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Someone’s Coming (Part 2)

person holding red and brown gift box infront of Christmas tree inside the room
 
“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he turned and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’” Luke 19:5-8

On Monday we talked about visitors coming at night, company you didn’t expect. You have only so much time to get ready and your first thought might be to put the coffee on and get something to eat.  Or, you might choose instead try to clean up. Pick up the house and especially find the gifts. Let’s say that you know who’s coming down the driveway and you realize that they gave gifts the last time they were here. Where is the cutting board? Where is the clock? Is it running? Clean the house and make sure the gifts are out.

Zacchaeus must have also seen his house and his life as a gift. As we read in the text, Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, became very generous with the gifts he planned to give. Jesus’s visit changed everything for Zacchaeus. That night, Zacchaeus saw that everything in his house was already a gift from God. When he gave those gifts away, he understood that those gifts hadn’t changed in nature. Everything he had was a gift already. In giving it to the poor he was simply seeing still as a gift.

Zacchaeus’ generosity was a great act of re-gifting. Re-gifting in the very best way recognizes that this gift isn’t really best for us but would be better used by someone else. Everything we have is already a gift of God. Look around at our homes.  What is here that God hasn’t first given to us? And so, what we do with those gifts simply continues to keep them as his gifts as we share them with others. When we re-give these gifts, we wrap them with the thanks that God takes care of all our needs. His gifts are here every day and, even better, he fills our house with himself. He is still the one who says he must stay in our homes today.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you that everything is a gift from you. Help us to re-gift what you first gave to us.  Let us share the generous nature of Zacchaeus who gave freely to others. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Do Not Be Anxious

woman praying while leaning against brick wall
 
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Matthew 6:25-27

Some of Jesus’ words just cut so quickly to the heart of the matter:  “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Isn’t that the truth?  In fact, there’s a growing body of literature that anxiety can actually subtract from our hours of life on this earth.  I was recently perusing the Harvard Medical School website (impressive, huh?), and I read an article describing how one’s stress/anxiety level is inextricably linked to one’s physical health.

Ouch.  Anxiety has consequences.

But it’s important to realize that the reason for us not to be anxious is not that there isn’t anything to be anxious about.  There’s plenty to be anxious about:  Disease and death, financial problems and family problems, terrorism and violence.  The list goes on and on.

Rather, the reason for us not to be anxious is that we have a God and Savior who has promised to be with us, watch over us, and take care of us.  He feeds the birds.  He’ll feed us.  Not to mention, He forgives us for Christ’s sake and is preparing a place for us in eternity.

Trust God.  He’s trustworthy.

I’ve struggled with my share of anxiety over the years.  I still do.  I think I always will in this life.  It’s part of my fallen, sinful makeup.  But it has helped tremendously when I feel anxiety rising in my chest to be reminded of how my God has always taken care of me throughout my life.  Does He feed me?  Clothe me?  Forgive me?  Watch over me?  Love me?  Teach me?  Care for me?  Show me patience and understanding?  Answer my prayers?  

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

I feel the anxiety lessening already.  I hope you do, too.

Gracious Heavenly Father, sometimes I feel anxious.  I worry about small things and big things.  Forgive me.  Remind me of your love, forgiveness and protection.  Help me to trust You more and more each day.  In the name of Jesus who suffered and died for my sins, Amen. 


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Someone’s Coming (Part 1)

grayscale photo of crown in bassinet
 
“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’” Luke 19:5
 
I grew up on a dairy farm in western Minnesota. There were two sentences that got our family moving like nothing else. The first was: “The cows are out!”   It didn’t matter what you were doing, what you were wearing, or where you were going. That sentence got your full attention and all of us went to work to get the cows back inside the fences. The second sentence that got our attention was “Company’s coming!” We said this in the evening about 7:30 or even 8:00. That late in the evening, we didn’t expect anybody was going to come. But then we would see lights coming down the driveway. “Company’s coming!” was an electrifying idea.
 
We have much of the same situation as we watch Jesus come to the house of Zacchaeus today in our texts. So, if you realize someone’s coming and you only have a minute to get ready, which one of these would you choose to do? Put the coffee on and get something ready to eat with a company? Clean the house and bring out the gifts these people have given you? Or put on new clothes because you can’t meet them looking the way you do. Which one of those three would you do if you only had a minute to get ready?
 
Let’s start with putting on the coffee. You can’t really serve the coffee you made six hours ago that’s stone cold. Put on the good stuff. Someone’s coming, after all.  Zacchaeus must have felt the same way. Look who’s coming to the house tonight. Jesus is here and that must have taken all of Zacchaeus’ time and energy. Jesus would be the greatest gift and guest Zacchaeus would ever have. I think we can be sure that he brought out the very best he had and was glad to have a chance to give it to Jesus. The key was, “Look who’s here!” Zacchaeus was generous with the meal, I’m sure. But what was most amazing and generous was this thought:  Jesus has come to our house!
 
