Overcoming rejection with Zacchaeus

“No one likes me, I’m a reject” is the lie we all believe at one time or other. We can overcome it with Zacchaeus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 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 19:1-10

Even if he’s in the midst of a crowd, Jesus’ only focus is on a small man who’s feeling like a reject. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were seen to be dishonest cheaters and were hated by many. Zacchaeus was hiding in a tree but Jesus saw him and had his focus on him.

When you feel like a reject in the middle of a crowded place and you feel like you don’t fit in, and when you see that everyone else gets more attention than you, you need to know something. Jesus isn’t focused on the thousands who are accepted, happy, and have it all figured out. He is focused on you. Even if you’re surrounded by people you think to be better and more worthy than you, Jesus chooses to set his eyes on you and to make you the center of his attention.

Even if religion and church has rejected you, then it means that Jesus wants to come and visit you at your house. Seriously. He doesn’t even tell Zacchaeus “Hey, I know another place where you can go in and be accepted and you can hang out there.” Jesus doesn’t send Zacchaeus somewhere else to feel accepted. Jesus wants Zacchaeus for Himself. He wants to be a real friend to Zacchaeus. So, it’s as if Jesus tells him, “Hey, let’s go home. I know that the temples around you are so religious and corrupt and they don’t really like you, so we’ll stay home. I don’t even want to go into those temples either. I would prefer to come to your house. I’m going to come over, not just for a little bit, but I want to stay there with you all day. We’ll talk like friends at your place. We’ll talk about your hurt and your pains. We’ll talk about what’s bothering you. We’ll fix things and from that point onward, you’ll feel better and your life will get better. I’m not going to accuse you or put you down. While we’re talking together, if there’s any wrongs you feel you still need to make right, I’ll help you do that. “

Take me to church?

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Galatians 1:15-17

After his experience with Jesus, Paul was led by the Spirit to go to an Arabian desert rather than to go see the original apostles. They were right there but Paul did not go see them. The church of Jesus was situated in one direction but Paul went away into Arabia. It shows us that God doesn’t always lead us to a church or to church leaders to find Him. Sometimes he leads us into a dry and silent desert instead so that we can find and experience more of Him there, away from any church setting. If God knows that we will experience more of Him in a more authentic way in the Arabian desert instead of a church, then that is best for us for the time being.

The Arabian desert provided something for Paul in his relationship with God that not even the original apostles could have given him, which is why the Spirit did not lead Paul to them. Paul might not have become the apostle that he was if it was not for his years spent away from church and in the Arabian desert. Don’t feel that if you’re not in a church or not living a church lifestyle that you’re out of God’s plan, lost your calling, no longer His, or no longer led by His Spirit. This was not the case for Paul and is not the case for you either.

A Revelation 12 Christmas

 

A revelation/spiritual realm perspective of the Christmas story from the book “The Jesus I Never Knew”

There is one more view of Christmas I have never seen on a Christmas card, probably because no artist, not even William Blake, could do it justice. Revelation 12 pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of Christmas as it must have looked from somewhere far beyond Andromeda: Christmas from the angels’ viewpoint.

The account differs radically from the birth stories in the Gospels. Revelation does not mention shepherds and an infanticidal king; rather, it pictures a dragon leading a ferocious struggle in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of twelve stars cries out in pain as she is about to give birth. Suddenly the enormous red dragon enters the picture, his tail sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky and flinging them to the earth. He crouches hungrily before the woman, anxious to devour her child the moment it is born. At the last second the infant is snatched away to safety, the woman flees into the desert, and all-out cosmic war begins.

In daily life two parallel histories occur simultaneously, one on earth and one in heaven. Revelation, however, views them together, allowing a quick look behind the scenes. On earth a baby was born, a king got wind of it, a chase ensued. In heaven the Great Invasion had begun, a daring raid by the ruler of the forces of good into the universe’s seat of evil.

As a Christian I believe that we live in parallel worlds. One world consists of hills and lakes and barns and politicians and shepherds watching their flocks by night. The other consists of angels and sinister forces – and somewhere out there places called heaven and hell. One night in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, those two worlds came together at a dramatic point of intersection. God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space. God, who knows no boundaries took on the shocking con-fines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality.

