When You are Given Gifts: Receive them. Open Them. Give them Away.

When you are given gifts, you usually get excited about opening them. You probably don’t think of giving them away. Paul, however, says that’s exactly what you should do:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

given gifts

Gifts, says Paul, are given to each of us according to grace. Not the “tear open the wrapping paper” kind of gifts, and not necessarily the “this is your gift, for only you to enjoy” kind of gifts, but the “I am giving this to you so that you can give it to others” kind of gift. Our flesh loves to celebrate giftedness itself, and we make much of talented musicians and athletes; Grace loves to make gifts useful by humbling them in service to others.

Right after Paul says that we are all part of the body of Christ, and we all belong to each other, he exhorts us to utilize what we have been given on behalf of others.
He presents this as an “if-then” kind of process, which really has two steps. First, determine what your gift is. Paul declares that we all have different gifts, given to us spiritually “according to the grace given to each of us.”

There are gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and they are all focused on “others”, not on “Me”. In context, he is saying that these gifts are bestowed on each believer as part of the body of Christ in order to serve the other members of the body. And here in Romans Paul basically says, “If you have been given a gift, then use it.”

So ask yourself the question: what have I been gifted with? A spiritual gift is not necessarily a talent (although it could be related), and not necessarily something you are accomplished at; it is really more a quality that other believers see in you even when you don’t always see it in yourself. If you aren’t sure, pray about it, and then ask some fellow believers close to you what they feel your gift(s) might be. You might be surprised by the answers you get.

Secondly, whatever gift you have been given, USE IT. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.“ Being motivated by grace puts a whole different spin on receiving a gift: Open it. Use it. Give it away.

God’s given something to everyone
To enrich our lives, to create some fun.
These gifts aren’t meant to be just enjoyed,
But are given to us to be re-employed!
When you can do something and others it lifts,
You’ve probably discovered your spiritual gifts.
As we open them up we should give them to others,
To build and encourage our sisters and brothers.
If Paul was still preaching among us, today,
He’d look at our gifts and here’s what he’d say:
Your gifts are not gifts ’til they’re given away!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

A Good Body May Involve More than How You Look on the Beach

While you’re getting ready for the beach, think about ANOTHER kind of body: ”For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

body of Christ

There is a lot to consider in this passage in Romans. It refers to a sacrifice that stays alive, and a body that is more than a body…And it tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Do you know anybody who thinks more highly of themselves than they ought to? Are they fun to be around? When someone is self-absorbed, that’s really the opposite of love, isn’t it?

Here in the (other) love chapter, Paul declares that the result of love is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it is a life seasoned with humility and honest reflection. A life of faith does not abandon rational self-evaluation. On the contrary, it encourages us to look at ourselves honestly, and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

On one hand, that’s a bit intimidating. God sees my inward failings, my secret sins, my selfishness, and my insecurity. If I think of myself the way God does, then I should probably be frustrated over my limitations and sad about all my failures, right? Wrong!
Because if I truly look at myself through the lens of Grace, then I can see my redeemed self the way God sees me, unblemished and full of potential, ready to be made into who He created me to be!

I have been given a place in the family, and a role as part of the body of Christ. No one is born in a vacuum; every one of us is designed for relationship, to be part of a bigger team. If I am willing to take MY story and subjugate it to HIS story, then I will find meaning and fulfillment in my role. Further, Paul says that in the body of Christ we ALL have different roles, and that “each member belongs to all the others.”

Anyone who has ever participated in a team activity knows how this works: you make the extra pass, take on extra duty to support a teammate, lay down the sacrifice bunt, take a meal over during stressful times, watch the kids, make the key block, contribute your creativity to someone else’s presentation…

There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. I’ve been privileged to be on that kind of team several times in my life, and it is absolutely true. If you are not seeing the results in your life that you’d like to see, ask yourself two questions: What team(s) are you on? And, Who do you belong to? Maybe it’s time to work on a DIFFERENT kind of body…

People work out every day to maximize their looks,
Striving to achieve a nice physique that really cooks.
While you flex or stop to see the beach’s latest hottie,
Don’t forget you also have another kind of body.
If you find your role with other people who believe,
And no one’s concerned with any credit that’s received,
You’ll be amazed at how it works, and what you can achieve!
You’ll do almost anything with this body, if you let it.
You’re part of the body of Christ, so do not let yourself forget it.
God will bless if no one cares about who gets the credit!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sacrifice: The Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms
In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus, and you will find a number of different words for love, many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years. Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ, when he didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension? If you read his work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well, even though the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote. His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time!) He wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice, repeating the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that literally for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE. If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
And you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence. Read it and see if you agree:

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. Calvin Coolidge said, ““Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement.

