We’re All Prodigals, Or Are We?

I was thinking about the prodigal son. How he asked his father for his inheritance before the father died. How the father gave it to him. How this son of his spent it on his lusts until it was gone. How this son was very far away from home.

Then one day he looked up. That’s always a good place to start a recovery program.

He took stock. Another good decision. Where did he get his wisdom all of a sudden with such a track record of debauchery?

He came to his senses. Now things are coming together.

He was living in squalor, in a foreign country, feeding pigs. It couldn’t get more crazy than this. He started off with a fortune in his pocket and ended up hungry, thirsty and living with pigs, wishing he could eat their food.

He decides to go home.

The Father is waiting.

He runs to meet his son and throws his arms around him and kisses him.

Me? I would tell him he needs a bath.  IMG_0112

I’d be offended that it was his growling belly that brought him home and not me.

But God was in the hunger. God was in his thinking. God was where home was.

Home many of us have wanted to come back to, but haven’t been able.

Perhaps for you there’s no home to come home to. No family because they’re dead.

Or maybe you’re the older brother that never left home. You’ve shouldered the responsibility for the family, you’ve been the dutiful one, and your father has never taken notice. You were expected to take the mantle. That’s what older sons are for. To continue running the business you never started. It’s your father’s livelihood you’ve inherited, not your own. Maybe your heart’s not in it, but there you are because you’re the only one left standing. It’s yours by default. Your younger brother never cared to do the right thing. Your faithfulness allowed his unfaithfulness.

The father throws his wayward son a party he’s so happy to have him back.

The elder brother is not happy to see him back. He’s resentful, angry, hurt. Did the father throw him a party because he was dutiful and faithful? No. Did the father throw his arms around him and kiss him out of gratefulness for his obedience? No.

Why not? Remember this parable was directed to the Pharisees and Scribes who were listening.

It’s because real sons of the Father know what pit they were dug from. They know they don’t deserve the Father’s love. They understand the condition of their own hearts and without the Father’s compassion and mercy, they would not be any better than their resentful elder brothers.

It’s the condition of the heart of faith that is the subject of this parable. The Pharisees and Scribes didn’t have it. The elder brother didn’t have it. Only the prodigal in his filthy rags of repentance demonstrated it.

Talk to me.

 

Nothing to Say

I’ve been reading the Old Testament, book by book, and then it came time for Job.

I groaned.

I didn’t want to read it.

Some of my friends and relatives were suffering and I didn’t want to hear about one more.

But I knew I’d regret it. It had been a long while since I’d read the book, so I took a deep breath, held my nose, and plunged in.

Here are some insights from my reading:

I was surprised at the many verses I recognized that come from Job.

“For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.” 3:24 It echoes Psalm 22.

“Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” 4:17 The psalmist in 119: 9 asks the identical question.

“For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” 5:6 The psalms are full of the woes of man in sin, and so are the Proverbs.

I was also shocked at some of the wisdom that came from Job’s friends. Things like, “I too, was pinched off from a piece of clay.” 33: 6 It reminded me of when God made Adam.

“Where is my Maker who gives songs in the night?” 35:10 That’s from Job in his suffering and confusion. It’s reminiscent of Zephaniah in 3:17 when he tells Israel, as they face judgment, that God will restore and rejoice over them with loud singing.

Towards the end of the book, God finally addresses Job. What astonished me was how God described himself to Job. He could have shamed him into realizing his frailty in comparison to God’s power or verbally whipped him with his wisdom. Instead he asked him questions like, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?” or “Who has let the wild donkey go free?” or “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”

These are rhetorical questions and Job knows it.

God continues to the end of the book to describe the creatures he has made, just as he did man, and no one can take credit but him.

By the time God finishes, Job is speechless.

And I was given a shot in the arm. I came away realizing since God is the creator and caretaker of everything the eye can see, he certainly will take care of me and my loved ones. It’s laughable to think he’d forget me and my prayers.

The only reason I’m still around today is God’s faithfulness to me. I earned none of it. I fail him more than I care to admit. And everything I am and have he gave me as a gift because of his Son.

I’m left speechless, too.

So really my life needs to be a showcase of gratitude.

Talk to me.

