I have to tell you, it’s another Red Letter Day today and I want to talk with you about some pretty serious Red letters. Jesus said:

But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’

He was at a reception at the house of His new friend and follower Matthew. The place was crawling with the lowest of the low in the day’s Jewish economy.

When the Pharisees begin complaining about this He gives them this quote from the prophet Hosea to think about. Here is His full comment:

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." ~ Matthew 9:12-13

To tell a Pharisee “go and learn” is quite a slap in the face. These are the men who have spent their life learning. These are the scholars of the day. As I understand it they were required to memorize most, if not all of what we call the Old Testament, certainly all of the books of Moses.

These men knew the law, and kept it. When God demanded 1 tenth of their increase, they would apply it right down to mint leaves, and cumin seeds, one for God and nine for me.

But they did not have compassion.

You see righteousness man’s way leads to a rigid and judgmental heart. When we define a relationship with God in terms of the keeping of the Law, we end up with a system that is always comparing.

A system based on who makes the biggest sacrifice leave everyone a loser. The one who has the least to give feels worthless, the one in the middle falls short, and the one on the top gets puffed up with pride.

A system based on compassion on the other hand makes everyone a winner. If you dare to open your heart to those around you, you will find that your offering of love may take empower the recipient and the giver.

When I say offering, I am not necessarily talking about a money offering.

What does compassion give?

Friendship
Shelter
Protection
Equipping
Resources

What would you add to the list?

Let’s get free of this stinking sacrificial system. The sacrifice has been made – Jesus – once and for all. Our job is to LOVE, to have Compassion and Mercy, to offer Grace.

Ben NelsonLearn what that means!

See you again soon

Ben

Many Waters - SoS header

For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers have already appeared in the land;
The time has arrived for pruning the vines,

And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.
The fig tree has ripened its figs,

And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. ~ Song of Songs 2:11-13

I owe you two more signs of life – The figs and vine blossoms.

We have been looking at season change now for a few weeks here on the SoS Saturday blog, and I hope it is doing you some good, I know it is helping me.

Today we start with the fig. I learned what I am about to share from  preacher and author Winkie Pratney in a sermon I had on cassette tape (that’s a audio medium about the size of an iPod which held between 45 minutes to 2 hours of audio only info) which I just about wore out, I listened to it so often. It was his sermon, “True or False Conversion,” or at least I think that was the name of the sermon.

In it he related the fact that as a child growing up in Australia, they had a fig tree in his yard, and what was unique about a fig tree was that the fruit shows up before the leaves. There would be fruit on the branches and as the fruit matured the leaves would come to protect the figs from the heat of the sun.

This opened my eyes to that story when Jesus cursed the fig tree. You remember? It was during His last week in ministry after the triumphal entry during His commute between Bethany where He was staying and Jerusalem where He was headed to turn over some tables. He came upon a fig tree with leaves. Though it was not yet fig season, He cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit.

I always wondered why curse a fig tree that does not have fruit out of season. Well, here’s the thing – it had leaves which were an indication that fruit was there. It had all the trappings of fruit, but could not satisfy.

Here is why this is so damnable.  As a fruit tree in His garden, to walk around with the trappings of fruit – with the air of spiritual life – and bear no fruit is the height of hypocrisy.

If you have no fruit in your life (and I don’t really care how you measure it, fruit of the spirit, or fruit of followers – whatever) and yet carry an air of spiritual life, you are in a very (VERY) precarious place.

Way better to own your fruit poverty, and pursue Him for the solution, than to look like you are doing great and it all be a sham.

Lord, today I need You to bring fruit to my vines, and help me to be honest with those around me, and moreover with myself about where I am.

Dang – I have gone too long already – well – one more week for signs of life. I know today was more of an anti-life sign blog. I do hope your tracking with me though.

Ben NelsonThanks for stopping by today.

See you next week

Ben

If bearing spiritual fruit is not some act of strict discipline, what is it?

As I mentioned yesterday the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

is not a collection of nine different virtues each standing alone. The word fruit in context is singular, so it should not be read the fruits of the Spirit are love and joy and… It’s more like: The fruit of the apple tree is red, round, sweet, juicy, containing seeds… Do you see what I mean.

