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Friday, December 30, 2011

How do I forgive myself? [Part 4 / conclusion]

Jesus has used an analogy between Peter’s denial with His three questions of restoration. Do you love me--then do this assignment. Do you love me--then feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. 
It’s time for Peter to stop replaying the old film in his head, and move on. For Peter this breakfast was the turning point. It was time to push the stop button on the guilt.
Self forgiveness is a tool that we should use to face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes and move forward.
This is exactly what Peter had to do when Jesus was questioning him. If he truly loved Jesus, then he had to realize that the guilt and self punishment had to go. The grace of God covers a multitude of sins.
Hit the stop button.
Replaying your personal bad movie isn't going to help. Listen to yourself.
Every time you catch yourself rehashing your sins, mistakes, missteps, faux pas, you need to intentionally stop and refocus. Let go of the old stuff and decide to move on to more productive things.
If you need to go back and apologize to someone you’ve hurt, then get it done.
Begin to repair the damage you may have done in the past by spreading good to others around you. There will be some things you can’t go back and change or fix.
You can’t always make things up to someone you have hurt or wronged in the past; but you can do some helpful things for people who are in your life right now.
Peter could not go back and cancel out a lot of those foot-in-the mouth statements he made or those impulsive actions he made. But he was facing a new day with new opportunities to help people in the future.
There were many, many opportunities that still lay ahead of him. Jesus was saying, "Stop! Get with the program. You’ve got plenty of work to do."

Stop beating yourself up over the past. It is time to move toward doing good and productive work to bring healing into your own life and the lives of others.

You CAN forgive yourself.
Decide to do it today.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How do I forgive myself? [3]

Jesus always offers exactly what we need in our current situation. He had a special job for Peter to do and Peter wasn’t doing it. It is time for Peter to get  un-stuck.
Text: John 21:1-19

There is more to this early morning meeting than just breakfast. After breakfast, Jesus singled Peter out and asked him a question. “Simon, do you truly love me more than these?”
What is Jesus talking about? He could have been talking about Peter’s fishing boats, his job as a fisherman, or he could have been referring to the others in the group. Jesus is trying to find out what the depth of His love for was for Him. Was it just a shallow, superficial love or was it rock solid like his name. Peter is also known as Cephas, the Rock (John 1:42).

Peter answers, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you” Jesus presses Peter with another question, then another...

After each of Peter’s responses, Jesus gave him an assignment. He says: 

Feed my lambs --the young Christian believers (verse 15)

Take care of my sheep--be a shepherd to my sheep. Look after them. Keep them safe from harm. (verse 16)

Feed my sheep. Take the sheep to pasture where they are fed. (verse 17)

What Jesus is looking is a total renewal of his loyalty and a reaffirmation of his responsibilities.

In short, follow me and keep on following me.

Jesus knew that he needed to get two things from Peter. First, he needed to get Peter to move away from his guilt over the past issues. Secondly, Jesus needed to get Peter to not only follow Him, but to continue to follow Him. If Peter could get back on track, he would become a productive person again.

Peter would find his own healing as he reached out to others. Jesus is telling him “I’ve got work for you to do. If you really love me you are going to feed my lambs. You’re going to help these new Christians. You are going to get the focus off of yourself. You are going to be involved in helping other people." And, Peter says, “OK, I’ll do that.”

Jesus asks the second time, “Peter do you truly love me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then if you do,” ‘Take care of my sheep,’ replied Jesus.

The third time Jesus asks him, “Simon do you love me?” Peter was getting a little agitated by being asked the same question. He says, “Lord you know all things. You know that I love you.” Then Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

What was the purpose of these questions? Jesus wanted Peter to really examine his feelings. He wanted him to come to terms with the past and to now be able to experience total forgiveness. Jesus wanted Peter to get on with his life and the responsibilities Jesus had called him to.

Peter couldn’t be an effective shepherd to the young Christians or to the established Christians as long as he remained frozen in a state of not forgiving himself for denying Jesus.

Jesus is making a comparison or analogy between Peter’s denial with three questions of restoration.

Do you love me--then do this assignment.

Do you love me--then feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.

The breakfast had fulfilled its intended purpose for Peter. He has been restored and re-commissioned. He has been put back on the road to fulfill his calling.

[ continued...]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How do I forgive myself? [2]

Peter has previously promised Jesus that he would never betray him. Yet, when things got uncomfortable for Peter, and deadly for Christ, he denied him three times. Peter is now beating himself up over his lack of resolve, and is headed out to return to his former life, since he feels he has been a failure at this. We see the two of them meet again after the crucufixion. [Text: John 21:1-19]

What does the scripture say to us that will help us finally get past those things that are keeping us chained to and in our past?

