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11 Advent Quotes to Feed Your Anticipation for Christmas

Advent is that time of year when we make our final turn leading up to Christmas. Around this time, we feed on the promise of God to one day send the ‘seed of the woman’ who will crash the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Advent is the coming to life of that promise told in a variety of ways and through the lips all Old Testament prophets.

Below are some quotes from books, the hymnal and the prayer book to awaken you to the Good News of the coming of the Messiah.

  1. He comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them. He emphatically does not promise to meet only the odd winner of the self-improvement lottery. He meets us all in our endless and inescapable losing.—Robert Capon

  2. “Christmas is fast approaching. And now that Christ has aroused our seasonal expectations, he’ll soon fulfill them all!” St. Augustine of Hippo

  3. “Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all thy life receive, Suddenly return, and never, Never more thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, Serve thee as thy hosts above, Pray, and praise thee without ceasing, Glory in thy perfect love.”— Charles Wesley

  4. Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other- things that are of no real consequence- the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  5. “The Kingdom of God is the already but not yet.”― R. Alan Woods

  6. “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”— Douglas L. Rights

  7. “God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  8. “Let deeds of darkness fly Before the approaching morn, For onto sin tis ours to die, And serve the Virgin-horn.”— Paris Breviary

  1. “Veiled in darkness Judah lay, Waiting for the promised day, While across the shadowy night Streamed a flood of glorious light, Heav’nly voices chanting then, “Peace on earth, good will to men.”— Ancient Antiphons

  2. “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.”—Book of Common Prayer

  3. “Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”― Thomas Merton

You Are Not What You Do

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”— Colossians 3:12-13

From all sides, the world shouts one thing: You are what you do. Your value, identity, and worth are determined by your ability to perform before others. Beauty, expertise, prestige, success, good behaviour, right-standing, influence, prominence, property, etc are the things we use to determine who we are.

Our success, or lack of, is foundational to how we see ourselves. We are what we do.

From the verses above, the temptation is to try to anchor our identity, value, worth, meaning, purpose, and ultimately, our salvation in the behavioural attributes that Paul lists, such as compassion, meekness, kindness, patience, humility, forbearing and being forgiving.

This is what we always do because this broken world we live in continues to preach to us that we are what we do.

Not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s opening statement in the verses above is your true identity: “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” Before God, you are chosen, holy and beloved. It’s not about what you do for yourself, but what God in Jesus Christ has done for you.

You see, according to the Gospel, your identity and salvation are anchored in Jesus’s perfect performance on your behalf. It is because of that performance that you have been transferred from being a person of the world to God’s chosen one; from unholy to holy; and to one who is loved by God.

It is from this new identity that good works flow. In other words, the behavioural traits Paul lists in the verses above are produced by your new identity and right standing before God, not the other way round.

To put it differently, your identity as “God’s chosen one[s], holy and beloved” is the root from which the fruits (compassion, meekness, kindness, patience, humility, forbearing and forgiveness) flow. Obsessing with fruits (for example, kindness) will not make you more patient, rather, you will become obsessively impatient because the law can never inspire what it demands (Romans 8:3-4).

This is the Gospel: You are not what you do, you are what God in Jesus Christ has done for you—free of charge. It is only from what has been done for you that what you do grows.

What if God Allows Suffering?

Facebook has become for me a theological ‘battle-ground.’ Unlike the pictures which are meticulously filtered, the ideas are never filtered. The biggest debate this week has been that of the sovereignty of God. It may seem pretty obvious to you that God is in control, “of course He is,” you might say, but it may not be that obvious.

Someone came out and asserted that God is not fully in control—in other words—He is partially sovereign over the cosmos He created. Their reason: God cannot allow suffering, pain, disease, car wrecks, wars, etc. He argued that all this bad stuff we see around is evidence that God is not sovereign. “God is really good, He can’t do that.”

But, what if God allows suffering?

