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January 25 – When Stories Become Real

There is a video of a stunt for a movie coming out. In the movie, a person crawls out of the TV set and kills the people watching. In the stunt, a row of TVs is set up with the preview on the screens that features the movie. The salesman distracts potential customers and shows them the features of the TV. Meanwhile, a panel opens up and you realize that one of the TVs was an empty space so that a person dressed like the movie killer can crawl out of the “TV” and terrorize the customers. The fun for everyone else is seeing the stark terror on the faces of the customers and their reactions. The story became real.

Jesus told lots of parables designed to teach the truth about God’s Kingdom. In Luke 17, one of the stories is of the two men who went to the Temple to pray: a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. As you continue reading in Luke you realize that the story comes true in a way. A rich man, highly regarded in his community comes to Jesus looking for exaltation and Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. He goes away sadly. Then, the story is completed by Zacchaeus, a Tax Collector, who climbs a tree just to see Jesus and ends up eating with Him. There, Zacchaeus made a faith declaration. “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’” (Luke 19:8)

If you’re like me, you probably wondered why it is that Zacchaeus got off so lightly. He only had to give half of his stuff away, oh, and pay back anyone who filled out the required forms, in triplicate, to prove that they were cheated. Well, maybe not the paperwork. The difference between the two is not the money. The difference between the two is the attitude of the heart as they approach Jesus. The rich man came to Jesus hoping to be exalted. When he asked Jesus what else he needed to do, perhaps he was expecting Jesus to respond in a voice that all around could here, “How could I ask you to do anything else. This man is truly great in God’s Kingdom!” Instead he was met with what most people would feel like was an unreasonable demand. Zacchaeus, meanwhile, humiliated himself for the mere chance to catch a glimpse of Jesus as He walked by. He knew his sin. He didn’t really want Jesus responding to him because he knew that Jesus could really rip into a tax collector. The earlier parable came to life when Jesus called out and exalted Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus made his pronouncement about the money and left the rest of us wondering about how fair Jesus really was.

In spite of the common cultural adage, it wasn’t all about the money. As noted earlier, it was all about the attitude of both men as they came to Jesus. I know that my attitude as I approach Jesus changes from day to day, but I have never had a good day in the Lord when I woke up thinking how lucky Jesus was to have me as one of His followers. Don’t cluck your tongue at me, I’m guessing you’ve had days like that too. We may not use those words, of course, but in the back of our minds as we’re doing things to help others, perhaps, we’re counting our crowns in heaven and secretly hoping that someone has their phone out filming what we’re doing so that it will show up on social media. My best days in the Lord begin when I wake up and recognize my own sinfulness and I come before God seeking mercy. I don’t always have to argue with Paul about who the worst sinner is. Sometimes, it’s coming to God without pretense and seeking His presence in my life. Sometimes, it’s just not comparing myself to others when I see what they have done. Always, it’s about recognizing who I am in God’s eyes: a sinner saved by grace.

Lord, help me to take my eyes off of myself. Help me to stop looking at other people and comparing myself to them. Let me keep my eyes on You and realize who I am in You.

Daily Devotion by Bob James


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