 

 

 

The temptation requests were not evil

The temptation requests in the desert that were made to Jesus were not evil requests in themselves. Jesus’ response to these requests reveal to us how much He values free will and unforced love. Here are some quotes from the book “The Jesus I Never Knew”.

Satan asked Jesus to turn a stone into bread, offered him all the kingdoms of the world, and urged him to jump from a high place in order to test God’s promise of physical safety. Where is the evil in these requests? The three temptations seem like Jesus’ prerogatives, the very qualities to be expected in a Messiah. Would not Jesus go on to multiply bread for five thousand, a far more impressive display? He would also conquer death and rise again to become King of Kings. The three temptations do not seem evil in themselves—and yet clearly something pivotal happened in the desert.

As I look back on the three temptations, I see that Satan proposed an enticing improvement. He tempted Jesus toward the good parts of being human without the bad: to savor the taste of bread without being subject to the fixed rules of hunger and of agriculture, to confront risk with no real danger, to enjoy fame and power without the prospect of painful rejection—in short, to wear a crown but not a cross. (The temptation that Jesus resisted, many of us, his followers, still long for.)

Why not go with the temptation? The Roman authorities distributed free bread to promote Caesar’s kingdom, and Jesus could do the same to promote his…

Jesus had but to give a nod of agreement and he could have constructed Christendom, not on four shaky Gospels and a defeated man nailed on a Cross, but on a basis of sound socio- economic planning and principles…. Every utopia could have been brought to pass, every hope have been realized and every dream been made to come true. What a benefactor, then, Jesus would have been. Instead, he turned the offer down on the ground that only God should be worshipped.

As Muggeridge sees it, the Temptation revolved around the question uppermost in the minds of Jesus’ countrymen: What should the Messiah look like? A People’s Messiah who could turn stones into bread to feed the multitudes? A Torah Messiah, standing tall at the lofty pinnacle of the temple? A King Messiah, ruling over not just Israel but all the kingdoms of earth? In short, Satan was offering Jesus the chance to be the thundering Messiah we think we want.

The Temptation in the desert reveals a profound difference between God’s power and Satan’s power. Satan has the power to coerce, to dazzle, to force obedience, to destroy. Humans have learned much from that power, and governments draw deeply from its reservoir. With a bullwhip or a billy club or an AK-47, human beings can force other human beings to do just about anything they want. Satan’s power is external and coercive.

 God’s power, in contrast, is internal and noncoercive. “You would not enslave man by a miracle, and craved faith given freely, not based on miracle,” said the Inquisitor to Jesus in Dostoevsky’s novel. Such power may seem at times like weakness. In its commitment to trans- form gently from the inside out and in its relentless dependence on human choice, God’s power may resemble a kind of abdication. As every parent and every lover knows, love can be rendered powerless if the beloved chooses to spurn it.

 The miracles Satan suggested, the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I yearn for—these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him. All this Jesus must have known as he faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing his mighty power on the energy of restraint.

God made himself weak for one purpose: to let human beings choose freely for themselves what to do with him

Jesus uses no manipulation or pressure

Several church leaders today would do well to learn from Jesus’ ways rather than to engage in manipulative and spiritually abusive tactics with church members. Here are some quotes from the book “The Jesus I Never Knew” that show us how Jesus never puts any emotional pressure on others.

As I survey the rest of Jesus’ life, I see that the pattern of restraint established in the desert persisted throughout his life. I never sense Jesus twisting a person’s arm. Rather, he stated the consequences of a choice, then threw the decision back to the other party. He answered a wealthy man’s question with uncompromising words and then let him walk away. Mark pointedly adds this comment: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

We sometimes use the term “savior complex” to describe an unhealthy syndrome of obsession over curing others’ problems. The true Savior, however, seemed remarkably free of such a complex. He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in his lifetime or to cure people who were not ready to be cured. In Milton’s words, Jesus “held it more humane, more heavenly first / By winning words to conquer willing hearts, / And make persuasion do the work of fear.”

In short, Jesus showed an incredible respect for human freedom. When Satan asked for the chance to test Peter and sift him as wheat, even then Jesus did not refuse the request. His response: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” When the crowds turned away and many disciples deserted him, Jesus said to the Twelve, almost plaintively, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” As his life moved toward doom in Jerusalem, he exposed Judas but did not try to pre-vent his evil deed—that, too, a consequence of restraint.

