Having Dinner with a Sinner


29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Luke 5:29-30

These verses are one of the several examples that illustrate how Jesus made the Pharisees, the religious leaders feel uncomfortable about his actions.Tax collectors, sinners, surely not worthy of having diner with Jesus!?!

A similar, in fact even farther stretching story is found in Matthew 9

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I was reminded of these stories when, glancing over some old documents in a (vain) attempt to clean up my computer I stumbled upon a little booklet with tips for religious leaders. What was I tho think of the tip that as a religious leader we should at least maintain “one friendship with a non-believing friend.”

Did I read it right? It brings us back to some very basic questions on where we stand as a Christian. Are we ok to eat with scandalous people or sinners, or unbelievers? It can not be denied that we are called to fellowship with fellow believers but that does not mean we should shut the door for the rest of the world. The safe and cleaned up bubble Christianity has become for so many may well need more dinners with tax collectors and sinners! Jesus didn’t come to please the religious crowd nor to fall out  to the social crowd. He didn’t come to hang out with the wild ones. Instead, Jesus entered the world to set the captives free, to gather what was lost.  When we look back over the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus reaching out to men and women, young and old, powerful and forgotten, sick and demon possessed, as well as the politically connected, the traitors. What is that telling us about “loving our neighbor”?

An old friend from the Netherlands wrote me the other day to express his joy in seeing me “finally being a Christian”. It was at that moment I found out that himself  had been a Christian for all those years we were good friends without ever knowing about it. Perhaps if he would have been more clear about it, either in word or action, it would not have taken me forty five years. (Then again, was I really ready to listen at the time?) He explained to me that he was somewhat private about his faith. My suggestion is that as a Christian that is exactly what we should not be doing. You don’t need to force it on others, but that does not mean you have to be quiet about it; at least you could be open about it.

Howard E Wright states quite confrontational:

“Closet Christian,” why are you hiding out today? Are you hiding out to save your own skin? Are you afraid of what people will say if you declare your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Wherever you are hiding, you need to come out and declare your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The world is going to eternal ruin while you hide in your church and fellowship with “the frozen chosen.” It is the same kind of thing the churches did in Germany when train loads of Jews and Christians that were taken off to gas chambers were passing by their churches. They just turned the organ up a little louder.

If all our friends are Christian, we miss the path shown to us by Christ. Who are the tax collectors and sinners of your neighborhood? Would they invite you over to their place for dinner? How do you feel about that? It seems to me that it is pretty hard to make disciples of all nations if the only people you see are “the converted.” If there is anything to be learned here it is that we do not need to make Christianity something we do in our spare time in our little Christian “members only club” we call, a church.

The statistics are clear; once the average person becomes a believer in Christ, he or she loses contact with all unbelieving friends within two years: you could  call it “pagan friend ditching.” Some do this on purpose others as a consequence of their new life or because of a misinterpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

However Paul is not telling us to not have unbelieving friends, but not to join together with unbelievers in their practices and world view. In other words, the yoking together means to join with them in their lifestyle and belief system; to be like them. This does not mean that we can’t have unbelieving friends. In fact we should have unbelieving friends. some good reasons:

  • It’s not the healthy that need a physician (Matthew 9)
  • They keep you real, in that they will force us to know where we stand when we say things like “I was moved by the Spirit.” You may be able to get away with that amongst your club members, but what if you are asked straight forward: “what do you mean moved by the Spirit?” E.g. is there still substance behind your jargon?
  • They keep you on your toes, with great questions. So far the best suggestions and questions seem to be coming from my non believing friends. I ended up learning a lot having to come up with answers to their questions.
  • Probably the best reason is that Christ had unbelieving friends, so what is stopping us. If it was good enough for Christ, that who are we to ignore such friendships.

Jesus life challenges the Pharisee in all of us? He’s not lashing out against religion but against hypocrisy against form over substance. How are we ever going to find the lost sheep if we refuse to look beyond the flock? How are we ever going to heal the sick of we commune with healthy people only, how are we going to make disciples of all nations if we commune with followers only?

