I’m Not Short—I’m Fun-Sized

If you had any experience in church as a child, you likely sang a catchy little song about Zacchaeus.

Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.

But the short-statured semite had a bigly idea: He wanted to see Jesus.

4 So running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since He was about to pass that way.

One of my (petite) mother’s favorite songs when I was a child was “Short People Got No Reason to Live” by Randy Newman. “They got little hands and little eyes, and they walk around tellin’ great big lies,” quips Newman. Such was likely the attitude toward Zaccheus, though not necessarily because of his stature. He was probably head of the local taxation department. Zacchaeus would employ others in the actual collecting of the taxes, while he passed on what the Romans required. Jericho must have been a good spot for a tax man, and it is no surprise that Zacchaeus was rich. In this spot, with this occupation, he could scarcely be anything else. But he must have been unpopular and would have had little social life. This, combined with his diminutive stature, created a problem for a man who wanted to see Jesus: access couldn’t come easily, and no one sympathized with such an unpopular guy.

Yet these were no obstacle for a man eager to catch a glimpse of this man called Jesus. He managed to climb a tree (apparently one with low-hanging branches) and got a great view of Jesus. What a bigly idea for a wee man. Biglier than he knew, actually.

5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” 6 So he quickly came down and welcomed Him joyfully. 7 All who saw it began to complain, “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man!”

Whatever disapproval that some in the crowd had toward Zacchaeus was now matched by their displeasure toward Jesus. It’s one thing to be socially unacceptable, but it’s quite another to befriend someone who is socially unacceptable.

For his part, Zaccheus embraced the grace, and it’s impact was clear.

8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!” 9 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus, and Jesus sought Zacchaeus, a man who was certainly among the lost. And Jesus did not leave him there. He saved him. In his commentary on Luke, R. C. Sproul notes that while Scripture is silent about the future of Zaccheus, church history is not. “The Bishop of Alexandria … mentions in one of his homilies that Zaccheus continued faithfully in the growth and nurture of the Lord, and served Christ to the end of his life with distinction, being elevated ultimately to the role of bishop of Caesarea.”

Apparently, God had bigly plans for this wee man. Biglier than he knew.

Winter is Over

The winter is over.

March 20th marked the official day of spring. The remains of snow have melted in our backyards. Ice is merely a memory on the highways. The biting nip of frigid temperatures has relaxed into a warm, humid bliss.

We don’t have to wear our jackets anymore. We don’t have to wear a scarf or put on gloves. I have to wash my hair because it’s too hot for a beanie. My pale legs can invite the sun.

I much prefer autumn’s leaves, harsh weather, and the playfulness of snowfall. I love bundling up. I like hiding in my coat. I like the excuse to drink more coffee during the day just to “keep warm.”

But Nature has beckoned, and she says it’s time for a change. It’s time to move on.

Nature’s gentle spring caresses remind me of the tenderness of God when He tells me to move forward.

The winter is over, He says.

I’ve won the war of your heart, He says.

I actually don’t think about all the times you’ve screwed up, because I remember your sin no more.

How much we love the winter of our hearts. How much we like to stay in the dark and the cold. How much we like to stay stuck in the past. We’re tent inhabitants, simply because we like to dwell.

It is one thing to contemplate, but to hide in our darkness is another act altogether. It is one thing to repent, yet it is another thing to brood. It is critical we make the distinction between reflection and self-indulgence. It’s essential we accept ourselves on the same terms with which God has accepted us.

“Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the God of grace.” –Brennan Manning

Staying stuck in “what once was” is not an act of bravery; it’s an act of fear. Those who obsessively dwell on the past forego the personal responsibility of moving forward … of making the effort … of taking that phone call … of forgiving that friend … of abandoning the person who broke your heart … of ignoring those who told you that you couldn’t … of taking Jesus at His Word … of accepting the new you … of expecting nothing less than greatness for the future.

We fail ourselves when we fail to believe in the God who promises new beginnings.

We fail ourselves when we don’t trust 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We fail ourselves when we see ourselves as Satan sees us—dirty, forgotten, unworthy.

