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3

They broke into the room in a furor. Caught in the act! All their suspicions confirmed, and the truth, right there in my arms.

Before I knew what was happening, they grabbed me, one by the hair, and two others took my arms. My feet stumbled to keep up with their pace but soon I was just so much luggage, pulled along behind them. Out the bedroom door, down the stairs, each step down sending pain up through my legs. All my kicking and struggling just added to my agony.

At first I was screaming for help, then I realized who my attackers were. This angry mob that broke into my home and dragged me out into the dusty road, was made up of those who were supposed to protect me, the ones I was supposed to call when I was in trouble. One wore a police uniform, two had the backward collars of the clergy. I recognized store owners and local businessmen. Even the mayor was there. I thought I recognized the pastors from three local churches.

Amid the shuffle, I heard someone ask, “What do we do now? Where to?”

The forward motion stopped and then they let me drop to the ground, face in the dirt. A foot pressed into my upper back holding me to the ground.

Then I heard a voice I knew. “Our law calls for stoning.” It was my rabbi. This man witnessed when my parents named me. He taught me the Torah as I came of age. He officiated at my wedding.

There was general agreement.

But then a voice I didn’t know called out, “Let’s take him to the teacher who just arrived in town. Let’s see what He'll do.”

Everyone seemed to love this idea, so they took up my arms again. Again my feet tried to gain purchase, but someone tripped me so I couldn’t get my balance. The short walk through town seemed to take hours to me. My mind was racing. My emotions skittered from fear to rage to shame and back again.

What would this man do with me?

When they found Him in the dusty square, they dropped me at His feet. As I looked at His dust-covered sandals, the stories of this man—Jesus—came to me. He’d been teaching in the square, and healing the sick. He healed dozens of men and women in the two days he’d been in town. Lame men were walking. The blind woman I see in the market every day could see. But I knew He was a Jew, like me, and they called Him a rabbi.

By now all my accusers had rocks in their hands, and some of them called out hurtful names.

My rabbi now addressed this outsider.

“This filth was caught in the very act, in the arms of a man. Our law says this abomination should be publicly stoned to drive this evil out of our land.”

Then he left me there in the dirt and backed away, stone at the ready. As he backed away he finished with “What do you say, what should we do?”

A cry went up from the angry pack, “Stone him” and then the vile epithets came in a wave, “Homo. Queer. Faggot. Queen.”

At the sound of these words, my tears began to flow into the dust inches from my face. The bile was rising into my mouth as everything I held dear slipped through my fingers. My life was over, and I felt I had hardly lived. Twenty eight short years ended by these hands of hate.

Part of me wanted to agree with this mob, and part of me hated them right back. Somewhere inside me was a voice screaming with the crowd that I deserved this scorn, a voice that called along with them, “Your broken.” How could it all end like this? If I could, I would go back and make it right. I didn’t want to hurt my wife this way. I didn’t want my kids to be fatherless. I didn’t want to die with this sin, this betrayal, this ugliness, the only legacy I left behind.

Then this rabbi they called Jesus, bent down. I turned my head toward Him to see what He was doing. It looked like He was drawing in the dust. I wiped the tears from my eyes so I could see what He was doing. He was writing. With my face so close to the ground, I couldn’t make anything of the words.

He stopped writing, still crouched down near me, and looked up at the army of hate surrounding us. He raised His hand to quiet them and said,

“The one of you who has no sin should throw the first stone.”

All the shouting turned to a murmurs, and soon silence.

I raised myself up enough to see what He was writing.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not bow down to idols.
You shall not take the name of the Lord lightly.
Keep the sabbath.
Honor your father and mother.”

My heart told me I had broken each of these, and many others too. Now my tears came in torrents. I was sobbing.

The Rabbi didn’t finish. He didn’t have to. Through my tears I was astonished to see we were alone in the street. The mob was gone, and the street was littered with stones. They just let their hate fall in the dust and moved away.

Then Jesus crouched down; He put His hand under my chin, and raised my eyes to meet His. Our eyes met.