In his book, The Reason for God, author, and pastor Timothy Keller attempts to respond to those who use evil and suffering as evidence against the existence of God. This does not tackle the question at hand head on but, none the less offers some helpful insight into what we are dealing with. Keller, first of all, traces a fallacy in this kind of reasoning. To him, this kind of reasoning is blind faith. “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be one,” he writes.

He then draws on the bible account of Joseph (Jacob’s son) who was sold into slavery by his brothers who could not stand his arrogance any longer. Through bondage and misery, his character was refined, and he went on to save thousands of lives, his family inclusive.

What caught my attention was the account Keller gives of a parishioner who lost most of his sight in a shooting:

“I knew a man in my first parish who had lost most of his eyesight after he was shot in the face during a drug deal gone bad. He told me that he had been an extremely selfish and cruel person, but he had always blamed his constant legal and relational problems on others. The loss of his sight had devastated him, but it had also profoundly humbled him. “As my physical eyes were closed, my spiritual eyes were opened, as it were. I finally saw how I’d been treating people. I changed, and now for the first time in my life I have friends, real friends. It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

It’s interesting that this man sees God’s hand in what happened to him. If this man could find something good in his suffering, so can many of us. I can also add that if we cannot see any good reason why God can allow suffering, it does not mean that God, from his divine perspective, does not see one.

27 Lessons from a 27 Year Old

On 7th October, this past Saturday, I turned 27 years of age. Along the way, I have learned a lot majorly through failure. Here is a trimmed list of 27 lessons from a 27-year-old.

Life

  1. I am more sinful than I can dare believe (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 51:5 ) but God is more gracious than I can dare imagine (Romans 3:23-25; Hebrews 8:12)
  2. Stop trying to chase 35,000 dreams when you have one life to live. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and pick something you are passionate about, then do it—and do it well.
  3. We are born to die. The earlier you discover this, the earlier your life will find meaning.
  4. Failure is not what they told us it was, it is not something to avoid but one we should make our daily teacher.
  5. While everyone wants to be famous, no one wants to do the dishes.

Knowledge

  1. Strive for intellectual curiosity. Read blogs every day and at least a book every month, then ask yourself this question: What did I learn this week/month?
  2. Learn from people who are better than you. Sit at their feet and shut up.
  3. Listen to podcasts–a lot of them. Avoid YouTube videos.
  4. Trash the selfie stick and replace it with a pen.
  5. Carry your notebook to the shower; it is a labour ward for great ideas.

Dreams

  1. A true dream is one that is bigger than you, the dreamer.
  2. Have you a dream? Want to be a writer? Start now. Open up blogger.com and start writing. They say that water does not begin to flow until the faucets have been opened.
  3. Is your work creepy? Keep going, even butterflies are born ugly.

Friendship

  1. Your true friends are defined by what they do for you when you are not around, i.e., dead.
  2. It is good to have friends but it’s even better to become a friend.

Love

  1. Love is not earned, it’s free.
  2. Marry the one you love so that you will love the one you marry. (I heard that from a movie)

Purpose

  1. No one is born without a purpose.
  2. Our primary purpose is not to be something but to receive something–salvation (grace and mercy) from God.
  3. The theological why to all life’s whats and hows has to be the Gospel. In other words, the only inspiration in life should be Jesus’s work on behalf of sinners and sufferers.

Law and Gospel

  1. The Law of God is holy and perfect. It also reveals to us what God is like–perfect and in turn shows me the depth of my sin.
  2. The Gospel is not what we do or what God has called us to do.
  3. The Gospel is solely God’s work.
  4. The Law may demand that I obey, but only the Gospel can produce in me the desire to obey.

Sin

  1. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
  2. No one has the power to defeat sin, God Himself is the only One able to defeat it on our behalf.

