Books, Books, and More Books

These are 10 books I have read that I thought you might want to take a look at.  Some of them are for the theologically inclined and others are for personal devotion.  Each one of these books has added to my personal growth in the Lord and thus, I share them with you in no particular order hopes that they will do the same.

Life Together  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Everybody Wants to Go to heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die (David Crowder)
God’s Politics:  Why the Right Gets it Wrong And the Left Doesn’t Get It (Jim Wallis)
Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)
Intuitive Leadership Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos (Tim Keel)
Paul for Everyone Romans (N.T. Wright)
Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger (Ronald J Sider)
A Community Called Atonement (Scot McKnight)
Fear and Trembling (Soren A. Kierkegaard)
Bondage of the Will (Martin Luther)

I am excited to start a few new books, which I have recently bought.  Here are a couple of books I am looking forward to beginning:

Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright)
The Shaping of Things to Come (Alan Hirsch/Michael Frost)
Exiles (Michael Frost)
What Would Jesus Deconstruct?  The Good News of Postmdernism for the Church (John Caputo)

Do you have any books you would like to recommend or share?  Please let me know

Doing Church: Acts 5

We are continuing our study through the book of Acts.  We seem to be taking a little longer through the first couple of chapters than I had expected but I guess that is how it goes sometimes.  In this chapter (chapter 5), we are faced with two people who attempted to hide the truth from God.  Ananias and Sapphira are two individuals who sold a plot of land for some unknown price and decided to only give half of the money the made from their land to the Apostles.  One of the questions I have always wanted to know is:  whom on earth did these people sell their land to?  Were these people from within the community that were better off or were these transactions with other people from outside the community of believers?  Where was this land within the scheme of the community in the first place?  Did they deal with other believers or were they unequally yoked?  Sometimes, I feel like I am playing The Sims in that when we read the stories of the Bible, we are only allowed to live within the context of the storyline we are given.  Apparently there are people who have a lot of land.  Apparently, they sell it to other people who have a lot of money and then bring their money to the Apostles who, for whatever reason we are not told, receive the money to distribute to those who are in need without asking how they came upon getting that kind of money.  I don’t think it is the biggest issue of the story.  I do find it odd though that these questions are not even considered within the context of the Bible.  Maybe I am just fishing for something that is not important but I have honest questions regarding the business transactions between the landowners and the buyers of this property.  How honest were the dealings of these transactions?  Do we even know?  Did the Apostles care?  I guess perhaps I am reaching for something – I just don’t know.

So Ananias and Sapphira are found to be in sin – like Adam and Eve – they attempt to hide their actions and live as though perhaps God will not take note of their actions.  I think I have stated this a lot more this past week to several people I know – but we must constantly take note, that God takes note of our actions no matter how big or small they seem to appear.  Ananias and Sapphira did not have to sell their plot of land and they were not required to give all of its proceeds to the Apostles.  So where did they go wrong?

They went wrong in the manner in which they gave the proceeds to the Apostles.  We are not told exactly from the Scriptures but – reading between the lines a bit – we are told that Ananias and Sapphira told the Apostles that the land was sold for a certain amount of money when it was really sold for twice the amount.  I wonder if the Apostles knew from the get-go that Ananias was lying.  It is like me telling someone that I sold my car for “x” amount of dollars when I actually sold it either for more or for less.   Have you ever read this passage and thought, “Man, why didn’t you just give the money and go?”  I have.  Then again, I wonder how many times I have acted out in that same fashion.

I can clearly see why Peter was so upset with Ananias and Sapphira.  I don’t understand why they dropped dead as a result of their sin.  It says that the people were filled with awe (phobia) when they heard about it – I don’t doubt it at all.   I wonder what would happen if one of the pastors of our church knew our dirty laundry and came to my house and began to ask me questions about personal things – my finances and whatnot.  Would I be able to be honest with them or would I try to hide the truth from them so it seemed as though I was perfectly okay?  Would I lie to them and make them believe that I have no downfalls or that I was “perfect in the sight of God?”  Would I be superficial in my comments or would I start unpacking my crap that I need to deal with?  I can only hope that I would not take the Ananias road in this respect.