In this Advent time, when we are buying and giving gifts, we can remember to be like Zacchaeus. What matters is the One who has come to be with us. Because He is with us, we bring out the best in our houses. Our gifts are not the focus of attention. The great news is that Jesus has come to stay with us.
 
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, remind us that Someone is coming this Advent. Thank you that your Son has come and is coming again. Help us to be ready and remain focused on this great certainty: Someone is coming, coming again, for all of us, We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Generosity Flows from a Thankful Heart

yellow flowers decor
 
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:5-10
 
I love Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus. A grown man gets so excited about something that he climbs up into a tree. Zacchaeus is so happy to be in Jesus’ presence, and he doesn’t care what anyone has to say about it. Jesus doesn’t care, either, and he accompanies Zacchaeus to his home. Zacchaeus was the opposite of a generous man, an Ebenezer Scrooge of sorts. He would take what he wanted from people, and he would use his position as a tax collector to be able to justify it. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t care to act differently.

That is, until he met Jesus. When he met Jesus, everything changed. He met Generosity itself: God, willing to look past sin, greed, and selfishness to see a “son of Abraham” desperately in need of love.

Zacchaeus was so thankful to have received Jesus into his house that he changed in that moment. He wanted to be generous, like Jesus. And it started with money. He restored the money he stole- he didn’t really need it all anyway. But I am certain it went much further than a commitment to be honest with his finances and bless others financially. I am certain Zacchaeus started opening his heart and home to people as well. Generosity flows from a thankful heart, and once generosity has broken out in our lives, it cannot be contained.

Are you holding something back from others? Are you holding something back from God? Jesus is working his way deep into your life, and he is coming into your home. This Thanksgiving, be certain that Jesus is at table with you. He has invited himself into your home, and he is showering his abundant love and joy on you. He wants you to know the generous and contagious joy of God. Maybe you’ve already experienced the freedom that comes from thankfulness. If not, practice by giving thanks for all that you have received. When we give thanks for all we have received, we realize we need to be giving in the same way. Zacchaeus realized it, and he is a witness to us of the joy that flows from generosity, and the generosity that flows from thankfulness, and the thankfulness that comes from being in the presence of Jesus.

Jesus, you are with us. As we gather for our Thanksgiving celebrations, no matter how big or small our tables are this year, we know you are with us. We invite you to be at the center of our Thanksgiving, and bless us with the joy that comes from knowing you. Remind us that every day is a day to give thanks for the blessings you bestow, and we will be celebrating eternally the Feast that will never end in your presence. Amen.


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Good Old Days

round green fruits
 
They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”  And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.   Ezra 3:11-13  (ESV)

This is a description of the celebration at laying the foundation for rebuilding the temple after some 50,000 Jews returned from captivity in Babylon.  Just as Isaiah and Jeremiah had foretold, the Persian ruler Cyrus allowed Jewish exiles to return to their land with the temple artifacts that Nebuchadnezzar had confiscated when he destroyed Jerusalem.  But things got a little weird.  While the majority of the people expressed their joy with shouts of praise to God, those who had been deported as children and could remember the grandeur of the temple Solomon built wept aloud at this poor imitation.  You couldn’t tell celebration from sadness, we’re told.

Maybe that sounds a bit like Thanksgiving this year.  Like the old-timers in fifth century BC Jerusalem, some of us long for the good old days.  There was a time when Americans knew whom they were thanking at Thanksgiving.  The country was more Christian, more patriotic, more united.  Families were stronger.  Jobs were more secure.  Movies were more moral, and people worried less about crime.  And unlike this year, extended families once gathered around a Thanksgiving table.  There may well be some tears mingled with thanks this year.

We can learn something from the people of Ezra’s day.  When we look back at a life that seems in retrospect better than the now, thank God for the blessings we may have taken for granted.  When we look around at the challenges that confront us in the current culture, remember that we are God’s people on his mission.  When we look ahead, do so confident in the Lord’s promises and trusting in his love.  And then look up, always look up.  The God who gave us his Son to be our Savior is still in control.  The challenges we face, we do not face alone.  And the reasons for joy, for hope, for purpose in life remain the same.  As Ezra’s contemporary, Nehemiah, wrote: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for the blessings we have taken for granted.  Thank you for your presence amid our anxieties.  Thank you for the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus earned for us.  Now help us to live thankfully, rejoicing simply because we are your children.  Amen.

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