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know–me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away.
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

prodigal

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is always scanning the horizon, looking for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he’d been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
“My son is home!” The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he’d trod;
His father’s celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Indignation Will Always Keep You From Enjoying the Party

Although the prodigal son squandered his inheritance, his older brother suffered from his own sin, the sin of indignation. “But he [the older son] was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him… “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:28; 31-32, NIV)

In Jesus’ parable, the older son refused to go into the party. His audience probably thought that was the logical response; even the tax collectors realized that the older son would have been bitter and angry. No one in Jesus’ audience was surprised at the older son’s indignation. He had a right to feel that way!

indignation

The listeners all probably realized that the dutiful son who stayed home was similar to the Pharisees, who practiced righteousness until it hurt. They were, however, very surprised to realize that the older son’s actions and indignation made him just as rebellious and insensitive as his younger brother. He wasn’t home because he loved his Dad; he was there because of the payoff that would come his way when his inheritance became fully his. Just as the lost son rejected his Father and left home, the older son now rejected his Father and stayed outside, angry. HIS money was being frittered away on a feast for his undeserving brother! The injustice!

What no one would have expected was how Jesus described the way (once again) the Father responded to the situation. He took the initiative and “came out” to his eldest son. He “pleaded with him”. He was willing to share all that he had, including his daily presence in relationship, and yes, including his willingness to show compassion to his lost child by throwing a party. He gave the older son the opportunity to share in the celebration, to move from callousness to compassion, and from duty to delight. The Father grieved over his older son’s indignation just as he had grieved over his rebellious son’s debauchery.

Since the oldest son represents the Pharisees, Jesus leaves him suspended in the tension of the moment, outside the party and unwilling to come in—just as the Pharisees stayed apart from Jesus, unwilling to accept him. They were wrapped up in being right. They were so busy looking down their noses at everyone that they couldn’t see love right in front of them. Perhaps you can relate. Are you busy “hating the sin and loving the sinner”? Do you feel a little superior to outlaws, addicts, the homeless, divorced people, gays, liberals. etc.? Take a cue from the Father, and reach out in love. There’s room at the party for everyone.

The younger son just had to laugh. His father killed the fatted calf
And he who had deserved it least was honored at a festive feast.
His older brother stayed away, he didn’t understand this day:
It wasn’t even somewhat funny, wasting all that time and money!
The younger brother was a fool. The elder thought it wasn’t cool
To celebrate this prodigal son–something he would not have done!
His feelings were too strong to hide, and so he waited there outside,
Allowing bitterness to reside in every thought, and to abide…
While sinners need to hear the Lord’s commandments, and to heed Him,
Some righteous folks miss God because they think that they don’t need Him…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Wherever You’ve Been and Whatever You’ve Done, Come Home

“And he arose and came to his father’s home. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)

Let’s explore the Father’s response to the younger son, who had recklessly asked for his inheritance, and then taken off and wasted it on “riotous living.” Since his older brother later tells the Father that his younger brother “squandered your property with prostitutes” (How did he know that? Wishful thinking? Maybe what he himself would have done?), it is safe to assume that he was not a good steward of the resources he had taken.

Any good Hebrew Father would have washed his hands of such a son, spit in his direction, and that would have been that. (Which is obviously what the older son expected.) However, THIS Father, the one Jesus knows, reacts very differently to the situation. First, the Father saw him “when he was still a great way off”. This can only mean that the Father was looking for him daily, standing perhaps up on the terrace on the roof and watching the road, hoping against hope to see his son coming home.
This was a Father who loved his sons, and who missed the lost son and longed for him to return. Upon seeing him, the Father had compassion. He didn’t fixate on what the son had done wrong, and he didn’t concentrate on punishment. Instead, he was filled with love. What he did next broke all kinds of cultural rules and expectations. Rather than waiting at home for the son to come crawling back, he did something no proud Jewish man would have EVER done.

home running

He ran down the road, embraced his son, and kissed him. There’s a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean called “When God Ran” that depicts the moment beautifully, but suffice it to say that this emotional outburst of love by the Father surprised the neighbors, the servants, and the ragged younger son coming home. The son even began to beg forgiveness with his rehearsed speech of contrition, but the Father overruled him. He said, ‘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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Wow.