So – what have I learned from this passage (other than honesty is the best policy)?  I have learned that we are so consumed with building security for our future we would even attempt to hide parts of our actions from others.  Being in community is hard work.  It takes a person willing to be in relationship with other people in the context of the body of Christ.  Genesis to Revelation, God is seen wanting to dwell among His people.  Will we allow Go to dwell among us within our community?  I hope we can.  Maybe if we were to figure out how we could do that, we can learn to be honest with one another and feel free to live as a people set apart for the work of God.  I wonder

My Three Month Study on Baptism

I have spent the past three months studying the issue of baptism. I do not claim to have all the answers. This is however, from my study, what I have found to be true of how we should understand baptism. I hope it will be beneficial to your personal study.

One of the church’s major debates, which have split congregations, is the belief in baptism and how it should be done. Many churches believe it should be full immersion in to water others believe it should be sprinkled over one’s head. Still others believe it should be done when you are a newborn baby while others believe it should be an act done when one is in their adolescence or when approaching adulthood.

A mikveh is a ritual bathhouse that must meet many specifications. The water of the mikveh must be natural (gathered into the mikveh pool by natural means) not by unnatural means (not by a bucket or some other man made object). Other requirements place the minimum of forty se’ah (250-1,000 liters) collected and the water must be pure (no discoloration). Being that the qualifications for a “pure” mikveh are very difficult, especially in areas where there is low rainfall, there have been many different ingenious methods devised to construct mikva’ot according to the ‘halakhah’ (rule book). The most common was is to collect the required amount of ‘natural’ water into a storage cistern, which is connected, to the actual bath. The bath is filled and emptied at will with ordinary tap water. When it is filled it becomes connected to the natural water in the cistern through the aperture and thus itself becomes a valid mikveh.

Cleansing oneself in an ordinary bath or shower cannot replace the necessity of immersion in the mikveh. On the other hand, careful cleansing of the body must precede immersion in the mikveh. The purpose of immersion is therefore not physical, but spiritual, cleanliness.

PURIFICATION:

Purification seems like an expression one does not use much anymore. In fact, realizing the contemporary condition of the humanity is far-flung from purity. It is purity God seeks so one might be set apart as His people. It is imperative to erect a familiar position in which one might recognize the stipulation of the Jewish people and why keeping one pure is essential in Jewish ideologies and beliefs. Purification derived within the context of being “unclean” moreover, it was that of being “guilty of something in which one did.” When the laws of God, received by Moses were written and reputed, they focused on the idea of being “set apart” from others who have conformed to the ways of the world. The modernization of earlier rabbinic Judaism is the view of impurity – leprosy—not as a metaphor for sin universal, but as a symbol a specific offense has been committed. The employment of purity –laws in this correlation therefore constitutes part of the rabbinic accounting for and justification of the fate of the Jewish people after the eradication of the Second Temple and, in particular, the calamity of the Bar Kokhba War – the time of Meir, Yosé, Simeon b. Yohai, and Simeon b. Eleazar.

Purity within the Jewish Talmud

Just as the people were told thy had sinned but could achieve regeneration through atonement and good behavior, so in the specific and very ordinary instances of disease or early death one might try to show a particular sin lay at the origin of the suffering. The purity –rules provide an explanation for individual suffering because the impurity-leprosy menstruation-afflicts the private person. So through their interpretation of the purity laws, the early post-70 rabbis’ generalized allegation that Israel suffered on account of sin after 135 is made precise and concrete in the life of the private person.

Significance of Purity

The most important point for the interpretation of purity in Judaism is the relationship between cleanness and morality, uncleanness and sin. “… a new kind of relation between pollution and morals emerges when purification alone is taken to be an adequate treatment for moral wrongs. Then the whole complex of ideas including pollution and purification become a kind of safety net which allows people to perform what, in terms of social structure, could be like acrobatic feats on the high wire… (Douglas 137). These reasons allow one to see the importance of immersion and purification of the temple.

