About Ben

Ben is an author, speaker, teacher, blogger, storyteller, IT geek, and student of the Bible. His heart is to see men and women reconciled to the Father and walking in all He has created for them.

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Coming Clean

Zaccheus

“What are you doing here? We paid your abusive fees just two weeks back. You can’t possibly want more already.”

This is not the first time I received this reception. I may be the most hated man in all Jericho—maybe all Israel.

“Please let me in. I’m not here to take, I’m here to give—no—to return what is rightfully yours.”

Finally, the door cracks open.

“May—may I come in?” I ask.

Slowly the door swings a bit wider and Ethan, a well-to-do businessman, allows me to step inside his home. We stand in his foyer. He invites me no farther.

I understand. I’ve been collecting his taxes since he moved here from Jerusalem eight years ago. Truthfully, it’s men like Ethan who have made me the rich man I am today—or should I say, I was yesterday. The tax Rome requires of Jewish businessmen like Ethan is high to begin with, but I didn’t become rich taking just what Rome demands. I am allowed to take as much as I can get, and that’s what I’ve done—for years.

Ethan, and others like him, filled my accounts.

He broke the awkward silence. “What do you have to give me, Zaccheus, next month’s tax bill? Why not send one of your lackeys with it, like every other time?”

“Ethan,” I began, “It’s not like that. Today, I’m here to make things right.”

Ethan chuckled, “How could you possibly do that?”

I’ve found, in the past week, the best way to fix all these broken relationships in my life, is to come right out with it. It’s on me, so best to just get it off. Since the day Jesus came through Jericho, I’ve spoken with a dozen local businessmen. It’s always the same.

“I’ve been stealing from you,” I said.

“What?” he replied.

“I’ve been taking far more from you than Rome requires,” I continued.

“You’ve been what? You’ve been robbing me? And now you stand right here in my home, for what? Are you here to mock me?”

As his anger mounted, he yanked open the door and motioned for me to leave.

“Get out!” He was shouting now. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that his wife sidling up to hear what was happening. I stood my ground. This was not the first angry man I faced recently.

“I’m here to make it right,” I repeated.

He stopped pushing but did not close the door.

“I’m here to return what I’ve stolen, and to ask you to forgive me. I’ve grown rich through over taxing men like you, honest hard-working businessmen, who have earned their wealth through hours and days of planning and hard work. I’ve slithered in and taken every penny I could manage.”

As I spoke the truth He seemed to be softening.

“So how can you make this right?” he asked.

“I keep meticulous records,” I said. “I know exactly what I’ve taken, and today, I’m returning four times as much as I have over taxed you.”

I handed him the bag of coins.

“It’s all there,” I said, “6,400 denarii. Eight years worth of my dishonesty in a bag. I pray you’ll forgive me.” I said. He opened the bag and ran his hand through the coins.

“I-I don’t understand,” Ethan said, quietly now. His wife approached. He showed her the bag.

She looked at me, head shaking.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

I answered with a question of my own.

“Have you heard of Jesus the Nazarene?”

“I’ve heard the name, one of those Messiah pretenders, isn’t he?” Ethan replied.

“I saw him the day He came through town,” Ethan’s wife said. “I needed a few things and went down to the market. As I shopped the square filled with people, and a procession flooded the streets. The man you mentioned, Jesus, walked in the center of it all. Crowds of His followers filled the streets in every direction. People pressed toward him, calling out. People all around me told the most unbelievable stories. Healings. Miracles. I heard one person say He raises the dead. I didn’t know what to think about all of it.”

I say, “He picked me out of the crowd, or should I say, out of a tree.” I stifle a laugh as I remembered how strange it all seemed at the time. “The day He came through town, I too wanted to see Him. The crowds, as you say, were such that I couldn’t see anything past the second or third row. I looked farther down the path He was walking and noticed a sycamore tree, and had an idea. I ran ahead and climbed the tree to gain a vantage point.

“I thought I was hidden there, but as He approached my perch our eyes locked. He saw me. And this was no glance. His eyes seemed to be calling me, and not just down from the tree. His eyes were calling me out of my past, out of all the lies and cheating, out of my very identity. It unnerved me.