Perhaps you have wandered away from God. Perhaps you have wasted or squandered His resources. Maybe you think He doesn’t appreciate your behavior, and wouldn’t welcome you back. Jesus has news for you: The Father is watching for you, anxious for your return. He is filled with compassion over anything that hurts you, and he longs for your company. Yes, you should be repentant, and it might even be a good idea for you to rehearse your speech begging for forgiveness. But don’t be surprised if the father Jesus knows runs out to meet you and embraces you before you even get the words out. Come home. You might even get invited to a party! If my Bible is right, you will be the guest of honor.

 

Hebrew Fathers didn't run. They wouldn't break their stride;
Public etiquette required that they be dignified.
Yet Jesus told a story once about a son who left,
And squandered all he had to wind up sad, alone, bereft...
Coming home, he found His Father watching from above,
Then running out to meet his son with unexpected love!
Jesus told this parable, as only Jesus can,
About the way God loves the lost, and about the time He ran!

From “When God Ran” by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti

And then He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Bitterness Lingers On the Tongue Long After the Feast Has Begun

As Jesus told this story at Matthew’s party about the lost son, He shifted gears on his audience and changed from the foolishness of the younger son to the secret bitterness of the older one.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:25-30)

bitterness

Picture the scene: the feasting in Matthew’s house has paused while Jesus continues his parable about the two sons… As He tells this story, his audience leans in, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the younger son, and also at the permissiveness of the Father. The tax-collector/sinners, reflecting on their lives, wonder quietly if they could go actually choose to go back to God having wandered so far from home.

The lifelong church member/Pharisees in the group put themselves in the shoes of the older son. They keep the law. They’ve done their duty. The Pharisees imagine walking up the driveway only to hear the sounds of feasting from the house, and share the older son’s indignation over his brother’s return. They can easily relate to the bitterness expressed by the Prodigal’s big brother. They barely hide their disgust at the Father’s wimpy attitude, and they look around the room feeling somewhat superior.

Then Jesus explains more about the older son, and there is as much about him in what Jesus DIDN’T say as there is in what he said. He points out that while the older son has stayed home and done his duty, he doesn’t love the Father any more than the younger brother did. He is more concerned with the waste of resources (technically, now, HIS resources, by the way) than he is about his brother’s safe return. In fact, he is harboring bitterness against the Father that bubbles to the surface in quiet rebellion over this welcome home party.

It’s not just wild partying and blatant sin that separates us from the Father; Proud, self-sufficient superiority and bitterness can be just as destructive. Jesus’ parable illustrates that “doing your duty”, being right, and self-sufficiency are no substitute for love, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The Father loves both sons, and both are invited to celebrate. Let’s not be those Christians who stay in a holy huddle away from the party, finding community mainly in the rules they DON’T break together. If you think about it, we are all sons, and we are all sinners. Let’s find joy at the Father’s party with son and sinner alike.

The younger son returned to see them kill the fatted calf;
This younger son was happy–but not so his other half.
The older brother sulked and of this party wanted none:
His bitterness remained long after feasting had begun.
Ask yourself, when sinners prosper and you hear the news,
Could you judge those sinners? Do you think that’s what you’d choose?
Are you ever standing in the older brother’s shoes,
Critical of your Father’s grace, and anxious to accuse?
Be careful that your judgment doesn’t circle back to you…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Two Sons: The Story That Is Actually About Us

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. He would gladly have eaten what the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘My father’s servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:11-19, NIV)

sons

In this parable of the two sons, the younger son dis-respects his Father by asking for his inheritance so that he could leave home and go do whatever he wanted to. If you’ve heard this story, the focus has generally been on those who wander away or live in rebellion before turning back to God. Of these two sons, most of us can relate to the younger son who left home and squandered his inheritance. Maybe it applies to you… Have you ever “taken your inheritance” and told God that YOU are going to run your life, and you don’t need his help?

