Friday, March 31, 2017

a far country, part 2

The Word for today:
Luke 16
mark this:  Luke 15:13 --
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.
(Yesterday, in part 1, we introduced the parable of the prodigal son. Today we hope to leave you with an appreciation for the story's depths of meaning--and a desire to dig ever deeper.)
We've been told that the prodigal son is about repentance. It is about repentance, but it's about so much more.
The parable has no bottom. You can keep digging and digging and you'll never stop discovering new truth, new meaning, new inspiration.
Today, in no discernible order, we offer a collage of snippets, just a few different "takes" on the story. We hope you'll skim through them, and linger over a few.   And we hope they whet your appetite for more…
"The Other Brother"
The Bible is a story. It's not history or philosophy or a manual for self-improvement.
It's not about creation, it's about the Creator.
It's not about redemption, it's about the Redeemer.
It's not about forgiveness, it's about the Forgiver.
The Bible isn't about salvation; it's about the Savior.
Even the Parable of the Good Samaritan is about a Samaritan half-breed--his mother a Jew, his father unknown--from Nazareth of Galilee.
Even the Parable of the Prodigal Son isn't about the younger brother who went when he should have stayed, or about the older brother who stayed when he should have gone. It's about an Other Brother--who went to a far country to search for his lost brothers and sisters so he could bring them back home.
At its deepest level, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not about the characters in the story, but about the storyteller--Jesus. At its deepest level, the Word of God, even when it might not say so, is about the Author.
"I will arise and go to my Father…"
The story of the prodigal son is not how a sinner becomes a son, but how a son becomes a sinner.
All the way along, he was always a son. This is a story of a child of God who sins and finds his way back to His Father. The boy was a son when he left home, and he was a son in the far country.
"falling from grace"
The fall from grace only happens to a born-again child of God who descends into a legalistic, works-based relationship to God. Those fallen from grace remain saved, but miserable--powerless, joyless, unfruitful. The elder son in the parable of the prodigal son is an example of a person fallen from grace (Luke 15:25-32). The ringing indictment of Galatians 3:1--"O foolish Galatians..."--is Paul sounding an urgent alarm to believers who are reverting to their works instead of faith in God's finished work on the cross.
"Jesus, the prodigal son"
On the cross, the Son missed His Dad, and wondered what had become of Him. He'd never been away before. It was dark, and Jesus was lost, untethered, disoriented. Our sin upon Him, he was the lost son in the far country, with no direction home.
"A Man After God's Own Heart"
In all of Scripture, only King David is designated by God as "a man after My own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Why David? Given the evidence of his life, how can he be singled out as a man after God's own heart?
It seems that the answer lies in the meaning of the word 'after.'  After' indicates direction, and not necessarily proximity. 'After' shows the direction of a heart, and not necessarily that heart's current proximity to God's standards.
The Bible's account of King David's life shows us how things might not be as they appear to our sight. When God had chosen young David to be king, the prophet Samuel mentioned that David's older brother looked the way we think a king should look. But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance, for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)
In the Gospel of Luke, a young man took his inheritance to a far country and wasted it all on a reckless and sinful life. When he had sunk as low as a Jewish man could--feeding pigs as a hired hand--he got back up and sought after his father's forgiveness.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (15:18, 20)
The prodigal son was "yet at a distance," but the father saw the direction of his heart.
"I'm such a laggard, I don't even know if I am a child of God"
You'll know by your direction, the tendency of the heart. A child of God is a man/woman after God's own heart, on his/her way from Egypt to the New Jerusalem. There might even be nonbelievers, children of the devil, who apparently are closer to Jerusalem than you are. But they're traveling from Jericho to Egypt, and you will pass, going in opposite directions, along the way. A child of God might even gather everything together, and take his journey into a far country, even Egypt, and there waste his substance with riotous living (Luke 15:13). But he will hate it there, and one day will come to his senses and say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you..." (Luke 15:18)
the elder brother:
"clothed in his own righteousness, did he ever return?"
The prodigal son is a man after God's own heart. He is seeking Him out. Though he comes from a far country, he is tending towards God.
The elder son--saved but out of fellowship with the Father--stands inert.