OLD TESTAMENT USAGE:

It is important to have a basic understanding in which there is a common ground, which will aid as important to the subjectivity of water baptism. The word immersion, also known as baptism, comes from the Hebrew word mikveh meaning water gathered in one place. This word is first used in Genesis 1 in the literal seven-day creation of the world. And G-d said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear,” and it was so (Genesis 1:9 emphasis mine). There is another word in the Hebrew language, which refers to baptism called kabac. This word is used numerous times in the Old Testament, particularly in the Torah (the five books of Moses). This word is used in reference of washing clothes. Another word, which refers to immersion, is tevilah. Tevilah refers the ceremony of immersion is the actual immersion and the mikveh is the waters gathered in one place to be used for immersion.

In Leviticus, there are many scriptures, which help one to fully understand the meaning of immersion. It was for purification of the body; those considered “unclean” (Lev. 14: 8-9, 15). Aaron and his sons ceremonially washed for priesthood (Lev.8:5-6). When the people celebrated the Day of Atonement, Aaron had bathed himself to enter the most Holy Place of the temple to be with God (Lev. 16: 3-4). On the same day, the one chosen to release the scapegoat into the desert had to ceremonially bath. He also had to burn his clothes (Lev.16: 26-18). Immersion is very important to a Jewish person because not only was it a tradition that was followed, it was law to be immersed. This was law and a Jewish person would not go against the law God had given them. There were in fact, three things a Jewish man or woman would have to do to show he or she was a Jew, God’s chosen people. These three acts are circumcision (Genesis 17:11), sacrifice (Exodus 24:7-8) and immersion (Exodus 19:10). Immersion in Exodus 19:10 are mikveh symbolizing the washing of garments.

Looking to Jewish traditions, before one is married (woman and man) one must be immersed. She must do this because of the prohibition of a man to have relations with his menstruous wife (during her menses and for a period of seven “clean” days thereafter) and this must be done on the evenings prior to the marriage. Another reason why the woman will immerse herself is due to the status change of authority over her. Since the time of birth, the woman is under the authority of her father. When she is to be married, she will at that time, be under the authority of her husband until death.
JEWISH TRADITONS OF IMMERSION:

Female Immersion Before Marriage

A foreign object that adheres to the body or hair, preventing contact with the water of the mikveh, is called a chatzitzah (barrier), and invalidates the immersion. Halacha requires that foreign material be removed, even if it does not disturb her or adhere tightly to her body or hair. Knotted hair also constitutes a chatzitzah, as the knots cannot come into full contact with the mikveh water. To prevent such problems, a woman should follow a series of steps, summarized below, in preparation for immersing in the mikveh. These include both cleansing (chafifah) and inspection (iyun). Most mikva’ot has checklists in the preparation rooms to prevent inadvertent omission of any of the required steps.

Chafifah (Cleansing)

Cleansing is required by rabbinic decree. Originally, only a thorough washing of the hair (the literal meaning of chafifah) was required, but the law was subsequently extended to include the entire body. A woman should do the following: 1) She should remove obvious barriers, such as clothing, jewelry, or contact lenses. 2) Bandages should also be removed. If bandages or other items cannot be removed for medical reasons, she should consult a rabbi. 3) Because dirt beneath the nails is a chatzitzah, the custom is to cut nails short. 4) She should remove all makeup. If she has permanent makeup, hair dye, or a well-maintained manicure that she is reluctant to remove, she should consult a rabbi. 5) She should wash her hair with warm water and shampoo. The hair on her head must be thoroughly combed with a comb; other body hair may be separated with the fingers. 6) Hair that is still attached to her body, even where it is undesired (e.g., leg or underarm hair) is not a chatzitzah. But since some authorities maintain that this leniency does not apply to hair about to be removed, a woman who is about to cut or shave her hair should do so before immersing. She should take care to wash away the removed hairs. For this reason it is recommended to shave earlier that day or on the day prior to immersion. 7) She should wash her entire body with soap and water. Preferably, she should use only warm water, but if there is a limited supply, she may wash her body with cold water and save the warm water for washing her hair. While it is customary to bathe in a bathtub, she may take a shower instead, as long as she is careful to wash her entire body.  Parts of the body whose natural form prevents water from entering (e.g., the armpits, under the breasts, and other crevices) are known as beit hastarim – hidden places. These areas need not actually come in contact with the mikveh water, but they must not be prevented from doing so by any chatzitzah (When a woman immerses in the mikveh, her entire body including all of her hair must be submerged in the water at one time. In general, anything, which adheres to the body or hair and prevents contact with the water, invalidates the immersion). Therefore, they must be cleaned thoroughly, and often require special attention. Similar rules apply to internal parts of the body – in particular, the inside of the mouth. Therefore, she should thoroughly brush and floss her teeth.