If you have, you can relate to the younger son. Perhaps you are chafing against the way things are, just waiting for a chance to do your own thing; Perhaps you are in the “prodigal living” phase, too busy partying to care what God thinks; or maybe you have hit bottom, looking at your breakfast of warm beer and cold pizza wondering, “is this all there is?” If you are anywhere in this picture, then remember a couple of things:

1) No matter how alluring the outside world may seem, the Father’s house is still a place of warmth and comfort.

2) Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” explains that “prodigal” means wastefully extravagant. The younger son was “prodigal” because he blew all his money on frivolous things…

3) Fair-weather friends don’t last, and to contradict Robert Earl Keene, all parties come to an end sometime. The laughter of drunken dancing often gives way to the pain of the morning after…

4) You can never go so far from God that it takes more than one repentant decision to go back home.

5) The younger son is only a third of the earthly part of this story. It is ALSO about both sons and their Father, and the way each of us relates to God. Read the whole thing (Luke 15:11-32) and see if you can’t find yourself in there. I bet you can.

 

A certain man in a certain land had a son who didn’t understand,
But made a rather sad demand, and took his inheritance in hand–
The Father and his love be damned– and, lacking any better plan,
Went off and partied with the band from dusk ’til dawn, and
Things were grand until the inheritance was gone,
And he slept with the pigs out on the lawn…
The son was broke and all alone (the friends and party both were done)
And everyone but the pigs moved on,
So he finally thought of going home.
Though this story is well-known, Read it a time or two,
And tell me, when you’re done, which of the characters is YOU?
Have you left your Father’s House to do what you want to do?
Partied like a rock star ’til your funds (and faith) were through?
Have you hit the morning after, feeling somewhat blue?
You’ll be surprised to know that He can throw a party, too,
And waits at home to kill the fatted calf and welcome you.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sinners Seem to Throw All the Best Parties. Should We Go?

“Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And the scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32, NIV)

When Jesus called Levi the tax collector (known to us as Matthew), he sent ripples of social indignation through the synagogue. It was a dramatic cultural statement about values, righteousness, and the gospel. Tax collectors were a totally unacceptable social group in Judea. Their job basically amounted to legal extortion on behalf of Rome, and they lived comfortably in large, opulent homes with richly dyed fabrics and plenty of first century bling. (Think “The Godfather” meets “Scarface” in terms of style and general social acceptance…)

Because their wealth was built on Roman oppression, they were despised by their fellow Hebrews as traitors and criminals. I would imagine that as they sat by the pool in their private courtyards, the tax collectors took solace in the creature comforts their lifestyle provided (even though they weren’t welcome at church anymore.) When Jesus called Levi from the tax collector’s booth at the city gate, it was a radical move. It was one thing to call fishermen, or John’s disciples, but it was unthinkable to good Jewish citizens that Jesus would call someone like Levi. To make it even worse, Levi went and threw a big party for Jesus at his place!

sinners party

He invited his friends—the OTHER tax collectors and their girlfriends, and Jesus ACTUALLY WENT. Ok Christians, here’s a couple of things to chew on. How many friends do you have who would even qualify to go to this kind of party? If most of us Christians threw a party, wouldn’t it be too lame for any non-believer to want to attend?

And of course the big question: when was the last time you threw a party at your house for sinners? A party that had other folks at church questioning your motives and behavior? There’s an Australian church called “Matthew’s Party” that reaches out to street people. I love their name and their mission. Tell me: Is their mission any different than ours? Jesus said, “It is not the righteous but the sinners who need to be called to repentance.” Is your life so insulated among the righteous that you’d have a hard time coming up with a good guest list of sinners who needed to come? Maybe it’s time to throw a party!

Matthew threw a party and invited folks he knew;
According to the Pharisees, these friends were less than winners.
They threw shade at Jesus there, and his disciples too,
Criticizing them for hanging out with such big sinners.
Jesus said, I’m here because the sinners need me most;
Besides, I like this party and I really love the host.
You should be glad I’m here instead of being mad I went;
I came to call the sinners, not the righteous to repent.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread