Poor Zacchaeus

I feel a bit sorry for Zacchaeus. He was from Jericho and a tax collector in Jesus’ time. It’s a bit like being a banker in our time. We might think of bankers as these people who don’t do much and yet still receive huge bonuses, but I’m sure there are some honourable bankers.

Many in Zacchaeus’ profession would have collected taxes for the Romans and taken some extra for themselves. Maybe if people struggled to pay, they made the fines really steep, increasing them on a daily basis. That’s what most people seem to think of Zacchaeus – that he was a liar and a cheat, but …

What if Zacchaeus was an honourable tax collector?

Have you heard his story? When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus was too short to see over the crowd’s heads, so he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped at the bottom of the tree and beckoned him to come down, inviting Himself to his house. Zacchaeus gladly welcomes Him and hearing the crowd’s complaints, he stands there and says: “I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more” (Luke 19:8).

If I have cheated anyone.

Poor Zacchaeus. All these people, even thousands of years later, thinking he lived his pre-Jesus life as a liar and a cheat, but we don’t know for sure. We know he was wealthy (Luke 19:2), but perhaps he was wealthy simply because of the salary the Romans gave him. Either way, his encounter with Jesus filled him with generosity. How many of us would give half our possessions to the poor?

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Jesus Never Said, “You are a Sinner”

In my previous post, we looked at the call of Peter in Luke 5:1-11. In verse 8, Peter says to Jesus: “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” Hearing those words, it struck me: It wasn’t Jesus who said, “You are a sinner”; it was Peter who acknowledged his sinfulness.

In fact, Jesus never said “You are a sinner” to anyone.

But what about the woman who was caught committing adultery? John 8:3-11. In her case, He said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He had a problem with the way she was living, not with her as a person.

I was reminded of a book I read recently – “Out of a far Country”. It’s about Christopher – a former homosexual drug-dealer who became a Christian. He wrote about Leviticus 18:22 – the part in the Bible where it says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” When he actually read the verse, Christopher discovered it was an abomination. He and his friends had always got the message from Christians that they were an abomination, but it wasn’t them as people God hated; it was the act of homosexuality. I’m deeply sorry that for so many years, he carried around the wrong message, and considered himself unwelcome and unloved. I think that’s why it’s so important for me and my Christian family to know what the Word of God says, and to give people the right idea of God and how He feels about them.

If you’re in a place today where you’re thinking: “Go away from me, Lord. I’m full of sin!” how about following Peter’s example? When Jesus told him not to be afraid and offered him a new life, Peter left his old life behind in favour of all that Jesus had for him.

The Thing They had to Offer

Have you ever had a moment when you were reading two books at the same time, and there seemed to be a recurring theme? This happened to me with Renee Swope’s “A Confident Heart Devotional” and Kenneth E. Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes” (and by the way, I would thoroughly recommend both).

Day 44 in Renee’s devotional really stuck with me because it’s written with such empathy. It’s about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, who was from Samaria, and Renee calls her Sam because “it makes her feel more like the woman she really was.” In John 4:7, Jesus asked her for a drink. Renee writes: “Jesus asked Sam for the one thing she had to offer.” Coming to the well at the hottest part of the day to escape the accusations of others, she must have felt she had nothing to give, but sitting by a well, there was one thing she did have – water.

In chapter 11 of “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, Bailey concentrates on the call of Peter. Peter (initially known as Simon) was a fisherman, who became one of Jesus’ closest friends. In Luke 5:3, Jesus asked Simon to row a little way from shore, then He sat in the boat and taught the people. Bailey writes that Luke’s readers will know Peter ‘Owes Him one’ because Jesus had just healed his mother-in-law, but there was more to it. Jesus was requesting Peter’s help – his considerable rowing skills. Peter didn’t have anything else; he’d just fished all night and caught nothing, but he did have his boat, and the ability to row. I was instantly reminded of Sam … and the one thing she had to offer.

Have you considered that Jesus could be asking the same of you – that ‘Thing you have to offer’, whatever it might be? For me, I think one of those things is my love of words, and the desire to share what I’ve learnt with others. I don’t know what it is for you, but are you willing to use it for the glory of God?

Selfishness

One of the highlights of my week is helping out with Open the Book – an organisation that partners with Bible Society to bring Bible-stories to children in primary schools. We have various volunteers throughout the town and we’re in most of the schools now.