God sees the tendency, the direction, of the heart. This is why David is the Bible's illustration of a man after God's own heart. Some now far away are after God's own heart.
'After' indicates a direction; it does not necessarily indicate a proximity.
David fell under the weight of his sin, and he got back up.
Jesus Christ fell under the weight of my sin, and He got back up.
The prodigal son fell and he got back up:
"I will arise and go to my father." (Luke 15:18 KJV)
The elder son, clothed in his own righteousness, was unaware of his own fall from grace. Self-satisfied, he felt no need to repent.  We are not told whether he ever got back up.
Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,
then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,
and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
There was a man who had two sons.
And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” And he divided his property between them.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
But when he came to himself, he said,
“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son...’”
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:11-20)
Why isn’t the son in the book of Luke punished, as the book of Deuteronomy demands?
This apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all to the student of the entire word of God. The passage from Deuteronomy comes from the Law. The law is what we deserve. The passage from Luke is an example of God’s grace. Grace is what we don’t deserve.
The purpose of the law is to lead us to God’s grace. You can see the law at work in the life of the Prodigal Son. The son tells the Father that he does not deserve to be called his son. The boy is right. So we see that the law is right. And it is for our good.
The Good News is that God has a Way back home! Jesus took upon Himself the demands of the law for all those who look to Him for their salvation. That's what Jesus meant when He said, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”  Jesus paid it all.
So God’s law in Deuteronomy is fulfilled to the last letter. And His love is showered upon us, just as the story of the Prodigal Son describes. There is no contradiction in the Bible, or in the character of God.
The seeming contradictions--between God's Law and His Grace, between the prodigal boy in Deuteronomy and the prodigal boy in Luke--are reconciled at the cross of Jesus Christ, when God combined uncompromising wrath against sin with unconditional forgiveness.
There at the cross, in a display of the entire spectrum of His character, we by faith see the ultimate miracle of the universe, which renders all else pale.
By faith in Christ make the cross your very own miracle, and you'll see your stern, unwavering Father sprinting down the road to welcome you home, at last.
"the hidden prodigal son"
The God of Heaven is also concerned about those who have lost their spiritual passion. In Hollywood, the return of the prodigal son would have been the end of the play and the curtain would have fallen. But the real point of Jesus' parable doesn't begin until verse 25. Looking back at Luke 15:1, we see that Jesus' parables are prompted by the Pharisees who were questioning him about associating with tax collectors and others they would consider to be "low-lifes." These were the professional religious people who criticized Jesus for these associations.
The second half of the parable is about the older brother who didn't rejoice at his brother's homecoming but rather complained. We see from his story that he was in the father's house but wasn't pursuing the father's heart. People would probably think him to be a model citizen; however, the internal condition of his heart had drifted from the heart of his father, thereby making him a hidden prodigal son. I think that one of the biggest problems with the church today is not the people who are far from God but those who are 50% to 70% committed; those whose internal hearts have drifted from the heart of the Father-- those practicing religiosity. Their hearts do not beat with the Father's primary concern. Matthew 15:7 says--
 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me."
He warns of those going through the motions of  Cultural Christianity.
We need to ask the Lord to work in us, to realign our priorities with His priorities, to abide by the Great Commandment--to love Him with everything we have and to love others as ourselves. If we are not pursuing the Father's heart we need to ask that He change us. The prodigal, far from home, comes to the Father by way of the cross and the hidden prodigal must do the same. There we ask the Lord to change us and make us passionate followers of the Lord Jesus Christ-- who help, not hinder or hold back, the work of others so that the body of believers have the maximum impact possible for eternity.  (1)
(1)  The final section ("the hidden prodigal son") of today's article was excerpted from sermon notes which I found tucked inside a seldom-used Bible.  The date, place, and speaker were not recorded,  but when I get to my Father's house, I'll ask around and amend this footnote.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