So a reading like this might help. The fruit of a life marked by the Spirit’s work in a believer's would be walking in love, full of joy, governed and marked by peace…

It might help to understand that Jesus walked this way. When I read of the life of Jesus, I do not see a man driven by a strict life of discipline, but rather One Who kept connected to the Father because He delighted in the Father.

Doing the will of the Father was not something He struggled with. It was His food – meat no less. Veggies – well – when I was a kid, I had to be reminded, and as an adult sometimes it requires discipline to eat veggies, but meat – well – let me say it this way – you should not stand between me and the fillet.

Hey – I get that we need discipline in our lives. Self-control is actually one of the descriptors of this wonderful fruit your life is becoming.

Fruit grows when connected to the vine. Our job – our only real point of discipline is to stay connected. And frankly, this only requires discipline in the dark and hard times. Most of the time this disciple is more like delight.

Paul is not giving commands or even instructions in Galatians 5:22-23. He is explaining the outcome of a life lived by the one instruction he did give in vs 16 [Tweet This]

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Get up close to God today – Plug In – and stay plugged in.

God is crazy about you.

I agree with Him.

BenSee you tomorrow

Ben

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
So is my beloved among the young men.
In his shade I took great delight and sat down,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
(Song of Songs 2:3 NASB)

Picture this. You are hiking in the forest, and you have been at it for hours. Your stomach is feeling the hunger that comes from both the exertion and the fresh air. Your body is running low on fuel. It’s time for a little break and a snack.

Rather than digging a Nature Valley bar from your backpack, you come upon an apple tree, clearly well maintained, with low hanging fruit ripe for the picking. There is even a sign welcoming travelers to help themselves.

photo credit: eLKayPics via photopin cc
photo credit: eLKayPics via photopin cc

You grab an apple or two; give them a rub on the sleeve of your flannel shirt. You can feel the first bite all the way down to your boots. The apple juice spurts onto your cheeks and runs down your hand.

As you sit on the ground with your back resting on the trunk and stretch your legs you feel more relaxed and refreshed than you did lying in your bed this morning.

The apple tree is a picture of the refreshing that come through intimacy with the Lord Jesus. Religion does not refresh. When we are constantly trying to please an angry and vindictive God, as many religious groups position Him, it is anything but refreshing.

I have often heard folks speak of a God who engendered fear, and not with a healthy ‘fear of the Lord’ fear, but an assurance that because they messed up today, God is shocked and angry. Yep – it sure caught your Creator and Savior by surprise that you failed today.

This is no apple tree. Religion is not helpful.

No, biting into the apple brings joy and pleasure, fulfillment and reassurance. You find that Jesus knew you were headed to this very place, so He planted an apple tree (50 years ago) so it would be ready for you today. You find He has prepared this place for you, with nourishing refreshment.

It is also a place of protection from the Sun’s intense rays. In the shade of this tree, you are impervious to the persecution and affliction the sun represents. (see  Matthew 13:5-6, 20-22 and “The Rocky Soil”) Don't get me wrong - persecution and affliction will still come, but when you know you are safe, and they can not damage what is real and important.

It is not simply a place of protection, and a source of refreshing, but it is a place of rest. It is one of the strange paradoxes of scripture that we enter into the rest of salvation in order to do the work God has ordained for us to fulfill, but that is the way it is – strange but true.

Have you found that when you are walking in the will of God, and you know it, though you certainly get tired, you don’t get fatigued? I know this is true. By the same token you can be running from thing to thing doing “good things,” even church things, and find yourself burnt out in short order.

We must find this tree – this apple tree – and rest under its branches.

One last thought on these lines.

He is one tree – The One Tree – in the forest – a unique tree – The Only Tree – of its kind. Just as He has observed that we are lilies among the thorns, He is a tree of refreshing in the dark forest of life.

One more last thought (sorry – I can’t help myself.) This makes me think that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden could not have been an apple tree – this is not the forbidden fruit.

No – in fact – Jesus is the Tree of Life!

Ben

I love the images in this song!

See you next week.

Ben

My Beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms In the vineyards of Engedi. (Song of Songs 1:14 NASB)

Ok – here we go again with these cryptic references to things and places we don’t know.

Let me start today with another “I’m no scholar” disclaimer. I will say that there is great value in scholarship, so please don’t take my admission as any dishonor to the scholars in our midst. Not at all!

That said – here is what I understand:

Engedi was famous for it’s gardens and vineyards. They were mature and well maintained, and famous far and wide for their beauty and sweet fragrances.

Here is the thing – the beauty and fragrance of her Lover point to the fact that unlike her first encounters with religion  - (remember the bucket brigade?) – which were burdensome and full of stress, when she actually gets up close to her Shepherd King it is a sweet fragrance and beauty that can only be compared to this world famous garden.

Throughout the Song we are going to view the vineyard as the personal spiritual life of the believer. As she gazes on Jesus, she sees that a relationship of this kind is nothing like religion.

Sadly, it is all to easy for the most rigorously spontaneous of us to fall into religious patterns, and lose sight of the fact that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

O beloved, there is such a wonderful freedom and blessed joy that comes with our yoking ourselves with the Lord Jesus.

I pray the Spirit that anointed Jesus for the liberation of each of us would set you free today.

Breath deeply of the fragrance of freedom today.

Ben
Come back next week.

Ben

A few years ago I had been meditating on the accounts in each gospel of the woman who wept over Jesus and anointed Him with the Spikenard. I was asked at that time to share with a group of about 20 college folks and I decided to put together a dramatic presentation – sort of a One Act play bringing together aspects of the various tellings.

I will warn you  - I make many assumptions which I cannot defend at all. You might be better off considering this fiction based on true events.

I am assuming (or maybe pretending) that:

  • All 4 gospels that tell this story at different times in Christ’s ministry with differing details are actually telling the same story from their own perspective when it bests fits in their narrative

Simon who hosts this dinner which she invades is:

  • Simon the Pharisee
  • Simon the leper
  • Simon the father of Judas Iscariot
  • Simon who I saw on classmates.com in Mary’s high School year book. (just kidding)

The story is told for the most part from Simon’s perspective and I hope it speaks to you.

The background, and true stories can be found in the following passages:

  • Luke 7:36-50
  • Matthew 26:7-14
  • John 12:2-8
  • Mark 14:3-9
  • Luke 17:12-18 (10 lepers)

One act of Worship

Simon – To himself – Thinking out loud

Today is the big day – dinner party – make sure the guest all are seated in the correct place. Make sure the right people get the places of honor. Mayor here, Annas and Caiaphas  - well not right next to each other, but at this end of the table. And we will put Jesus right in the center.

I have to make sure everyone knows that I know him, and make sure everyone sees what kind of relationship we have. After all look at my hands – clean as a new born baby – not white as snow – the way they were with that leprosy.

That was horrible – imagine – me – a Pharisee, with a great future. I had it all going for me. Circumcised on the 8th day – Barr mitzvah in Jerusalem with the high priest present to officiate.  I went to all the rights schools, and was accepted by the religious leaders. I became a Pharisee – and was looked up to by the whole town. I had such power until that fateful day. At first I thought it was just a rash – nothing to worry about. But soon it was obvious – I had leprosy – it could not be – not me – I was a Pharisee – how could I have leprosy? Now I was no Pharisee – now I was a leper! No longer a big wig in town, but an outcast. I could not stay in my own house. I had to go and live with the others. What a vile group – the smell was enough to make you gag. And the dogs that came and licked our wounds – it was horrible. I have never known such humiliation – such shame – such degradation.

Then one day it happened – I was with a group of lepers outside of Samaria and one of them started calling to Jesus. I had heard of him before, but I had never heard or seen him myself, but there he was walking right toward us. We were desperate, and asked him if there was anything he could do for us. He told us to go show ourselves to the priest! What was he thinking – we were lepers, how could we go to the priest? So we all turned and headed back down the road, and as we went – the leprosy disappeared. I could hardly believe it. I was clean again. I made a bee-line to the temple where I showed myself to the priest, and made the offerings required by the law.

It was not long after my cleansing that my boy Judas started traveling with Jesus’ men. Last I heard he was actually the treasurer for the group. He may come to something after all my son.