Jesus wasn’t really far from Peter, although he thought he was. In fact that day on the beach, Jesus invited Peter and the other disciples join him for breakfast. He said, “come and have breakfast and bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
Jesus took the initiative to specifically invite Peter to breakfast. This invitation is often overlooked when we read this passage. 

We don’t hear Jesus say to us, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We miss it because we are so busy struggling and beating ourselves up over past events. We are still trapped in our guilt. Jesus is saying, “Come to breakfast. Bring some of the fish you’ve caught. You are included.”
We all want to be included, but we have a hard time breaking through our own stumbling blocks.
Jesus says, “Come on. Don’t just sit there. Let’s enjoy the morning.” And, we, along with Peter are thinking, but Lord, I’m don't deserve it. I can’t move beyond what I have done in the past. I can’t get over it.”

Jesus keeps waving us in and saying, “You’re invited. Come on.”

We all know what Peter is thinking. "Should I risk it?" "What if Jesus didn’t REALLY mean it. What if I SCREW UP again? What if I MESS UP and say the wrong things, again? Peter might have been a little apprehensive about accepting the invitation, because he thinks he has been disqualified. In fact, he thinks he has disqualified himself!
The biggest obstacle to self-forgiveness may be our predisposition to wallow in our own guilt. It’s not enough that we feel bad about something we know we have done wrong; but we draw those feelings up around us like a blanket and cover our heads.
We refuse to push the stop button of that self-defeating tape we keep replaying in our heads.
According to psychologists when we refuse to forgive ourselves it’s a “crazy form of penance.” Many people decide to punish themselves for the rest of their lives by feeling miserable day after day. The decision to feel miserable for the rest of our lives can have tragic consequences on us as well as the bad effects on those around us.
Certainly, Peter could have refused the invitation to breakfast. He could have said, “I’m going to stay right here. I’m not going to risk it.” But he didn’t. I think we all have a little Peter in us.
All too often, we speak hastily, putting our foot in our collective mouths, striking out before we think things through, stumbling through life.
But, in this area we need to be a lot more like him...a risk taker. See what happens. After all Jesus said, "Come on over for breakfast." It was after all, Jesus' idea.
The disciples took the bread and the fish that Jesus gave to them. It was what they all needed that day--not just Peter. He always offers us exactly what we need in our current situation. He had a special job for Peter to do and Peter wasn’t doing it. Peter had to get it together and move on. It was time to start making some forward progress. He needed to get unstuck from all of the barriers that were holding him back.
We need to deal with our past by experiencing the forgiveness that Jesus brought to us on the cross. But we also need to understand that his grace is enough to cover forgiving ourselves as well. It is a part of the package.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How do I forgive myself? [1]

We often speak about the need to forgive others. Through this act of forgiveness, we accomplish two things. First, we free ourselves of the burden of carrying extra unnecessary weight around, And, second, we release those people to get on with their own lives.

We are cautioned and chastened to pray for those who hurt us. And, while we cannot know for sure that this will change them, it does change us. But I am not talking about prayer right now. I want to talk about forgiving the person we tend to be hardest on...ourselves.

Text: John 21:1-19

Today’s scripture directs our attention to one of the people who Jesus had called to be a "fisher of people", Peter. We all know Peter pretty well. He got off track lots of times. He was constantly blurting out things without thinking. He frequently took hasty actions which he regretted later.

But, his worst offense was that he denied Christ, three times. He had promised Christ that he would never do such a dishonorable thing, but he did. Afterward, he was pretty sure that he was disqualified from ever doing the Lord’s work again.

At the beginning of this chapter, we find Peter saying, “I’m going fishing.” He was really saying, “What is there left for me but to go back to my old job. I’ve got to do something. I have been an absolute failure to the Lord. I feel guilty about it, and I don't see how I can ever forgive myself.”

He wanders off with the weight of guilt hanging heavily on his shoulders, believing that his only option is to back to his old job. He struggles with where to go from here? What does he do now? He blames himself over and over for buckling under. There is nothing to be done about it now.

He has probably replayed the tape over and over from the time he denied Christ, but it doesn't change. He could not forgive himself and was certain that the Lord would not either. It all just seemed too impossible.

Often in our lives, there are particular incidents that we look back at, and we want to punish ourselves again and again, just like Peter did. It seems impossible to overcome; impossible to get past it.