a far country, part 1

"The Prodigal Son," Pierre de Chavannes, 1879, National Gallery of Art

The Word for today:
Luke 15
mark this: Luke 15:13
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.
I was 23, footloose and fancy free, when I visited a friend who'd garnered a good job in Washington. I stayed for a couple weeks. During the day, while he worked, I roamed around D.C. Then at night we'd make our way through the Georgetown bars. I had anything but biblical parables on my mind.
Until one day when I ventured into the National Gallery of Art. I fancied myself the artistic type back then. I looked the part and played the part. You know -- sensitive and temperamental and all of that. I impressed myself, if no one else.
I love art galleries. I spent the entire day at the National Gallery, and didn't even make it past the first floor. So I returned the next day, and spent all day again. On the third day, I was there when they opened. I poked around for about 20 minutes, and then I was stopped.
I was transfixed by a single painting. I stood in front of it for the next hour, until a security guard interrupted my trance:
"You gonna stand here all day?" It was spoken as a real question, not as a suggestion that I should move on.
"I can, can't I?"
"Sure. That's why they hang 'em on the wall. Are you alright?"
"Yes. Thanks. I'm fine."
I have tried to reconstruct that scene and its emotions, to recall what I was thinking as I stood there all afternoon. I would not come to faith in Christ until decades later, but I've often wondered whether a seed was sowed that day.
I do know that my thoughts that day were not what we call religious, or even contemplative. They were more sensual than philosophical.
I'd like to say that the painting stirred repentance, but there was none of that. What it stirred were my own memories--the residue of stale alcohol on a dry tongue; the sun rising too round too bright too hot too soon; the birds too loud, the bees too busy; the faint scent of assignation hanging in heavy, ripe air; an estrangement from my own shadow. Those were the thoughts the painting dredged up.
The next day, I was back again. There were a few things about the painting that I wondered about overnight, so I found myself in the same spot.
I hadn't been there for 15 minutes when I heard a voice beside me. It was the security guard, again:
"Luke 15."
"Luke chapter 15, in the Bible."
"I know, it's the prodigal son."
"Yes, the prodigal son. But it's more than that."
It would be a long, long while before I found myself reading Luke 15. But now, having read and taught that story a thousand times, I am still spooked by what the guard had said:
"There's more than that."
There sure is. And tomorrow we'll suggest just a few of the story's endless implications.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

follow the Leader

(Written by Shelley)
The Word for today:
Luke 14:25 - 35
mark this: Luke 14:28 --
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?
I laugh to myself when someone turns to ask me a question about the Bible, expecting I’ll be able to give her the answer like my husband Franklyn would. It’s as if they think that because I’ve been married to him for the last 25 years, his Bible knowledge has transferred by osmosis to me. I can tell you for certain that the only way to know the Bible is to read it for yourself. You can’t leave your understanding of Scripture to your Sunday school teacher, favorite radio preacher or Christian author, or even your husband.
Of course, I have learned a vast amount while helping Franklyn with his Bible classes. We even taught a class together (called "Acts 29") but that was more up my alley – topically based with some life application.
If I had to boil down what I’ve learned into just two concepts, one would be that every story, person, and type in Scripture points us to Jesus. The second is that Jesus is bigger than I can ever imagine. So as I write a blog for Franklyn while he’s away at a conference, I will try to apply those two concepts to today’s passage.
Jesus has some hard words for us today as he tells the crowd, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple ...any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
So Jesus is reminding us of the great cost of being His disciple. He wants to be first in our lives. Truly following Him will cost us our time, our hard-earned money, some of our closest relationships, and possibly our lives. What has it cost you?
Now I’ll try to kick it into “Franklyn” gear and go beyond the surface of what these verses say. Let’s not project ourselves into the passages and try to apply them to ourselves until after we look at Jesus as the prime example of what it means to be a disciple.
Jesus was a disciple of the Father. He didn’t say (1) or do (2) anything unless he heard or saw His Father do it first.
Did Jesus put God first? We read in Matthew 12:46 – 50 that when Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers were looking for Him, He turned to those with Him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” His priority was the Father and his family took a backseat.
Did Jesus count the cost of obeying the Father’s will? He knew from the foundation of the world that He was to be the Lamb slain for our sins (3). He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (4). He had no place to lay His head (5).
Giving up his home in heaven, he was homeless here on earth. He was misunderstood not only by His enemies but even by His family and His disciples. He was falsely accused, and He was pursued and ultimately killed by His own. While He hung on the cross, covered in our sins, He was forsaken by the Father. Yet He came and died for our sins anyway. It cost Him everything to obey the Father’s will.
Jesus is our leader. But don’t forget that as our leader, he even shows us how to follow.
So, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (6)
(1) John 12:49; (2) John 5:19; (3) Rev. 13:8; (4) Phil. 2:5 – 11; (5) Luke 9:58; (6) Heb. 12:2

