Christianity 201

November 28, 2016

The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Yesterday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father,  did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

 

 

June 20, 2015

The Father Image Jesus Wanted Us To Keep

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago, for Father’s Day — which happens Sunday here in North America — our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

January 9, 2014

The Two Audiences

In a blog titled Christianity 201, one assumes the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is somewhat familiar.  If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982.  (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
    God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.”  (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

November 16, 2013

Prodigal Son Parable Changes the Paradigm

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The Lost Son Returns:

(NIV)Luke 15:20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

In the new book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson writes:

Pete Wilson - Let Hope InJesus’ audience continued to listen to him tell the story of the prodigal son, and they had been surprised so far, but now they were thinking, Well, the dad let his son make his own choice.  He was so overwhelmed when his son came home that he actually ran to him, but we know how this story is going to end.

From the Jerusalem Talmud, it is known that the Jews during the time of Jesus had a method of punishing any Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles.  It was called the “qetsatsah ceremony”.  Such a violator of community expectations would face the qetsatsah ceremony if he dared return to his home village.

The ceremony was simple: The villagers would bring a large jar, fill it with burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual.  While doing this, the community would shout, “So-and-so is cut off from his people.”  From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with them.

This was a religious ceremony designed to publicly embarrass and humiliate the person guilty of wrongdoing.  And the people listening to this story are waiting for this ending.  Sure the dad forgave the son, but the village is going to give the boy what he deserves.  They’re not going to overlook his dark past.  They’re not going to allow him to just forget where he was or who he had been.  But an amazing thing happens: the father trumps the humiliating and convicting ceremony by establishing his own.  “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.   Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24  NIV).

He does something his audience is not familiar with doing: wiping his son’s slate clean.  He says, “I know my son blew it.  I know he made some horrible decisions.  But this is between me and him.  He’s not an embarrassment to me.  You can come over to the house tomorrow, but instead of a ceremony of rejection, we’re participating in the joy of a restoration.”

~ Pete Wilson, Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever pp. 117-118 emphasis added

June 16, 2013

God Runs to Meet Us

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS  Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

This morning, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in.  He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

March 21, 2013

The Vulnerability of God

The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15 (NIV)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living….

…17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ,,,

…“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…

Today’s reading is an excerpt from a sermon by a radical Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Radical is a bit of an understatement; you can read more about her and watch a video of her speaking to a youth rally at this Thinking Out Loud article from last July.   Nadia blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran, where you can not only read today’s full text, but also listen to this brief sermon (about ten minutes) on audio. To do both, click here.  Nadia begins with a story of a time she thought her child was missing; and continues…

…[I]t’s vulnerable to have a child.  To create or adopt a child is to leave yourself vulnerable to a broken heart in the way nothing else can.  Which is why I started wondering this week about the vulnerability of God.

There is much talk out there about the strength of God and the mightiness of God and the awesomeness of God.  But what of the vulnerability of God?

That God would breath into dust and create us in God’s own image….that God would bring humanity into being as God’s own beloved children was to leave God’s self vulnerable to a broken heart in a way nothing else could have. What a risk God took creating us. Giving us enough freedom to be creators and destroyers.  Giving us enough freedom for us to make a mess of everything and act as our own Gods and to also trust in God and love each other…

…I’ve always heard this parable, one of the most famous stories in the Gospel, titled the Parable of the Prodigal son.  But out of everything we could say this story is about – why do we say it’s about the wasteful extravagance of the younger son? Why is that the focus when it’s not even that interesting?

I mean, It’s actually common for young people to leave home, waste their lives and their money for awhile until they have no other option but to come home to the parents they didn’t treat very well when they were leaving in the first place. Maybe we make this a story about the wasteful stupidity of the younger son because it’s a story we are more familiar with than the alternative, which is this: if the word prodigal means wasteful extravagance, then isn’t it really the story of the prodigal father?

Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to give his children so much freedom?  Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to discard his dignity and run into the street toward a foolish and immature son who squandered their fortune? Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the father to throw such a raging party for this kind of wayward son?

But, see, I love that kind of grace.

I personally love that Jesus tells this story of the prodigal father in response the to Pharisee’s indignation that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and prostitutes because, when it comes down to it, give me a church filled with awful sinners over a church filled with pious Pharisees any time.

Some of us might find the grace the father shows to the younger son to boarder on offensive, but the thing that really gets me in this story is how wastefully extravagant the Father is toward the older son.  The kid who never left him.  The one who has always done everything right.  The kid who is clean cut and went to college right out of high school and came back to work in his father’s business.  The kid who always signs up to do jobs at synagogue but resentfully notices all the slackers who show up and never help at all.  The kid who feels entitled. The kid who can’t stomach going into a party to celebrate the return of his screw-up of a brother.  I can’t stand that older brother even as I cringe at the ways I may be a little bit like him.  You know what’s wastefully extravagant in my book?: the fact that the Father says to that kid “all that is mine is yours”.

What risk God takes on us. Children who waste everything in dissolute living.  Children who begrudge grace being extended to people who so clearly don’t deserve it. But this is a risk born of love. God risks so much by loving us which is why, tonight anyway,  I prefer calling this the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

Because it is here we see that your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue.  It is not determined by being nice, or being good or even, and I struggle with this, but it’s not even determined by how much you do at church.  Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. Amen.

Related posts at C201:

December 12, 2012

Anxiety, Depression and the Hope of Christmas

Fear, worry and anxiety are strongly linked to depression; and at this time of year, when everybody else is celebrating, depression seems to get larger, not smaller, for some people. Today is a double-post from Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day.  I thought it significant that he dealt with both of these issues a few days apart. Links to the individual articles are in the titles, and you’re encouraged to read these there, leave comments, and browse other articles.