What can this scripture say to us that will help us finally get past the things that are keeping us chained to and in the past?


Friday, December 23, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [10]

So, what are the applications? As I said at the beginning, Jesus is trying to teach a lesson with this triad of parables. If I could sum it up into a few words, the object lesson is about the extravagant love God has for us. And, as a side note, the extravagant and forgiving love we should have for each other.
The first son, Philip, was obviously lost. He was described as being in a “distant country.” But we can imagine that his father was always hopeful that his son would return home someday. We can almost picture him gazing out at the road every now and them. 
When he finally sees his son, he began to run. No amount of dignity could restrain him. There was no reserve, no holding back on his love.
He didn't make his son go through a trial or a test period to see if he measure. He didn't have his son sign a contract looking for some guarantee that he wouldn't take advantage of him again. The son wasn't even able to give his well-rehearsed confession before his father grabbed him up. This initial embrace was followed by lavish and symbolic display of affection and sonship, i.e., a robe, a ring, new sandals, and a feast. All of these things speak of being restored as a son. 
How God loves lost sons who return home! Do you recognize yourself here?
Then we have Dave, Jr., the older brother. This son is lost in a more subtle way and the feasting brings this out. Jesus said that the elder son was “in the field” as opposed to the “distant country.” He was at home, physically. He was responsible. He was industrious. He would never think of wasting his father’s resources.
When he hears the sounds of a celebration and finds out that his younger brother has returned home, his mind is filled with anger and questions as he approaches the house. “Why is everyone celebrating? Why are the servants not working? Why celebrate the homecoming of my dumb brother who’s made my father look like a fool? Why does he get the party? I’ve been here all of this freaking time, working like a slave, never once left home, and no one has ever done anything like this for me? I’ve been doing this for all of these years and this is what I get for it? He got the calf and I didn’t even get A GOAT!”

By the time he reached the house, he is furious and so angry and jealous that he refused to go inside. He would not dignify the celebration with his presence because, at least in his mind, favor and affection was something that you earned.
Can't you hear the wheels grinding in his head? “I’ve earned the right to have a party in my honor. My brother has not earned it, and yet he’s the one receiving it and that’s just plain wrong. I’m not running around for the likes of him. I'm not going to play into this farce.”
And, although the younger brother blatantly had entered the far country, this older brother had drifted into the same place over time inside his heart. He couldn’t forgive.
And if we think about this, it looks as though the elder son, by the end of the story, where the younger one was at the beginning: far away from home, estranged from his father.
Many of us have gone into the far country much more subtly, just like Dave, Jr. We have not squandered our God-given resources and blessings, but we have wandered away from our fullest potential because of our own bad attitudesnegative thinking or an unforgiving spirit.
Do you recognize yourself in the elder son?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [9]

Davey, Jr has been so busy that he has missed out on all the power, joy, peace, security, and love that was available to him, simply because he didn't claim it! How insane is that!

How often do we get so caught up in doing things exactly right and making sure the future is secure for those we love, that we forget to enjoy the people.

“It’s my party, so come join me!”

It is easy to miss what the father is really saying in verse 32. But if we look back at the original Greek, it's much clearer. 

What the father was actually saying was “Son, you and I HAVE to celebrate.” He was saying, “It’s not your younger brother’s party, it’s MY party. I’m the one who’s celebrating because my son was dead and he’s alive. So you MUST join me, not for your brother’s sake, but for MY sake!” The party was not for the Prodigal son it was for the loving father.

That’s the point of tall three of these parables in Luke 15. They are about celebration over lost things being found.

The Shepherd found the lamb. The woman found the coin. The dad found and forgave his wayward son. 

So, how does the story end? We’re left hanging. Does the older brother spit and stomp off into the fields and continue to nurse his bitterness and pride? Or does he uncross his arms and allow his dad to put his arms around his shoulders and they walk into the house together and celebrate the lost son’s return?

I think it is left open-ended on purpose. We have to figure out what we are going to do. It’s up to us. What will we choose do?

The door is open and the Father says, check your bitter, complaining spirit at the door and come on in–enjoy the party.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [8]

Ok, so we have been honest and examined ourselves, and we find that we may occasionally act like the older brother, Dave Jr. But the Bible, God, all of this is really about love and restoration.

So, even in this little parable, God has some tender words to say to us. In the parable, the father did not rush out and say to the older brother, “Get your behind in that house right now and act like you are happy for the little guy, or you will lose your part of the inheritance.”

