Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12
There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son. Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives. Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son). But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship. And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all. I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.
Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God. We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction. It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple. Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap. But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him. Either way, it is rebellion. And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession. You will not find a more perfect confession in …
“See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah;and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze,in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. Exodus 35:30-35
I’ve got Millennials on my mind this week. I will be spending this next weekend in Dallas at Christian Unity Ministries’ first annual “Five Principles of Unity” Retreat for the Next Church Generation…where I expect to sit and learn how Millennials interpret and apply some of the Biblical principles which form the core of our ministry’s message. So, I am thinking about Millennials and the church.
First, I admit right up front that my only “expertise” when it comes to the Millennial generation (those who are now roughly ages 15-35) is that both my adult daughters are in that generation…and I have studied my kids for a while now. Therefore, “Millennials” are important to me. I am, nevertheless, as ignorant as the next Baby Boomer when it comes to understanding them. So, rather than hold myself out as an expert on that generation, I am going to rely on the “facts” about Millennials as presented by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in October, and …
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b
Most of the church conflicts into which I get called are swirling (at one level or another) around a pastor. And most of the opposition parties I meet eventually get to a point in the conflict where they are saying, “We never should have called him as our pastor…we made a terrible mistake.” And that conclusion is always based upon a (sometimes very long) list of flaws which, in their eyes, disqualify him/her as their shepherd.
It always reminds me of the life of Israel’s most effective King…King David, the “man after God’s own heart”. So much of God’s story in this world was written through David’s life…so much scripture…so much poetry…so much history…it is hard to imagine anyone being used more profoundly by God. His passion was extraordinary, his love for God immeasurable. His leadership was undeniable, and his lineage would produce the Savior of the world. Not a bad spiritual resume, if you ask me.
Did I mention his poligamy? His adultery? The murder? The “divorce” from his first wife (she apparently had a problem with his dancing in the streets in his underwear), the attempts by his father-in-law to kill him, and the subsequent re-marriage to her? Did I mention his eight other marriages (and that number is just the number of wives whose names we know…there were apparently many others whose names are not mentioned in scripture)? How about David’s first son’s rape of his half-sister…followed by her brother’s murder of that same son in retaliation? How about the attempt by that second son to overthrow David’s reign as king? Did I mention that David’s own men …
Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord.Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:2, 9-13
Paul seems clear enough in his letters to the churches…the community of believers (Christ-followers) should look different from the other communities in our world. We should not conform to their ways. Rather, our community should stand out in several ways. The church should stand out in several ways. Here’s a partial list. See how we’re doing…
Our love should be genuine. I read that as real. Not fake. Not conditional in any respect. It is true agape. I do not love you because of what you do or don’t do…nor because of who you are or are not. My love for you does not depend in any way on you or on circumstances surrounding you. I love you for one very simple reason: because Christ lives in me. And as long as that is true, I will keep loving you. Period.
Abhor what is evil…cling to what is good. This is much more than just a moral compass. Morality, in fact, just scratches the surface of this calling. This is about recognizing the work and influence of our one and only spiritual enemy among us and standing against it. And it is about recognizing the work and influence of God’s …
…and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. Genesis 24:48
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1
For pilots, learning to fly by instruments is an important skill. It is what a pilot must do when all the other more conventional ways of “getting your bearings” fall by the wayside. When darkness and weather and confusion and chaos make it difficult to figure out which way is up and which way is down, all a pilot has left is the cockpit instruments.
I was reminded of that when I found myself preparing a lesson from the story of Isaac and Rebekah. It is a story chock full of ancient culture about betrothal and marriage and what seems to our modern world to be a horribly flawed and archaic and unromantic matrimonial system. At first glance, it is not an easy task pulling relevant truths out of this story…truths which we can apply to our lives today. It would be easy to read this unusual story about marriage and lose your bearings trying to find a lesson.
For example, Abraham sent his servant off to a faraway land to find a wife for his (Abraham’s) son. O.K., not gonna learn from that…for so many reasons. The servant chose a blood cousin of the groom to be the bride…this would become a pattern for this family. Not gonna use that lesson either. The bride’s family blessed her, saying, “May your offspring possess the cities of their enemies!” Um…no. Then there is …
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:4-6
I’m amazed at the notion that Jesus was amazed…about anything, really. If he were just “fully man” and nothing more, then it wouldn’t be quite so amazing…but that he was also fully God makes me wonder about what, exactly, could so captivate him, so catch him off guard, as to “amaze” him. So here it is: “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
As it turns out, amazing God isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Jesus goes back to his hometown, to the people who changed his diapers and whose kids played with him on the playground and who saw him working long hours in his dad’s carpenter shop…with hopes they might be willing to see his growth, his ministry, and his power and authority over everything in this world. He had an expectation that his hometown would not be so constrained by their preconceived notions of him, that they would have room in their hearts for a hometown boy who turns out to be the savior of the world. As those hopes were dashed and his disappointment set in, he was amazed that their hearts could be so closed to the possibilities.
I like studying the gospels and paying particular attention to various people’s responses to Jesus. In each case, we ask ourselves, “Do I ever respond that way?” “Could that ever be me?” In this case, I suppose it is true that this could be any of us. God could well be amazed by …
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-3
Welcome to the Advent Season, everyone! I am certain this season is as special at your church as it is at mine. Now begins the challenge of leading our people’s hearts to turn toward Christ as opposed to getting so entangled with the secular culture of Christmas that they lose sight of Jesus. I know you are thinking about that. You are considering how you can best lead so as to help your people “prepare the way for the Lord”. In that regard, you, my church leader friend, are John the Baptizer. Your calling this season is to help your people prepare for Jesus.
So, as you strategize about this Advent Season in your own church, and how you will help your people prepare for Jesus, will you just consider the following:
How will you help the single mom who is holding down three jobs and just trying to survive from one day to the next prepare her heart for Jesus?
What is your strategy to help the child whose parent is deployed or in prison or just disappeared to prepare his/her heart for Jesus this season?
What can you do this week to help that nursing home resident who gave your church so many good years of ministry to prepare for Jesus this season?
What is your plan to pour into your second tier of church leaders over the next couple of weeks, so that they and their families are prepared
All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Acts 2:44-45
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them allthat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the salesand put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35
Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?
Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there. Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years. We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams. We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting. As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time. There was no childcare ministry…we all took care …