The Catch

Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:31-34 NASB)

In Monday’s post [Much More] I told you that God provision was not a principal or a promise, but more of a forgone conclusion.

Today there is actually another shoe about to drop.

There is a condition – a catch – one itty-bitty proviso.

And that goes back to the last paragraph – Who’s your master?

Here is the thing – If Jesus is your master, you have nothing to worry about – really –nothing.

Worry is a total waste of ‘redeemed time.’

The time you have is a gift of God. He gave it to you with a plan and a purpose.

Worry is a waste of that precious commodity.

Remember this guy?

And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. (Luke 15:13 NASB)

We call him the prodigal son. Do you know why we call this young man prodigal? (yes it is an adjective) Prodigal means wasteful.

So are you a prodigal when it come to your time – wasting it on worry? 

I pray today you would come to your senses like the prodigal son, and run home to Papa who is more than willing to take care of ‘what you will eat’ and ‘what you will drink’ and ‘how you will clothe yourself.’ And He has your tomorrow well in hand.

So get yourself comfortable in the role of servant, and our Wonderful Lord and Master will sweat the details.


Got Gloom?
Check this out

We all know this Christmas verse thanks to GF Handel:

The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2 NASB)

But look what comes right before it:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. (Isaiah 9:1 NASB)

I love this – Jesus growing up in Galilee of the Gentiles making it glorious – but check the beginning

No more gloom for her who was in anguish.

Are you in anguish?

Are you living in gloom?

Are you stuck in a dark land – a dark place?

Christmas is here to break the gloom – break the anguish.

Ok – that was a bit mushy – how ’bout this:

Jesus was born, lived, and died a cruel death to break the gloom with an astonishing light

~ Ben Nelson

After posting this I discovered we had already borrowed an article from Ben just a few months ago, which I try not to do. But obviously this is a great source of devotional thoughts  which you might want to bookmark.

June 11, 2011

Remixing Our Image of God

Today’s post is by James Rubart the author of two popular Christian fiction novels, Rooms and The Book of Days. This is the first of nine short vignettes — and one longer short story — that are yours for the reading at his website. To read the eight others, click here.  Both of these links open .pdf files; to learn more about James’ books, click the link at the end of this article.

If you can do it, think of God unedited by how you’re supposed to see Him. Not what religion or your mind tells you-oh, God is love—but your heart. What images come to mind?

Principal?

Dictator?

Judge?

The image I fight is of Him standing in front of me with folded arms saying, ―Well, you’ve sure screwed up a lot but I have to let you in anyway.

It’s probably why I cry every time I read Luke 15. You know the passage. Whole books have been written on it, music videos done, modernizations have tried to convey the message in a more compelling way. And there’s good reason for all the focus. It is the entire gospel in twenty-two verses. With it, Jesus encapsulates the core of the Father’s heart towards us.

The part that reduces me to tears? The first part of verse 20:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (NASB)

My Bible has little notations down the middle of the page sometimes showing the literal translation of a word, and in this case it puts a whole new spin on the verse. Before I dug into the literal translation of ran, embraced and kissed I pictured the Father jogging up to the son, giving him a swift hug, a pat on the back and a quick kiss on the cheek. A kind of Jewish-Italian-Mafia/Marlon Brando thing. ―Welcome back to the family kid!‖

Wrong.

This is how I’d write the translation based on the literal meaning of the words:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and raced toward his son like an Olympic sprinter. When he reached him the father nearly knocked him to the ground with his passion and joy. Seizing him with all his strength, the father wrapped his son up in his arms, and squeezed him tighter and tighter into his chest as tears flowed down the Father’s cheeks onto his beard. The father kissed his son feverously over and over and over again.

That’s how God feels about you.

Notice two more things before you go. When did the Father do the things above? Before the son confessed or after? And what was the Father’s reaction after the son did confess?

He ignored the confession.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Amazing.

He doesn’t even address the sin.

Don’t get me wrong. God abhors sin. Cannot abide it. But that’s why He sent Jesus; to abolish it forever.

But there are no folded arms, no cruel scolding, no tyrant or dictator to be found. Only unbridled passionate love.

Ask Him. Ask Him now to rewire your thinking about who He is.

And run into his violent embrace.

~James Rubart, JimRubart.com

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.

June 13, 2010

My Viritual Church Service

I keep forgetting to tune in to NorthPoint Ministries Online version of the morning service from the church in Atlanta pastored by Andy Stanley.   The service streams online at 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM EST Sundays and those are the only times you can catch the full service including the worship.

Tonight I missed everything but the last four bars of the last song, but decided to kick back and enjoy the sermon, a passionate study of the “Prodigal Son” story from Luke  (I think I got the name right.)

At the end of the online broadcast, they do something really cool, which I’m still part of even as I’m typing this.    You switch over to a “chat” mode and instantly, you’re in a group of people who are debriefing their responses to the sermon you’ve all just listened to.

I don’t normally do the chat thing online at all, but we’re not in a small group right now, and the two times I’ve caught the sermon, I’ve joined the chat after, and I think that, without doubt, the effectiveness of this particular medium is really big.

This is a church that is like a magnet for people who are spiritually seeking, and on this chat medium people are totally open and honest about their hurts and needs.   Tonight’s sermon was about the classic “Prodigal Son” parable, and afterwards people shared about the difficulty they have with the story because of the troubled relationships they have had or are having with their earthly father.

So tonight, instead of a devotional post here I’m going to ask you to pray for Larry and pray for ‘Joyful.’   And pray for North Point and all that they are doing, and that more churches will consider the creative possibilities available with online media.

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