Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Heart Of Our Father

“We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:23-24 NLT).

It has been very good to observe the character (or lack thereof!), and the tendencies of “the lost” in the parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus told this story to the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law who were complaining about His association with tax collectors and sinners—“such despicable people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:2 NLT). It is easy to sense their utter disgust at those our Savior chose to befriend. Therefore, He creatively puts together three illustrations, one right after the other—in order to stop their foolish mouths—this story being the last. His point was simple: Men who are lost, need to be found.

Jesus’ mission was to do just that. The Pharisees were as guilty as those they shunned…but they had deceived themselves with religious garb and self-righteous talk. Jesus knew their hearts and turned away from their pride—they did not see themselves as “lost” and therefore they could not “be found.”

The parable of the lost son is very powerful—it describes in detail the state of man’s lost condition and the faithful love of his Redeemer. Humility played a key part in this son’s turn around. Jesus wanted to teach the Pharisees what God holds in great value, and it was not “their righteousness.” Their religious show was a reproach to the Almighty. God treasures the heart of a repentant sinner—even a sinner that bears the stench and grime of his ungodly actions.

Scripture tells us that the tax collectors and the notorious sinners came to Jesus in order to hear Him teach—this indicates that they were aware of their need. Jesus spends time with those who desire truth—His heart is open to them.

“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting till you die” (Luke 15:11-12 NLT).

When the Prodigal son demanded his “rightful” possessions he showed love only for himself. Self is the lost man’s entire concern. He may appear benevolent at times, but his heart only beats for his own needs—if meeting the needs of others brings satisfaction, then that is what he will do—but when push comes to shove, he is always thought of first. He is greedy. He is impatient. He lives for the present, the now, and gives no thought whatsoever, to the promised what will come (the promised reward or judgment).

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living” (Luke 15:13 NLT).

The Prodigal son was wasteful—he lived as if he had no concerns. Any respect he gained came only through superficial means. No matter how successful he appeared, this son was living a lie. A lost man will bring himself to ruin oftentimes thinking himself very wise. He is truly blinded to his damned condition. Riotous living will eventually take its toll. The man who is lost will begin to experience great need—but will have no spiritual understanding as to reagarding its source. In the parable, the son ran out of money. Those who live only for themselves will end up loosing everything as well—their resources, their spouse, their children, their friends, their dignity. Here is where the importance of humility comes into play. Man’s pride will always try to fix the situation his sin has created without the help of God. The Prodigal son settled for the husks that he fed to the pigs—unbelieving man will always settle for those things of no true value. He will seek worldly advice (wicked counselors, false religions, magazines, TV, friends) and be content with temporary satisfaction (drugs, religious taboos, divorce, debt, bankruptcy). He will never know true freedom from want apart from humility.

Verse 17 tells us that this desperate man finally came to his senses. How does a man, so far wasted, come to understand where his true help lies?

“I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son” (Luke 15: 18-19 NLT).

The behavior of the “the repentant” in this story is so vital. He had a dose of reality and chose to allow his mind to compare his state to those of his father’s household staff. He had to make a deliberate choice. This required “death to self”. To consider who he was, a son, and yet see himself as worse than a hired servant, was important to his recovery. For the first time he saw his real need, and identified himself as a sinner. He didn’t just say, “Oops, I made a mistake”—but placed himself as the lowest of the low, with no hope of restoration. He is determined to stand before his father in complete vulnerability—he wants nothing more than to be forgiven. He does not go home to claim his right as a son—he goes home to serve. This is the true state of a repentant heart.

The son’s determination becomes action. He makes the journey. The road to his father’s home was long and probably full of people telling him the trip would be worthless—but this man was already convinced he was lost, and nothing would stand in his way of making peace with his authority.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20-21 NLT).

Observing the love and commitment of “the father’s heart” toward restoration is beautiful. The fact that he saw his son a great way off, indicates that He is expecting him—that he has been looking for him. I am challenged by His optimism and eagerness. The father runs toward his son—as soon as He sees him (far, far away). He desires for the boy’s struggle to end. He doesn’t resent his child, making him walk the entire distance. He loves his child, and therefore wants to relieve him as quickly as possible.

This father’s tenderness is incredible. Not one question as to “and exactly what have you done with all my money?”—but kisses him—kisses the face that has become dirty and sun burnt. Touches the one who has despised him utterly—despised his love, his protection, and his honor. Embraces the one who has chosen to embrace everything contrary to his upbringing. His compassion is full.

