Sunday, June 26, 2011

Parable of the Prodigal Sons

Most of us are familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is the story of a young man who took his inheritance, while his father was still living, and squandered it in a foreign land on fleshly desires. When he reached the bottom of the barrel, he decided to return home and to throw himself upon the mercy of his father.

Upon his return, his father welcomed him with open arms. He placed the finest robe upon him and had a feast prepared in his honor. The father and his entire household except for one individual rejoiced at the young man’s return. The one who refused to rejoice was the young prodigal’s older brother.

The older brother had not strayed from home. He had remained home and served his father faithfully. He had not yielded to the temptations of a worldly life. He had not been caught up in the sins of commission and omission like his younger brother. His self righteousness attitude made it difficult for him to understand the fuss being made over his brother, when he was clearly the most obedient one.

While the older brother appeared on the service to be the faithful one, he had fallen captive to the sins of resentment, envy, anger, and pride. Rather than celebrate the homecoming of his younger brother, he resented the attention his he was receiving. He found no joy in the fact that his brother had seen the errors of his ways and had returned home. In his own way, the older brother had also become a prodigal.

There is an important lesson to be learned from this older brother. It is possible to be a prodigal and to never leave home. The lesson of the prodigal that stayed home is a lesson for those who have been faithful to their church and have not wandered from the things they had learned as children. If they are not careful they can develop an attitude of superiority that makes it difficult to rejoice over those who have strayed, seen the error of their ways, and come home.

When one considers the actions of the older son, this could easily be called the Parable of the Two Sons, leaving us with two important lessons. First, it is a lesson about the foolishness of turning our backs on the truth of the teachings we have received and squandering our heavenly blessings on things that can only bring temporary satisfaction. Second, it is the lesson that teaches us that it is possible to serve the heavenly Father faithfully and still not be in fellowship with Him, because of our attitude toward those who have fallen away, seen the error of their ways and returned home.

Jesus used parables to teach practical truth. Reread this parable and let God’s Spirit speak to your heart. Ask him to show you where you fit in the story. Are you the one who needs to return home; are you like the loving father who welcomed his prodigal home; or are you like the older brother who resented the attention the younger brother received? Think about it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Common Thread of Humanity

I find Malls to be interesting places. As I walk through them, I can’t help but notice the diversity of people. There are young people, old people and somewhere in between people. The diversity isn’t limited to age. There are also many ethnic groups represented. There are Asian, Latin, Black, and White groups. The different accents reveal there are also different geographical areas represented. Then, of course, there are the many different socio-economic groups evident in the crowd.

As I observe the wide diversity of people, I am reminded I share two things in common with every person that passes by. First, each one of us is guilty of sin and have fallen short of the glory for which God has created us. Paul made this clear when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NASB). The key word is “all”. It isn’t some or many or most. It is all.

Later, Paul explains the penalty for sin. He writes, “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23a NASB). If I understand this correctly, since we have all sinned, we all are deserving of death. In Scripture death means separation. In this verse death is referring to a separation from God. Since God is completely holy, our sins stand between us and the fellowship He wishes us to have with Him. The news becomes worse when we are reminded that there is nothing we can do to bridge the gap that our sin has created between God and ourselves. We can not do enough good works to bridge the gap. We can not buy our way across the chasm that exists between us.

Our dilemma, leads to the second thing we all have in common. We all need a Savior. The good news is that God wasn't caught off guard by our disobedience. He knew that man would choose to sin. He knew that He would have to provide a way for the chasm between Him and man to be bridged. He chose to give His son for our salvation. John wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John3:16). Paul wrote, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardy die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners. Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8 NASB).

Like each one who passes me in the mall, each one who reads this article shares the same common problem. Everyone has sinned. The important question is have we accepted God’s solution for the problem that sin causes? Have we received the gift of His Son in order that the chasm our sin has caused might be bridged? Have we received the free gift of Jesus Christ into our hearts? Paul described the gift this way, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). If you have not received this wonderful free gift, I urge you to consider doing so today. Confess that you are guilty of sin and that you need a Savior. Decide to turn from your sins with His help. Ask Christ to come into your life and to be your Savior. Commit your life to Him today. Only He is able to cure the one problem that we all share in common.

If you have made this decision and you know you have received Him and you strive to obey Him, take a moment to give Him thanks for what He has done and is doing for you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Importance of a Father

A pro golfer was conducting a clinic at an upscale golf course. His fourteen-year-old son accompanied him. In the middle of his presentation, he asked his son to come forward and to demonstrate something that his father had taught him. The son slowly moved toward the golf cart to retrieve an iron. He took the iron out of the bag and slung it as high and as far as he could. This may not have been the demonstration that the father had anticipated but it demonstrates the fact our children are watching and learning from the good and the bad we model for them.

Men, whether we like it or not, we are models for our children. They are watching every move we make. The do as I say not as I do philosophy that many of us were taught does not work. It is no accident that children of smokers are more likely to smoke. Children of addicts of any kind are more likely to be addicted. Children who see abuse modeled in the home are more likely to grow up and to be abusive. On the other hand, children who grow up in a home where the rights of others are respected and where there is an open demonstration of genuine care are more likely to grow up with a loving, caring, nurturing personality. There are always exceptions to the rule but the odds are greatly increased a child will turn out well, if he/she has had positive modeling in the home.