“The next thing I knew, He was actually calling me.

“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” Jesus said.

“At the sound of His voice, I scrambled down the tree, and we headed off to my home. Once inside, away from the eyes and ears of the crowd, He sat with us. He had me call my whole family in. He asked if we had any bread and wine. He broke the bread and we shared the wine. It felt like the Passover festivities of my youth. We have not celebrated Passover since we have been here in Jericho.

“My childhood rushed back to me as I ate the bread He offered. In my father’s house, we always celebrated Passover and every other feast and fast of our people. I can remember hearing the story of the slaughtered lamb and the night our people ate in haste and fled Egypt before Pharoh’s army. My love for the Almighty grew in those years.

“As I took the cup from His hands and touched it to my lips, I heard my own voice, forty years earlier, calling out to the Almighty, and promising to walk in His ways all the days of my life.

“With this memory came a flood of shame for all that I’ve become. I sat there, surrounded by all the things my lying and thievery had won me and began to weep. It was then our eyes met once more.

“Drink,” He said. “Drink and be clean. This cup is redemption for you and your household. You can be pure again. That’s what my name means—pure—Zaccheus and that’s when I broke down.

“I wept there for what seemed like an hour, and He gathered Himself, and started to leave. We walked out the door together, and the crowd was still there. I gripped His arm and looked up into his eyes one more time.

“I said, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.

“His face seemed to say He knew I would. Then He turned to the crowd and said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’

“Since that day I’ve been making things right. It seems I owe almost everyone in Jericho something. At first, I was afraid to approach those I had cheated. I thought I would find hostility. But it has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know the strength of money’s hold on my heart. The more money I had, the more fear surrounded me, and the more greed grasped at my heart. Once I broke the hold riches had on my heart, it changed everything.

“Now these visits fill me with life. Giving back what I have taken from folks like you brings joy and freedom. I never would have imagined giving could be so fulfilling.”

As I finish my story, I can see that Ethan and his wife are both on the edge of tears. I turn to leave and Ethan approaches and embraces me. “We do forgive you, Zaccheus, and I will be looking into this Jesus. If He can change you, He might just be the Messiah.”

His wife touches my hand and says “Thank you,” and the door closes behind me.