Plans

  1. Resolutions are a way to atone for the mistakes committed in the past year.

[Bonus] Manifesto

  1. Whatever you do, live by a code. I live by the Ragamuffin Code: [Lord] Have mercy on me a sinner.

Image: Unsplash/ Ryan Holloway

Martin Luther: The Distinction between Law and Gospel

But you ask how it can be the fact that faith alone justifies, and affords without works so great a treasure of good things, when so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed to us in the Scriptures?

I answer, before all things bear in mind what I have said: that faith alone without works justifies, sets free, and saves, as I shall show more clearly below.

Meanwhile it is to be noted that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts: precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not instantly done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so.

For example, “Thou shalt not covet,” is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin, since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the precept, and not covet, he is constrained to despair of himself and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in himself; as it is said, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help” (Hosea 13:9). Now what is done by this one precept is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence, and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law–for the law must be satisfied, so that no jot or tittle of it may pass away, otherwise he must be hopelessly condemned—then, being truly humbled and brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for justification and salvation.

Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, “If you wish to fulfil the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! Believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.” All these things you shall have, if you believe, and shall be without them if you do not believe. For what is impossible for you by all the works of the law, which are many and yet useless, you shall fulfil in an easy and summary way through faith, because God the Father has made everything to depend on faith, so that whosoever has it has all things, and he who has it not has nothing. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 9:32).

Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils. Hence the promises of God belong to the New Testament; nay, are the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from Martin Luther’s “Concerning Christian Liberty.” It was edited for clarity.

Your God is Ugly

“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.”—Luke 15:14 (ESV)

The two sons in the parable of the prodigal demonstrate before our eyes the futility of giving ultimate worth to anything smaller than the Jesus of the Bible.

The younger son, who came peddling his Father’s death certificate before he could drop dead, showed that what he needed the most was not his Father but the Father’s things.

The older son also obeyed, not out of love for his Father but for his Father’s things.

Luke’s account tells us that the younger son got the things. We also learn that the things never saved him.

The god of the younger son was not enough for him. The things got used, and he began to lack again. The emptiness in him that he thought the things will fill became even wider. His god was finite and ugly.

To illustrate the ugliness of this god, you need to think about a bucket full to the brim with water. If you started scooping water out of that bucket, you would run it dry, one way or another.

That is what happens when we put our hope, trust, security, identity, worth, value and salvation in things that perish with use.

They run out.

In the end, we are left wailing, enslaved in enemy territory, destitute, smelly and ugly like the gods we trusted to deliver us in the first place. Even the pigs will not share their food with us because we are ugly.

On the other hand, the God of the bible is different.

He is like an ocean. From age to age, He never runs out; He never runs dry. He is infinite. He offers a sure salvation, but above all, He is beautiful and makes beautiful.

Christian, we have Autism

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”—Psalm 78:4 (ESV)

Autism is a rare disorder.

Children who suffer from it spend all their time focusing on a small aspect of their life. It may be a button on their jacket.

An autistic child can, for the whole day, restrict their attention to the button. They will do just that—repeatedly.

What therapists do for these children is disconnect them from the narrow focus the disorder restricts them to by making them look up in the sky.

When it comes to miracles, all Christians are autistic.

We have drawn conclusions of what qualifies to be a miracle and what doesn’t. Miracles are essentially the big things, the ones we will talk about during testimony time in our prayer meetings and heads turn. Anything short of that is not a miracle, we have concluded.

We focus on one aspect of life and close out everything else.

When we restrict our attention to the “extraordinary,” we miss a God who works in ordinary ways. We forget that the God of the Bible works and saves through ordinary means. He also gives Himself to us through the ordinary means of bread and wine. When we overlook the ordinary, we miss all the things God is doing in our lives.

We miss the miracle that woke up this morning.

We miss the miracles that we have people who love us.

We miss the miracle that God has given the opportunity to hear and believe His Gospel.

We miss the miracle that our children are able to go to school and graduate with degrees.

We also miss the miracle that we are able to give our children in marriage.

