. He knew his God was bigger than Goliath. He knew that he could do anything with God backing him up. Everyone thought David was just young and stupid. But in reality, he knew the one with the Super powers. He knew that only God could defeat Goliath. He had child-like faith. Everyone around him was older and wiser…hmmm. But David had faith.

I think it’s interesting that as we get older, we become less likely to believe the unbelievable. We become so full of wisdom and knowledge; we don’t think God can do the impossible. We start off as children thinking we can do anything. But as we age, we become more afraid. Aren’t we supposed to be more grounded in the Lord as we grow older? Aren’t we supposed to be less afraid as we grow older? Instead, we fear more. Is it because we are wiser and have seen the truth of life? I think we have started depending on what we see and not depending so much on what is unseen. We have limited the power of God and taken over. We have become so self-sufficient. We think if we cannot do a task, it simply cannot be done. We have stopped relying on God. We have stopped believing in His power. We are too willing to accept defeat.

I love that a little three year old boy reminded me that he is not afraid of anything. He truly believes he can do anything. He can’t wait to grow up and be Spiderman. Something happens to us as we grow older. We lose that ability to believe that God can do anything. The bible is full of magnificent stories of God and His power. But we don’t really believe them, do we? Oh they are nice stories but God doesn’t work like that anymore does He? We don’t believe He can. God is not any less powerful or willing to show His power. I believe we simply don’t expect it. God is so big. He is able. He is a Superhero!

He is able more than able
To accomplish what concerns me today
He is able more than able
To handle anything that comes my way

He is able more than able
To do much more than I could ever dream
He is able more than able
To make me what He wants me to be