This quality of restraint in Jesus—one could almost call it a divine shyness—took me by surprise. I realized, as I absorbed the story of Jesus in the Gospels, that I had expected from him the same qualities I had met in the southern fundamentalist church of my child-hood. There, I often felt the victim of emotional pressures. Doctrine was dished out in a “Believe and don’t ask questions!” style. Wielding the power of miracle, mystery, and authority, the church left no place for doubt. I also learned manipulative techniques for “soul-winning,” some of which involved misrepresenting myself to the person I was talking to. Yet now I am unable to find any of these qualities in the life of Jesus.

How could a church founded by the One who withstood the Temptation carry out an Inquisition of forced belief that lasted half a millennium? Meanwhile, in a milder Protestant version in the city of Geneva, officials were making attendance at church compulsory and refusal to take the Eucharist a crime. Heretics there, too, were burned at the stake.

Sometimes the church grows its own mini-Hitlers, men with names like Jim Jones and David Koresh, who understand all too well the power represented in miracle, mystery, and authority. And some-times the church simply borrows the tools of manipulation perfected by politicians, salesmen, and advertising copywriters.

I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us. “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself,” Jesus said. In case we miss the point John adds, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” God’s nature is self-giving; he bases his appeal on sacrificial love.

The dream where God told me to leave

During the months that led up to my eventual departure from the financially and spiritually abusive leader at the church I attended, I received a dream that stuck with me.

In this dream, I was alone inside the church and a very tall, handsome, and strong looking man came up to me. He was smiling and seemed happy. He told me “Do not submit, do not obey”. 

I was so programmed by my abusive leader that my first reaction to this dream was that I thought a nice looking man would enter the church and deceive people into not submitting to and obeying our leader, the Apostle as he demanded to be called. 

The words this tall and happy man spoke were important because the church environment was one where the Apostle consistently emphasized how we were all to be sumissive and obedient to him. To not obey him was not to obey God and to call upon ourselves curses and demonic attacks. He distorted the real Biblical principles of submission and obedience to control us with fear. 

Now, back to the dream. The dream finally became clear to me after discussing it with a woman from the church who had a prophetic gift. We discovered that the dream represented an angel of God that was sent to me in order to tell me to no longer submit to or obey the leader of the church. His smile and happy composure are a reflection of the joy, peace, and comfort that faith in God is meant to bring – not forced submission, fear of judgment, and fear of demons. His happiness was also a depiction of the delight and joy that God takes in each of his children. In the midst of such a somber and painful walk of faith under this leader, a radiant angel full of joy came to show me a better, happier way. The dream was a clear indication from God that it was time to leave that church. We obeyed and departed from that man’s leadership. This time, it wasn’t an obedience based on fear but on joy. God can and does send us amazing supernatural signs to warn us and to rescue us from abusive and corrupt church leaders. He is a living God of revelation. Let this be an encouragement to those who come across this!

The popular accusation of neglecting to meet together

A few months ago, a pastor called me and found out that I had left my former church. The first thing he told me was that a believer cannot survive on their own and if I don’t join another church, I will be destroyed by the devil. This is the exact sort of intimidation and spiritual abuse that caused me to leave my former church and that I will not tolerate from church leaders. Not to mention that Jesus, Elijah, Jonah, Joseph, Moses, and John the Baptist are a few concrete Biblical examples that prove that a believer will definitely have periods of solitude and will survive just fine with God on their side. The lie that tells people they will be destroyed without a church membership is an intimidating tactic to fill church buildings and actually ends up driving people away from them.

For this pastor to tell me this right up front, without asking me about why I left my former church, means that he assumed I was being a “rebellious” believer who was forsaking the gathering of the saints. This is based on Hebrews 10:25 which says “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Funny how many church leaders use this verse to accuse those who do not attend church regularly enough and to make them out to be evil sinners. However, these same church leaders never ask themselves why a believer would even neglect to meet together with their congregation in the first place. Maybe it’s because their leadership is spiritually abusive, financially abusive, manipulative, never wrong, and accusatory. Maybe the individual saint who neglects to meet with such abusive people is actually in the right and the leadership is in the wrong.

By leaving my former church, I wasn’t neglecting to meet together with other believers. Instead, I was choosing who I actually want to meet together with – a leadership and believers who are not spiritually abusive and who are encouraging. That’s the difference.

