Friday, November 30, 2012

The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son

Today, I'm starting a three part series on the story of the Prodigal Son. The story of the prodigal is a story of God's grace to his wayward children when they come home. It is also a story with a number of layers that speak to us in different ways at different times in our lives. Henri Nouwen wrote a book titled, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on his reflections on a painting by Rembrandt. My ramblings come largely from reading this book.

The first person we encounter in the story is the younger son. This son comes to his father and asks for his part of the inheritance that would come to him after his father dies. This is more than just a request to get money due him earlier than he would normally receive it. The ones who heard this story would have been outraged at the attitude of the younger son. In effect, he was saying to his father, "I reject you and everything you stand for, your culture, your religion, everything. I wish you were dead!" In a culture where rebellious children could be stoned to death, this was a dangerous and devastating statement for the son to make and for the father to hear. The father however, decided to give his son what he asked for. He handed over the money and said goodbye. As a father, I can imagine the heartbreak he went through as one of his sons turned his back on everything and left.

The younger son went off to a "distant country," where he squandered his inheritance on parties and whores. He was completely deaf to the voice that would have reminded him of his father's love and of what he had been taught. In short, he forgot who he was. I would imagine that most of us can see ourselves in the younger son in some way. Some may have wandered into a life of dissipation and come out of it. Others may have experimented with some things but not gone all the way in. In my own life, I was drawn in to things that were not good for me, although I never wandered completely away. Of course, there are some out there who would consider me a prodigal today.

There is another way to be the younger son, a way that many, many more have fallen into. That is the way of forgetting whose child we are and trying to get our identity from other things or other people. That is the way I most identify with the prodigal. Whether it's from a job, a skill, a style, or a group of people, we try to prove our worth by other things than what our Father says. Our culture says that what is important is how you dress, what job you have, what kind of car you drive, how much money you make, or what group you hang out with. Unfortunately, those things become like the husks the prodigal wished to eat while feeding the pigs. Trying to find our worth and identity in any thing of this world is a futile exercise, leading to emptiness.

Fortunately for the prodigal, he did come to his senses and remember who he was. I can see him slapping himself on the forehead, and saying, "What am I doing here? I'm not a pig farmer! I'm a son of a father who has a lot of money and food! Why am I starving here?" So, after coming to his senses he returned home. He still didn't completely remember who we was though. Or better, he didn't understand completely the kind of person his father was. His plan was to go home and convince his father to give him a job. He didn't believe his father would accept him back as a son. We sometimes also forget who we are dealing with when we go to our Father. We believe the lies that we can't be his child if we do certain things, or that we have to do something to get ourselves back into his good graces. We feel we have to "get right with God." We forget that our Father loves us and always accepts us.

The son returns and finds himself in the midst of a homecoming better than he could have imagined. He can't get his prepared speech out before his father welcomes him back and throws the biggest party the neighborhood has ever seen. So it is when we come to our senses and remember who we are. We are beloved children of the Creator of the universe. He is pleased with us, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to cause his love to decrease, and nothing we can do to increase his love. He holds us in his hands and nothing can pull us out. Period.

Remember who you are. If you've forgotten, your Father is looking for your return so he can lavish his grace and love on you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

Yesterday was Giving Tuesday. (I know I'm a day late. So sue me. You won't get anything :) ) Even though the "official" day is over, there are still a many ways you can give to those less fortunate during the holiday season. Check out opportunities in your own local area, or go here to find out others ways you can give.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Know Who I Am: Repost

This is a repost from August 1, 2011. This is one of the lessons God has been teaching me more and more this year.

One of the perks of driving a bus part time for a summer camp is being able to go to movies for free and see films that you might not otherwise see. Last Friday, I drove a group to the local cheap seat theater and saw "Kung Fu Panda 2." Since our own children are adults, I probably would not have gone to see this particular movie on my own.

I like it when a popular film or song presents a biblical truth, whether on purpose or not. This was the case in "Kung Fu Panda 2." The main story of the film is the quest of the title character to find out where he came from, all the while saving China from certain destruction. Near the end of the movie, the main character comes back to his adoptive father (who is a goose, in case you haven't seen it). When the goose asks the panda if he found out who he was, the reply is, "I know who I am. I am your son." Since I tend to be somewhat emotional at times, that line caused a catch in my throat. I then thought what a great picture that is of the Christian.

Regardless of the circumstances of the panda's life, he realized that his identity was rooted in the fact that he had been adopted and loved by the goose. Even though he found out the story of how he came to that place, what mattered was the love given him by his father. Those of us who follow Jesus have the same story. No matter where we have been, no matter what stories our lives have told, we have been loved and adopted by the Father. Our backgrounds are as varied as can be, as are the ways we came to faith. What unifies us is that identity as God's children.