Yesterday as I was running late on my commute to work, I found a taxi which was to cut traffic jam by way of using a different route. Was that a miracle? Absolutely!

When I got to town, I found another taxi which needed just one passenger to hit the road. Was that a miracle? Because I’d be sitting waiting for it to fill up, it was a glorious miracle.

Miracles have their place in our daily grind. It is in the sweat of toil, the patience of parenthood, the perseverance in faith, the pain of suffering, dinner with a new neighbour, and the serenity of family quiet times that God works. Miracles happen every day.

What we need is to look up and see how vast the universe is. Until then, we will not be thankful for the miracle that we are alive today.

AMEN.

How to Become Better without Selling your Soul

The colonial education system was one way colonialists instilled order in the people they controlled. For the best part, schools—like the Police and the prison services—ensured that colonised people knew who runs the place.

The only way one could become better in such a school system was by submission whether you liked the program or not. Some pupils were good at doing the program while others always messed up.

What inspired improvement in school was the terror which the teachers were known for. There was always a saying that the backside (akabina/ekibunu) belongs to the government and so the teacher was free to whip his learners. All the time, we obeyed because the whip was always in view.

Our obedience was a result of fear. We didn’t like what was being imposed on us but it was easier to obey than endure the agony of punishment.

Terror-inspired obedience is always grounded in insecurity. Obedience is meant to earn something—respect, approval, favours, acceptance, and love. You can’t become better this way, you instead become a lunatic who is a good person when the guy you fear is around but when they are away, you become something else.

This is the kind of obedience legalism produces. A legalist treats God as a hungry bookkeeper out to get everyone who is cheating on the taxes. Such a God carries carrots for the good boys and girls, and sticks to whip the bad ones. Obedience under such a God is through fear—the fear of the heinous things that God will do to them.

Paul in Romans chapter 6 demonstrates a different kind of God, one who takes the initiative. He puts on flesh to do what we have all failed to do.

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:20-22, ESV)

This kind of God graciously hangs on a tree, with nails through His hands and feet, but shouts “forgive them.” In His pain, He sees our pain instead, and dies so that we will live. For us who were once slaves to sin because of Adam’s transgression (which was imputed to us), He by faith makes us slaves to righteousness, again by imputation. All this happens after He has accepted our sin—far and wide—to be imputed (credited) to Him. The God of the bible deals in only one currency—grace.

It is from this free gift of grace which none of us deserves that is now our new identity. We are children of God who now call Him Father. His love for us attracts us to him, not the other way round. And this love alone can transform our lives.

The root of His justifying work at Calvary births in us a fruit of obedience. It is out of his love and mercy towards us who deserve wrath and damnation that obedience springs. Paul says that Jesus’s saving work leads to sanctification—which is theological word for becoming better. Being better, in the Christian sense, starts with Jesus, any other thing that promises results apart from Jesus is fake.

His love for us alone has the power to make us better. No elbow grease, no sweatshops, no treadmills, just sheer grace. Trust Him alone above everything else this world promises, you never know, some fruits may pop up in your life for the glory of His name.

[Audio] The False Doctrine of Asceticism

For the past thirteen weeks, some amazing folks and I at The fellowship have been strolling with me through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. To say that we have been “strolling” is not to say that we have been doing it aimlessly. No.

As I teach through this amazing letter, God does show how these ancient words are ever true, these doctrines which Paul pointed out at the start of the First Century AD are still around in Church today. The Letter to the Colossians is therefore as important today as it has been through the ages.

Bible Text: Colossians 2:20-23

God’s Glory vs. Man’s Glory

 “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”—Isaiah 6:4-5 (ESV)

When one of God’s archangels in charge of administration started to question the authority of God, he thought of executing a mutiny.

Lucifer loathed the thought that every created thing on earth, above it and underneath it glorified God. He wanted that glory for himself. But his rebellion fell through.