Lyun (Inspection)

Torah law requires inspection prior to immersion. 1) She should visually inspect all visible parts of her body to ensure that they are free of foreign material. 2) She should inspect the other parts of her body by touch. 3) She should check her hair for knots.

Upon immersing in the mikveh, one recites the Baruch (blessing) “… asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al hatevilah…who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us on immersion.” Many Sephardic women recite this Baruch while wearing a robe, and then undress and immerse in the mikveh. This is in accordance with the general practice that a Baruch should immediately precede the performance of a mitzvah. The prevalent Ashkenazic custom, however, is to immerse once, recite the Baruch while standing in the mikveh with the water at least waist-high, and then immerse again. Although one may not normally recite a Baruch while undressed, in this case the water is considered a sufficient covering. One should not look down into the water while reciting the blessing. Some women also cross their arms below the heart to separate the upper body from the lower body, and some cover their hair with a cloth.

A woman must immerse at least once after she recites the Baruch. Some women have the custom to immerse additional times or to recite additional prayers.

On Shabbat and Yom Tov

Many elements of chafifah (preparations for immersion), are prohibited or restricted on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Therefore, a woman who plans to immerse in the mikveh on Friday night or the night of Yom Tov should complete her preparations at home before she lights candles. This includes bathing, washing and combing hair, and cutting nails. At the mikveh, she should wet her body and hair prior to immersing. This prevents hair from floating on top of the water, and ensures that all parts of her body will be in contact with water during her immersion. During the week, women usually wet themselves in the shower just before immersion. But bathing on Shabbat is normally forbidden, particularly in warm water. Furthermore, most baths and showers do not allow for the use of hot water on Shabbat because more water is automatically heated up (this is prohibited on Shabbat but not on Yom Tov). Therefore, rather than taking a cold shower, many women immerse once in the previously warmed mikveh to wet themselves before the halachically significant immersion. Some mikva’ot, however, are equipped with showers designed for use on Shabbat. One should clarify the proper procedure with the mikveh attendant before entering the preparation room. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, just as on any other day, a woman needs to visually inspect herself for barriers before immersing. If she finds a problem, she should ask the mikveh attendant how to proceed. Due to the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov, the procedures may be different than on a weekday.

NEW TESTAMENT USAGE:

The Greek word for immersion is bapto, which loosely translated to be dipped into the water. In the eyes of a Jewish person, this is a very poor translation of the word. The word bapto is used in John 13:26 when Jesus dipped the morsel of bread and gave it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot and Satan then entered into him.

Different Methods of Baptism with Different Views:

It is important to take a quick look at the diverse outlooks denominations hold on subjects of institution of baptismal acts. Scrutiny of these views of baptism is not held as correct methods of baptism but is solely different responses to baptism within their respected denomination. “Anabaptists stressed that only are to be baptized; as a result they rejected infant baptism as invalid, necessitating the rebaptism of those who had become believers but who had received only infant baptism” (Enns 456). Catholic’s believe “baptism is the sacrament that frees man from original sin and from personal guilt, which makes him a member of Christ and his church” (F.S. 957).