I like to compare these two translations from Isaiah:

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” – Isaiah 43:25, NIV

“But I, yes I, am the one who takes care of your sins—that’s what I do. I don’t keep a list of your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25, MSG

Ironically, the more we trust Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), the less focused we are on our outward action, our behavior modifications, and we truly enter into the place of sanctified living.

What if God really means what He says?

What if He actually sees you as capable, as worthy, as beloved?

What if—when He called you a son and not a slave—He meant it (Galatians 4:7)?

What a warming truth that would be.


Today’s guest post is by Caroline Case, a production editor at LifeWay Christian Resources for smallgroup.com.

 

The Best Parenting Decision We’ve Recently Made

How much “screen time” do you give your kids?

That is, how many hours a week of television do you allow? Do they have a tablet or smartphone, or at least regular access to one?

Our 3- and 1-year-old will watch a kid show every now and then, officially they have no screen time other than in the car when Mom or Dad need some solitude.

By my 11- and 12-year-old boys … this is increasingly a struggle. Each have friends who have their own phones, tablets or portable gaming devices. They, too, have their own tablets thanks to the generosity of a great uncle and aunt, but they are older. In fact, they can keep and play only one game due to the memory and processor limitations. But with regard to time, our current rule is 90 minutes during the week, 90 minutes over the weekend.

We’re pretty strict about it, especially when it comes to computers and tablets and phones. Articles like this one keep the fear of God in us.

We do make an exception for Dallas Cowboys games. What kind of father would I be?

This worked well for a time, but it didn’t take long for them to point out our hypocrisy. Their father has a job that requires constant attention to a screen. Their mother works from home and communicates constantly with clients. Why do we have no limits on our screen time?

This back-and-forth led to the best parenting decision we’ve made as of late.

Monday-Friday, Mom and Dad put their phones away from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

Sometimes we have to take a call or even make a call, but pretty much every text can wait. Every interaction on Facebook can wait. Every Instagram comment can wait. Every email can wait.

As it turns out, modeling is far more powerful than lecturing.

And, our kids love us. They love being with us. We about can’t get them to leave us alone. We’ve played more board games, card games, and the like than I can recall. Ask me anything about Pokemon or Star Trek or chess. I dare you.

Don’t miss this: my 11- and 12-year-old boys love nothing more than being with their parents in their bedroom playing cards until well past their bed time.

We are not stellar parents. We have issues on top of issues.

But this decision to do away with our screens at 5:00 PM … best parenting decision we’ve ever made.

Maybe I won’t need these after all.

This Kind of Naked Truth is Almost Too Much to Bear.

Show up at my house between 6:30 and 7:00 PM, and you show up during bath time for my 3 year-old daughter and 1 year-old son.

Well, most nights.

This is almost always a shared experience. That is, they bathe together. Warm water, extra bubbles, bath-friendly toys, and an engaged parent to police horseplay usually make for a great experience. There is no talk (yet) of their anatomical differences, and there is no desire to hide their bodies after they dry off on the bath mat. Arguably, the best part of bath time is the opportunity to run naked room to room in hopes that someone will see you.

Generally speaking, my young kids love being naked.

Our culture seems to love it as much as they do to. The sheer volume of television programs with the word “naked” in it is evidence of enough. Not all continue to air, but they are recent enough.

  • Syfy’s Naked Vegas centers on a body painting business in Las Vegas. In each episode, the cast is faced with the task of creating fascinating art on nude bodies, usually to help promote a business’ opening.
  • Skin Wars on the Game Show Network seeks to find the most skillful, accomplished and versatile body painters in the country.
  • A few years ago, there was The Naked Office, a UK show. The show’s leader helps businesses boost their morale by implementing “Naked Fridays,” in which the employees show up to work in the nude. Hmmmm.
  • VH1 has Dating Naked. Show creators introduce two people in the buff and stage a variety of dating experiences for them. Some have gotten married, by the way.
  • Discovery had Naked Castaway. The series followed a survivalist for 60 days as he was dropped on a desert island with no food, tools, film crew, or clothes.
  • Last, but probably most popular, there’s Naked and Afraid. In each episode, two strangers are paired and stranded together with no food or clothes, and have to survive 21 days.

