Digging Deeper

prodigal

Gentle Reader,

Everyone, it seems, knows the story of the Prodigal Son. Found in Luke 15, Jesus uses this parable and two others to explain his association with the lowest of the low. The drama in each of the three is found in the search for something that has been lost, and the joy that is had when that lost thing is found, or comes home. The Prodigal Son, in particular, reveals the unconditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

There is more to this story, however, and it is found in what Jesus does not say.

The Prodigal Son (we’ll call him Joe), is a snot. He decides that he wants his inheritance and he wants to go out and do whatever he pleases. His father (we’ll call him Bob) acquiesces to his request and sends Joe on his way. Eventually Joe figures out that this was an incredibly stupid move and comes home. Bob welcomes him with open arms and big party. There’s also some other stuff in there about Joe’s brother (we’ll call him Sam) being offended, because he’s been faithful and good and done all the things that Joe didn’t want to.

I love this story. The image of Bob greeting Joe gets me every single time.

We all really like that God will forgive us. That’s cool. What we don’t like so much is that He requires our obedience after His forgiveness. Consider our friend Joe here. Are we really going to assume that Bob would take him back and then continue to finance his debauched lifestyle? Of course not. The implicit condition is that Joe recognized how wrong he was, and that he understood that coming home would mean living under his father’s rule.

Any parent who might be reading this here blog really gets this. Part of loving a child is setting boundaries for them. As they grow older, those boundaries shift and a greater sense of both freedom and responsibility is found, but it is still, quite rightly, “my house, my rules.” The parents of a drug addict are not likely to allow their son to do a line of coke on the coffee table. The guardians of a promiscuous teen are not likely to allow her to sleep around in their home.

The door is always open, but staying inside requires some effort.

So, tell me, why do we think it is unfair for God to define the terms of our salvation?

His offer is thrown out to everyone. Like the true Parent that He is, He opens the door for His children. He tells us how much He loves us, His intentional creation, and works to woo us back into His arms. Though He allows the natural consequences of our decisions to occur, He always there, always ready to protect us and teach us.

Isn’t that what any parent would do? Wouldn’t anyone say, “Listen, child. This is the way home. You can come back any time. I want you to come back. But if you do, you know how things must be?”

God is holy, and so He is whole. Not one of His attributes outweighs the other. He is gracious and forgiving, but He is also just. We want that of our human parents, so why do we not want that of God? Why do we whine, moan and complain? Why do we stamp our feet and say that one way Home is ridiculous or unfair?

And when we’ve come Home, why do we cheapen His grace by persistently refusing to live as He asks? Shoot, He doesn’t even ask much, for it is by His strength, His heart and His presence within us that we are able to love, to forgive, to live fairly and generously.

I spent a good many years not only as a prodigal, but as a hypocrite. Mouthing platitudes by day, partying by night. It makes no sense. We want to have His forgiveness and then treat it like a free pass. We think, “Oh, I’m covered. I can do what I want.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t read the Parable of the Prodigal as some sort of call to legalistic living. I simply think that if we really take the time to consider the fact that God Himself paved the way for us to come Home by His death and resurrection when He certainly didn’t have to, we’ll stop shaking our fists and stop looking for ways to flout Him.

He adores us.

He made us specifically and specially.

He wants us to come Home – and stay Home.

My journey to faith. (15)

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Called

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Gentle Reader,

My pastor is currently preaching through the ministry of Christ in anticipation of the Lenten season. Today he focused on a small and oft-studied passage, the call of the first disciples in Matthew 4:18-22. Though the first two chapters of the Gospel of John reveal that Jesus had likely already met Peter, Andrew, James and John, it is here that their role in relation to Him is explicitly defined.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. (NKJV)

Two things about this passage struck me afresh today.

First, Jesus didn’t call the creme de la creme. He didn’t go out and look for the prettiest, the best, the brightest. He searched out ordinary people. Second, these ordinary people immediately set aside what they were doing and followed Him. There was no dragging of feet and certainly no excuses.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor noted that the call is the same today as it was then. Jesus invited twelve Average Joe’s to go along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime. He took what they were good at – fishing – and translated it into a work that would ultimately glorify Him and point others toward salvation. So, today, Jesus invites each of us to do the same.

What amazes me about this is both the gracious condescension of the Lord and His creativity. Jesus did not have to have anyone come along on His ministry. He could well have done it all alone. Yet He choose to allow human beings to play a part. He sees value and ability within His children beyond that which we see for ourselves. He draws out the qualities that we assume are worth nothing and uses them for something special.

I am thinking about this today in relation to being ill. It’s quite discouraging to be shut up at home so often, having to say “no” to fun activities and events. Today I wonder if He wants to use that. Surely there are others, far sicker than I, who struggle to climb out of dark holes. There must be a way for me to minister to them, out of my own frustrations. After all, it is the holes caused by our weakness and wounding which allow His light to shine through.

We’ve got to keep our eyes open, I think. God might be willing and wanting to use us in a way we have never imagined.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Place to Start

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Gentle Reader,

It’s all about the resolutions.

And not keeping them.

Usually, I make a list of things that I want to work on throughout the year. On December 31, these resolutions all look so bright and promising. I can do it! By mid-afternoon of January 1, I have forgotten all about my oh-so-noble goals.

This year, I tried a different tactic. Instead of determining to change this or that thing in my life, I asked God to show me things that He wanted to work on in me. (I’m sure that someone else invented this way of approaching a task, but I have to tell you that I find it quite revolutionary). What did He tell me?

Memorize Scripture and pray.

Sigh.

Two things that I’m pretty much a massive failure at.

Isn’t it funny how we (at least, I assume you have this problem, too), can go along in our Christian lives and never really be plugged in to the Source of our faith? We can say all the right things, believe all the right things – and yet never really get anywhere. The reason that this problem exists, at least for me, is that there’s a serious lack of communication. Talking to God becomes a last resort, and cracking open that Bible? Let along memorizing something?

Sheesh. Isn’t faith supposed to be easy?

Such simple things, to memorize a few lines and to make a habit of talking to the Creator. Why do I make them so difficult?

I lack faith.

Faith is all about the trustworthiness of another’s character. The real truth is that I often doubt that He has the answers. So I muddle along, trying to make my own way, mostly making a mess of things. And why? Why do that when I have the solution right at my fingertips all along?

In the straightforwardness of my glaring need, I have a realization. We can make all the plans about weight loss, laying aside our addictions, becoming a nicer person, but none of it will matter unless we are maintaining a steady flow of listening and speaking. Listening to His direction, reading what He has to say, and telling Him when we feel lost, confused, or when we messed up.

I’m only going to conquer my anger issues by being steeped in His presence.

I’m only going to be able to combat lies if I know the truth.

I’m only going to be as loving as I allow myself to be loved.

The place to start? God. Just God.

It’s that simple.

My journey to faith. (15)