Getting back into the good graces of the temple has not been easy. I am just starting to get back on my feet, just starting to make the right connections. Today, this party I am throwing should really get me back in. The mayor is supposed to come, and maybe even the high priest. And the best part is Jesus will be here. Maybe he will do something amazing. He is always surprising people with his stunts.

So I have to make sure everything is just so – I hired Martha to come and wait tables – she can bring off a feast like no one else.

Guests are arriving. Yes Caiaphas – you sit here, and Mayor – you sit over here, and we will put Jesus here, right next to Gamailiel. Nichodemus, you sit down here, and yes – that is just perfect. I have not forgotten anything. Here comes Jesus and His men. I think I will sit Judas right beside Jesus. Maybe I can help his career at the same time as I help mine.

Wait – what is this – what is she doing here? Mary – that slut – what is she doing in my house? How did she get in here, and what is she doing near Jesus? Always strutting her stuff, that one. I remember when we were teenagers together and she was always wearing clothes that were too flashy and low cut. I have heard stories about her and half the men in town. What is she doing with Jesus? What is that racket – how can we carry on a normal conversation? I am trying to get the nod for that position in the temple, and all everybody is looking at is this spectacle. All that weeping. Can’t she keep it down? She is fawning over Jesus. Sitting behind him and weeping, and now she is wiping his feet in her hair!

Wait – what is that smell – it smells like the costly perfume I bought to bury my uncle last month? That is it – it’s spikenard – look – she is pouring it all over Jesus. There must be a pound of it – that would cost a full year’s wages even for me. And she is just wasting it! This is a disaster – what will all my guests think. I have to get her out of her.

I really don’t get it – it does not take a prophet to know who this is. Could Jesus be so blind not to know that she is the town whore? I wouldn’t even let her touch me – after all – what would people think? And imagine this colossal waste – it would have been better to just give it to help the poor. Then at least there is a tax deduction. But this is sheer waste.

Jesus speaks to Simon:

Simon, don’t stop her. This that looks like a waste to you is actually preparation for my burial. You can do good things for the poor any time, but I will not be here much longer. When I arrived, you did not even assign a servant to wash my feet, and yet this woman has not stopped wiping them with her hair, and washing them with her tears. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with her costly perfume.

Tell me what you think. If a land owner has two men who owe him money, one $100 and one $1,000,000, and he forgives both of them, which do you think will love him more? Of course the one who was forgiven the larger debt.

Jesus speaks to Mary:

Mary, because you have loved me with abandon, I forgive you all your sins, which are many. And because of this great act of love you have displayed on me, you will be remembered everywhere anyone tells my story.

Copyright - 2012 -  Benjamin Nelson

Why do some Bibles highlight the words of Jesus in red? Isn’t it all the Word of God? Absolutely! Every Word of God – the entire Bible as we have it today is the inspired and
inerrant Word of God, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So why make
some of it red and the rest in black.
Jesus says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits
nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
(John
6:63 NASB) Jesus says of His own words – they are Spirit and they are Life. Jesus
is the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14) God spoke the Word (Jesus) and created all
things. There is no more powerful force in the universe that the Word of Jesus.
“If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of
our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is
conceited and understands nothing…” (I Timothy 6:3,4a NASB) Paul tells us that
all doctrine must line up with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate
plumb line. We must judge all doctrine and all our theology against the life
and words of Jesus. It is a big mistake to take the words of Paul and allow
your interpretation of them to “trump” the words of Jesus. This goes for the
Old Testament as well. For instance, if you take the example of the life of Job
and superimpose it over the life of Jesus, and explain away the words of Jesus
based on the life of Job, you are misunderstanding.
Paul also tells us: “…attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of
understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ
Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians
2:2b,3 NASB) Here we see that true wealth and treasure is all hidden in Christ.
Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us that Jesus is the express image of God, so if we want to
see what God is really like, we should not dig around in the Old Testament, but
rather look at the clear image of God – Jesus.
This blog will ponder some of the red letters – Jesus’ own words - and hopefully encourage
and challenge the reader to get closer to Him, and conform more fully to His
likeness.


Thanks for reading!

Ben