As a final thought this quote from a Matthew 9 Commentary:

Jesus came to call sinners-to invite them to God’s final banquet (Mt 22:3, 14), a foretaste of which the present table fellowship with them may have represented. Jesus’ demand for mercy is so critical that it recurs in 12:7 (see also 23:23). Many of Jesus’ contemporaries who practiced sacrifice also emphasized the priority of mercy over physical sacrifice. That Jesus’ opponents agreed with his principle in theory yet invited his reprimand should force us who acknowledge his doctrine to survey our practice as well (compare Jer 2:35; 1 Jn 1:10). …

… But Jesus’ example gave me courage to continue to engage all people with the gospel, regardless of their moral background; and some of them committed their lives to Christ. Yet I have learned that some apparently worshipful and Bible-centered churches do not welcome such persons-suggesting that ultimately Jesus who ate with sinners might not truly be welcome there either.

With which sinner are you going to have diner?

On Silence and Hearing His Voice


I am slowly but surely heading towards a first year of being a Christian and I guess that my good friend and pastor Gideon Hoekendijk could not have said it any better than yesterday when attending a pastor’s lunch with Jason Westerfield, the whitest black preacher I ever heard:

talk about being thrown in the deep.

I guess that is what has happened in no uncertain way. From being a skeptic with an unexplained urge to go to church, I found myself in the midst of a community and events that are after revival, after the restoration of the Tabernacle of David, after God’s presence in the here and now and not as some distant unpersonalized life insurance policy for the hereafter. So far it has been an amazing journey. Let it be said: a challenging one for sure. After seven years studying and working towards a book on debunking RELIGION, I ended up encountering RELATION, and no matter how smart, rational, intellectual you are (and with an IQ of 148-154 depending on which test in which language I guess intellectual fits the profile), it was in experiencing RELATION with the living God, not at all distant, but highly personal that  I was shook up in my ugg- boots and am on a daily basis.

In all this I learned about the other side of prayer: loud, in tongues, long, with open arms, face down on the floor, for others, and I must say it has not always been easy.  A lot of my foundations, actually very similar to what Christchurch has been going through in the past weeks, seems to reflect what has been happening to me in  a personal, intellectual and spiritual sense. In a very direct and profound sense I had to came to a point where the adagio: I NEED TO UNDERSTAND SO THAT I MAY BELIEVE, was replaced with I BELIEVE SO I MAY UNDERSTAND.  And while I am far from perfect in that sense, a bit of the old rationalist, the facts and evidence based investigative consultant is still there, yet it is in reading the Bible and praying that real answers came, most of all when I stopped talking to God to give Him a  chance to speak.

This Jason Upton song seems to reflect this need for silence the way I experienced it.

 

I guess what it boils down to is that we spend an awful lot of time talking, requesting, to God, and don’t get me wrong, that may well be for all the right reasons; but it is, at least for me very easy to forget taking the time to listen to God and if anything it has been in the listening that I found my answers and actually am starting to experience the reality of the restoration of the Tabernacle of David, the power of His presence and the peace that comes with that. If there’s anything that typifies the past year as a Christian it must be that it is in the speaking to God that we get our issues sorted in the literal sense but for me it is in the silence that I seem to find the answers. I do not always like what I am hearing and in all honesty at times I thought I knew better. But it seems that the more you hand it over to Him the more peaceful you become in whatever comes your way. But… you need to take the time to listen, to ask at times

what are you trying to tell me Father?

Best of all: if you subsequently shut up and listen there is a good chance the answer follows, either while being silent or in the form of a sign straight after that, or when you read your Bible and some or the other passage seems to speak to you more than the others.