This week, we’re telling the children the story of Peter and John at the temple gate, healing a lame man in the name of Jesus. Its point is that Jesus cared about everyone, even those who were ignored by others.

I thought I’d give us the same message we’re giving the children – to think what we can do, today or tomorrow, to help somebody. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Isn’t that a good way to combat the selfishness in the world?

Something New from Something Old

Have you ever done something because you thought it was the right thing to do, but soon discovered it wasn’t workable?

I love the Bible, and as a young Christian, I thought the best thing to do with that love of God’s Word was to go to Bible-college. As a blind person, I was relatively slow on the technology front; I hadn’t even graduated to Email or the Internet. There were no eBooks, and no accessible devices enabling blind people to read them. I needed my books in Braille or audio. My Disabled Students Allowance got me a laptop, and a Braille embosser (a large machine that converts text from the PC into Braille) for the college to keep.

The college had never enrolled a student who was visually-impaired, so they misunderstood what Braille was. Braille comprises 6 dots. Different combinations of those dots make up the letters of the alphabet. Brailing a book requires someone to type or scan text into a computer, and send it to the Braille embosser (like you would send a document to a printer). However many times I tried to explain, staff saw Braille as akin to another language. They weren’t happy with non-Christians brailing any part of a textbook, in case something got lost in translation. This meant no one from outside of the college could come in and do the work, so it would fall to staff or students.

While we waited for the Braille embosser, some students spent a couple of hours a week reading textbooks onto cassette. Mum did some reading too, back at home, and sent tapes through the post. In my first lectures, we were told how to write an essay. I would have to cite the page-number for every quotation I wanted to use. There were none on the cassettes which had already been made, and from that point on, whomever read aloud would have to remember to say the number every time they turned the page! I had to listen to everything and couldn’t scan-read as a sighted person would, so the college agreed to a more specific reading-list for each essay, but lecturers would promise said list and never actually come up with the goods. I realise lecturers have their own commitments aside from Bible-college, but that doesn’t help the student. After a couple of months, the logistical nightmare proved too much. It wasn’t just doing the course; it was getting the support I needed in order to do it. Some people are far better at banging the table to get what they want than I am!

More recently, I thought about going to a different Bible-college nearer home and trying again. Because of my previous experience, I had a far better idea of what I needed. The college were very gracious and said it was possible to do the first year of a degree course online, but in order to do the entire degree, I would need access to books that were only available in print. Having that information first time around would have saved a lot of heartache. It’s only thanks to God that I can say I don’t have any regrets.

While I was at that Bible-college far away from home, representatives from the charity CSW came to talk to us about the persecuted church. Their words about North Korea stayed with me. A year later I wrote this song, which ended up on my first album. God never wastes anything. I was a mess; everything seemed to have crumbled, but out of that came such a special song – one that made me think: “I want this to be heard. I want to raise awareness of what these people are going through.” If it wasn’t for “North Korea”, I wouldn’t have made one album, let alone two and one-on-the-way. Aren’t you glad God can take something old and unusable, to bring out of it something new and worthwhile?

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Compassion’s partnership with CardFunder inspired this post. Click here to see how they can use the leftover money from your old gift cards to meet the needs of children in poverty.

First Came Rest

God seems to be teaching me about rest just lately. Today my pastor was talking at church about something Jesus said. I’ve just looked this up and it’s not the wording I’m used to, but I like it: “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept My teachings and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives” (Matthew 11:28-29). First it struck me that in Jesus’ order of things, resting and being refreshed comes before learning; then I got to thinking it’s always been like that … ever since the beginning.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:2-3). God didn’t launch straight into giving Adam instructions on how to take care of the garden. First came rest, for God and all of His creation; then came the learning.

If you’re tired, maybe the best thing you can do right now is to put on your slippers and make yourself a hot drink, or turn on the electric blanket and lie down enjoying the warmth. The learning can wait for a little while; just take that time, and let the Lord refresh you from your weariness.

A Letter from Jesus

It’s awhile since we’ve had a Compassion-related post, so if you’re new to this blog, you might wonder why ‘Compassion’ features in the title. Compassion as an organisation seeks to bring children out of poverty through child-sponsorship. Maybe you’re sceptical about child-sponsorship and thinking: How would they make sure my money got to the right place? To answer that, Compassion is Christ-centred, child-focused, church-based, and committed to financial integrity, so Compassion’s centres are run by local churches – those on the ground, who are best-placed to know the specific needs of their communities. My own Compassion-family are all around the world and I love them dearly.