No, he tenderly pleaded with him. There are three things God is saying to our Pharisee-like hearts through the father in this tale. He is saying:

I treasure our relationship more than your work.”

The father said, “You have always been with me.” He was saying, “It not your work that I cherish, Davey, it is you!”

Just knowing you were here at home with me gave me a great sense of enjoyment. God doesn’t just want our lip-service or service out of obligation, He wants our service as much as He wants us.

Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha was slaving away in the kitchen while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. She became angry at Mary (this time it's the older sister syndrome). Jesus said Mary had chosen the one thing that will never be taken from her, a relationship with Him.

Sometimes we work so hard at the doing, and getting things done, and checking that everyone and everything is in order, it is as if we think we can substitute the work for an honest relationship. 

“You have access to all of my resources.”

Next, the father said, “All that I have is yours.” He was saying, “If you wanted a billy goat feast, I would have been glad to give you one, but you never asked or acted like you wanted or needed one.”

To Christians today, He says, “You are my heir. You are a joint heir with my Son, Jesus. All that I have is available to you right now.”

Sometimes the Davey's look around and are jealous because it seems other everybody else is receiving more blessings than they do.

God is saying, “You have not because you ask not.” Sadly, so many us think we have to earn those blessings–but its all part of God’s grace. We have talked about this, and we get it.

But there is a little voice that says I need to speak about the human side of parenting. Now, this is a great father, and he is saying all the right stuff, and its just a little parble, but why didn't the father do for his sone without him having to ask?

If anyone reading has more than one child, then I am asking you are really hard question. We feel differently about each of our children, but we love them all. Our children depend on us, and even the little things can impact their lives in a positive or negative way for a very long time.

Stop. Look at your children. Is it time to mend some fences? Is it time to go back and hug your self-sufficient child, and tell them how much you love and respect them?

Like God's grace, our grace and mercy should extend to each of our offspring!

Just a thought...


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [7]

As we continue to work through the "parable of the prodigal son", we have taken a short side trip to the "parable of the workers in the vineyard." 

We have a vineyard owner who has offered to pay a set fee for a days work. Workers have shown up at varying times and sent out into the fields to work. The day has now ended and it is time to pay the workers.

We pick up the story (Matthew 20) with Jesus speaking.

“Call the workers and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first. Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar.

When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’ [sound a little like our older brother, Dave Jr.?]

He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the ones who came last the same as you.

Can’t I do what I want with my money? Are you going to get stingy because I am so generous?’” (Matthew 20:9-15 The Message)

Keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to tax collectors and sinners, who were also Pharisees. Why is that important?

Pharisees were hyper-religious men who were full of their own sense of goodness. They hated tax collectors like Zacchaeus and Matthew. Whenever they saw a tax collector on the street, they would cross to the other side, call their names, spit and stomp their foot.... Ewww!

Jesus is trying to tell them (and us) that God the Father receives sinners. The Pharisees were trying to earn God’s acceptance, and Jesus was teaching them they needed God’s grace too.

You see, He is trying to explain something many people never get. No matter how much "doing" we do, it is God's grace that saves us.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't do. We do good because we have been given grace and we have faith, and this makes us want to do better.

For some of us, we are just like the older brother. We feel that we have known the Lord for years, and we have an overly proud sense of our own religious purity.

We have forgotten what it was like to be lost, and we start to think we deserve God’s blessings. We begin to think that it is God who owes us something!

God’s grace is available to anyone who comes to Him in repentance. We have discussed repentance before. It means to turn away, to go in the opposite direction.

Sadly, our houses of worship are full of Pharisees.

Time to check yourself: Am I one?

It is so easy to think about other people being Pharisees, but what about me? We have to stop and ask God to examine our hearts to see if there is even a shred of a Pharisaical spirit?

David prayed this same prayer in Psalm 139:23-24.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Well, what about you?


Monday, December 19, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [6]

We will mess up everyu time we start comparing ourselves to others. It’s easy for us to look at other people whose sins and errors are open and vulgar, and think we are so much better than them. We must remember that there are secret and favorite sins of the spirit as well.

Henri Nouwen, a famous religious writer, had his life altered radically by understanding this very point. Nouwen was a minister who was very proud of his goodness. God used this passage to show him he was guilty of the sins of the older brother and it changed his life. He wrote:

“Looking into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment? There is so much resentment among the ‘just’ and the ‘righteous.’ There is so much judgment, condemnation and prejudice among the ‘saints.’ There is so much frozen anger among the people who are so concerned about avoiding ‘sin.’“

What was his point? You don’t have to waste your life on wild living. There are the sins of jealousy, pride, anger, and resentment that are so much easier to hide from the rest of the world.