“Mainline’ dispensationalism avoids the excesses of ultra-dispensationalism. This subgroup within dispensationalism in its most radical form has limited applicable Scriptures to some of Paul’s epistles” (Enns 525). Finally, Lutherans believe baptism is a “vehicle” that communicates the grace of God. There is a larger priority put on God’s promise. Thus as Enns writes, “Luther later taught that unbelievers profit from the sacraments” (Enns 453). These views again are not seen as correct forms of baptism rather give some insight within some of the more popular views, which denominations hold within their congregations.

In The Name of Jesus:

The term “in the name of” was only a common phrase in the New Testament. “It is relatively certain that in the early Church one commonly referred to baptism as being done ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’ or something similar. One strange thing with this phrase is that the construction in what seems to be its earliest form, viz. ‘into the name of…’ (Gk eis to onoma) was not otherwise used in normal Gk, except for the language of banking, in which it referred to the account/name ‘into’ which a sum of money was placed. It does not occur in the LXX” (Herion 586). Matthew uses this terminology within his gospel (10:41-42; 18:20) also; Luke reveals that ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 8:16; 19:5) was what he was taught in order to refer to the Messiah. John as well uses this phrase possibly in naming Christ (1 Cor 1:13, 15) say only ‘Christ,’ Gal 3:27 ‘into Christ’ and Rom 6:3 ‘into Christ Jesus.’

John the Mikva’ot

John the Baptist is found to be the primary character, baptizing citizens with water. He is also, as one would bring to mind the one who baptized Jesus in the waters. There are a few Jewish traditions to fully welcome this amazing day in Israel. The first thing is immersion is not like it is today. The baptizer would not hold the person’s nose or envelop their face and slam them into the water and baptize them. This is truly not practiced and would not have been adept in the time of John. The baptizer would christen people to approach and witness the baptism. This was usually done with a message calling for remorse from their peccadillo and for them to be baptized in water to be purified. The baptizer would saunter out with the person wanting to be baptized, and be an encouragement to the one who is being baptized. To be fully immersed, your whole body must be under the water. If your hair was long and floated above the water, the baptizer would gently push the hair of the person under completing the immersion. This has a lot of symbolism as most Jewish tradition is founded on. John the Baptist baptized the people of Jerusalem and all Judea and the entire region about the Jordan acknowledging their sins (Mt. 3:6). His message was simple, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt. 3:11). Jesus also came to John to be baptized. John avowed, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me (14)? Jesus told John to immerse Him. Scripture then says “immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (16-17). “Tradition places the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River near Jericho. Although baptism was not specifically included in Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (Luke 9:1-5), nor to the Seventy (Luke 10:1-6), the disciples employed it as the initiation into a new moral order, as Josh the Baptist had, even though Jesus refrained from personally administering the ceremony (John 4:2). Jesus Christ was baptized for the reason that of Jewish tradition; He was changing his status, which anointed the beginning of His ministry the Father had sent Him to bring about. This is momentous to understanding the rejoinder of Jesus and the Father.

Paul and Baptism

“Paul’s view of baptism was being baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Romans 6: 1-14 is filled with petition for life consonant with involvement in the deliverance of Christ that lies at the heart of baptism” (Hawthorne). “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (1-4). Paul gives give imagery of “stripping of the old self and putting on the new man.” This symbolizes in itself, a type of baptism of the New Covenant. “Its symbolic significance is depicted in its objective form. While much debate has focused on the varying interpretations of the forms of baptism, every form is clearly associated with the concept of cleansing and identification, which are the two integral parts of Spirit baptism. Immersion however, depicts more clearly the symbolic aspect of baptism since its three steps—immersion (going into the water), submersion (going under the water) and emersion (coming out of the water)—more closely parallels the concept of entering into the death of Christ, experiencing the forgiveness of sins, and rising to walk in the newness of Christ’s resurrected life (Rom. 6:4)” (Tenny 124).