Since then, Lucifer, the Devil has recruited men starting with Adam so that they will worship him instead of worshipping God in heaven. He promises them things as well as a false independence which, if bought into, keeps all men enslaved to this fallen angel.

When he came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he promised him all the riches and glory of the world he does not own in exchange for Jesus’s worship of him: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8)

The Devil promises men that they will be great: that the other men will glorify them if they first glorify Lucifer himself. He lures men with lots of money, expensive cars, and problem-free life.

God, on the other hand, changes the people who are drawn to glorify him. His glory is so bright that it exposes the darkness in the hearts of men. It is what my hero Festo Kivengere called “God’s radiant character.” When sinners encounter God, they tremble and repent of their sin, which he washes away (Is. 6:6-7).

Unlike the men who promise to change other men after they have glorified them, God changes people so that they will glorify and enjoy him in their new life. God does not deal in baits; he does not to trap mice.

The other thing is that men who demand glory from other men need it so badly to feel like they matter. Their life and identity depend on how many people will lick their feet and how many media houses will carry the pictures.

God, on the other hand, does not need a man to glorify him in order be God. Even if men do not glorify him, he remains God. This is what theologians called the ‘asiety of God’—He is self-existent and independent from the creatures he created.

We can, therefore, come to one conclusion: man was never created to be glorified. His quest for glory is a consequence of the corruption in him and into which he was born. When men seek to take for themselves the glory which only belongs to God, it points to the perversion in our worship. God alone deserves the Glory.

The answer to our idolatry is found in the Gospel. Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection alone, can transform our worship. He alone is able to convince us of the futility in bowing down to things and people smaller than Jesus.

The glory we give to men can only be redirected to God by God himself in Jesus. He already did at Calvary.

One Rejected Prayer which Forever Changed the World

“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”—Luke 22:44 (ESV)

The culture we live in today is so full of itself.

One unanswered prayer can mean so many things. I have heard someone say to a group of people that their prayers remain unanswered because they did not purify themselves.

I am still trying to figure out what that statement means.

Others say that our unanswered prayers are because we have unrepented sin.

And also others say that we just don’t know the words to use when we pray.

What I have not heard, however, is someone explain away the reason why God (the Father) did not answer His Son’s request when he prayed in the garden. Is it not the bible which clearly says that “good fathers” don’t hand their children stones and snakes when they ask for a toast and some good fried fish?

Two lessons from this event hit you like a slap in the face.

Number one, fervor and frequency are never the stuff which get prayers answered. The angel at the Prayer Booth in heaven seems not to be very interested.

Luke, in his Gospel, when referring to Jesus’s routine activities, always uses the words “as was his custom.” Jesus’s custom constituted going to the temple and reading from the Law and the Prophets (4: 16) and praying up in the mountain (22: 39). But his prayers were also fervent for his idea of sweating was to bleed from the sweat pores.

That also did not move his Father in heaven.

Number two, God’s silence does not mean that he did not answer. I understand that all of us have an idea about how this world (including our lives) could be made brighter than it already is but the problem is that none of us down here owns a universe.

God has sole discretion over his universe and creation. He also has in his pocket the property deed to this universe. He owns it, solely.

Sometimes God does let us wallow in our sinful passions; that is granted. But that also happens because he has let us.

So, even as concerns our prayers, he is still sovereign. His “Yes” or “No” are both answers to prayer.

Think about it: What would be of this world had God the Father said “Yes” to the Son’s demands in the garden? What would be of salvation, mercy, grace, substitutionary atonement, simul justus et piccator, it is finished and all those beautiful statements we use to communicate the Good News?

Do you now see that one “No” from God is far greater than a lifetime of “Yes’s” from the entire mankind since creation?

Rest in the glorious reality that God’s “No” is also Good News because; it took a rejected prayer to save this world and all the train wrecks in it—even you.

AMEN.

