Sinners Get Priority

17 Jesus heard this and said to them, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.”

Mark 2:17, NCV

“The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.”  

–C.S. Lewis

How ironic!  Today, religious people are seen as a sort of an elite, an upper crust. The seem like they have it together, or at least they think so. Somewhat superior to those of us who live hard, and know all about sin.  The hearts of the lower level don’t make any pretension to any kind of spirituality.

They understand that they are the ‘dregs.’  They have adapted to living in an ugly and twisted world that gives nothing.  There is a sense that they know they are on ‘the highway to hell.’ They aren’t surprised by this.

The gross sinner, and the spiritually debilitated, have been brought into a very special place.  Jesus intends to escort us into glory, even in spite of our and unsightly infection.  He is wonderful, and yet we see that He really does specialize in losers.  He ‘homes in’ on them and then connects with those who have no ‘religious’ sense to speak of.

This seems quite counter-intuitive, especially if you’re trying to start a religious movement.  It is quite necessary to have a strong base, to seek out good people, and with finances– obviously.  And ‘the sick’ have blown it all on sex, drugs and rock & roll.  They will never finance the ministry of Jesus.  The disciples all have grasped this, especially Judas.  They are full of practicality.  They approach discipleship as a business. (And truly, these are the dangerous ones.)

The sick, the defective, and the infirm have now been elevated by Jesus’ new focus.  They have ‘zero spiritual’ value, with absolutely nothing to contribute — they are more of a liability then anything.  People like us who are very ill really can’t contribute to what is really happening.  More often then not, they require intensive care from the healthy and whole, sapping the strength of the work. Truly God is not against us because of our sin. He is with us against our sin.

I have a blue handicapped placard. This really helps and gives me preferential parking. And in much the same way spiritually, if you are a loser– you have dibs.   Jesus shines on you specifically (even if the Church won’t.)

There is a kind of a loving triage that He uses as He draws people into His domain and influence.  Hearts and lives that are black receive His eager attention.  Of course, there will be voices that object to this perceived inequity.

But Jesus has no favorites, only intimates.  Remember this, the sinner who has been “forgiven much, loves much.”

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Righteousness: His, Yours? (or Ours?)

“All of us are dirty with sin.
All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth.
All of us are like dead leaves,
and our sins, like the wind, have carried us away. “ 

Isaiah 64:6, NCV

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I have this reoccurring nightmare. I jump out of a plane.  I deploy my parachute, and it opens.  But it is completely full of holes!  Yikes!  I wake up before I splat. And then I think in a spiritual sense— what a relief it is to have a holiness that is given, or imputed.  If somehow you could turn off the spigot of the holiness he gives, and then run on your own merits; how far would you go?

Among good Christian people, there is an occupational hazard of sorts, and that is to “advance” in our thinking to that place where we are doing fine on our own.  We very much appreciated Jesus’ help– but now, at this moment, I must figure it out by myself.  This line of thinking, is called “self-righteousness.”

“Many have passed the rocks of gross sins – who have suffered shipwreck upon the sands of self-righteousness.” 

William Secker:’The Consistent Christian,’ 1660

We begin to travel in our sense of ourselves, away from a desperate, clinging to a trust in his mercy that is moving to a place of a confident, strutting awareness of having put ourselves back together again.  This is the ‘evil ones’ work– to steer you into self-righteousness.  Once you get there, he can just release you and let you ‘stew in your own juices,’ while he rules over your soul.

Becoming self-righteous should scare us to death.  It will damn our souls just as quick as adultery, or murder.  It is evil, and it sedates us to the place where it can work, unhindered and unchallenged.  I’ve read that some predators inject first an anesthetic to soothe their prey. This enables them to take their time, as they slaughter them.

I have had several bouts with self-righteousness.  (And I bet I’ll have several more.)  It is sin that will give you a wonderful back massage, just before it reaches for the knife that will cut your throat.  Somehow, we are lulled into this and my! I’m such a good person (even after such a dark and evil start.)

“Self-righteousness is the largest idol of the human heart – the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favour by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers ; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, etc; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart.”  

–Robert Murray McCheyne

 Jesus was, and is, and will be all my “righteousness.” 

We must cling to these hand-holds of grace.  The waves are substantial, and we most certainly would be swept out to sea.  But we grab and hold on to him.  And he holds on to us!  The fantasy of having enough of my own created righteousness to please God is simply a crock.  Jesus was, and is, and will be all my “righteousness.”  I have nothing– nothing else.

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A Finder’s Fee of Joy

New Testament 3 Production Still Photography Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1)

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? ” (v. 4)

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.” (v. 8)

“For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (v. 24)

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The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the ‘lost son’ tell us that this is a time for recovery. This is a unique period for the Church. It is a season of special grace that allows us to seek and find things that are valuable to us. It is a time of finding out things about ourselves as well.