While my children currently find nakedness wildly entertaining, their enthusiasm for it is not the same as the culture’s. The root of my kids’ laughter is a form of innocence. It’s grounded in candor. It’s more closely aligned (though admittedly fallen from) Genesis 2:25—”Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” The root of our hunger for such entertainment as these shows is a form of shame. It’s grounded in fear. It’s aligned with Genesis 3:7—”The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

As my children age, they will come to know less of innocence and more of fear. Like their 10 and 12 year-old brothers today, a time is coming when they won’t be caught dead naked in front of their parents or siblings. They may laugh at the thought of accidentally seeing someone naked, or even gawk at these kinds of television shows, but it won’t be because of innocence: it will be because they will inherently know something is wrong with the human condition.

And this won’t just apply to the covering of their bodies. As D. A. Carson once wrote years ago, “Would you want your spouse or your best friend to know the full dimensions of each of your thoughts? Would you want your motives placarded for public display? Have we not done things of which we are so ashamed that we want as few people as possible to know about them?”

This kind of naked truth is almost too much to bear.

It is why we must proclaim with the Apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Marveling at the Absurdity of Redemption

As Genesis 45 comes to a close, we read of Jacob being reunited with Joseph, his beloved son, and the salvation of God’s people. It’s in this marvelous chapter that we see the big picture of how God used what was intended for harm to instead deliver and preserve His people.

If it sounds absurd to you, then you’re in good company. But redemption takes place in the most absurd circumstances.

Why should Pharaoh have the degree of respect for Joseph that he does?

Why should famine (and the inevitable death and anguish it causes for many) lead to reunion?

Why should Joseph’s earliest dreams about leading his family come true in this fashion?

These realities and more speak to the fact that God’s means of accomplishing His plans make human plans somewhat futile. We can’t plan redemption the way God would, and what better example than our ultimate redemption.

That Joseph would find favor in Pharaoh’s eyes is one thing, but that we would find favor in God’s is another. The circumstances leading to Joseph’s family reunion pale in comparison to what God has done to unite us to Him in Christ.

The absurdity of redemption is marvelous, but it can be unnerving to live out. Joseph experienced plenty of despair. But as John Piper writes, “God’s great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power. Everything else in life may be unstable—our health, our family, our job, our education, our society, our world. At any of these levels you may feel as if you are out on a ledge forty stories up in an unpredictable wind. You feel yourself losing balance and falling, and every brick you grab pulls out of its mortar.”

And yet it’s in such absurd moments that God is powerfully at work. A young Semite named Joseph was left for dead but was redeemed through slavery, false accusations, prison, loneliness and famine. The death of the Pharaoh that redeemed him led to slavery and famine for Joseph’s descendants. The death of yet another Pharaoh would redeem the Jews from the very Egyptians that had redeemed them, and the death of a single Jew would later redeem all those who will believe!

Redemption is marvelously absurd, and we shouldn’t have it any other way.

Three Truths about Fasting

This January, many evangelical churches within my community participated in a church-wide fast. I know this because it is advertised on pamphlets, social media, and because of personal conversations with the fasting participants.

I have always marveled at the concept of fasting in 21st century consumerist America. As a little girl, my church made a big deal about fasting, but I saw many participants of these fasts misinterpret the true meaning of what it means to go hungry before God.

This often played itself out in “humble bragging.” For example, “I can’t go out to eat, I’m fasting,” or “Don’t tempt me with that banana. I’m fasting,” or better yet, “I can’t hang out with you—I’m going to a special celebration service for our church-wide fast. You see, we’re all fasting.” I never really respond when I hear these answers. While I nod my head in agreement, internal conviction shakes its weary head.

Jesus clearly shares His heart about a biblical fast in Matthew 6:16-17.

16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they [j]neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. 

From this passage, we gain three truths about fasting.

  1. Fasting is for you, not for God.

God doesn’t need your fast. You are not giving up a cheeseburger for His name. The act of fasting is one of running to God to meet all of your needs—not the other way around.