Dave, Jr. (the older brother) had a faulty understanding of grace

Davey was insulted because he really thought he deserved better than the younger son, Philip. He thought he deserved a fattened calf, or at least a billy goat. He was offended because he thought his brother deserved less. After all, he had been serving in the fields and he had kept all the rules while the brother was off living it up. It just didn't seem right!

The Dave, Jr's of the world are big on keeping the rules. In church, they are the members who have been working in the church since Moses was a wee lass, and they think they deserve some kind of recognition or reward for their service.

Any time you start talking about what you deserve you leave the realm of grace and get into the area of human performance. Most Davey's carry a Bible, attend church and Sunday School faithfully, and they are proud of it, too.

In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another parable about the nature of God’s grace. It’s a story of a master who sends workers to work in his vineyard. He agrees to pay them a dollar for a full day’s work, so they start working at sunrise.

At 9 a.m. he sends some other workers to help, and then at noon and at 3:00 he sends some more. Then, just before quitting time, at 5:00 he sends some new workers to help, too.

Finally, the whistle blows and it’s time for the workers to receive their wages. We’ll pick up with the story in Jesus’ own words:


Friday, December 16, 2011

Families, Progidals and Turkeys [5]

You can spot the "good" but unhappy sons a mile away. They are seldom happy and they are constantly complaining about something they don’t like!

Do you know anyone like that? They just can’t be happy about what’s going on? Maybe you have found yourself in the shoes of the older brother, who is full of resentment and bitterness.

Second: In addition to their grumbling, they have an inflated sense of goodness.

This can be found in verse 29. He exaggerated his own goodness and he exaggerated his brother’s wickedness. Five times he used the first personal pronoun: “All these years I’VE been slaving for you; I never disobeyed you. You never gave ME a goat so I could celebrate with MY friends!”

And then he goes on to compare himself to his brother. “And this little brat of yours goes off and spends all your money on prostitutes.” We haven't been told in the previous verses that the younger brother visited prostitutes–that’s just what the older brother said. Perhaps because that’s what he would have done! Who know?

But, his aim here is clear. He wants to pain the younger brother, Philip, in as bad a light as possible.

Perhaps. he actually was totally obedient to his father for all those years! In light of his current display, it is hard to imagine that. But in his own mind, when he compared himself to his wicked little brother, he was proud of his goodness.

"I" "me" and "mine" are some of the strongest temptation for a Christian. Our egos don't want us to get left out or overlooked; or not get the proper credit.

This brother was so full of “I” he couldn’t see the repentance and restoration of his brother. He was blinded to anything but his own feelings.

You can block the light of even the mighty sun with something as small as a dime if you hold it close enough to your own eye.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [4]

So, the wayward son has returned. The father is ecstatic and has a party. The older son, Dave Jr., who has stayed behind is not happy.

What's up with Dave, Jr.?

After working all day in the fields, the older brother arrived at his house only to hear music, dancing, talking and merriment. When he discovered that the party was a celebration of his younger brother’s return, he became angry and refused to enter. In his attitude and statements we can pick out three characteristics that betray his real emotions.

First, is an angry spirit of grumbling

Verse 28 tells us he became angry. He actually flies into a rage. When his father came out to plead with him to join the party, he began to grumble and complain. He said, “I’ve never left home and spent all my money on prostitutes, and you’ve never even killed a little billy goat for me!”

Can you hear the whining?

Sometimes, when people have been around for a long time, they start to get jealous when we start paying attention to the new people. They are a little more possessive of the people or the situation than we had realized. That’s what's happening with the older brother, Dave Jr.

These people seem happy and content until we bring something new into the mix. This is true in our homes, churches, friendships and at work. And, the complaining is not always as loud as Dave, Jr's. Sometimes its in the body language or the tone. Sometimes you can't quite put your finger on it, but you know something is afoot.

We refer to them as grumblers, complainer, criticizers or gripers. They usually start out with something like, “Now I don’t mean to be critical but...” and then that’s exactly what they do; they criticize.

You want to say to them, “Come on in and join the party!” But they’d rather be miserable and stand on the outside with their arms crossed, a sour expression on their face...


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [3]


One of the reasons I enjoy doing this blog, in addition to shed a little light into these stories for people, is to have an opportunity to look at some fantastic artwork. Most of us don't spend a lot of time with these pieces, and my hope is that you will be motivated to actually explore what the artist is trying to show.