There is nothing more satisfying that walking in His ways.

~~~
To read the original story, see Luke 19:1-10.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2017 all rights reserved.

Encounters With JesusIf you enjoyed this brand new Encounter With the Jesus, you might enjoy my book, Encounters with Jesus. It is a collection of forty stories told in similar fashion, from the conception of Jesus through His resurrection. It's available now in paperback or kindle versions.

benheadshot1Thanks for coming by

See you again soon.

Ben

“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of beads.” (Song of Songs 1:10 NASB)

We are eaves dropping on a bit of romance these days on SoS Saturday. We are listening in as the Shepherd King describes His maiden fair. Last week we heard Him tell her of how He loved her cheeks as they expressed the depth of her emotion and passion for Him.

Today we overhear His musings about her neck.

So how is it with our maiden? Anytime He is in the room, she turns to see Him, to look Him over, to see what He is doing and with whom He is talking.

Her neck is a compass turning her head—her attention—ever northward—toward her King.

The neck is our most vulnerable feature. Exposing your neck to another is a sign of trust and submission. I trust you not to exploit this weakness, and I submit to your will and ability to rule me.

There is a phrase used in the older translations of the Bible, which means obstinate—stiff-necked. It is a neck that is unbending, immovable, unyielding.

So, you see, when the Shepherd King speaks of the maiden's neck He speaks of her will and submission.

When Jesus looks at us, He considers our neck.

How is your neck? Are you quick to turn toward the sound of His voice? Are you moved by His call on your life? Do you drop those things that would offend Him when your conscience whispers “No”?

Or does Jesus have to battle to get your attention? Are you slow to turn from your own way? Does your heart cry out the anti-Gethsemane prayer – Not Your will but mine!

There is another lesson in the neck though.

Victory is in the turning.

Often, when we Christians do our spiritual accounting, we only count victory as having complete dominance over our sin. I am only victorious in a battle with sin when I no longer even think of committing it.

This could not be further from the truth.

God is pleased with the turn of our neck toward Him. He knows it is a process we must walk through. He understands the weakness of our flesh.

Hey—He throws a party the day you decide to follow Him, at your very first turning. And every turn you make in submission to Him, even a small turn, pleases Him.

He knows your current struggle and sees your desire to be free and follow Him in that area. He is cheering for you! He hurts with you when you fall and fail. He is there to draw you once again.

Don’t give up in your struggles to live a godly life. I promise He has not given up on you.

Hope that helps

See you next week.

Ben

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Wow!

Harvest Bible Chapel Good Friday 2017

Hallelujah!

See you again soon

Ben

In my ponderings, I ran across six of the saddest words I’ve ever read.

I found them right in the opening to the book of John.

…His own did not receive Him. - John 1:11 NASB

The “Him” here, thus far, has only been identified as “The Word” and “the Light.” We’ll learn later in the first chapter that the old apostle is talking about Jesus Christ.

John establishes first that Jesus and the God of the Jews are One in the same.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. - John 1:1-2 NASB

Next, He tells us that this same Jesus, the Word, is the agency through which all things came into being, He’s the creator.

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. - John 1:3 NASB

But the heartbreak comes down in verse 11.

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. - John 1:11 NASB

This creator of all things actually made a covenant with a people. He chose to reveal Himself to the Children of Israel.

He chose them

He brought them out of slavery

He established them in the land of promise

He protected them

He gave them a land and made them a people

But when He came to reveal Himself to His people

they rejected Him

they hated Him

they mocked Him

they scourged Him

they crucified Him.

There have been times when I’ve been unwilling to receive Him. Even as a child of God, even after He saved me and I received His free gift of salvation, there have been times when my heart closed up to Him. Has this ever happened to you?

He chose me

He revealed Himself to me

He delivered me from the power of sin

He blessed me with all spiritual blessings

He protected me from the punishment of sin

He joined me to a people who were not my people

And yet there are times when I don’t receive Him

When I set Him aside

When I don’t pursue Him

It is sad, isn’t it?

Lord Jesus. I am so thankful that you came, lived, and loved me/us. Forgive me and help me walk with my heart open to you today, moment by moment. I don’t want to be remembered like these you record in your Word who did not receive you, though you came to them.

You are a good, good Father, and I thank you for speaking through Your Word.

Don’t leave feeling guilty. Conviction comes from time to time to call us back to a place from which we’ve stepped away. Today is a good day to step back into the arms of the Father. He’s right there at the end of the lane, waiting with open arms. Every time we open our hearts to receive Him, He opens His arms to receive us…

…And great rejoicing ensues!!

Hallelujah!

Thanks for stopping by today.

See you again soon.