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

the pictures inside your head

The Word for today:
Luke 14:1-24
We have before us today a very instructive picture of the kingdom of God. The first thing you'll note is that it's not populated by a bunch of cub scouts with merit badges:
When one of the guests sitting at the table heard this, he said to Jesus, "How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God's kingdom!"
Jesus said to him, "There was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, 'Come on in; the food's on the table.' "Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses…
The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, 'Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.'"
 (Luke 14:15-21)
This scene is probably a radical departure from your notion of heaven. If it is, I suggest that you radically depart from your previous notions, and begin to replace the pictures in your head with the ones that Jesus had in his head.
That's how we accomplish the odd-sounding thing called putting on the mind of Christ:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2)
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5)
…but we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
"Putting on the mind of Christ" sounds more mysterious than it is. All you have to do is think of your mind as a photo album, where your outlook on things is stored.
As you read the Bible, compare the pictures in your head with the pictures inside Jesus' head. When yours are the same, keep them!
But when they differ, throw them out and replace your way of seeing things with Jesus' way of seeing things. You can start today--by comparing your "photograph" of heaven with the picture Jesus showed us.
It's really a lot of fun to sit right next to Jesus and compare photo albums! You will get to know the Bible better; you will get to know Jesus better; and you'll even get to know yourself better in the process!
So begin to lose the pictures of heaven that you might have had before. Lose the harps, the halos, the cub scouts, the merit badges…
Replace that picture with the one we see in Jesus' album: a bunch of misfits from the wrong side of the tracks who did nothing more than accept the King's invitation.

Monday, March 27, 2017

only a few?

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today:
Luke 13:18-35
mark this: Luke 13:23
And someone said to Him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
This is a difficult but fair question.
I don't think that this "someone" was looking for percentages or demographic charts or statistical probabilities. I think his concerns were much more personal. Who gets in? Who does not? What are the criteria? Do I have a chance?
Franklyn & I have a running joke about the most exclusive church we've yet to find. You may have heard of certain sects or cults or denominations that claim to be the sole recipients of salvation, but a church of 50 people in Oklahoma takes the cake. Their website reads:
"If you are involved with the kind of Christianity that views Protestantism, or Catholicism, or the Orthodox church, or the "church of Christ," or Billy Graham, or Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen, or James Dobson, or Pat Robertson, or John MacArthur, or Tony Evans, or Greg Laurie, or Charles Stanley, or Chuck Smith, or Fred Price, or J. Vernon McGee, or Charles Blake, or Chuck Swindoll, or Gene Scott, or Harold Camping (Family Radio), or John Piper, or T. D. Jakes, or David Jeremiah, or Charles Spurgeon, or Dave Hunt, or Marvin J. Rosenthal, or David W. Cloud, or Perry F Rockwood, or Neil Anderson, or Robert Schuller, or Jack Hayford, or Benny Hinn, or Miles McPherson, or Ray Comfort, or Jim Cobrae, or Ron Luce, or Chuck Colson, or C. S. Lewis, or Hank Hanegraaff, or Paul Chappell, or any of the like (or any of the likes on "Christian" TV or radio) as godly, you are not saved."
That's very sad, but what is even sadder is found in their FAQ page:

"Q- Are you the only true church/believers?
 A- ...We have not yet, as of this date, found another church that is in the truth and we have been to many."
For them "only a few are going to be saved" and they are the "only." In all the 2000 years or so since Christ came, I guess He died only for a few dozen people in Oklahoma.
But this riduculous example brings up a bigger question: "How do we come to grips with the fact that Jesus Christ repeatedly makes claims of exclusivity?" Contrary to popular opinion, not all dogs go to heaven. Otherwise, why would Jesus warn any of us about the narrow way, about people being thrown out, about weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Jesus Christ is, at the same time, the most inclusive and the most exclusive being in all existence.
In the Gospels, we are amazed at His love and acceptance of all people, especially the most marginalized of His day. Yet, no one speaks more concerning Hell in the entire Bible. He just a few chapters ago said, "He who is not with me is against me (1)." But even earlier He said, "He who is not against us is for us (2)." How do we come to terms with this apparent contradiction?
What it boils down to is the exact same thing that Jesus said in His conversation with Nicodemus. Here also we have the greatest openness and inclusiveness:
"Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" and "Whoever believes in him is not condemned."
But at the same time He issues words of unequivocal exclusion:
"Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (3)."
It all comes down to the very instrument that was used to cruelly kill Jesus.
The cross, itself a collision and contradiction, becomes to each person the ultimate point of decision. What side of the cross makes all the difference. To some it becomes the very ladder to Heaven (4), to others, a gallows. The question then becomes not "Will only a few be saved?" but rather "On which side of the cross do you stand?
(1) Luke 11:23
(2) Mark 9:40 (see also Luke 9:50)
(3) John 3:16 & 3:18
(4) John 1:51