Therefore, releasing one from the traditions of the flesh and focusing more on the Spirit. Paul uses his same theology asserting circumcision. He states it is not being circumcision of the flesh rather it is circumcising the Spirit, being set apart from the attachments of the world and returning to the truth of circumcision; being set apart from the nations as God’s chosen people. In like manner, Paul relates his perceptive of the Jewish ways of life of the law and recreates, with highly sustained sway from Christ, the like approach in which baptism ought to play a key function in a believer’s life.

Acts and the Apostles

“Entering the Christian community through faith and baptism means to be ‘saved’ (2:40; 11:14; 16:30-31) and in 2:40 what one is saved from is specified: ‘this crooked generation’ (cf. Deut. 32:5), i.e. from those who have turned away from God” (Herion 590). Luke asserts one side of baptism is the diminution of sins (2:38; 10:43, 48; 22:16). However, both ‘salvation’ and remission of sins are among the eschatological blessings which according to Luke, are at hand already in the Christian community (2:17-18); the concluding kingdom is not yet there (1:6-8), but God is present in the community imparting some of the eschatological gifts. To these also belongs the Holy Spirit (2:17-18), the endowment of which is linked with baptism (2:38; 8:14-17; 9:17-18; 10:47-48; 19: 1-6).

1 Peter 3: 21

Peter only mentions baptism once found in 1 Peter 3:21 referring to the being brought by God into a new existence, different from the former one, and, because of Christ’s resurrection and glory, one can look forward to the glorious fulfillment. Baptism is said to refer ‘not to removal of dirt of the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to 3:21, this salvation is something taking place in baptism, and according to 1:5, 9 and 3:21, is Christ’s resurrection, the Christ who is now enthroned in glory (3:22).

Hebrews

“From A.D. 250 the exclusion of a second repentance in Heb 6:4; 10:26: and 12:17 was understood as a prohibition of a repetition of baptism. The fierce persecution of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century resulted from this interpretation of texts that do not even mention baptism” (Crim 89). The scriptures in Hebrews rightly state the current doctrine of ‘once and for all’ immersion. The physical immersion is only practiced as obedience to Christ when receiving Him as personal Lord and Savior. The repetitions of water baptism, similarly salvation in Christ cannot be lost once received from the Holy Spirit, though there needs to be a daily ‘baptism’ of the heart that one might be ‘cleaned’ of sin within ones life.

After sorting through the information of baptism and the inexpressible obedience in which it rightly symbolizes, one would have veneration to the like conduct in which it was completed. Immersion was and is considered to this day, the most sought out and biblically acceptable expression of obedience to God. From the time of the early priest to the churches in the 21st century, one must recognize the magnitude and representation of the Jewish traditions and how they hold important significance to the church universal. One would undoubtedly have no protestation or justification in differencing opinions. This is therefore seen to be 100 percent unwavering truth of the biblical and authoritative measure in which one would and should seek to execute within the milieu of baptism. “Even though many churches differ on these matters, all agree that baptism is incorporation into Christ’s community of the new creation by the grace of the Spirit. While not all churches recognize the baptism of every other church, this agreement as to essential meaning at least points toward the emphasis on unity in relation to baptism expounded in Ephesians 4:5” (Eerdmans 148). Lord. Create in me a clean heart.

Luke 19: 1-10 (Zacchaeus and Jesus)

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”” – Luke 19: 1-10.

I have come to learn a lot about this passage.  Within these 10 verses there is a lot going on.  First and foremost, we need to know Zacchaeus.  What do we know about him?  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector.  He was one of the top guys in the Roman community.  In fact, his name was far from Zacchaeus.  His name most likely was Zacchiah.  He received the name Zacchaeus from his Roman friends in the business.  The more he helped his Roman friends, the higher up on the government chain Zacchiah became.  How do we know his name was not Zacchaeus?  Zacchaeus is not a Jewish name but a Roman name.  The only problem with that is he was a Jewish man.  So how exactly did a Jewish man receive a Roman name?  Think about it

Anyway, Zacchaeus was a short man and was very rich.  He was rich because he was paid handsomely from the Roman government for doing his job.  He heard Jesus was in town.  You almost wonder if Zacchaeus was tired of being hated by the people in the community.  For whatever reason, Zacchaeus walks into the main area to see Jesus.  Jesus, being so influential, had a large crowd around him, so Zacchaeus had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see him.