Ben

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“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of beads.” (Song of Songs 1:10 NASB)

As we look at the Shepherd King’s[i] words toward our maiden fair we are going to see Him use dozens of word pictures. Last week we looked at an example of an image from nature, this week we see Him muse about her appearance.

He will get pretty explicit as the song goes on, and I will attempt to make some sense of how it applies to the believer’s life.

Today we start with cheeks.

What good are cheeks?

Read the Cheeks!
Read the Cheeks!

They are like the emotional thermometer God has installed in each one of us. They rise and fall with our moods, and flush and pale with our passions.

Emotions are a funny thing in the church. For many years, centuries perhaps the church has frowned upon any display of emotion. I can remember as a 20 something singing a song in church where the lyrics said “I lift my hands up, unto Thy name” and looking around to see 8 hands in the air, in a room of 150 people.

We, the Church, have a limited view of God’s emotions as well. We have a God who is happy and smiling the day we repent and come to Him, and then angry with us every day after that, because we are not walking in complete submission to His will.

This is messed up.

God created us with a broad range of emotions and passions, and they are intended to bring the most out of our lives. There are ways to experience each of our God-given emotions in a way that pleases Him.

When He looks at us, our cheeks bring Him pleasure. He sees them flushed with the thrill of His presence and raised in joy and anticipation. Our passion for Him can't be hidden.

What about these ornaments?

Ornaments are adornments made for us by skilled artisans to bring out the beauty in our cheeks.

This may sound crazy, but I believe one adornment is worship. When we worship the Lord we engage our emotions, and take the skillful work of others—Poets, Songwriters, Musicians, Artists—and let it bring out the beauty in our emotion. We let our emotions do that for which they were created – bring Glory to Jesus.

Does that make sense?

I know it helps me.

BenThanks for stopping in.

See you next week.

Ben


[i] For the purposes of this series the Shepherd King represents Jesus in our reading of the Song, and the maiden is the individual believer. You can see the discussion on this in my earlier post – “Interpretation - #SoS Saturdays

I have compared you, my love,
To my filly among Pharaoh’s chariots.
(Song of Songs 1:9 NKJV)

This always reminds me of the scene in the movie A Knights Tale where William Thatcher is trying to woo the maiden Jocelyn and well sticks his hoof in his mouth.

She asks him to speak beautiful words to her, and this is what ensues.


William: "I will win this tournament for you."

Jocelyn: "Excuse me?"

William: "I'll win this tournament in your name. I'll defeat each knight for you. Your beauty will be reflected in the power of my arm and my horse's flanks."

Jocelyn: "Wow—Really?—Really?—lts flanks?"


Not his finest hour.

But the real issue here is that we don’t understand life in a completely agrarian society. Livestock and crops were the currency and wealth of the day. So much of what we will read in these pages relates to life in that society.

So what is our Shepherd King thinking when He compares the Shulamite to a filly among Pharaoh’s chariots?

There are a couple interesting things going on in this comment.

First off, this is the only time this Hebrew word is found in the Bible. Its root comes up more often, but this word specifically pointing to a filly or mare, some even think it should be a group of fillies, is unique to this verse.

Next, He speaks of Pharaoh’s chariots, not the chariots of Israel. He does not say “the Kings Chariots,” but rather points to the world famous fleet of chariots of His most impressive adversary.

Here is the thing.

She is feeling like a newcomer, one who is barely capable of caring for her own presentation. She looks in the mirror and sees dark and worldly. She looks around her in the community, and everyone is doing better than she is. She is totally frustrated at her inability to look like everyone else in the Church.

Then He likens her to one of the most prestigious, well-trained, talented, and impressive beasts known to man.

 

He is saying to her when I look at you, I do not see the dark and dusty woman of the world, stumbling at every turn. I see your potential as a one who is ready to lead an army into battle, one trained and well disciplined. I see what you are created to be, not where you are in your journey.

This helps me. I know when I fail or fall short, He sees me not lying on the ground in a heap, but victorious, then he helps me up, brushes me off, and sets me back on my path toward maturity.

Yay God. Thank you, Jesus.

This makes me happy.

Thanks for coming by.

Stop in next week and get a look at what else He sees in you.

Ben

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If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women, Go forth on the trail of the flock, And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds. (Song of Songs 1:8 NASB)

When our maiden asks how to get back into a good place with Jesus, He gives a three part answer.

Last week we looked two of the 3 – the bookends.

The first is to live in community—"go forth on the trail of the flock."

The last is to have leadership in your life—"By the tents of the shepherds."

Today I want to talk about the one in the middle. I kind of stepped over it last week.

“And feed your little goats” (Song of Songs 1:8 NKJV)