Sunday, March 26, 2017

guilty of being God

The Word for today:

Luke 13:1-17
mark this: Luke 13:12-14
"Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."
Q. What put Jesus on the cross?
A. In a general sense, it was "enmity," the inherent hatred that evil has for good:
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)
But in a specific sense, the one thing--more than any other--which put Jesus on the cross was healing.
Q. Healing?
A. Yes, healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were looking for any excuse to string him up, so they seized on Sabbath-breaking.
Q. He was crucified for healing? Isn't that ironic?
A. I would say so! But life, and scripture, abounds with irony. Sometimes there seems to be more irony than not.
Q. Did Jesus actually break the Sabbath laws?
A. No. Jesus broke the Pharisees' interpretation of Sabbath law, but he did not transgress the law of God. The picky, fussy, anal, self-serving Pharisaic interpretation of the Sabbath laws would not permit such "work" on the Sabbath. But Jesus clarified God's law for them:
Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:15-17)
Q. Do churches today perpetuate any 'picky, fussy, anal, self-serving interpretations?'
A. Indeed we do. For an example, you won't have to look any further than yesterday's blog, which pointed out the false choices presented by our baptismal traditions. Whether or not to sprinkle, pour, or immerse has obscured the real choice to be made between the baptism of fire or the baptism of the Spirit. Our traditions have buried baptism's meaning--which is intended to point to the meaning of the cross itself. We are buried under an avalanche of traditions and flawed interpretations which have compounded over time, leaving us--in ways we aren't even aware of--blind and cold beneath the drifts.
Between the lines of today's passage lies one of the most radical and seminal of all scriptural concepts:
God doesn't keep the law, he IS the law.
Embedded within God's covenant name (I AM THAT I AM) is this startling reality:
God doesn't correspond to a standard known as "right." Instead, "right" corresponds to whatever God IS.
These are far-reaching concepts, so we'll boil it all down:
Jesus was nailed to the cross because he was guilty of being God  (1).
(1) see John 5:18

Saturday, March 25, 2017

one way or another

The Word for today:
Luke 12:35-59
mark this: Luke 12:49-50
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Most of the churches I've attended hold baptism services once or twice per year.  Those are my favorite Sundays.  I beseech those of you who believe in Jesus Christ to neither eat nor drink nor take another breath until you've arranged to take the plunge.
But whether you've made the arrangements or not, whether you believe in Jesus or not, you are still going to be baptized, one way or another.
One way or another. John the Baptist put it this way:
"I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Luke 3:16)
Jesus said it this way:
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:49-50)
The old-time churches placed great importance on their methods of baptism. They could argue into the night about immersion or sprinkling or pouring.
I don't want to step on any denominational toes, but the Bible doesn't see much difference between the various means of water baptism. So go ahead and get dunked, doused, inundated, deluged, hosed, sprayed, sprinkled--or all of the above. All of those methods are indicative of the inner baptism in the Holy Spirit.
The crucial choice is between Spirit baptism and fire baptism. Spirit baptism is to be identified / immersed with God's grace and forgiveness. Fire baptism is to be identified / immersed with God's judgment of sin.
And the only way to avoid fire baptism is to trust that Jesus underwent the baptism of fire for you! Your sins are going through fire, one way or another. They can be borne by Jesus in your stead, or they can remain on your ledger.
So remember:
Everybody's going to get baptized, one way or another,
whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not,
with the Holy Spirit, or with fire.