Much like tithing, God doesn’t need our resources—He wants them, because where our resources are, that’s where our heart is (Matt. 6:21). And that’s all God is after—our hearts.

Don’t think you are doing God a favor by not eating. What you accomplish while fasting is the establishment of an ever-increasing reminder of your desperate longing for Father God. You are reminded of your need for Him at every stomach grumble.

  1. Fasting must be done in silence and secrecy.

Verse 16 is the key rebuke of Jesus’ fasting command: the hypocrites fast “so they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” Although Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, known for altering their appearance as they entered the temple to look like they were “suffering for God,” the context can be extended to modern times: if you are hungry, save your fasting complaints and anecdotes for another day.

Aside from being unbiblical, sharing about your fast takes away from the intimacy you have with the One for whom you are fasting. Jesus acknowledges the beauty in privacy in verse 18:  “So that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Note the words, “your Father who is in secret.” Your relationship with God is yours and His alone, not your spouse’s, not your parents’, not your church’s, not your friends’.

  1. Fasting is trading.

Fasting is one of the most misinterpreted spiritual disciplines in the church. Many believers view fasting as a giving up of food or television, yet they stop right there. They do not know why they are releasing their right to pleasure and sustenance. At its core, fasting is trading a dependence upon a physical thing for God alone.

Dallas Willard remarks, “Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food . . . . In fasting, we learn how to suffer happily as we feast on God.”

The act of fasting is one of the most intimate acts you can have with Father God. Your physical hunger is to be replaced with spiritual hunger. Fasting is a time of deep desperation—and all the more, it is to be silent desperation.

I believe Jesus calls us to take very seriously privacy within our relationship with God. There are some secrets that are only meant for God and myself, whispers of the heart that I share with only Him.

If I’m hungry, it’s our little secret.


Today’s guest post is by Caroline Case, a production editor for the custom content team at LifeWay Christian Resources.

Two Marks of the Gracious Life

In our last home, my 12 and 10 year-old sons shared a bedroom. They had for 9 years with a minimal amount of divisiveness. But that bedroom was also our playroom (did I mention their siblings are 3 and 1?), and also our laundry room (there’s a large closet housing our machines a few feet from their beds).

So the combination of these factors and their becoming pre-teens has resulted in a few more blow-ups that are sometimes humorous. For example, my 10 year-old is aware of all of the little things that his older brother holds dear: the Rubik’s Cube collection, the super-soft robe, etc. He has taken great delight in hiding those things from his brother, and my oldest has taken great delight in pranking the 10 year-old in retaliation. And as you’d expect, the situation escalates into a full-fledged argument, and maybe even some pushing and shoving.

These moments provide me with the opportunity to teach them a core attribute of the gospel-centered life: graciousness.

The Bible is replete with examples, but the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 shines bright. If there was ever a brother who could justifiably reject and even punish his siblings for their evil actions toward him, it was Joseph. But Joseph chose to be gracious, and Genesis 45:5-8 is a significant part of the story’s climax.

Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

From Joseph’s example, I see two marks of the gracious life.

First, graciousness liberates others from the worry and anger they feel when they sin against us. How fascinating that Joseph pulls his brothers close and, after all the horrors they committed against him, tells them not to be grieved or angry with themselves! Joseph’s gracious actions did not ignore their sins or the consequences they brought on the brothers, but his graciousness did liberate them from the guilt and anger these brothers had long felt. How powerful is grace!

Second, graciousness is rooted in our understanding of the sovereignty and providence of God (v. 6-8). Why did Joseph act graciously and liberate his brothers from their angst? Because he knew and believed that God had a plan and purpose in their sin, so much so that he ultimately found God responsible, not for their sin, but for the ultimate purpose in it: “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (v. 8). Joseph was gracious (rather than bitter) because he spent far more time reflecting on God’s good purposes rather than man’s evil intentions.

The implications of preaching this gospel-saturated truth are far-reaching. To know and believe that God has good purposes which supersede even man’s most evil intentions helps me liberate employees who are afraid to tell me they’ve made a mistake and children who want to hide their bad choices in fear of discipline.

It can even restore a relationship between pre-teen brothers who share a multipurpose room.