How Not to Be Popular

Witnessing for Christ can be a romantic notion for the uninitiated, but it’s a painful reality for those who do it.

If you witness for Christ, you will also suffer for Christ.

That was my experience as a brand new Christian.  photo(44)

I was so excited about finding Christ that I naively believed all I had to do was mail everyone the same book that God used to lead me to faith. So I ordered 80 copies and mailed them to every family member, friend, and neighbor I could think of. To my dismay instead of having people appreciate me, and thank me for my thoughtfulness, I got their anger. Lots of it. To this day there are some family members that won’t stay in the same room with me if we are alone for fear I might bring up the subject of Jesus.

At a recent family reunion where 120 people were present, there was only one family of four that were Christians. I had been praying for these people for more than 30 years! I expected a lot more to know the Lord.

Then in church on Sunday I was reminded of Noah. Only 8 people were saved and the rest of mankind drowned in the flood.

Clearly God isn’t in the numbers.

Peter makes it clear in his first epistle that if you witness then accept suffering as part of the package because you’re living in a world that wants nothing to do with Jesus. Hatred and persecution are the norm. Noah was ridiculed for 100 years while he preached and built the ark. He was the only preacher in his day. Imagine how he felt. Ultimately Noah and his family were vindicated. They were the only ones saved through the flood.

So while I hate suffering and loathe being ignored and avoided by anyone, I know I’m in good company with Jesus and his apostles and host of other saints down through the centuries who have been faithful to stand for God.

What about you? What’s been your experience in witnessing for Christ?

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Be A Recovering Pharisee

Are you fussy, small-thinking, so engrossed in following the rules that your heart is brittle?

Of course not! Nobody wants to admit to that.

The truth is you and I are like that. It’s called Pharisaism and it’s a real problem. In some people it’s obvious, in others not so much, but all of us are affected by it.

6 Symptoms Of A Pharisee

1. Pharisaism is subtle. You don’t notice it so you don’t do anything to kill it.

2. It’s self-righteousness. Thinking better than other people.

3. It’s contempt for others who don’t live up to your standards. Looking down on others who aren’t as good as you.

4. It’s wrong priorities. Majoring on the minor details while missing the big picture of God’s grace and love in the gospel.

5. It’s not having a tender conscience. Being religious is more important than loving God.

6. It’s loving to tell others how to live. Then jumping all over them when they fail.

If you see yourself in these descriptions, you’re not alone! And you’ll want to know what to do about it.

3 Things That Won’t Help A Bit

1. You can’t learn your way out of it.

2. A good scolding won’t do it.

3. Being threatened until you quake won’t help either.

These three are aspects of the law and the law does not change the heart.

The solution lies elsewhere – in the gospel.

4 Ways To Fight Pharisaism With The Gospel

1. The Gospel tells us how bad we were. How much did Jesus suffer on the cross? His sufferings were infinite. Why did He suffer so much? Because He died in our place. What does this mean? It means our sin is infinite. ‘Sins’ can be counted—I lied once, stole twice, committed adultery three times. But ‘sin’, that native rejection of God, defies all calculation. The Gospel means we are thoroughly bad—not decent people in need of a hand, but sinners in need of a Savior!

2. The gospel tells us how needy we are still are. Where did Jesus go after dying on the cross and rising from the dead? He went to heaven. What’s he doing there? Hebrews 7:25 says he’s gone there to—

Make intercession for us.

He’s there praying for us. Why do you pray for someone? You pray for him because he needs something. This is why Jesus never stops praying for us, because we’re always in need. Now, it’s hard to square being in constant need with being proud of yourself or looking down on others, whose needs are no more than your own. The gospel means we are deeply and always dependent on God’s grace, and believing that will keep you from being a Pharisee.

3. The gospel reminds you that Jesus laid down His life as a ransom for many. That means you’ve got to love and respect your brothers and sisters in Christ, and let Jesus be the Lord of their consciences! Counsel them? Of course, but nitpick and micromanage them? No, not if the gospel has gotten into your heart.

4. The gospel saves you from being a Pharisee by telling you:

God loves you as you are, and thus you don’t have to pretend to be better than you are, and you don’t have to hunger for the praise of men.

That’s freedom!