Monday, November 8, 2010

Conform or Reform?

You're a short little guy, generally despised by most you come across because of your line of work. Your history precedes you in that it has often times left a bitter taste in the mouth of those who come in contact with you. Rarely do people want to speak with you and when someone does, they are quick to assume the worst and cast you down as the short little thief your reputation makes you out to be. Desperate to change you seek to speak to the one man you have been told can change your world and cause you to be restored to what men ought be like. Desperate for His attention amidst a growing crowd, you frantically climb a tree in hopes of just catching a glimpse of the Man you seek to hear from. Being counted as the last person on the planet you think He would speak to, you sit, while among a crowd, alone, on the branch of a sycamore tree.

The story should sound familiar to most. It is the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10. Below is the section of scripture, take a moment to read it:

1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

The passage is quick to mention the status of Zacchaeus in society and with good reason. Luke, the author of this book and also the book of Acts, is very good with details. And it's important that he mention that this man was a "chief tax collector, and he was rich" to point out the state of this man's image in society. To anyone on the street, this man was despised. No one liked the tax collectors in those days and this fact is plainly seen once we reach verse 7 where we see some asking themselves, "Why on earth would Jesus go talk to that guy?" When I read verse 7, it reminds me a lot of myself and so many of us who often times are guilty of placing labels on others without first considering the heart. The bible is clear that the heart's position is one of the most important things to God (Prov 15:11, Psalm 51:16-17, 1 Sam 16:7). In a sense, the story is somewhat similar to David's when this young shepherd boy would eventually become king. Even Samuel, a man of God, was quick to want to write off David as the chosen king simply by his stature and place in his household. In the same way, the people in this crowd do the same.

Now my question to you is this: Why didn't Jesus say to Zaccchaeus, "Hey you! Sinner boy! Get down from that tree and drop to your knees and worship before I backhand you into the book of John." Why wasn't Jesus quick to write this man off? I think all of us, myself included can gain some serious wisdom from this. See when Jesus spoke with Zacchaeus, He had every right to condemn him and send him running in broken fear, however, his approach was different. Rather than do what the rest of the world would do, Jesus went the opposite direction of the world and did what He knew was what would please the Father. Romans 12:1-2 tells us not to be conformed to the things of this world, and in that it includes the way this world tends to treat the least respected and the less fortunate. It has been said that can tell how a society acts by way of how it treats the least among them.

These days if there is a group that is frowned upon by most, it is the youth of this world. What some of us fail to see in these troubling days is how under attack they are. The enemy is no fool. What better way to destroy a nation, to destroy a civilization by destroying those who will eventually take over. He is no fool and in his plan he will spare none. In today's school system ideas like evolution, safe-sex, and ideas of relative truth are pumped into the soft, malleable minds of youth and rather than act out in response to this, many of us often write them off and label them hopeless. What we need to remember is something I have been learning from Ezekiel 37 where God asks Ezekiel if the dry bones can live, his response to God, "Oh Lord only you know." We must have the same attitude when we approach the least likely among them. Rather than see them as arguers, grumblers and rebellious, we should see them as whosoevers (John 3:16), we ought see them as who they really are, people created in the image of God.

A lot of people these days harp on things like Christian hard rock music, or christian rap, claiming that such music is a christians way of compromising and going the way of the world. Some tend to throw out the word "seeker friendly" to describe such efforts. While I agree that there is a line that must be drawn between this world and the church, it is equally important that we as christians begin gripping the statement Paul makes in 1 Cor 9:19-23. To the jew he became jew, to the greek, greek. What does that mean? Does it mean that in order to reach a drunk, I need to become a drunk, no. However, it does mean that if I am to reach a drunk, first I mustn't write them off due to their drunkenness, but instead figure out by which avenue I can reach them in order to inject the gospel. In the same way, how else am I going to reach those pockets of society who are so deep into a thing, without first stepping into that world, with caution of course, to determine what it is keeps them in their state and also determine, through Christ, how I can get them out of it.

A lot of us tend to pass judgement on people without first considering the heart, and to me, if the heart is pure in the sight of God, then the work that results from it will show. From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Like Jesus, we must meet people where they are at, establish common ground, because if not, we are elitists who are looking to increase in number. Instead, we ought to take the Christ approach and humble ourselves. Be willing to dine with the least of these in order that their house might come to salvation. Notice Jesus didn't become a tax collector, He didn't take part in the act of tax collecting, instead, He lived out the what He was preaching and let that speak for itself while he ate with Zaccheaus. He let His light shine on His behalf.

I know I don't do that. In fact in many cases my mind tends to count someone or something beyond the grip of God, however, His hand isn't short that He can't save (Isaiah 59:1). We get so caught up in endless arguments of how things should and shouldn't be and we'll

We ought do the same. Let us stop passing judgement and start figuring out how it is we might do more to be Christ-like and live out in our lives the very gospel we sometimes tend to use as a baseball bat instead of as the heart-piercing sword it was meant to be. Keep in mind though, that in all of this, it takes some serious spiritual maturity and discernment to figure out where you should and shouldn't be. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. We can't simply justify doing something just by claiming it in Jesus name, we need to spend some time seeking the Lord in prayer and study to at least get an idea of the direction we should go in. Once you have that, then, like Nehemiah, ride the waves of your convictions, building whatever wall you must build, knowing God is behind you.

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