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The Other Prodigal

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 1 John 2:9

You’re probably familiar with the parable of the prodigal son.

Jesus told of a son who demanded his inheritance from his father and journeyed to a far country, only to squander it away with wild living. He found himself starving, “longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).

That sounds about right. Any time we try to satisfy our needs and desires apart from our heavenly Father, we’ll come up lacking. Empty. Starving.

Yet we keep trying.

And that’s exactly what this young son did. He wanted to trade on the benefits his position as a son afforded him without maintaining his relationship to his father. He didn’t want to stay close. He just wanted the property his father’s name entitled him to.

Does that resonate, dear one?

It does with me. For years I did the same thing.

For a long time, I wanted the benefits that come with Jesus’ name—forgiveness, salvation, the Father’s blessing—but I didn’t really want Jesus. I wanted my Kingdom inheritance, but I had no real desire to draw near to God through Him. I still wanted to live my life my way.

And just like the young prodigal, I soon discovered the futility of that thinking.

You see, what our souls really long for is union with our heavenly Father. He is life, and we access that life through intimacy with Jesus. Jesus is the blessing we seek, dear one. So anything we try to enjoy apart from Him —even the good things that flow from His hand— leave us wanting. His presence gives life to all things.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

Thankfully, our young prodigal finally came to his senses, realizing that what he’d been looking for was found in his father all along. But he made the long journey home carrying the weight of some extra baggage.

A singular thought compelled him.

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. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”Luke 15:18-19

I am no longer worthy.

I can’t tell you how often those words have haunted me. And every time, Jesus responds the same way He did to the young prodigal.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24

I pray you will notice something significant, beloved. The father never judged the young prodigal for his behavior. The only condemnation came from the son himself. His father welcomed him with open arms and simply reminded the repentant son of his true position. He wasn’t a servant and wouldn’t be treated like one. He was a son.

If only his brother shared his father’s mind on the matter. But compassion and joy fell subject to another emotion as he drew near the house filled with music and dancing.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him. Luke 15:28

I find it interesting that judgment appears in both brothers but never comes from the father who holds the only right to it. Look at how scripture describes him.

His father came out and entreated him.

Do you see it, dear one? The loving father pursued both sons in the same way, going out to greet them while they still approached. Both received the same invitation to feast with him.

But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Verses 29-30

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it.

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it. Click To Tweet

In this case, it blinded the older son to his own blessing and made him refuse what his father longed to give.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Verse 31

What God gives to one never takes from another. It’s we who withdraw ourselves from His table by holding onto the sin that separates. We choose judgment over grace. We insist on fighting for our rights instead of letting God grace us with all that is His.

It’s time we come to the table, beloved. Let’s remove every hindrance and run to the Father’s arms.

No one but you holds the power to stop Him from lavishing blessing upon you. He won’t force you to come to the table. But He waits with open arms for you to choose.

The Watchman at the Gate

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. Proverbs 8:33-35 (ESV)

I think we forget that our most important role as followers of Christ is listening.

Well, let me rephrase that. We do a lot of listening. We just don’t recognize our need to quiet ourselves and listen to Jesus.

We seek His favor. We seek the abundant life He offers. But we usually ignore the means.

Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.

Listening to Jesus is how you will find your way into His abundant life and favor.

You’ve probably heard Jesus described as the Good Shepherd. He actually gave Himself the name in John 10:11, just before He revealed what He had come to earth to do.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Let’s take a look at how Jesus describes His relationship with His sheep.

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:2-5

Verse 5 always pierces my heart. For many of us, Jesus’ voice is the stranger we never follow. We hardly recognize it. We’re so used to listening to the call of the world, we can’t hear the voice of the Shepherd beckoning us to safety and abundant life.

But when we choose to seek it, verse 3 makes an amazing promise. The sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd.

Do you ever wonder if God still speaks? There’s your answer, dear one. Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. Period. Not some of them. Not the special ones. All His sheep have the ability to hear Him. And we need to learn to recognize His voice if we want to follow Him to life.

Verse 4 reveals the intimacy Jesus desires with each one of us. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Then He promises to go before to set the path. But only the sheep who know His voice will be able to follow Him.

Do you know it, dear one? Have you learned to recognize it by spending time alone with Him in His Word?

If that hasn’t been a priority for you, perhaps this gem from verse 3 will get you thinking.

To him the gatekeeper opens.

I can’t tell you how many times I skipped over this seemingly insignificant piece of information. But when I asked God to teach me about prayer, this verse leapt from the page.

Notice something with me.

The Shepherd doesn’t open the gate for Himself. He waits for the gatekeeper—or watchman, depending on your translation— to open it for Him.

What does that mean for you and me?

We often imagine that Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, simply does as He pleases on this earth. After all, He’s a sovereign God, working His sovereign plan. But we forget that God in His sovereignty chose to work in agreement with man when He gave man dominion.

Beloved, Jesus waits to be invited through prayer before He intervenes.

That’s what the watchman does, dear one. His prayer shuts the door on the enemy—the current prince of this world—and opens the door to Jesus—the rightful King— to enter in.