He took the sleeve of His well-worn robes, and wiped the tears from my eyes.

“Son, where are your accusers?”

With my voice shaking, I said, “There’s no one left,” then cautiously, “except You.”

“Then, I don’t accuse you either. I want you to go and turn your life around, no more life of sin.”

He helped me up to my feet.

I hurt all over, bruised and battered from head to toe, but something deep inside was fixed, healed. The brokenness I felt minutes ago was gone. The confusion I lived with since the day of my bar mitzvah left with the mob. There was something rising up in me. Free? Forgiven? Clean?

I went home. I asked my wife to forgive me. Tears flowed again, from both of us. I sat with my children and repented before them. My humility before them broke the shame they carried because of me.

I can’t say meeting Jesus has made my life easier, but He gave me a path to walk, and gave me a desire to walk it. For the first time I can remember, I’m free from shame and regret. I’m free from the confusion. I’m free to be the man God created me to be.

I’m free!

===

Does this picture challenge your heart as much as it does mine?

Let me know how your heart reacts.

benheadshot1See you again soon.

Walk like Jesus.

Ben

4

Wineskins
From: By Book by William Henry Koebel (1872-1926) ."Madeira: Old and New" [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jesus often spoke in parables, and I want to pick around the edge of one this morning.

The day Jesus called Matthew (a.k.a. Levi the tax collector,) to follow Him, they headed back to Matthew’s home where Matthew hosted a “big reception for Him” (Luke 5:29) This was not some intimate gathering, but rather it was crowded with tax collectors and sinners, and apparently paparazzi, because both the Pharisee’s and the disciples of John the Baptist heard about it.

This big shindig is the setting for today’s Red Letters.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.' - Luke 5:37-39

As you probably already understand, in that day, they would put their unfermented wine into fresh leather bags, where the wine would age, and give off it’s gasses, and the skin would stretch to accommodate this expansion. As the wine aged, it became less volatile and the wine skins became less flexible.

This wine skin still worked as a perfectly acceptable vessel for other old wines that were past the fermentation stage, but could never again be use for new wine.

Ok, so we get it in the natural, but what was Jesus getting at with this teaching?

Message:

The message of the parable is pretty clear and easy to derive. The new wine He speaks of is the gospel of the kingdom, the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The old wine skins are the religious folks of the day, who are starting to crack and leak and burst at the seams as they try to take in this new wine.

Audience:

At this point in the reception He is responding to two groups of critics. I think when we approach this parable it is easy for us to point at the Pharisees as the Old School Religious folks He was rebuking, but there is a second group sitting in judgment of His carousing, the disciples of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was, in Jesus own words, the greatest prophet born of woman. Jesus gave great honor to John. John was the man who fulfilled all those prophesies, like “I send my messenger before Him to make His path straight.” He was the prophet in the spirit of Elijah who every Jewish child knew of because there was always an empty chair at the Passover feast set just for him. John the Baptist was a big deal.

But John’s day was over, and John himself pointed his followers to Jesus.

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. - John 1:35-37

But apparently there were some who had been baptized by John, who gathered together to encourage one another in their resolve to live the fasted and repentant life style John lived in the wilderness. It seems there were pockets of these disciples all over the region, because people came from far and wide to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Decades later Paul ran into some of these folks in Ephesus in Acts 19.

I believe that Jesus spoke this parable not to the Pharisees, but to these disciples of John. The parable for the Pharisees was that of the physician, but to these who were zealous for good works, the Lord has a different message.

These men were asking why Jesus’ disciples did not fast, why they were not living in the austere pattern of repentance that John’s had taught them.

I am sure God had blessed them as they walked in repentance. God showed up for them when they fasted. They were attaining some satisfaction in their walk with the Lord as they lived the life John demonstrated for them.

Then they took one look at Jesus hanging out with crowds and joining them in their parties.

The very people who did not repent and follow John were now hosting Jesus, and He was spending time with them. These are the folk that the disciples of John had set themselves against, the drunkards and gluttons.