It seems that the father completely knows his child’s heart—before the son utters one word of his confession, the father has fully forgiven him. He never once brings up the past and demonstrates his pardon by lavishing his son with the very best. He dresses his son in fine robes and chooses to place a ring upon his hand—a symbol that will always identify acceptance and the entitlement to his father’s name.

I desire to have the same compassion for those who are lost. I desire to watch and wait for those I am praying into the Kingdom—expectantly. I desire to have the same tender response to those who seek redemption.

Killing the fatted calf and throwing a party is the best conclusion to this tale! This daddy's joy is completely overflowing—a wonderful glimpse into our own Father's Heart!

“We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:23-24 NLT).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Don't Deserve This

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” James 4:6

God’s Word is very direct and it is always truthful—it is a powerful discerner of both the thoughts and intents of the heart! This must be fully understood and believed, or it will not change us, as it is promised to do. We may read it, study it, hear sermons preached about it, take notes on what we hear—we may even teach its truth ourselves—but it will have no effect upon us, unless we believe it to be true.

When reading verses like this in James, we may breeze past them with a sigh of relief, praising God for His acceptance of us and therefore the promised abundant grace at our disposal at all times. But could our gratefulness be insincere? Could our sigh of relief actually be an avoidance of introspection from the Almighty? What is pride…what does it mean to be humble?

The English word humble comes from the Latin word humus, which means earth. Webster’s defines humility as not being arrogant or assertive, reflecting a spirit of discretion and submission. The Greek word that James used in chapter four, indicates that of disposition—taking on the manner of lowliness, whether choosing that position or being forcefully placed in that position—regarding a certain circumstance. God gives grace, James declares, to those who purposefully dwell in a state of surrender, regardless of what is happening around them—regardless of what is happening to them. This is where it begins to break down. This is where I personally can begin to “cover up” my pride and deceive even myself that it does not exist in my own heart.

Pride is a hindrance to our inheritance. Can you reflect inner peace at the same time you are being falsely accused? Can you sing for joy despite the pain being inflicted? Have you ever known contentment within a situation you pray will change? Have you been given Christ-like love for those who irritate you? Do you own the ability to endure whatever may come? We are promised these realities through the Spirit—but we will never experience a single one without the willingness to “turn the other cheek to those who strike [us]” (Lamentations 3:30 NLT). Jeremiah preaches in Lamentations, chapter three, that it is good “to submit to the yoke” and that there is blessed hope only to those who “lie face down in the dust” (vs. 26-30 NLT). We are not given the choice to suffer insult or not—but we are always given the ability to choose humility in the midst of it!

If pride is the hindrance to gaining these precious possessions, then I believe that our attitude is the manifestation of that pride. The definition of a DRA (my mom’s creation—translated, dirty rotten attitude) can be summed up in 4 little words: “I don’t deserve this!”

Attitude is a response—a bad attitude is a bad response! I don’t wake up deciding to be grumpy, unforgiving, or just plain mean, just for the fun of it. No—it is because someone rubbed me the wrong way, it is because I was treated unfairly, it is because God continues to allow prayers to remain unanswered, and I, arrogantly choose to respond incorrectly. I take these situations, situations beyond my control, and I decide the best way to deal with them (which is, whatever makes me feel better, of course). It brings some sort of relief to strike out at that which causes pain. Although this is sin, it is easily justified—I am experiencing pain, or rejection, or frustration at the hand of another—and my flesh convinces me that I can take care of the problem as I see fit!

Are you guilty of choosing attitudes according to how they make you feel? Are you willing to humble yourself in only certain situations—willing to forgive certain people and not others? We must be very careful of this—the promise of God’s grace comes after the declaration of his judgment! He tells us that He will resist those who choose to resist Him. When we resist what He is allowing, as if we deserve better, we are resisting Him. Again, this is strong language and not something we would easily admit to. We don’t have to—God defines what it means to resist Him, for us—and therefore we are without excuse! “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” (James 3:5).

What makes you sinless?—committing one error in comparison to your neighbor who has committed a hundred? What makes you humble?—all the right responses you have chosen in comparison to the one little attitude you are holding on to that says, “I don’t deserve this!”? There is great danger in this kind of thought process. We deserve hell!

“Be afflicted and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 3:9-10).

When we choose to not put on humility we bring the judgment upon ourselves. We are essentially telling the Lord, “I don’t need You—I don't need more peace or more love or more contentment,” and His response is, “Okay!” With His arm stretched out against us, He purposefully turns His face away! Our behavior measures out His mercy! That is what James is teaching! You want grace abounding more and more? “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 3:8).