My Dad and the Grace which Runs Deeper than our Sin

A few days to Christmas day of 2001, I remember walking to my dad and telling him that I wanted him to come with us to church on Christmas day. He had said yes.

My mum had died a year and a half earlier. She was the one who took us to church. When she died, there was no one to go with us to church. I remember my young brother Simon and me changing from our Anglican church to a nearby Pentecostal church where they gave biscuits and sweets after Sunday school. I was 11 and my brother was 7.

While growing up, the only time we went to church with dad was when my brother and sister were being baptised. I was 8 then, if I remember correctly. But the day I was baptised, he didn’t show. I don’t know why.

I was terrifically happy that my dad had accepted to go to church with us. On the morning of Christmas day, I happily walked the corridor that led to his bedroom to tell him to dress up quickly as we were running late. I found him in bed and that is when he told me that he was not feeling fine.

He was later admitted into a hospital and on New Year’s Day of 2002, he breathed his last. He never went to church with us.

********

I find the account of the call of the disciples particularly interesting. The calling of Levi (Matthew) strikes me the most. Luke in the twenty-seventh verse of the fifth chapter tells us that while Jesus was walking around (of course not aimlessly), he saw a tax collector standing at the tax collectors booth and he told him these words: “Follow me.”

Later that evening, the tax collector threw a party for Jesus and he invited fellow tax collectors. The Pharisees and Scribes also came.

I prefer Luke’s gospel because of his emphasis on detail.

Notice that Jesus comes to Levi’s booth. Back then, tax collectors were outcasts and traitors. They held both titles concurrently. They worked alongside the oppressive Romans to solicit taxes from their fellow Jews. In order to earn a wage, they had to charge an “extra” amount on the taxes. They kept that “extra” as their wage. But many of them, if not all, charged a hefty “extra” on the taxes thereby becoming stinking rich.

They thrived on exploitation which they did without shame, no one liked them anyway.

Jesus comes to that booth—a place of shame—and calls Levi out. He is not afraid to associate with the outcasts that no one wants to be seen talking to. He leans over the booth and whispers to Levi: “Dude, join my team.” Levi is called as a tax collector not as a reformed man. Christ comes to him in his outcastness and treason and calls him without requiring him to first change. He calls him as he is—dirty and ridden with mixture of shame and national ridicule. In the stench of his sin, Jesus touches Levi’s shoulder and calls him to follow Him.

This is only possible if there is something greater than Levi’s besetting sins. And yes, it is there: grace. The grace of God in Jesus was able to redeem Levi, even amidst his sins, because this grace ran deeper than the sins he had committed, even the ones he would commit later on.

Jesus is attracted to Levi because of the very thing that condemns him before his countrymen—his sin. Because “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

********

The time leading to the Christmas of 2001, dad was always sick. One time he was down for a couple of days. I remember my Uncle bringing a friend of his to pray for my dad. I think it happened on two occasions.

On none of those occasions was my dad preached to. Those men came to pray for him but never told him about Jesus and the love He had for my dad. They came to deliver God’s gifts, not God Himself.

I can’t tell why my dad always shunned church. May be it was the guilt. He had made some terrible choices that threatened to tear our family to shreds. May be he condemned himself for that. I know that a few relatives did.

I have always asked myself what would have happened if someone had told my dad about Jesus. That no mistake he had committed or would ever commit could ever hold a candle to the love that God had for him. I think of what would have been of his life had he heard the Gospel that the grace of God in Jesus ran deeper than his sins, the grace of God in Jesus Christ which exclusively redeems our mistakes. What about hearing that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ?

No one sat my dad down to tell him that the sins he cannot forget, God cannot remember. When I think of what would have been and what is now, I thank the Lord for the men and women whose hearts burn to teach and preach the Gospel, the true Gospel of Jesus and His free forgiveness of our sins.

My brother later told me that some people had come to my dad’s deathbed and told him about Jesus. He also told me that my dad died after he had come to the faith.