And when it comes to being quiet, I have found the music of Kimberly and Alberto Rivera working miracles for me btw just as much as the music ministry within Harmony Church and I guess that’s why I enjoy playing there so much. And in hindsight: what a foresight! It was not through doctrine or intellectual exercises but through music, in the words of Gideon Hoekendijk, my love language, that I came to encounter the Spirit before I was converted, and in such a strong way that there was nothing left but to be converted: PRAISE THE LORD! And is it just not  miraculous, after seven years of diligent “religious fraud” investigation, what happened to me happened in the eight year, the year of restoration: for me now the year of RELATION. Talk about a God  with a biblically sound plan! BUT…. back to Kimberly and Alberto Rivera. Below some of my favorite youtube videos. I will post the highlights  but suggest you listen to the songs as a whole.

I hope you enjoyed the videos as much as I did again. I hope and pray that like me you will find answers in His Presence and your Silence.

Beyond Believers


The study of religion is too important to be left in the hands of believers.

So claims David A. Hollinger, a professor of American history at the University of California at Berkeley, in his response to religion emerging as the hottest topic of study among members of the American Historical Association (AHA).

Perhaps surprisingly, leading evangelical scholars voiced general agreement with his basic premise.

“The practice of history is best served by many historians working from all their separate angles,” said Rick Kennedy, president of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) and a professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “What is good about the new surge in religious history is that something that was neglected is now gaining its rightful place.”

Barry Hankins, resident scholar at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said he shared Hollinger’s sentiments, “as long as the understanding of faith is not left only to unbelievers.”

“The trick for insiders is to think critically about their own tradition, while the trick for outsiders is to try to develop a feel or affinity for the group he or she is studying,” said Hankins.

Read the rest at: Beyond Believers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Nicodemus meets Jesus: Some Thoughts of a Chaotic Mind


Without a doubt this is one of the stories (probably together with doubting Thomas) that really appealed to me.

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[a]

4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[d] 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[e]

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.[g]

Footnotes:

  1. John 3:3 Or born from above; also in verse 7
  2. John 3:6 Or but spirit
  3. John 3:7 The Greek is plural.
  4. John 3:13 Some manuscripts Man, who is in heaven
  5. John 3:15 Or believes may have eternal life in him
  6. John 3:16 Or his only begotten Son
  7. John 3:18 Or God’s only begotten Son

Some further thoughts

Now I know that this story has been used probably a thousand times in many different sermons and commentaries. The emphasis seems to be on the rebirth part (v 5-7) and to illustrate the love of God (v 16) as well as your belief so as gain eternal life and if you do not believe in him you stand condemned (v18).


Inadequate Faith?

For me the appealing part of this story is about something else: daring to question your own beliefs. Here’s a guy, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, “at night” meeting Jesus; the enemy, the leader of the opposite camp. And not only that, he actually acknowledges that Jesu is a teacher “who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs that he is (“you”) are doing if God is not with him.”

No it may be a small word but Nicodemus does not say “I know you are a great teacher” but “we” know. I can’t help but being curious about whom the “we” is he is speaking about. Was he speaking on behalf of a number of Pharisees that have already confessed their faith in Jesus?

From Acts 15:5 we learn that there were believers who belonged to the party of Pharisees.  Or was he maybe referring to a larger group? And what did John try to tell us here in these first verses? Personally, this story reminds me of my own post about the story of Doubting Thomas. From what I have been gathering so far especially it seems from reading John, is that the statement of Nicodemus is actually a statement of faith in the wrong way. Throughout John we read about miracles but it seems that that is not what it is all about as such. Faith based on the miracles is immature, inadequate. In the story of doubting Thomas Jesus advises that (John 20:29):

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus =God

The miracles it seems according to the Gospel of John are a way to point to Jesus, however the story of Nicodemus and others in John appear to be pointing towards a belief, a faith that goes beyond that which is evidence based: faith based on the miracles. It seems significant that John does not speak of miracles, but of “signs.” Whilst Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a teacher and a whom is with God, that is not how John portrays Jesus, Jesus is much more:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1)
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

He is the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God and who became flesh and lived among us. That is ‘slightly’ more than just a great teacher, a Rabbi. God was also with Moses and with Jeremiah and other prophets, but from John we learn that Jesus an God are one (John 10:38 “the father is in me and I am in the father”, also John 14: 10).