You see, unlike the enemy of our souls, Jesus never forces His will upon us. 2 Peter 3:9 makes it clear that He desires for none to perish.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Yet many will perish, because they choose not to hear the truth He proclaims.

But even knowing that they will reject Him, Jesus still knocks at the gate.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

The prayer of repentance responding to the call of God opens the door for Jesus to enter in and alter the outcome of a life through salvation. Once we’re saved, Jesus continues to call out at the gate, seeking vessels who will hear His voice and come into agreement with Him through prayer to see His divine power intervene in the circumstances of life.

Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.

Even now, He knocks at the door of your heart, dear one, seeking to manifest His power. Will you be the watchman who opens the gate?

Wielding the Sword of the Spirit

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

I recently saw something that unsettled my spirit deeply. Some people I love and respect shared a video disparaging several Bible teachers I have also come to respect.

Henry Blackaby was one of them, labeled a false teacher for his Bible study Experiencing God. That Bible study was the very tool God used to lead me to salvation in His beloved Son.

Grief is the only word that aptly describes my response. I literally wept. What tool of the enemy would draw me into intimate, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ?

I can say authentic with deep conviction, because that relationship unleashed the power of grace in my life. I was changed. God tendered my shackled heart and caused it to love in ways that it couldn’t before. His Spirit within me brought forth beautiful fruit.

And yet some would say that teaching didn’t come from God.

It’s amazing how people who profess the same Lord can view things so differently. Passionately clinging to our own interpretation of scripture, we stand on opposing sides, using the same Bible to hurl accusations at one another in a desperate attempt to prove we’re right.

I don’t believe that’s what God had in mind when He placed the sword of the Spirit in our hands. We’re not meant to turn it on one another. We’re meant to unite against the real enemy—God’s enemy—the one whose agenda remains division among the body of believers.

Scripture clearly defines our enemy in Ephesians 6:11-12.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

A scheming devil wages war against the church with his army of evil. 1 Peter 5:8 reveals how he likes to attack.

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

We’re in little danger when the pack unites. Together we’re too strong for him. The gates of hell cannot prevail against a healthy church (Matthew 16:18). He knows he must divide us to have any chance of claiming us for dinner.

Unfortunately, we can be quick to oblige, separating from our brothers and sisters over often petty differences. And sometimes we do more than keep our distance. Sometimes we become the teeth he uses to devour his prey.

You might be interested to read Proverbs 6:16.

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him.

Guess what appears seventh on the list.

. . . one who sows discord among brothers (verse 19).

When we use the sword of the Spirit to cut one another down in the name of defending truth, we become tools in the hand of the evil one to sow discord among brothers. And God couldn’t be clearer about how He feels about it: He hates it.

Dear one, if we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we only advance the kingdom of darkness. Take a few moments to carefully consider Paul’s plea to the church at Ephesus, a plea the Spirit of the Living God still breathes to each of us through the page.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Perhaps it’s time to look past our differences and let Christ’s love unite us. After all, it is men, not God, who have divided the body of Christ into many.

The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Deuteronomy 6:4

Only the Spirit of God can bring about the unity described in God’s Word. Only God Himself can take men and women with different backgrounds, beliefs and teachers and bring them into agreement about the mysteries of truth.

The day is coming, dear one. Christ will unite His church in love, and the world will know that Jesus is everything He says He is (John 17:23). They will come from every denomination, every tribe and tongue, all whose hearts answer His call and humbly seek the truth.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:14-15

Interesting. Apparently the gospel of peace may require us to move.

Opening the Gift of Joy

. . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Last week we discovered in scripture that we are abundantly blessed and lavished in grace. In case you missed it, take a moment to revel in the wonder of Ephesians 1:3.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

God the Father has spoken every blessing available to us in Christ over each of our lives. Do you know what that means, dear one? Nobody has a greater blessing than you.

I know what you’re thinking. You see a lot of people with sizeably greater blessings. You have friends who have better jobs. Your neighbor has that great car. There’s that one family at church that always takes those amazing vacations. Your sister has those perfect kids.

You don’t feel equally blessed. Perhaps you even feel forgotten.

I’d like to suggest to you that’s precisely how the enemy wants you to feel. That’s the reason he continually shifts your gaze to worldly blessings. If he can convince you God has not blessed you, you won’t walk empowered by your blessing. Then he can keep you right where he wants you: defeated under his oppressive yoke.

I think this is a perfect opportunity to ask God to help us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

You see, the blessings available to you in Christ are far greater than the fleeting blessings the world offers. That fabulous car can be smashed to rubble in one terrifying moment of impact. That great job can disappear tomorrow. Truth be told, so can those perfect kids.

And our emotions can spiral in a frenzied plummet from overjoyed to nearly suicidal as what we trusted for our happiness reveals its frailty. What we imagined was so sturdy and certain suddenly cracks and shatters in an instant. Our joy shatters right along with it.

Until Christ returns in perfection and restores this earth to its sinless state, nothing is certain. Nothing, that is, except Jesus.