What is precious to you? With the woman, it was a lost coin (probably a part of her dowry) and she made a substantial effort to get it back. With the shepherd, what was valuable was a lost sheep, and he would take a calculated risk to find it, and rejoin the flock. And the father lost his son, and he had to wait for him to return to his senses.

These three parables were directed to the different issues that effected the “notorious sinners.” But they also spoke to the pharisees who were present. Both groups understood and there were plenty of implications for everyone.

It’s a funny thing, Jesus never minced words. No one could be neutral around him. That is still the case today. I think God is seeking His lost children. This is what He is up to, this is His passion. Understanding this salient fact should enlighten us,

  1. to His will,
  2. to know His passion and love, (His pleasure in finding what was lost)
  3. and the true purpose of His Church.

As the Parable of the Prodigal Son develops, we see the pharisees equated to the ‘grouchy’ older brother. He begrudges his newly returned brother, and he really can’t see what is happening all around him. The idea of grace eludes him. Perhaps that is far more common than we think. Whenever ‘religion’ exerts control over a person or group, duty is almost always elevated over joy.

The Church is only as relevant as when it’s seeking out the lost.

The Church is meant to extend to the lost ‘sons’ of Adam, and the ‘daughters’ of Eve. This is God’s passion, and we must find out what He wants us to do to share His heart. It’s almost as if He wants to give us a chance to taste His joy.

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Nothing But Leaves [Self-Deceit]

“Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.”

Mark 11:13, NASB

Perplexing isn’t it?  I personally have lived with a certain amount of ambiguity with this passage.  I have questions that I’ve swept under the rug.  Why did that poor tree get cursed?  It wasn’t the trees fault, after all.  And didn’t Jesus realize this?  So why go through the theatrics?

I don’t know if this is the case with anyone else.  I hesitate to ask around.  But recently have come to a better place about this entire event.  The traditional view is that it comes immediately after “the cleansing of the temple” and that explains a lot.  The fig tree is always emblematic of Israel.  (The Old Testament is well populated with these references.) Mark adroitly organized his account in order to connect both events.

Jesus has no issues or vendettas against trees.  But He does take an issue with things that claim fruit, but really have nothing.  There is nothing but leaves. I’ve been told that the figs do grow, almost as fast as leaves.  The lush greenness is the prime indicator of the succulent fruit. At least, it has the potential.

The beautiful leaves announces its fruitfulness.  This tree was loaded, but had nothing to show but leaves.  Within God’s plan for Israel was for fruit.  Enough to feed the nations that would stream to Jerusalem.  Instead, it was worthless.  There was nothing to be had.  Loads of leaves, and the promise of an incredible harvest, but zilch, zero, nothing.

Hypocrisy is a deadening experience, with a certain sterility in it.  Israel was finding this out, and Jesus is now declaring it to the nation.  A corrupt temple, and a fruitless tree; this were all indicators of hypocrisy and showiness.  The luxuriant leaves loaded the tree, but ‘where’s the fruit?!’

Sometimes we declare that we are fruitful, on the mere basis of our leaves. 

At times we can be a wonder, and make an exceptional statement.  But when He comes, and looks up at our limbs and out to our branches, will He find fruit, or just lots of green?  Leaves are pretty much all we can do.  And we do it quite well. But the fruit is from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22.)

Israel failed God.  They became religious and neglected mercy, and justice.  Humility and graciousness.  The widow and the orphan were not part of their personal equation.  They produced leaves by the wheelbarrow load, but were missing out on the authenticity to what was true, and what really mattered.

Pharisees will do this, and they turn into hypocrites who do not possess what they profess. A hypocrite values true godliness, but he personally falls short of all those things he admires. But he will never, ever admit it to anyone.  And even we who struggle so, must continually admit that we stumble and falter as we try to follow.

I may be a ‘screwy’ excuse of being a disciple, but I have decided I don’t want to deceive people.  God, help me.

“This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.”  

C.S. Lewis

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The Art of Offending Jesus

SIN_KILLS_SIGN Our actions can bless God, and others immensely. We really have no idea that we have such power in our grasp. But we do say and do things that do alter the realities of those who are trying desperately to draw close to Him. We like to be unattached from these very real things. We suppose that it is a “no-brainer,” we will always avoid any complications or entanglements, about our behavior.

However, reality is much more “unforgiving” then we imagine. How we conduct ourselves is certain, and is significant. Honestly, when we become believers and are added to His church, can we honestly behave worse than we were before our salvation from sin?

