"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Sinner's Guest

"And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich."
Luke 19:2

Not only a tax collector, but chief among them.  A tax collector of tax collectors.  His presence emanated authority and power.  The swarms of the common people avoided him as if he were a Roman soldier, and the reason why was obvious when taxes were collected.  Whether or not his demands were fair and legal, the people had no choice but to comply.  Yes, Zacchaeus was a rich man.

The tax collector's height (or lack thereof) rarely bothered him.  When taxes were collected, his small stature was of no consequence: the commoners spoke to him with respect (and a reasonable dose of fear) and surrendered to him all that he required.

But today wasn't tax day.

With excitement, anticipation, and a hint of revengeful glee, the throngs of people thrust Zacchaeus aside.  Aware of his lack of popularity, the tax collector of tax collectors entered the current of people advancing toward a welcome Guest.

The waves surrounding him seemed to enjoy his plight.  His money - rightfully theirs - didn't help him right now, and the commoners certainly weren't going to.  They didn't owe him this time.  They knew today wasn't tax day.

In frustration, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a closer look.  He felt more comfortable when he was higher than the common people.  Now in plain view, Zacchaeus soon felt the familiar stares of contempt.  Soon, he noticed Someone else staring at him - but not with contempt.

The children's song tells what happened next: "I'm going to your house today," the Guest told the shunned chief of tax collectors.

Today was grace day.

As Zacchaeus' door closed behind him and his honored Guest, disapproval grumbled through the crowd.  After waiting for the Teacher to change His mind, the commoners returned to their normal business, complaining to each other in disbelief: "'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner'" (Luke 19:7).

A few lingered longer, marveling that such a Guest would stoop to let such a sinner be His host.  At last, these, too, continued on their way, their blinded hearts still judging.  They could not yet see the change taking place in sinner Zacchaeus' heart.  They did not understand that the Guest came in search of stained sinner hearts, including their own.

One day they would marvel again.  The Guest would return to other sinner hearts...and never leave.

'"Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."'
Revelation 3:20

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, March 7, 2014

When They Drive You Crazy

I've heard it many times: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).  For years, I have assumed this verse is about the mutual relationships between good friends.  Friends who love each other.  Laugh together.  Actually like each other.  Friends who had polite, deep, encouraging, stimulating, uplifting conversations.

Doesn't that sound great?

Don't get me wrong.  This kind of friend is wonderful, and I am very blessed to have some of these friendships in my life.  But on deeper thought, I don't think Solomon had my warm, inviting scenario in mind when he penned Proverbs 27:17.

Straightforward Sharpening
The verse itself is very straightforward, but not very detailed: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  There are no qualifiers.  The text doesn't call for people who are "equally yoked" or "equally mature," and it doesn't seem to be describing relationships that would be considered "mutually beneficial."  Nope.  Just "one man sharpens another."  Any man sharpens any other?  That's a broad brush.

Judging by the little I know about sharpening something, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a pleasant process.  Sharpening is accomplished through constant pressure and a lot of friction.  It causes heat and makes a terrible noise.

Is this how you would describe your relationship with your BFF?

What If...
Could it be that we are sharpened in every relationship?  Is it possible that the annoying person who seems to follow you around - the one you've told yourself you are influencing for the better - is shaping you, too?

That guy who always misunderstands what you say, always challenges your points, or maybe just plain gets on your nerves – could he be sharpening you?
It’s an interesting thought.  What if the interruptions other people cause in our plans, the differences in others' personalities, and the many (but minor) inconveniences others bring our way...are all part of iron sharpening iron?  After all, if any man sharpens any other, then maybe that pesky person you can’t avoid may be the sharpest sharpener in your life.

Day In and Day Out
Do you know how easy it would be for me to be kind when no one bothered me?  Do you know how effortlessly I could be patient when no one messed up my plans?  It would be so easy to be loving when there was no one to push the limits of that love.

But it would be empty.

I cannot be kind without being kind to someone.  I cannot be patient without being patient with someone.  And love has no meaning without an object of that love--a person.

An individual, made in the image of God, with their own desires, personality, strengths, weaknesses...and, yes, sin.

That would require kindness.  Patience.  Love.

Sometimes we are called to represent Christ to people who drive us crazy.  We can't do it once per person or once a month and then check it off a list.  We are called to represent Him wherever we are and whoever we are with, day in, day out, no matter how difficult the other person is.  Day in and day out, others' grating attitudes or personal idiosyncrasies will often continue to eat at us.

Annoying, yes.  But we'll be sharper for it.