The part that amazes me the most is that Jesus saw Zacchaeus and wanted to stay at his house.  In fact, Jesus says He must stay there.  That is mind blowing to me that Jesus would want to stay at a chief tax collector’s house.  He had a purpose though.  His purpose was to talk to Zacchaeus about the way in which he was living.

After Zacchaeus and Jesus spent some time together, Zacchaeus asks for forgiveness.  It is interesting to me how the Bible says we are to ask for forgiveness.  It is not a simple “please forgive me” statement.  There is a lot more involved in the process, in accordance to the OT tradition and law.  Zacchaeus says he will give up to half of his stuff to the poor and 4 times what he had stolen to others.  Where do these numbers come from?  Is it simply just numbers Zacchaeus came up with?  No.  In fact, Zacchaeus had specific plans.

Exodus 22: 1, 4 give us Zacchaeus’ response:

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

“If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—he must pay back double.

So.  The money that Zacchaeus had but no longer has, he has to give back to the people four times the amount of money he had stolen.  The rest of the money Zacchaeus had, he had to give back double.  Zacchaeus went from being ridiculously rich to being almost dirt poor.  Even though Zacchaeus lost almost everything, he gained salvation through his repentance.

Comparing this story with the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus got it right.  As the rich young ruler left, Zacchaeus, a child of Abraham was welcomed into the family of God.  This is what I have gotten from these 10 verses.  I hope you will read this story afresh and gain the same understanding I have gotten from this passage.  It is totally an amazing story.  God bless.

Stories from the Homeless (14)

It was a lot warmer yesterday. I am glad we were able to wear “normal, decent clothes” into the city without freezing our ears off.  I can only imagine what the past couple of days have been like for those who find their homes on the streets of Philadelphia.  For me, I could not bare to think that my life would be pushed to the streets in order to find some form of a “home” to lay my head.  I hope I will never lose the gratefulness I have for all God has given me.  With that attitude in mind, I entered once again, the subway I have come to find as a place to meet new people and enter their story.

As usual, we placed our stuff in the main area.  People with familiar faces emerged from the dark shadows of the subway and all at once, the smell of those un-showered filled the area in which we stood.  I don’t know if I could ever “get used” to the smells of the subway but I try so hard not to allow it to effect my heart for those who live there. I really do not know how we do it though.

As I looked around, I saw my friend, Larry standing over to the side of a tall, white pillar with a smile on his face.  As he saw me, our eyes met and we embraced.  Wearing several layers of clothes, Larry began to tell me his good news:  He would be leaving to live with his sister in New York next week.  He had been estranged from his sister for several years but has recently reconnected with her.  As he saw it, it would be ridiculous if he did not stay with her and she felt the same way.  So, he would go to New York, live with her, help pay the rent and fix up her place and get a meaningful job to save up and hopefully, one day, move out on his own.  He was so excited.  He had goals and most importantly, hopes that these things would happen.  All he had to do is get his stuff in order here in Philadelphia and he would move there by the end of the week.  I hope it works out for him.  It would be one less person off the street and into a loving family.  After talking to Larry for some time, he had to go.  I gave him one last hug and told him that I would be praying for him.  He just smiled and walked away.

Once again, I began to look around and found another guy whom I have talked to several times before.  Greg was a guy I met who was struggling with his faith.  He has since come to know Jesus in a powerful way.  Greg told me that he was baptized this past Sunday and was joining the church that he attended.  I was so thankful to hear he was doing so well.  He was dressed in a pink shirt with a gray vest; dark black pants and dress shoes to match.  He was so thankful to have seen me tonight.  I was thankful as well.  He had shared with me earlier that he had a son that was around 4.  The good news is that his son was doing quite well.  He has been saving a lot of money from his new job and hopes to be reunited with his son within the next couple of months.  He just smiled and continued to tell me how he had bought all the kind of clothes he and his son would need to make it on their own.  As I thought about Greg and all he was going through, I could not help but think of the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  Greg is doing all that he knows in order to take care of his son and their future together.  He is doing his best.  That is all I could ask of a father.