  • Don’t they know that the way to God is through sacrifice?
  • Doesn’t everything we know about God point to His pleasure in our sacrifice?
  • How can This Man be the Messiah?
  • How can this be a move of God?
  • Isn’t our way of touching God sufficient?
  • This old wine is good enough!
  • And so it has been for the two thousand years since Jesus’ ascension, and so it is today.

God has chosen to reveal Himself to the Church progressively. Every few generations there is a move of God.

The life of the Church is like that river described in Ezekiel 47 that flows from the throne of God. The river is teaming with life, there are trees beside this river that bring healing to the nations, but the banks of the river are dead.

What happens in every generation, or at least in every new move of God is that those in the move, upon the death of its leader, build a Church on the banks of the river.

There was Luther with a break through revelation of the grace of God, and his followers built a church on the banks of the river, and rejected anything that came later. After all, the wine in their wine skin was good enough. What’s wrong with that “old time religion” that was good enough for my grandparents?

The same thing happened with Wesley, and Calvin, and Finney, and Roberts.

Jesus wants to fill your wine skin with new wine, but as you grow stiff and inflexible, you exclude yourself from the ability to grow with what God is doing today, and you  will find yourself on the banks of the river. You will be the ones criticizing ‘those upstarts.’

Lord, will you make me a new wine skin today, so I can be a carrier of new wine to my generation. [Tweet This]

Ben NelsonThanks for coming by today.

Shine where you're screwed in!

Ben

This is a repost from last November, but it spoke to me this morning, so I share it once again with you.

7

Photo Credit Huffpost.com

I want you to close your eyes – Oh wait, this is a blog – OK then, eyes open…

Let me start again.

I want you to picture in your minds eye a man chained at the wrists and ankles to a stone wall in a dark and dirty dungeon. The shackles are cutting into his flesh. Covered in filth he and his clothes are tattered and worn. He has been here for years. He is slumped in a heap on the floor against the wall, resigned to his condition.

Now see Jesus walk into that filthy prison cell. He is dressed in beautifully tailored garments, spotless, and He is clean, except for the dust on His feet from the dingy chamber’s floor. It’s as though the dirt can’t reach Him. In His nail scarred hand He holds a key. As He approaches this shell of a man, He quietly asks him to stand.

At first this man does not even register that Jesus is talking to him. He has been alone so long that it never crossed his mind that anyone would come to him, let alone this majestic and beautiful man.

Jesus again asks him to stand, and as he struggles to his feet, Jesus reaches out His hand to help the prisoner rise. As he stand to his feet, he notices for the first time the markings across Jesus’ forehead, left there from that mocking crown He once wore.

Once on his feet, Jesus continues to hold his hand and looks into his eyes. With a smile at the edges of His mouth Jesus asks, “Would you like to be free?”

This hostage can hardly believe his ears. His simple longing was for contact with life, but free? He had not dared to think of freedom.

“Yes, yes please, yes Sir, Oh Thank you, Yes” he sputters.

At this point Jesus gently applied the key to each manacle, carefully, so as not to tear the man’s bruised and raw flesh any further, and set him free. Then Jesus said

“Come with me.”

Jesus led him out of that ugly cave and into a place of beauty.

There was a warm bath drawn, and clothes laid out for him, clothes that appeared to be cut from the same material as the Master’s.

Jesus helped him out of his rags and into the bath, and, as if he were a child, Jesus bathed Him until he was squeaky clean. Next He helped this newly free man (let’s call him Chris) into the garments of righteousness Jesus had tailor made just for him. They were a perfect fit.

Shortly after his freedom encounter he started to feel a longing to be with other folks who knew this freedom.

There was a church not far from his home, so on Sunday morning he donned his new clothes and headed down the street.

Upon arriving he was greeted and welcomed by a friendly couple. They seemed to be beaming, and made him feel like he was in the right place. They were dressed in similar clothing, yet each was fitted and equipped differently. There were a number of children buzzing around the couple, and as they shook hands, Chris noticed the scars on the young man’s wrists, a happy reminder to him of his new freedom. They quickly made him feel at home and helped Chris find his way around the facility.