The Bible actually tells us to neglect meeting together with certain people.

1.  ‘Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”’ Matthew 16:6 (Be on guard and stay away from the deception and corruption of religious leaders)

2. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

3. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” Titus 3:10 (A leader can stir up division by spiritually abusing believers which leads to a church split. A leader can also stir up division by causing a hurtful divide of wounds between them and the global community of the Church).

4. “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 2 Timothy 3:5 (Because of his/her position of church authority, the abusive leader has an appearance of holiness, but they deny the power of God to work in and through them)

5. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them” Ephesians 5:6-7 (An abusive, manipulative leader is a deceiver and can speak many empty words to manipulate and control)

6. “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. ” Romans 16:17 (A spiritually abusive leader creates obstacles in a believer’s life and also creates obstacles that keeps that believer from sound doctrine)

It looks like the Bible itself tells us to make it a habit to neglect to meet together with church leadership that is abusive and that creates a church culture of abuse. Neglecting to meet together with people such as these is never wrong and no one has the right to twist Hebrews 10:25 from Scripture to tell you otherwise.

Paul, Women, and the Ephesian Church

Here’s an excellent resource to better understand what Paul really meant regarding women in Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15. It’s a must-read article in order to understand the unique challenges that the church in Ephesus faced. These challenges prompted Paul to write specific instructions in order to resolve the problems in the Ephesian church at the time.

Paul, Women, and The Ephesian Church – PDF File

“Women can have a good life and hope for eternal salvation without getting involved in power struggles. They can reach the same spiritual heights as men without renouncing their womanhood. What sounds so negative in the ears of many now would have sounded positive in the ears of those who heard the message in a different world from ours.” A. Van der Jagt

“It is clear that he was addressing a current concern that Timothy and the Christians in Ephesus would have readily understood. Furthermore, to take as eternally normative the limited prohibition of women’s
teaching (v. 12) when in other passages Paul clearly approves female participation in teaching, praying, and prophesying — does violence to the hermeneutical principle of the unity of Scripture.”

Don’t call your church the house of God

When you call your church the “house of God”, it makes you sound like you are tied to a building and you worship a building and a religious organization rather than the God you proclaim.

When you call your church the “house of God”, you are telling the world that God is so small and worldly and powerless that we can contain Him in a building that was built by men.

Not everybody who enters your building will have real faith and be transformed by God. In fact, there are many church leaders themselves are not fully genuine, lead double lives, and engage in corrupt practices, much like the pharisees and false teachers Jesus warned us about. The world will look at these individuals who have entered the “house of God” and not only be unimpressed with them, but rightfully angry that these individuals do worse things than those who don’t enter the “house of God”. They’ll wonder how it is possible to enter the “house of God” and not be transformed, or how it is possible to enter the “house of God” and come out being so corrupt. This makes God look weak, powerless, and approving of twisted behaviours.

When you call your church the “house of God”, you are telling the world that your building is the only place that God lives, because you call it His house. You are telling the world that if ever they want to find God, they must go inside your building to meet Him. This misleads people.

Saying this also shows people that we have not really understood the Bible, and therefore this building we attend is not properly leading us in God’s truth.

So, what is the “house of God” according to the Bible?

God intended for us to be His habitation, not a building. God is not interested in physical houses, but in the house of our inner being. God doesn’t want to inhabit a religious building on Sunday mornings, He wants to inhabit our inner being and our entire life, to be a powerful life-changing part of it everyday.

Acts 7:48-49 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’

1 Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

You are God’s temple, not your church building. God’s spirit dwells in you and wants to fill you, not the 4 walls that you congregate in.

1 Pet 2:5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

No more bricks. God came and made us alive and we are like living stones that make up His Church in all the world. The house or temple of God is now a spiritual one – it’s not a physical one like it was in the Old Testament.

John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

What a revolutionary thing to say. Religious leaders didn’t understand it then and some still don’t understand it now because it’s so revolutionary, going way beyond human and religious thinking. Jesus shifted the focus from religious buildings as being God’s temple, to human bodies now being the place where God desires to dwell and inhabit.

You don’t have to be anywhere near a church or a gathering of Christians to experience God. You don’t need a building to get a blessing. God’s not interested in church buildings, He’s interested in you right where you are. He wants to meet you in your inner being and dwell with you there.