Humility says, “I am nothing! You, O Lord, are everything! I don’t deserve this; I deserve far worse. It is Your blood that redeems me. Show me my sin! Help me not to evaluate the sin of another—even those sins that are committed against me. I surrender to You completely. I choose, right now, to lie face down before Your throne, and I trust You alone to lift me up!”

He will, for “the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him…although He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lamentations 3:25, 32).

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Your Troubles Tremble

“When the Red Sea saw You, O God, its waters looked and trembled! Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there.” Psalm 77:16 & 19 (NLT)

I can often feel just like the children of Israel—hemmed in as it were—by vast wilderness. The view, either in front of me or behind me, is extremely hindered by rock, and the obstruction brings great discouragement. I am not sure why the Lord saw fit to “lead me out” and my natural mind begins to question His judgment. I am tempted to feel that I must know what lies beyond that boulder if the Lord wants me to continue to walk in that direction. Isn’t it my right to know what lies beyond? Why does He hide, so thoroughly, the one thing I desire to see so fervently?

I hold in my possession a treasure the children of Israel, at that time, did not have—their own glorious history and promising future—in writing. God took it upon Himself to author a beautiful and intricate story—a picture book—full of illustrations I can read in order to understand my God better. He took time, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, to express His character and His sufficiency. He took time, in order that I might believe that what He says He will do—He will do—no matter what lies in between the promise and its fulfillment!

God chose the wilderness path out of Egypt, specifically, with Israel in mind! He chose the rocky, dry ground and the treacherous landscape. I must believe, with all my heart, that God has chosen the path I walk upon as well—that He purposefully sets the rocks in front of me! I must believe that what He ordains is for my protection! Exodus 13:17 states that after Israel's miraculous freedom from their bondage in Egypt, “God led them not through the land of the Philistines, although it was near.” Did you catch that "not"? Although they would have reached their destination quickly and would have had a pretty clear idea of where they were going, God deliberately placed them on a road to nowhere—“peradventure the people repent [change their mind] when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” The Lord wanted His children to “make it”…He knew their weak, human hearts and in His loving faithfulness He made it literally impossible to do what their fears would compel them to do—turn around and go back!

As alone and deserted as they felt—Deuteronomy, chapter one, declares that those feelings were far from reality. The Lord wanted to fight for them. The Lord wanted to be their sole protector. He wanted them to believe that He would bear them, “as a man doth bear his son.” He promised to go before them “to search out a place to pitch [their] tents in” and to always show them which way to go. The rock that appeared to block their vision, should have been of no consequence. If only Isreal would have remembered to look up toward the cloud by day and the fire by night—if only they would have been faithful to keep their eyes upon their Guide—there would have been less murmuring and more obeying. Deuteronomy 1:32 reveals God’s disappointment in their behavior: “Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.”

We must believe our God! But can’t you just feel their frustration?—God promising deliverance, and yet, only finding another rock beyond the one you just struggled to walk around, and then another rock and another and another! Where is the open road? Where is the evidence that God is leading you to where He said you were going? Have you felt hemmed in of late? Are you, after climbing that last mountain, exhausted and weary, now discovering a body of water too deep to swim? Behind you, a demonic army, taunting and ridiculing your faith—before you, an impossible sea—dark and foreboding—mocking every miracle you have ever witnessed!

Here is where the story must come alive and our confidence must be strengthened! Here is where we must believe! Don’t listen to the growing noise of the enemy—God promises to defend you and has already blinded the “Egyptians” (Exodus 14:20)—the reality of their presence should never influence your faith. And don’t look at the vast impossibility slapping its waves up on the beach—God has already promised you a land flowing with milk and honey on the other side—if He has promised you something it is already yours!

I believe there is purpose in every move our Lord makes, and I am striving to see His mighty hand at work within every “dead end”. At times my trial can seem eternal—but it is not. One second the children of Israel were staring in dread at the Red Sea, the next, they were walking upon dry ground. A roadblock will always remain until it disappears. That is almost too simple to be profound—but read it again—for it is profound! Your trial will be visible until God sees fit to remove it. The obstical is not the problem, it is only a catalyst to reveal a miracle. Once it is time, your trial will vanish—no matter its size or complication—and there will be no question as to who removed it. Its existence is there to prove God’s supreme power over all things. I love the simplicity of Psalm 77:19 “a pathway no one knew was there.” There is a road you cannot see—it is there—believe that today!

I like to think that my troubles tremble when they see the Lord. If I could just picture that when I tremble at my troubles!

“When the Red Sea saw You, O God, its waters looked and trembled! Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there.” Psalm 77:16 & 19 (NLT)