As he left their company, he bumped into another gent. Also dressed in robes clearly made by the Master. He seemed a bit downcast. He did not have that same exuberance Chris had observed in the couple closer to the door.

Chris, encouraged by his encounter with the young parents eagerly offered his hand in greeting, but this gent held his hands behind his back and was not nearly as forthcoming in his welcome and greeting. As he introduced himself he somewhat awkwardly retracted his hand and slid it into his pocket.

Then he noticed something strange. This new acquaintance was in deed wearing a Jesus-made garment, but under it and around the edges he could see evidence that he had his filthy old clothes on underneath.

As he entered the sanctuary he saw dozens of folks already inside. Some were chatting quietly. Here and there he noticed a few more gregarious folks laughing and talking in what seemed like no regard for this beautiful place.

After his last encounter in the lobby, he began to look around and see if others might still have their old clothes on. Here and there he got a glimpse of a tatter or a rag. He even noticed a few folks who were carrying their chains.

The strange thing is the chains were not locked. These folks had somehow latched the manacles back onto their wrists, even though it was apparent that they were not locked.

Chris took his seat and a minute or two later the gent he met in the lobby came shuffling down the aisle. It was then that Chris noticed the cuffs on his ankles. They looked just like the ones Jesus had freed Chris from just days before.

Again, as with the others around him, the man’s anklets were not locked, just jury-rigged to stay on. As he passed, Chris got a look at his hands and sure enough, he was wearing handcuffs.

The service started and they sang songs of praise to their great Savior and Deliverer, Jesus. They sang songs of freedom, but most were forward looking to a freedom in the future.

After a couple songs a man slid in next to Chris.

[How is this new character dressed? Hmmm.

Shall we dress him in a red suit and put horns and a pitchfork in his hands? I think not. Perhaps all in black with a big black 10-gallon hat? No, that won’t do either. Let’s dress him in church clothes. Let’s put him in khakis and a polo shirt, or perhaps a suit and tie (this I will leave to your imagination since I am not sure what Church clothes look like to you.)]

So this new parishioner sidled up to Chris and began, in a whisper, to chat with Chris as the service continued.

“Are you new here?” he asked

“It’s my firsts time. Are you a member?” Chris responded.

“Oh, I have been sitting in the pews since the first time this Church met here” he said.

Chris thought it was strange that this guy was neither wearing the Jesus made clothing nor was he wearing rags, and he showed no signs of either chains or scars. How did he fit in?

Then this odd gent spoke up again.

“So, young man, where are your chains?”

“Jesus removed them, what a relief that was. I felt like they had been with me my whole life, and finally I am completely free from those shackles. I owe Jesus so much!”

“Are you trying to tell me that you’re no longer chained to that old nature? Didn’t I see you looking with lust at that woman on your way in this morning? Didn’t I see a glint of envy in your eye when you saw the deacon’s car in the lot? Wasn’t that comment you just made to me about freedom as good as a lie?”

This put Chris a little off kilter and he was not sure how to respond. Who was his new accuser, and how did he see so aptly the struggles Chris had been having that very morning.

Then he remembers what Jesus had done.

“Jesus unlocked my chains, He set me free, He washed me, He gave me these clothes and told me to wear them.”

“So then, you are not denying these feelings? You are saying that you are still a sinner, still bound and just pretending to be free?”

“NO” said Chris, raising his voice slightly. Then more quietly, but still with conviction and force, “no, I am not 'still bound.' I saw the scars on Jesus. He paid for my sin, and took them away. I am still tempted, this is true. Even in the short time since my release, I have stumbled a time or two. But I am free. I refuse to go back and get those chains. I refuse to carry around the baggage and bondage of my old slavery.”

He continued “I have a new heart, that though it is tempted, it has a deep desire to please my Lord and Master. There are even things that I never knew offended Him that this new heart tells me about myself.”

“I am sorry,” Chris finished, “but I will not listen to any more of your lies.”

Chris got up and moved to a different row, and raised up his scared by beautifully empty wrists and hand and began to sing love songs to his Great Deliverer.

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