I’m afraid salvation from sin means “turning off the faucet.” We can’t avoid this, it will determine what kind of a Christian we are. What do we do? Do we continue to sin? “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Romans 6:1-2, NLT

I’m truly convinced of this. Our decision to keep enjoying sin is disturbing. Our “death” in this case, has never happened. We have died to nothing, and remain untouched by the Gospel. We become just inoculated enough to make us believe that we are “ok.” Our lives keep moving, and we will never consider that we have made these wrong adjustments.11831809_417345445125926_2957479398676821867_n

Are we not “offending Jesus Christ” by not dying to our own sins? If we have pretty much remained the same kind of people, then it is very likely we have. Our enjoyment of sin indicates our real allegiance that we will have when “push comes to shove.” It really seems that we must shake off the old way before we can put on the new.

I simply suggest that you liaten to the Spirit as you make your choices.

Let him accompany you and show you what offends. I only speak boldly, because it matters more than you realize.

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The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

This is a chapter from my book, “They Met Jesus: Stories from the Gospels.” Hope you like it!

 

The Man with a Deformed Hand, Mark 3:1-5

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.”So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!


It was the Sabbath. I was led to the synagogue by a Pharisee who promised me money. I had no idea what was going to happen. This is my story,

I was born with a deformity in my hand. It was misshapened and more like a club than a hand. I had perfect use of the other and I learned to adapt. It seemed perfectly natural to me now. I suppose I just got used to it, but it would be nice to have a normal hand. The children in the streets would always made fun of me. I suppose I became the neighborhood outcast.

Life was never normal for me. I lived on handouts and spent my days sitting on the sidewalk out of the hot Judean sun. I suppose that there must been sin in my life for God to judge me so, that is what they told me anyway.

When the Pharisee approached me with the promise of money I jumped at the chance. “All you have to do is stand there and show off your hand.” That was easy enough. I could do that. Little did I know that I was just a pawn in the Pharisee’s plan to trap Jesus.

I entered the synagogue which was a new experience for me. I had never been inside but the Pharisee who was leading me said it was OK, that I was expected. I stood in the back trying not to be noticed. I held out my deformed just like they asked me to.

At one point Jesus noticed me. “Come up here,” he said, “Come up front.” I had no idea of what was going to happen, no way of anticipating what Jesus was going to do. Jesus challenged the Pharisees. “Is it part of the Law to do good on the Sabbath day. Should we not do what is right?” I was scared, I had no idea what I was mixed up in. The room was very quiet.

Jesus was angry and I was afraid. He looked around to see if anyone would answer him. No one did although the answer seemed plain enough, even for me. Yet I still had no idea what was going to happen next.

Jesus looked at me. I sensed his love and his peace in his gaze. “Hold out your hand,” he asked me. There were no theatrics. No hoopla, just a simple command. So I did exactly that, and in an instant I was completely healed.

What more could I say. My deformity was turned into a healthy hand. Bones and tendons and muscle instantly reorganized themselves and something normal appeared where their was once twistedness. I flexed new fingers and wondered exactly what had happened to me.

It took me years to realize that there was a deeper deformity in the Pharisees understanding that Jesus wanted to heal. It was an issue of grace and goodness over error and legalism. Yes, I was healed on the Sabbath, but that was what was supposed to happen. People were meant to be made whole on God’s special day of rest.

It is a tremendous thing to have two healthy and whole hands. I marvel at the goodness of God every time I think about it. The Lord has been gracious to me and I rejoice at that grace. He has made me a wonder.

Lord, at times I feel deformed. But please don’t forget me. I will always stumble if you’re not holding my hand, Remind that being religious is a poor substitute for your nearness. Amen.

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Pondering Brokenness, [Acceptance]

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Broken Fresco– Assisi, Italy

Many voices tell me that there must be distinct lines between sinners (like, me) and Church people. These borders keep order and provide security to those on the ‘inside’ of our Faith. This seems more from a reaction to control than actual sin.

But there are so many people with mental illness: Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, PTSD, and many others. We are truly an afflicted people.

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Fitting in isn’t always easy

“Most of the verses written about praise in God’s Word were voiced by people faced with crushing heartaches, injustice, treachery, slander, and scores of other difficult situations.” 

Joni Eareckson Tada

There needs to be an adjustment to the status quo. Room must be made for the ‘losers’ and the misfits. These are people for whom Christ died. They are special to God.

According to federal  law, buildings must be accessible to the handicapped. Special signs are placed in the parking lots, for special parking and wheelchair ramps need to be installed. This is well and good. But let’s extend this ‘deliberateness’ to those with other needs as well.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

I encourage you to become proactive when it comes to “opening up” the Church to include ‘the brokenness of the other.’ Even a smile can make the difference to the down-trodden soul. Love the unlovely,  just like Jesus.

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