As fathers think about being a successful model, they would do well to listen to the following poem.
You can use most any measure when you are speaking of success,
You can measure it in fancy home, expensive car or dress;
But the measure of your real success is one you cannot spend,
It’s the way your son describes you when he’s talking to a friend.
(Author Unknown)

With this in mind, here are some things that fathers would do well to model before their children.

F aithfulness
A father would do well to model faithfulness to God, family and job
in that order.
A ffection
A father should not be ashamed to model affection to his wife and to his
children. A strong hand of discipline needs to be tempered with a gentle
hand of comfort and care.
T hankfulness
A father teaches his children to be appreciative by demonstrating
appreciation to those closest to him.
H eart for God
It is a father’s responsibility to demonstrate leadership in the spiritual
life of his family.
E ncouragement
Father’s would do well to heed the words of Paul, “So then let
us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one
another” (Romans 14:19 NASB). Positive reinforcement normally works best
in the long run.
R epentance
A father should never be afraid to admit he is wrong. He should be
willing to accept responsibility for mistakes and to teach his children
that it is all right to say I am sorry.

If fathers would be faithful to model these characteristics they would have little to worry about when their children are describing them to a friend. More important, they will be laying a foundation of learning that can help their children grow to maturity and to become responsible adults. There are no other accomplishments in life that can surpass these.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do You Practice Dial-Up or Broadband Spirituality?

In his book, Signs of Life, David Jeremiah wrote about the difference between dial-up and broadband spirituality. He wrote, “Too many Christians log on to God once a day when they have their quiet time or once a week when they go to church. They pray; they read their Bible; they’ve connected with God. And that’s good…as far as it goes. The problem with that approach to the spiritual life is that there is no sense of being ‘always on’ __ no sense of living in the moment with God once you’ve finished your quiet time. You open your Bible, bow in prayer, conduct your business with God, and then log off for the day” (p. 17).

The reality is that there are more dial-up Christians than there are broadband ones. They pride themselves on the few minutes that they allot to God each day. There biggest concern is whether they should give Him the five or ten minutes in the morning or at the end of the day. They pride themselves on their faithfulness to this special time. Besides the time allotted, they remain disconnected for the remainder of the day unless a problem arises that they do not feel capable of fixing.

Before you start having thoughts of how judgmental this sounds, let me add that we all have the tendency to be dial-up Christians. Our mistake is to believe that we can handle most things on our own. We do not want to bother Christ with the mundane things of life. We make all kinds of decisions without consulting Him and, when our decision proves to be faulty, we blame Him for letting us fall into the mess we find ourselves in. The truth is most of the messes in our lives would never occur, if we would switch from dial-up to broadband.

Broadband Christians may set aside a special time each day with the Lord, but they understand that this time is not enough. They understand the importance of Paul’s mandate to the Thessalonians. He told them to “pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians. 4:17 (NASB). They know that they need God’s input throughout the day. This doesn’t mean that there is a constant stream of information being passed to them, but it does mean their mind is open to receive directions anytime God wishes to send them. They recognize it is dangerous to tell God that He must wait till morning or evening to give His input.

The benefits of being broadband Christians are many. They are always open to the divine appointments that God puts in their path during the day; they are never turned off to God’s directions; and they do not miss the divine opportunities that God provides each day. As a result, they fulfill God’s command to be salt and light in their world.

It would behoove us all to make a commitment to broadband spirituality. Thank Him for the little blessings. Develop a constant awareness of His presence in your life. Always remember He is with you. Switch to broadband Christianity today. To do so would increase your ability to live your live in the center of God’s Will. It enables you to become a blessing to yourself and to the people around you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pig Headed or Wise, Which Do You Choose to Be?

My father-in-law was a farmer at heart. He always planted a big garden and raised enough meat for the family table. One particular pig he owned was interesting. It appears the pig had been bitten several times by the electric fence that surrounded him. He got to the point where he would get back from the fence, paw the ground, squeal loudly, and charge. He knew he was going to be shocked but his desire to escape became greater than his fear of the pain. He would run full speed into the fence squealing all the way. When he was on the other side he would usually head to the neighbors yard to destroy the lawn.

The electric fence was not there to torture the pig. It was there to provide a place of safety, where he would have access to all he needed and would be free from the dangers of traffic and the neighbor’s gun. Apparently, the pig was not smart enough to realize this. He saw the fence an infringement on his desire to roam. He chose the inevitable pain from wandering over the comfort of remaining within the boundaries set by his owner.

Many people are like this pig. I guess you could say they are pig headed. While they are aware of the boundaries God has placed on their lives, they do not seem to understand God’s reasons for placing them there .They see them as hindrances to the happiness they seek. They believe they drain all the fun out of life. Of course, this thinking is completely wrong. God’s boundaries are not to deny us the joys of living but to protect us from the accesses within our hearts. So much of the pain people suffer is directly the result of their own or someone else’s refusal to live within his boundaries.

What we do not seem to understand is that there is no safer place than within the boundaries God has given. To live outside them, makes us vulnerable to the pain the world has to offer. To live within them gives us a place of security and comfort in good times and in bad. These truths leave each one of us with a choice. We can choose to be pig headed or we can make the more reasonable choice of living within the boundaries God has given us. One makes us vulnerable to all kinds of dangers and the other gives us the cover of God’s provision. Which will you choose?