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As you'll remember, she got into this mess by taking on everything anyone suggested for her. Too much responsibility before she had matured enough to hold on to Jesus in the midst of it. Believe me, if you hang around the church for a bit, you will find plenty to do.

But get this, the solution is not complete abstinence from participation, not pulling back out of fellowship and ministry altogether. Not at all.

The solution is found in walking in community, submitting to godly leadership, and taking on the care and feeding of YOUR little goats.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Where the NKJV uses the word feed, the NASB says pasture and the NIV says graze. This young Jesus Lover is not told to come up with an amazing revelation for a mature flock, but to lead the ones that the Lord has drawn to her into safe and nurturing fields where they can graze in safety.

At one time in my life, there was a brand new Christian in my workplace. She was like a wonderful sponge and would eat up anything put before her. The biggest challenge was to keep her from listening to some of the crazies on the radio and TV and get her hooked up with some good safe Bible basics.

This is exactly the method Jesus used when restoring Peter. Do you remember? Peter had failed the Lord and really felt like he had no right to be taking up any more of Jesus time. He was ashamed because he totally blew it when he denied the Lord three times at the very moment that Jesus was in big trouble.

But Jesus came to him and asked him 3 times (once for each denial?) “Do you love Me?”

Each time Peter affirmed “You know I love you”

And each time Jesus said “feed my sheep,” with slight variations.

Jesus had the same restoration advice for Peter as he did for our maiden

But here is the important thing. He does not say, “get involved, do whatever they ask of you, ” He say to care for the ones I put in your care. Our involvement must be Spirit led and directed or it will crush us every time.

We were created for works that God designed for us and designed us for. These are the only works you will be able to do well long term. [Tweet This]

So today, start saying “No” when the Spirit is not giving you a “Yes” and start feeding the little goats that the Lord has drawn to your side.

Thanks for stopping by today!

See you next week

Ben

photo credit: zaser via photopin cc

If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women, Go forth on the trail of the flock, And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds. (Song of Songs 1:8 NASB)

Now our girl has suffered some abuse and some frustration at the hand of her mother’s sons, and her heart cries out for only one man, the lover of her soul.

But God’s intention is that we live out our love affair with Jesus with some guidance.

The shepherds.

These are people in our lives who are throwing kindling on the warm embers of our passion and fanning it into flame. They draw us forward toward the place where the Good Shepherd is tending His flock.

Especially in the US, we have this fierce independence, and easily fall for the lie that ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ pastor,’ or ‘Jesus is my Pastor.’

That is a bunch of hooey!

We need to live in community with those who are headed where we are headed.

David lamented ‘No man cared for my soul.’

Don’t let your passion for Christ alone drive you away from His body. It’s not a perfect system, and you won’t find a perfect Church or a perfect pastor, but get a shepherd in your life.

Maybe they won’t have the title ‘Pastor’ but God has people around you for a reason.

BenDirector3CroppedThanks for stopping by.

See you next week.

Ben

…O fairest among women... (Song of Songs 1:8 NKJV)

He speaks! Verse 8 contains the Shepherd’s first words in the Song.

MagicmirrorFairest of them all!

With all our girl is stressing over:

  • The conflict of inner and outer cleanliness
  • The abuse of her mother’s sons
  • The disrepair of her vineyard
  • Her feeling of separation

See how He addresses her.

Most beautiful among women (NASB)

He sees her as beautiful—most beautiful—the fairest of them all!

The common meaning of the word fair does not do this verse justice. If it weren’t for Snow White’s evil witch and her mirror query, most of us wouldn't even know that fair can mean beautiful.

Let me explain something amazing about Jesus here.

Heb 12:2 says that Jesus, for the joy set before Him endured the cross. The reason Jesus went to the cross, is that He could see something about you and me that we, even today, are not seeing clearly.

You say, I am dark and beautiful, but Jesus says, I see the one My Father created unto good works. I see a completely successful, with fully realized potential, son or daughter. I saw you while you were still my enemy. I saw you when you were actively hostile toward Me. You are why I laid down my life.

Now you may not walk in your full potential, but God sees you that way. You are beautiful to Him.

raw diamondThink of the diamond cutter who sees the finished gem in the dirty rock. God can see what He created you for.

Don’t get me wrong, you will answer for what you do with all that potential, but when you turn your faces toward the Shepherd, He sees what you can be, and loves you and puts all His unlimited resources into action to get you moving toward that amazing ‘you’ that He envisions.

Turn your attention toward the Shepherd today and walk toward the ‘you’ He sees!

Remember:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 NASB

There is much more to say – so come back next week.

BenDirector3CroppedYou’re beautiful

Ben