Luke 15:25-32 The Message
If you have grown up in the church and have lived a life within its walls, you have no doubt heard the story of the prodigal son many, many times. As many of you have as well, I have heard every angle of this story except, perhaps, that of the fatted calf! Or at least I thought.
Recently, I was prompted to read this story again. As with anytime I read scripture, I pray that God will speak directly to me and reveal something afresh to my spirit. This time, I was truly seeking God with an open heart and longing spirit.
Are you a “Do Gooder”? By this I mean, do you always want to do the right thing? Does your conscious just scream for you to always follow the rules; obey the laws of man and God; make sure your bed is made in the morning before leaving your room for the day; you know, always wanting to do what’s right by everyone? Do you cry out to God when you see injustices? Do you question God when you see someone or ones that you KNOW do not do the right thing ever seemingly always win? You know of whom I speak…the ones that ALWAYS seem to come out on top no matter who they must step on to get there.
In our scripture reference, I believe the “good son” has gotten a bad rap. If you are like me, you have heard this story told, retold, preached, taught, and regurgitated for years. In every scenario, the good son is made to come off as selfish, rude, mean, unforgiving, etc. BUT God showed me a new perspective in my recent reading. Maybe, he too, was a do-gooder really upset.
Our introduction to him in verse 25 says, ““All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in.” Poor guy. The older son had been doing what he did every day – working in the field; getting the job done; doing the right thing; being an obedient son. We are not told he was doing this for recognition or fame; he wasn’t looking for an “atta boy!”; he was doing his job and serving his father like he did every day.
When he gets near the house, he hears all of the commotion and inquires as to what was happening. I picture that he may have had somewhat of a furrowed brow but a spirit of anticipation. He was hearing laughter, partying; people were hugging one another, and a feeling of joy was present. BUT, when he finds out the reason for the jubilation, I believe his anger is more out of hurt than malice. Can’t you see him looking at his father with tears in his eyes? Perhaps he was feeling deflated; rejected. “‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief…” (v29) Can you relate to this? Have YOU ever cried out to God with a similar pain? “God, why? I try my best to serve You. I love You; I never go against Your Word as much as humanly possible. I pray; I study. Yet, here is so and so and they always get ahead. They never step foot in a church and even mock Your Name and they STILL don’t suffer…”
The father’s reply to this is even a tender one. I envision the father placing his arm around the son’s shoulders, pulling him close and tenderly responding, “‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours…” (v31) Softly, sweetly, the father lovingly focuses on his eldest son, reminding him that, not only am I with you all of the time, but I take you with me all of the time too. You need but use whatever you have access to at any moment because it all belongs to you.
As with all of His parables, I believe that God truly has a message for all of us in this story. Whether we are the son that squandered his life but found his way back home, the eldest son that sought to do right by his father always, or even the fatted calf that was born for such a time as this, (I’ll have to ask God to show me that storyline) God loves us all. He cares so deeply for us that He even tells us in this passage that He takes us with Him every day.
So, if you have ever found yourself in the “Do-Gooder” role, take heart! God sees you; He knows your heart and motives. Remember, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12 KJV
I have never really appreciated the timestamp on a photo…until recently. You know to what I am referring…the yellow line interrupting the photo either on the side, or even in the middle of the bottom of a photo which shows the date the photo was taken. In times gone by, you would take your roll of film to your local drugstore or department store and have your photos developed on glossy or matte paper and this stamp would be on the back of the photo. That was a great tool; this one on the front of digital photos was not valued by me, until recently when a photo popped up in my social media memories.
