As a child growing up in Queens New York, I disliked the approach of Fall. Of course it meant the end of summer, but with Fall would come darker mornings and nights would fall faster on our houses. Darkness does not hold any specific meaning for me now, but as a child, I disliked seeing the day come to an early end. By November the cycle of winter was upon us and the cold weather encouraged me to get into a warm and dry house as soon as possible. But I can still remember lingering, wanting to squeeze another small ounce out of the day before getting busy with homework. The days of early winter were more to be tolerated than enjoyed. But that did not hold true as the Thanksgiving school break was drawing closer. It was not just a great meal, but it always generated a sense of excitement and expectation for me. In some ways today is very similar, but it is not to a large family that I am drawn rather it is the quiet intimacy of loving interaction with my wife that makes it special for me.
This year will hold the added magic of being involved in a community outreach on Thanksgiving afternoon. A local church in Alamogordo New Mexico will be hosting a luncheon for those with no place to hang out. The church members responded positively when I suggested that they open their doors to families of offenders, so that they too could enjoy the warmth and welcome of others. I believe that is the kind of thing Jesus Christ would have been doing for others. It is not about the meal for me, rather it is an opportunity to welcome people use to living in the shadows of the community: To welcome them, as brothers and sisters. Perhaps they will forge a long term supportive connection with Dismas Project, but in the event that this is not their desire, they will still be welcomed and embraced.
This Thanksgiving will be different because of this outreach to others. But it is the substance of really being grateful, to have an opportunity to share with others that will make this holiday something special. And I doubt that I will even take notice of the shorter days outside. You see, this is all about growing our small family, one person at a time. And YOU are part of that family now. Gathered around the table at Thanksgiving, I would often experience a sense of happiness and delight. That is a tradition that I want to keep alive in my heart and your presence in my life adds to my happiness. The happiness of which I speak flows out of my understanding of God’s great love for all of us.
While there are steel gates and barbed wire separating us, the love of God provides a tangible link between us that nothing can stop. The link of which I speak is based upon a concern for your life, though we have never met each other. It comes from the realization that your soul is equally precious as is my own soul and that Our Father takes delight in all of His children. There is nothing quite like being welcomed by those who are happy to see you. That kind of loving acceptance dispels the darkness and cold which pervades the November days and nights.
There once was a man by the name of Zacchaeus who was hated by his townspeople. He worked under the ruling government as the chief tax collector and at that time, as long as the tax collector brought in the amount of money that the government wanted, then he could charge anything above that amount to keep for himself and those townspeople had to pay it. Everyone knew that he was ripping them off, but because he worked for the government he was in a protected position and there was nothing that the town’s people could do about it.
Well Zacchaeus heard that Jesus Christ was going to be passing through town and he wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short guy and could not see over the heads of the other townspeople. So he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view. Arriving in town Jesus Christ walked over to the sycamore tree and greeted Zaccaeus by his first name, telling him to come down out of the tree. He then told Zacchaeus that they were going to go to his house for lunch. Zacchaeus was stunned that Jesus had noticed him and even more stunned that Jesus knew his name. Now Jesus was telling him that they were going to eat at his house.
When some of the religious people heard this, they grew angry with Jesus because He was choosing to hang out with a known sinner, rather that with the upper class, the privileged class. Zacchaeus quickly came down out of the tree and was so moved by his experience with Jesus Christ, that he pledged to give half of his belonging to the poor and he also stated that he would might things right with those who he had cheated on their taxes. This was a remarkable encounter for someone like Zacchaeus who was a very rich man.
It was like he publicly confessed his sins before Jesus and those standing around listening and he was changed by this encounter with Jesus to such an extent that Jesus noted that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house. In other words, that brief meeting with Jesus transformed his life on the spot. Zacchaeus did not set out that day to meet Jesus, but Jesus had set out to meet Zacchaeus. And that brief encounter changed this man’s life forever. That is the way an encounter with Jesus Chris works in our lives. He finds us and touched our lives so profoundly that we are changed forever.
Zacchaeus still had to pay his debts, but the transforming moment was when he came to the point of realizing that Jesus had come to town to meet him personally. It totally softened his heart and gave him and new outlook upon life. That is what Jesus Christ does for each of us, when we open that door to our heart and allow Him to come in. We still need to pay off all the debts that we owe here, but we are given eternal life as a result of that encounter with Jesus.
Nothing we have here in terms of treasures that we may own can compare with the richness of being loved by the God who created the universe. And that love is ours through all eternity, not just for the time we have remaining in this earthly life. We started out this letter talking about darkness, cold and the happiness of a Thanksgiving meal shared with those who love us. Well that SAME promise is extended to each of us when we accept the love of the One who comes seeking each of us. The bible tells us that we will be His guests at the great wedding feast in heaven when all of His followers join together with Him.
Now that will be a true Thanksgiving Day feast. You and I have been personally invited to this feast as His guests. No one can take that away from you or I. It is His free gift from the Lord of Life. The only condition attached to this offer is that we open the door of our heart and accept His love for us. Jesus Christ comes into each of our lives and finds us, no matter where we are at that moment…up a tree, in a death row cell or enjoying a family get together. The whole process is that simple. So basically today you and I are standing at the bottom of our own sycamore tree listening to the words of Jesus Christ being spoken into our lives. Will you accept His invitation to join Him at dinner and forever in heaven?