I and the Father are one (John 10:30)

A Story of Humility

For me however this story is all about daring to challenge one’s own beliefs. Daring to admit that you may have been wrong on what you believed to be right all the time. Don’t get me wrong, in essence, Jesus’ teachings were the crisis for the Pharisees, as Jesus outlines as far as I understand it that all the the religion and rituals in the world, all the works you may have been doing and perhaps are still doing can not make up or compensate for the the relation. It is in this understanding that I can imagine how indeed the law becomes a promise.

But I am wandering off again. Just imagine how courageous it was of Nicodemus to do just that, challenging everything he stood for and ultimately admitting to have been wrong. This is what appeals to me, and that is perhaps because it is so recognizable for me personally. How many of you out there are ready and wiling to admit that you may have been wrong at times. I know that many will have trouble doing so for just marginal little things let alone as in the case of Nicodemus where it concerns everything you are supposed to stand for, everything you believed, no know to be true, everything he lived for. And while Nicodemus may not be a prominent figure in the New Testament, I think he only appears in John, from his subsequent actions it could be inferred that he did indeed admit he was wrong. In that sense, the story of Nicodemus is also a story of humility.

Religion, Relation and the Worldview Test

In my testimony,  spoke about the difference between religion and relation and it seems that this subject (at least with me) keeps on popping up. Perhaps it is because I have taken so much time to build my ultimate case against religion. I started the testimony with this CS Lewis quote:

“THE MOMENT A MAN SERIOUSLY ACCEPTS A DEITY, HIS INTEREST IN RELIGION IS AT AN END. HE’S GOT SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT.” (CS LEWIS)

I guess the thrust of my testimony and subsequent experiences have been that indeed it is in the relationship that you’ll find that the becomes a promise. Lewis may have meant something different but for me this speaks like it does. In daily practice this meant for me that it is not about doing things right, but about accepting what God has already done for you, following him with all your heart an soul and lives and guess what? Many of the things  once called “religious”, the “law” indeed becomes a promise because the Holy Spirit will guide you there: love, kindness, self control (although that may be the hardest part for this night owl),  or let me say where the Holy Spirit leads me. Who am I to talk for anyone else? What I have learned is that in the end it is not in the doing good that a relationship is allowed (old covenants) but in the relationship.It simply isn’t about you (me) but about what God has in mind for you, and how better to find than by being in constant communication.

Rick Warren in his TED talk about his bestseller “A Purpose Driven Life” says that the ultimate test of your worldview is how you act on and I would add just before you die, and not in the good times.

You could ask yourself: why should I be admitted in heaven? And many will tell you:

I always lived a good life

I always tied to follow the law or ten commandments

I always did what the church said  should do.

In a way, I think most of us can relate to these answers to some extent. But in the same way this is actually the answer you might expect from a Pharisee. And in the end is this really what it is about?I bring back the final verses of the Nicodemus story:

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Later in John we read:

47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. (John 6:47)

and in John 14: 6 we read:

6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In another way this is beautifully filmed in the movie “The Gospel” I will share this youtube clip with you if only because it is probably one of my favorite worship songs. The important part of the clip is this conversation between a pastor and his intended successor about the involvement of the pastors ‘lost’ son and secular artist in the upcoming service with the music. Here’s the quote that for me relates back to Nicodemus as a Pharisee, and to the worldview question of Rick Warren. The pastor says:

I am of the mindset that we should spend a little less time looking good and a little more time actually being good.”

Do stick around after the quote for the great performance and try to not be touched by it.

Finally

As said in my testimony, I am still trying to get to grips wit the magnitude of all this and at the same time simplicity seems to be the answer here. There was a lot of doing good without necessarily being good. And where this relates to church practices. Please do not start judging straight away as this is not how meant this: there is no perfect church, there is however a perfect God.

And the Wordle of this post to close off.

I’ be keen to see your comments and ready to learn.  What is your worldview?

What is your answer to the question why you should be in heaven?

What have I missed!?!

In the words of Jay Deragon:

WHAT SAY YOU?

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