I realize I am not alone in remarking on the treasures on the memories that come across our social media feeds in the form of dated photos. You know the ones of which I am referring. These photos remind us of special events on the same date years ago. One such memory popped up on my feed recently from 12 years ago on that same date. I looked at the photo and thought, “That was a fast 12 years!” Then, all of the life events that had occurred during that same period of time, came flooding into my mind. So much life has been lived during that time-period. As I looked at the date, stamped on the photo, I realized that it would be just over a year from that date that my daddy would leave this earthly world for his eternity. It dawned on me that during that time span from them until now, I would celebrate two of my sons graduating and moving on to their life paths; I would have daughters in law; I would be blessed by two grandsons; we would serve two additional church families, and my last born would move through his childhood, adolescence, and teen years. SO much life since that timestamp.
In 2004, Chris Rice had a song, “Life Means So Much”. The chorus of this song says, “Teach us to count the days. Teach us to make the days count.” Psalm 90:12 is a great reminder of how we should view each day. How many times have you said, “If only I had…” or “I wish I had...” Perhaps, “If I could do it over again I would…” If we were to realize that every day in which we breathe, interact with others, and experience life is indeed marked with a timestamp. We can relive these moments through pictures and other avenues by which we can remember, however, we cannot recreate these times again. We have but one moment in which we can control the memory; it is the present.
I love seeing these timestamps now. Not only are they precious reminders of a specific, special moment in time, it is a reminder of what other events have happened since that particular memory. May we not take for granted any moments were are given. Make today count; you never know if it will show up in your social media feed again.
In the days leading up to March 15, 2020, most Americans were going about their daily routines of life. January had brought little news of an illness that had begun in Wuhan, China as it barely received a ticker byline on any news station.
In February, this mysterious illness remained at a distance, only catching most ears when news of stranded cruise ship occupants being quarantined headlined. But in late February, it becomes more of an interest when President Trump restricts travel into the US from China. We began to take a closer notice; we began to do internet searches on the phenomena and educate ourselves on just what was going on. We started looking into what this could possibly mean for us. What effect would this begin to have on our lives and those for whom we care.
By March, the news, roaring in as a lion, consumes every moment with updates, travel restrictions, and states of emergency. Store shelves are immediately vacant of basic essentials and toilet paper is the new gold. As schools, businesses and life came to a screeching halt, citizens everywhere began to ask “What is happening?” “Why is this happening?” and “What are we going to do?”. Churches became the next venues to be required to close their doors to help prevent the spread of a virus that was sweeping the globe. We become a nation changed in an instant.
As life became radically different, I started praying and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to me more than asking Him to listen to me. I began to feel a stirring in my spirit; “This is only a taste of what ‘in a twinkling of an eye’ will be.” I began to search through Scripture for the exact reading of this Word. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” 1 Corinthians 15:52
I began to ponder the idea of ‘instant’. I began to look at how profoundly our world had, and continues to, changed. How suddenly we were forced to change our focus. We were cutoff from the lure of shopping for amusement; we were plunged into the surroundings of our homes; we had to refocus.
I began rereading the entire chapter of I and II Corinthians. WOW! There are so many lessons that we can remind ourselves of in these chapters and, perhaps, see some that we have missed. We can see the mighty power of the One true God and how much He wants us to set our lives upon the paths He has dreamed for us.
As these realities set in, it was as if God had pushed a pause button in the middle of the ongoing saga of our lives. He was allowing us the privilege and opportunity to reboot; to see again what is really important. He was giving us time to reignite our familial relationships and to reconnect with each other. He was showing us that purchasing “things” and trinkets is not the key to success or happiness.
He was showing us just how quickly “instant” truly is. And, in doing so, He was also saying that we have been given this opportunity to change the pattern that our lives may have been taking. You see, we have the chance to change some things in this time of reflection. We have the opportunity to make our life-paths lead to a different destination.
What if we put as much research into God’s Word and plan for us? We if we took, with the sincerest of interest, what those plans meant for us and for those whom we love? What if we were as fervent about educating ourselves on the things of God as we have been on learning of this virus?
There WILL come a day when, in a twinkling of an eye, things will be instantaneously changed forever. We will not get a reboot or another chance to change things; it will be eternal.