The Young Woman
There was a young woman who came to church services and afterwards approached the pastor tearfully. She confessed that she had been backslidden and wanted to come back to God, but felt hat He would not accept her because of her sinfulness. As she talked, tears flowed from her eyes and her voice broke again and again as she told her story of despair. The pastor spoke gently into her life, the obvious reality that he was observing in her behaviors, her sorrow, her contrition and her desire to have a right relationship restored with her heavenly Father. He wisely pointed out to her that even in that same moment her relationship with God was being restored as she spoke of her shame and sadness over her sinfulness.
That was the moment of spiritual restoration, a moment of fellowship with God in which He welcomed her back into relationship with Him. It was clearly a story which reflected all of the teachings found in the parable of the Prodigal Son. And it was happening in the quiet moment of engagement between two people and a loving Savior. He will always welcome us home, if we are willing to bring our sinfulness and place it at the foot of the cross. That is why he came, he lived and died and rose again: To pay the total price for our sinfulness and trespasses.
Do not allow the voice of deception to tell you that God would not accept you because of what you have done. He loves you beyond all you could ever imagine. Surrender is the key to the door that stands before you, all you have to do is open the door and walk through it. You will never be turned away, because you are precious just as you are. That is the nature of true love, unconditional love. Come home and be loved as you are, because He created you out His great love. It is when we are at a point of utter despair and overwhelming hopeless, that we finally come to a place where we can make the most important decision of our lives.
It is at this point that we can choose to surrender our lives to the care of God, or we can continue on the downward spirit that can only end in destruction for ourselves and others. It is only at that point that we internally recognize that we have failed in managing our lives effectively. It is only when we profoundly recognize the extent of our own failures that we can come to a point where we come to recognize this as an opportunity to reach out and accept God’s living word about us: His profession of love for us and His willingness to forgive our sins and trespasses unconditionally. It is His personal call to all of us, come home My Child, I love you.
In my heart I know that we all reach this point in our understanding at sometime in our lives. This is not a point of absolute failure, but rather that moment of incredible opportunity to accept His promises. All it takes is a willingness to call out to Him in our pain and shame, He will do the rest in His love for us. He is calling you by name today, won’t you please come home?
I will be in Alamogordo, New Mexico for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. But you will be in my thoughts and prayers. It is my heartfelt desire that you will join me in that heavenly feast. That we will have all of the time that we want to share the amazing things that God has done for each of us. This life is but a brief span of time, 70-80 years usually. In this life we are constantly reminded of our failures, mistakes and errors. That is the way that society lives out its existence. Like crabs caught in a bucket crawling over each other to get to the top. But none of the crabs every get free, because those below will reach up and pull those on top back down in the midst of those still in the bucket. That is the way that life works during our short life spans. But that is not the way that God sees us. To Him, each of us is one of His precious children. And He takes delight in looking for opportunities to bless us each day of our lives.
During the past months I have tried to share a number of different aspects of life which shape us and influence us as we grow older. Many of those things happened when we were still children and dependent upon others for care and protection. When we failed to get that kind of consistent love, we toughened up inside and started to look out for ourselves. The rest is now history. Just like Zacchaeus discovered under the sycamore tree that he did not have to defend himself in the presence of Jesus Christ, my holiday hope for you is that you will also find that you are truly loved by your Creator. And that you will accept His love as a gift that will radically transform your own life forever.
Use this model to reveal the most secret shame and humiliation to Him who is able to do all things. MORNING PRAYER
Dear heavenly Father,
I acknowledge You as my sovereign King. You are in control in all things of my life. I thank You that You are always with me and will never leave me nor forsake me. I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I may say no to sin and yes to You. I ask the Lord Jesus to heal me if there is any bitterness from any bad things that have happened in the past.
I now take my stand against Satan. I plead to use the authority of Your holy name. In the name of Jesus, I cast the spirit of: (sample list of sins):
1 Adultery, Anger, Arson, Abuse, Addictions 2 Blasphemy, Brutality, Bestiality, Blaming, Broken Vows 3 Condemnation, Cursing, Controlling 4 Damning, Destruction, Delight in Harming Others. 5 Exorbitance, Exhibitionism, Envy 6 Fornication, Fondling, False Testimony, Failure to Help Others, 7 Godlessness, Gossip, Greed 8 Heretical Beliefs, Homosexuality, Homicide 9 Idolatry, Ingratitude, Instigation 10 Jezebel, Jealousy 11 Killing, Kidnapping 12 Lewdness, Lesbianism, Lying, Lust 13 Murder, Mayhem, Masturbation, Mutilation, Masochism 14 Neglect 15 Oppression 16 Pride, Passion, Persecution, Promiscuity 17 Quarreling, Quenching, Quibbling 18 Robbery, Rape, Ransom 19 Sexual Sin, Suicide, Self-Mutilation, Slavery, Sadism, Satan-Worship, Selfishness 20 Trauma, Torture, 21 Usury, Unbelief, Unreasonableness 22 Violations, Victimization 23 War, Wounding, Waste 24 Xenophobia 25 Yelling 26 Zoophillia,…to depart from me. Cleanse me from all iniquities. I choose to put on the full armor of God, so that I may be able to stand firm against all of the devil’s schemes. Instead, I want every good spirit of you Lord. Please give me the spirit of:
Obedience Purity in Thoughts Humbleness Self-Control
Your Wisdom, that will guide me all through the day. I submit my body as a living and holy sacrifice to God and I choose to renew my mind by the living Word of God. And let me be spiritually bound to Jesus alone. I pray that the Holy Spirit will renew my spirit, in order that I will be spiritually healed. I ask that an angel of Jesus be my guard and in the name of Jesus, cast away any angel of darkness that had been oppressing my spirit in the past.
Please be with me and my family all through the day. I want this day to be a glorifying day for my King and Savior, AMEN.