As the panda was saving China, he faced terrible odds. After he found out the story of how he had been found by the goose, he was able to triumph. I believe that was the point when he saw his identity bound with the goose, and that gave him the strength he needed. Again, we are the same. When we realize our identity as beloved children of Abba and live in that identity, we can handle the obstacles that come our way. That doesn't mean that we'll be "winners" all the time, but it does mean that no matter what, who we are doesn't change. The fact that we are loved by the Creator of the universe doesn't change. God's good heart for us is the same, whether we are "spiritual" or struggling. We know who we are. We are God's sons and daughters. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Weekend Wanderings will not appear this week. Our son Josh, and his wife Alicia, had a miscarriage Saturday, and we are grieving with them. Please pray

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Table As Truth

This is the third installment in a series on table fellowship. I approach this subject with a bit of trepidation. Truth can be a touchy subject, as the term has been thrown around by those who believe that "truth" is the way they see things and those who believe that there is no real truth. I also wanted to avoid over spiritualizing the subject. There are a number of valid ways to approach the subject. I hope I have chosen one of them.

Among the definitions of truth in Webster's dictionary are fidelity, constancy, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, and the body of real things. Truth is an important, yet seemingly rare, quality. Even those who believe that truth is relative want to know that they can trust certain people to be honest with them. Unfortunately, there seems to be an increasingly smaller number of folks who can be trusted to have fidelity, constancy, sincerity, and who are real.

One of the things that has become evident to me is the difficulty in being untrue when gathered around a table with family or friends. I guess it is possible to not be real while attending a large banquet or similar gathering, but small gatherings tend to be more intimate and revealing. When around the table, it is hard to fade into the woodwork and disappear. Conversation flows around the table, and the more time we spend with others, sharing food and talking, the more we get to know the real person. The masks come off around the table.

Inviting and accepting invitations to the table has long been a sign of acceptance and caring about the other. It is one way we can show love to others. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real when we are loved and accepted. As we grow into that acceptance and love, we allow others to see who we really are, and we learn to accept them as they are. It is around the family table that children first learn social skills, and it is around the table that adults continue the lesson.

In Year of Plenty, Craig L. Goodwin writes about his family's trip to Thailand:
Our experiences with food in Bangkok reminds me of how a pastor friend from Brazil, Claudio Oliver, helped me understand two unique words used to talk about food in Latin America. He explained to me that "alimento is what nutritionists recommend for you; comida is what your mum makes for you. Comida is what you would call soul food: family together, people talking, warm fresh veggies, sweet potatoes, corn bread, laughing, crying, prayer, thanksgiving, culture, old history, little ones learning who we are through food." 

Let us learn fidelity, constancy, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, and being real around the table as we share food, drink, and conversation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

This has been a pretty busy week. Jan and I found out that we are going to be grandparents. Josh and Alicia are expecting their first child in July. Basketball continues, as does all the usual stuff of life. I promise that I will get the third post in the series on table fellowship out this next week.

Well, the man who has been president for the last four years will be president for the next four. I still believe that our mission as followers of Jesus has not changed a bit, nor will it change after the elections in any year. Having said that, let's move on the the links of the week:

Good words from Kansas Bob on Ecclesiastes 11:4.
Following Jesus beyond the culture wars.
Dan Edelen on the 2012 elections.

Bonnie May on love and skim milk.
Marketplace ministries.
Jeff Dunn on darkness.
Were some early church elders also bond-slaves?

If anyone wants to pay for Jan and me to go on this, you won't hear us complain. :)
Man overboard!
Remix of Luke 13:4-5.
And all shall be well...

Dan Allen on a disappointing day.
Jon Acuff's election post.
The problem of learning from strangers.
Dining in the valley.

Alan Knox on hospitality.
I believe this is a good thing.
Something good to think about.
American evangelicals and militarism.

Have a wonderful, blessed week.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

The weather has turned colder here in the sunny South. The mornings are chilly, with temperatures in the 30s, but the afternoons are beautiful. This Tuesday is Election Day across the country. However you vote, or not vote, remember that no matter who is elected to office, Jesus is still King.

So much for my political statement for the day. On to the links:

Arthur Sido on living as peacemakers.
A good thing to keep in mind on Tuesday.
Swanny on the "F" word.
Alan Knox links to some good articles on table fellowship.
Hopefully you didn't do this.

Keith Giles on weather reports.
This is pretty cool.
Duh! (HT: iMonk)
Interesting take on Halloween (HT: Jake Belder).
Len on lament.

Government and grace.
Young Americans and libraries (HT: Scot McKnight).
We should all be like this.
Jared Wilson has some good thoughts on the Gospel.
Tilling new creation soil.

Frank Viola has a series on sowing discord. Part 1 is here.
Eric Carpenter reflects.
Working with Daddy.
Romans 8 and the Prodigal.
I agree with Jake.

That's it for this week. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed week.

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...