There is no mistaking that the COVID-19 Pandemic has forever made a mark for the history books. Many families have been changed because of this crisis; dare I say, that we all have. My prayer is that we take advantage of this opportunity that we have been given as God will never waste time; nor should we.
"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. " 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
I have heard this verse so many times throughout my life. This morning, however, as I reread it, as so many times the Scriptures do, this verse just leapt off the page; well, two words in particular - "earthen vessels".
In some translations these words are replaced with "jars of clay". So, I began researching this concept....why these words? Why not just say something along the lines as 'these earthly bodies' or 'you're only human ya know'? God is SO smart (as if you needed to be reminded of that!) and He knew exactly what He was saying through Paul. Allow me to share with you my discovery.
Have you ever played with clay? Of course, as a child, we like to mold play-doh and clay into all types of shapes and figures and mothers just loooove when they have to remove our sculptures and pieces from carpets. But this is not the clay of which I speak. "Real" clay work is done with painstakingly and time consuming steps. It can get beautifully messy and the spectacular part is that ANYTHING can be remolded by the creator's hands with some water. It is a fantastically creative process that brings life into a lump of specially formulated dirt; a design that was formerly only known to the creator himself.
The most common use we see today for clay pots is flower or plant containers. But even this information, which I found written by Timber Press, is so incredibly transferable to our lesson...."Just remember that no plant can stay in one pot indefinitely and live. Unless it is repotted into a larger pot or has some if its roots removed and the soil replenished, it will choke itself to death. This may take anywhere from one to ten years, but you will notice when it happens as the leaves and stems begin to die off in great numbers and it is difficult to even water the plant."
In the time period in which we find today's scripture, clay was most used to fashion pots or jars, plates, and even cups. Clay pots, jars as they were referred, were used to store items, especially important items such as scrolls, etc because they could be buried without causing much damage to what was inside. However, due to an array of different atmospheric, organic and other factors, these jars would sometimes be damaged and the contents would need to removed so that restoration could take place to it's container.
WOW! So much to uncover here! Looking at what we discover from how the potter begins its process and what Timber Press says regarding plants and seeing ourselves as the "earthen vessel", or clay pot, how long can we expect to live within the same life practices, habits, lifestyles, etc before we "choke" on the circumstances that life brings? Have you begun to see the effects of that old life causing the happiness you seek to whither or "die off in great numbers"? Is it difficult for living water to even get in? Perhaps it is time to place ourselves into THE Potter's Hands so that He can wash us with His Living Water to make us soft and pliable once again and form us into the design He saw from the beginning. I cannot help but see how even the lesson of baptism fits here as water symbolizes the washing away of the old as we rise anew in Christ!
Once we have become a new vessel, God can entrust us with so many wonderful treasures of His Kingdom! We hold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus"; we become the container in which He imparts His spiritual gifts to use for His glory. And, just as clay jars, we, too, can become cracked and damaged by our surroundings as they choke the roots of our faith. It is in these circumstances that God can trim away the withering leaves of our lives, wash us with His Living Water and replant us so that we, once again, can grow in His purpose.
How grateful I am to serve The God Who reminds us of our dependence on Him and His love and pride of us. So if you feel at times like a cracked pot as I do, take heart! Those are the ones in which God can do His best work and He isn't finished with us yet!
Hosea 4:6 says, "My people perish for lack of knowledge." Oh what a Word from The Lord this morning in studying His Word!
Firstly, this is NOT a political post in any matter;this is a personal, life introspect post. Ephesians, Chapter 1, is so powerful. I encourage you to read it for yourself. I read from The Message translation this morning. Read this....”The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Do you know that the term amnesia is derived from the Greek meaning, “they have forgotten”? Church- we have amnesia.
We have forgotten who we are and Whose we are. We are perishing due to our lack of knowledge. Let me explain. The church universal, the entire group of people claiming Christ regardless of denominational boundaries, has forgotten our call. We have lost our goal as a people and we have turned a deaf ear to the insturction of The Word of The Lord by negating the discipline of studying His Word and truly gleaning from it.