I left Greg to talk to a couple of other people who were there.  As I left him, I saw a couple of cops talking to one of the guys from our group.  When they were done, I inquired about their conversation.  From the cops’ perspective, we were not helping the poor.  We were enabling them to stay on the streets and try and make it on their own.  We were giving them a hand out, not a hand up.  Since they knew we would be there on Monday nights, they would count on us for their food and would be able to save their money to buy crack and other drugs.  And, the other problem that exists happens when we leave.  The trash that is left behind has to be cleaned up.  This happens apparently each night after we leave.  I never thought about that aspect of our ministry.  We do not want to leave behind a mess or a message that we do not care about the aftermath of our mission.  We want to leave a great message that we care about those in whom we minister to.

I personally do not know how we could make any changes to that mission.  I do not want to enable people to live on the streets and not desire to find jobs and become apart of society once again.  I also do not want to have trash left behind from our food/offerings to them.  However, I do not want to allow the government to “fix the problem” as it were and leave it up to the shelters.  If the shelters were so good, why aren’t all the homeless people banging down the doors to enter them?  Could it be that perhaps there is a lot more going on in the shelters than the police or those who work with the outreach programs are telling us?  Yes, I believe there is.  I know for a fact that in most shelters, things get “misplaced” and fights happen more often than in the boxing ring.  Though there are places like Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, most people would not enter a place like that because they are not Christians.  They do not want to hear a message about God in order to get a hot meal and a bed for the night.  There is also the problem with how many beds that are available.  In many cases, you have to be on a list in order to find a place to sleep because there are simply not enough beds for the homeless to sleep.  So, how can we be a blessing and not a curse to the city of Philadelphia?  I am not 100 percent sure.  That is an issue we will have to deal with though.  This Sunday, we are going to talk about the ways we can be active and not counter active in helping the homeless.  Do you have any ideas for us?  Let me know.  Thanks for your prayers. God bless

Doing Church: Shanna Cummings (Welcome)

Today both Todd and Gary took the back seat from teaching and allowed one of our newest members of our leadership team to teach. Shanna Cummings joined our leadership team to help aide in the area of discipleship. Though I hardly know her, I felt it would be important to show up and listen to what God might be saying through her, since she had just joined the leadership team and all. I felt that her words were those from God and not her own.

The Subject matter was acts 4. The basics of the passage the disciples were beaten and told not to teach the word of God or even do the works of God in Jesus’ name. They boldly told them that they were unable to do such a thing. When they left, they went back and told the others what had happened to them and they thought it to be a good idea to pray.

I know that the whole, “living for Jesus” deal meant that perhaps I would have to put up with some trials and whatnot. I never thought that perhaps I would have to stand up to someone even in the mists of being beaten. I am not sure I would enjoy the pain that would come with being beaten with rods or whipped with a whip. I am not a fan of pain but I have to believe that compromising the faith in which I have been given, as a gift is not possible either. If it meant being whipped for the sake of Christ, I hope I would be able to go through the same ordeal as the disciples of Jesus. I hope I would not buckle under pressure and given in to those demands.

I also found it interesting that they shared their pain and trials with others (their family/community). At once it seemed as though it was necessary to pray (something I don’t think we consider as valuable or important in that respect as much as we should). Their prayer was powerful and exciting to read. They were bold in their prayer (which I feel as though I could step up in doing a little more) and active in thought. It is true that prayer is powerful but when people pray expecting God to actually move in their prayers, it makes it seem a lot more alive and active (if that even makes sense).

So Shanna finished her sermon. It was the first of I hope many sermons to come. Welcome to the team, Shanna. God bless.

What do you Think about Church?

Have you ever wondered what people think about the Church?  Here is a video that records several people’s responses.  Listen to their words.  What does this say to you?  How do you wish you could respond?  Does it make you mad?  Are you surprised?  Share your thoughts.