One area I’ve never sponsored in though is South America. I’m delighted to be a Compassion-blogger and this week, some of my fellow-bloggers have gone to Ecuador. They’re there primarily to put their experiences into words – to share with anyone who’ll listen what it’s like in one of the 26 countries where Compassion works. Perhaps their posts are aimed at newbies, but as a seasoned sponsor myself, I find them just as encouraging. Ashley met a man whose sponsor had asked what his dream was (I think I’m going to ask my eldest that), and Ruth’s post on the theme of letters reminded me of something Paul said in the Bible.

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone,” says Paul. “You show that you are a letter from Christ sent through us.” Every time we show love to someone, we’re a letter from Jesus straight to them. My fellow-bloggers get to show that love in person this week in Ecuador; I get to do it through child-sponsorship.

And the exciting part?

You can too. Bri wrote that she waited too long to sponsor her first child. I know it takes some thought because it’s a long-term commitment, but please, don’t wait too long. Maybe now’s the perfect time to choose a child and start writing those letters of love, from your heart to theirs.

Link

I must share Robyn’s post with you, because it taught me something new about Jesus’ family. She writes about their stay in Bethlehem: “Why they didn’t make room for a girl about to deliver a baby is still a mystery”, which made me think. If she’s right (and I think she is) that the inn where they sought refuge was owned by Joseph’s relatives – after all, Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown; that’s why they were there, then surely under normal circumstances, those relatives would have made room for Mary. The fact they went out of their way not to seems to me like a snub: A statement that she’s not welcome in their home, this girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. It seems they had no faith in Joseph’s choice to stand by her, and no compassion for them after such a long journey, not to even give them a warm bed for the night. How different it might have been if their extended family had taken them in, and listened over breakfast the next day, as both Mary and Joseph told of being visited by angels and of their special child who was to come.

Instead, they and Jesus were ostracised; put in the stable away from the rest of the household. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be despised and rejected by men, and He was, before He was even born into the world. I hope my heart doesn’t do the same. Please help us, Lord, to make room for You in our lives this Christmas.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Self-Control

“But the fruit of the Spirit is … self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Self-control.

That might seem a strange passage to highlight in this series, but its truth has helped me a lot. We’re told the Spirit and the flesh are against each other. One of my fleshly weaknesses? I haven’t always been great at coping when things didn’t go according to plan, particularly when the situation could have been avoided if I’d had my eyesight. It would be so easy for me to rest on my laurels and say: “That’s the way I am. Too bad if people can’t accept it,” but that’s not what God expects. Like fruit on a tree, He expects the qualities His Spirit produces in us to grow, including self-control. I really appreciate that God wants me to aspire to something better – to being like Christ.

“He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is” (1 John 3:2).

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As a thank-you for being a reader who’s supported Write31Days, you could enter the Dayspring.com giveaway to win a $500 shopping spree on their website. It’s open till the end of the month.

31 Jesus-Benefits: A Positive Change

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).

Day 21 and time to focus on one of the ways my faith has affected me:

I’ve become more outward-looking.

Previously I had been happy to absorb myself in the music I listened to, TV or writing for pleasure, but the first thing I wanted to do as a Christian was to help other people. That’s played out in several different ways, but one that comes to mind is the children I sponsor through Compassion. Compassion works in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. At school I had no interest in geography whatsoever. It was one of my worst subjects and I dropped it as soon as I could. Had I been a Compassion-sponsor back then, things might have been different. Now I love to read about Compassion Bloggers travelling to far-off places, or I find myself wondering: “What’s the weather like in India?” or “What’s the capital of Ecuador?” (it’s Quito, by the way). I can only thank God for this positive change in me.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness” (Galatians 5:22).

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As we’ve talked about Compassion in this post, there’s a book I’d like to give away to one of my readers. The author is Compassion’s former president, Wess Stafford (if you’ve read his autobiography you’ll love him). This book is “Just a Minute”, and it’s about the impact our words can have when we spend just a minute with a child. If you want to leave a comment, to do with children or impacting those around you, I’ll announce a winner on October 31st. Don’t forget there’s also the Dayspring.com $500 giveaway if you want to enter that one.