And He offered up His life on the cross to pour out blessings in your life that are otherwise unattainable. What’s more, they can’t be taken from you. You can only lose them if you deny them or give them away.

Maybe we should take a minute to count some of those blessings.

Salvation, forgiveness, redemption, holiness, love, adoption, purpose, joy, peace, power . . . the list goes on.

Let’s settle on joy for a minute, a blessing we all long for that often remains elusive. Joy is a spiritual blessing spoken over you by God and guaranteed through Jesus. Jesus Himself spoke of His priority for joy in your life in John 15:11.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Beloved, your heavenly Father has blessed you with joy—the fullness of joy. It’s a gift of grace poured out through His Son that He desires to see manifested in your life.

Listen carefully, dear one. No one has been blessed with more joy than you. Joy is not a blessing God gives to some but not others. He didn’t skip over you with that one. His Word tells us He blessed you with every spiritual blessing. Your circumstances don’t dictate it. No matter what is happening in your life, you are meant to experience the fullness of joy.

Do you, beloved? Or do you find yourself chasing after it, hoping to attain it with various things? That relationship . . .that house . . . that degree . . . that acclaim . . .

We have allowed the enemy to convince us that we can only have joy if the circumstances in our life cooperate to provide it. We translate the blessing of God to mean we and our family members will remain healthy, and that our financial needs will not only be met for today but also all our tomorrows—in advance.

And when we don’t experience those blessings, we believe the enemy’s whispers that God has forsaken us. We feel crushed under the weight of it, and our misery creeps into every aspect of life. It hurts our relationships. It pulls us from our purpose. Our bitterness empties us.

What if you and I chose to start believing God for the blessings He’s already given? What if we stopped allowing the enemy to rob us of the joy we are equipped for and meant to experience?

How? We shift our gaze from our lack and settle it on the abundance of what we have. Our heritage as believers is to experience the miracle Paul described in our opening scripture.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11

Can you imagine it, dear one? Being content in whatever situation you find yourself in?

Do you know what Paul is describing, beloved? Peace, another one of those great spiritual blessings only available to you in Jesus. A heart at rest whether facing abundance or need. A blessing that God has spoken over your life and is waiting for you to receive.

Don’t let the enemy convince you you’re not blessed, dear one. You are. Abundantly.

You are extravagantly loved, adopted into the family of God and coheir to the inheritance of the King of Kings. You are saved, delivered from the hand of the enemy in this life and the next. You are empowered by God Himself dwelling within your heart by His Spirit. And you are lavished in grace that provides all that you need.

Believe Him.

 

 

Awake to His Purpose

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:6 NIV

I have to be honest with you. I’m feeling a little lost.

You may already know from some of my recent posts that I’ve been away on vacation. I spent two glorious weeks at the beach with my husband and boys, and we enjoyed the added blessing of sharing portions of that time with extended family members from both sides. For the past two weeks, I have been caught up in the rich blessing of God, reveling in the beauty of His creation and enjoying the love and fellowship that only occurs when Christ rules the hearts of very different people.

I have to say, the food was pretty good too. Our bellies had no excuse to groan in hunger, although at times they ached from the sidesplitting laughter that erupted frequently during nightly games around the dining table.

Life is so much better when it’s shared.

But now I’m home, and my view has changed. I’m not just talking about my inability to watch the waves pound the shore or see the sunlight glistening on a seemingly endless sea. I’m talking about a subtle change, one that seems to have occurred within me. Apparently my heart so enjoyed that period of rest, it continues to long for more of it.

Have you ever noticed how easily our enjoyment of the blessings of God can take our eyes off the Giver of them?

Hang with me for a minute here. I’m not saying we forget God altogether. But sometimes we lose sight of the whole of who God is. We relish one aspect of His character and allow His other Truths to fade in significance. Not intentionally, mind you. It’s simply the nature of our fallen flesh.

I think that’s what started to happen to me. My lips uttered praise every day for His gifts. My Bible still opened with my morning coffee, the thin pages rustling in the ocean breeze. I remained extremely aware of His presence. I simply felt a strong longing to stay right where I was, basking in His love and resting in His embrace.

The trouble is, I started to lose sight of my purpose.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

You see, God is so good, His faithfulness so sure, His love so abundant that it’s easy to get caught up thinking that our salvation is all about us. We think, “For God so loved… that He gave…” and we make our lives about seeking and receiving the rich blessings He pours out through Jesus. It becomes easy to forget that where much is given, much is also expected.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48

Dear one, God didn’t give to you and me simply so we could receive. He gave so that you and I could also give. He doesn’t merely want to bless us. He wants to bless the world through us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus beckons us to follow Him, beloved. By definition, that means we can’t simply remain at rest. Let’s not get distracted by our blessings and lose sight of our purpose.

Christ is coming again, but He will not return to a sleeping church, bobbing along in a sea of grace. He will return to a church in glory, to a bride who has made herself ready (Matthew 25:10, Revelation 19:7). Let’s awaken from our rest and usher in the glory of God.

Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory… Luke 9:32