In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, we are given a breakdown of what it means to believe the Message of our salvation. We are further taught that to believe, or accept, this reality means we embrace the reason on earth for it; “—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers” (Ephesians 1:17-19). How can we become “intelligent and discerning” if we do not heed His Word or recognize our own personal need for it?
The chapter goes on to tell us that church is not to be on the periphery of the world, BUT the world should be on the periphery of the church. Can you just let your mind wrap around that for a moment and pull that in? Isn't that exactly what is happening? Church! We have made ourselves look so much like the world, that, indeed, now the world is a mirror reflection of the church! We've watered down, entertained, side stepped, “graced” ourselves into a place where the world and the church no longer have clear instructional lines. The lines have become water colored and blurred to the point where there is no longer a difference. We have dividing churches, agenda-driven clergy and laity; we have politically-correct mindsets while spiritually we suffer amnesia.
We MUST get back to what we were called to be - children of the Mighty God! We were made in His image, to “go into all the world and make disciples of Christ”. We were made to show His love, spread His Word, teach HIS agenda and dust off our feet from those who do not listen and accept. It's God’s job to clean them, change them, touch them; it's our job to introduce Him, nurture them, and show them His love and help them “be transformed” by it. It is NOT our job to conform to the world’s likeness!
Yes, we have amnesia as a Christian people. Let us be so bold as to look in the mirror and start there. We need God’s instruction; we need His Word to seer into our hearts a fire so bright that it draws those around us out of the dark. We need to remember Whose we are and why. We need to realize that our salvation is to be lived out and that it was not a “get out of hell” card. We need to remember that we are not on the periphery, wringing our hands at the events of the world; we are to BE the event of the world! Let's get busy about THAT agenda, Who's with me?
"I'm not praying for the God-rejecting world But for those you gave me, For they are yours by right.Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,I’m praying not only for themBut also for those who will believe in meBecause of them and their witness about me.The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.The same glory you gave me, I gave them,So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me.Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,And give the godless world evidenceThat you’ve sent me and loved themIn the same way you’ve loved me." John 17:9-10, 20-23 The Message
My heart is so heavy this evening. I, like most Americans, have spent time today reflecting on this day 15 years ago when America as we knew it, changed forever. I have watched so many recounts of this horrific tragedy that changed everything we would ever consider in the term “safe”. As the images scrolled across my television screen, interrupted only by newscasters relaying the details as they came in, tears rolled down my cheeks as I am immediately transported back to that very moment. It was one of those, “I remember exactly where I was” moments for us all.
But as the heartbreaking emotions well up inside of me, another emotion comes alongside. It is the pride that we felt as Americans helping one another, embracing our fellow man, holding each other's hands, and wiping each other’s tears. We indeed became ONE nation, indivisible. So what has happened to us now?
The Scripture set above calls us to be One. Jesus, Himself, prayed this for us...He PRAYED IT FOR US! The terror attacks of 15 years ago shook us to our core. We did not stop to question the police, firefighters, or other first responders; we did what we could to help them. All over America, church doors flew open to welcome the masses than ran back to the foot of the cross. No one cared what color your skin was, what political affiliation you held; we were brothers and sisters united in our efforts to help anyone, in anyway, in any town. Why have we turned into our own terrorists?!
My beautiful brothers and sisters, are we willing to truly remember what happened on September 11, 2001? Are we willing to stand up and say “No More! No More hate, No More rioting, No More baiting!” Are we willing to meet the needs of those who are hurting, sick, in despair? Are we willing to come together, again, and be One Nation, Under God?
Fifteen years ago, America did indeed change forever. In the aftermath of the attacks, however, the unity and resolve of the American citizens was strong and unrelenting. Let us return to that memory, unite as brothers and sisters, and truly honor those nearly 3000 men,women and children who will be in our hearts forever. Let us truly remember them and how great we became when we became One.
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