It is the same with music, and the same with these scriptures. If you put the time in, there is so much more in terms of depth and nuance that we cannot see with a surface glance. There are stories in there...

The most famous piece of artwork depicting this parable is the one I used the first day of this series, painted by Rembrandt. Today's is by Bartolome  Murillo.

In most of these pictures, you can immediately identify the father and the prodigal son, but it’s the little details that I love. The prodigal son is usually gaunt and filthy, especially compared to the people around him. His clothes are in tatters. Murillo's painting even shows a tiny puppy, wagging his tail, obviously happy to see this boy.

The father is usually leaning forward and embracing the son, oblivious to his surroundings, oblivious to the dirt and smell.

Have you ever hugged someone who did not lean into the embrace, gave you a couple of short pats on the back and moved on? That is not this embrace. And, I hope that's not how you embrace any of the people you care about. (just a thought)

This father is leaning in, hovering over, pulling his long lost son into him, back into his heart, back into his home and back into his protection.

It most of the pictures it is a joyous scene–except for one face. If we look into the shadows, we can see the older brother. There is an unmistakable resemblance between the two sons. In his eyes and on his lips you can see the resentment and sarcasm.

The younger son is on his knees looking up at the father, but the older brother is the highest head in the painting, looking down on the whole scene with indignation and anger, and as an outsider.

Let's try to simplify a bit and give these men names. Let's make the father, Dave. The sons will be Dave, Jr. and Philip.

Dave, Jr. is going to end up being our turkey if you haven't figured that out yet. And, although he never physically left his home, it is pretty clear that he has some kind of issue, some sort of dysfunctional relationship with his father and with his little brother.

Keeping in mind that this is a parable, a story meant to teach, Dave Jr represents many people who have never sinned against God, they have been the "good sons". They have never shirked or run away from their responsibilities. They didn't waste their time, youth and wealth on the good life. In fact, they stayed home. And, they have remained loyal. 

But when it comes to being happy for other people and for what good and glorious things happening in the lives of other people, these "good sons" do not rejoice. Hmmm!

I honestly think that many more of us fall into the category of having the “older brother syndrome, ” than are guilty of the younger son’s sin.

Today's challenge question:

Are you Dave Jr.?

Let’s examine look deeper...


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [2]

Let’s review the first part of this parable.

A man had two sons and the younger son insisted on getting his inheritance right away, took the money and left to see the world. He went away and exhausted all his funds on wild living and the good life, although I cannot imagine what that meant in New Testament times compared to now. I mean, it's not like he could go to Las Vegas...anyway.

He ended up penniless, starving and depressed in the mud and mess of a pig-sty. When he finally came to his senses, he confessed to God that he had sinned and he headed home.

This boy was understandably anxious. He wasn’t sure how his father would receive him, so he had prepared himself psychologically to accept a job as a servant.

But when his father saw him, he ran to meet him. The father hugged his son and showered him with kisses. The father then dressed his son, this son, in a fine new robe, gave him a family ring, put shoes on his feet and killed the fattened calf. They had a wonderful celebration.

The lost has been returned. All is well. Happy, happy, joy, joy! Everyone is back home together singing Hava Nagila and dancing and …

And, you know, this would have been a cute little story if ended there, but Jesus was / is trying to teach us something…about ourselves. Actually, he was teaching the Pharisees about the love that God has for us and the love we should have for each other. So, this applies to us as well.

Let’s pick up the story at verse 25:

"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Your brother has come," he replied, "and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"

"My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." -- Luke 15:25-32


Monday, December 12, 2011

Families, Prodigals and Turkeys [1]

The holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas and New Year are right around the proverbial corner. This usually means partys, overeating, and most of us will usually think of family. This tends to be true whether we live near them or will spend time with them or not.

Families and holidays. I often think, "Could the Lord have made a worse combination?" Now, I don’t know about your family, but mine doesn’t always have it all together, but that makes them interesting, usually fun and sometimes downright bizarre.

Most of us worry that our families are a bit dysfunctional. Well, I've got news for you- they all are to some degree. Yours, mine, the girl with the perfect hair in High School, that lovely family down the street. All our families have some-thing or some-one that doesn't seem quite "right."

In this section of Luke, Jesus give a series of 3 parables, that look at things lost and things found. He is actually speaking about the character of God, but I am going to spend a little time on the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

In this tiny story, Jesus communicates a number of lessons. And we can each find our own place somewhere in this story. You may even recognize yourself at different points in your life.

So, let’s get to it:

Our Text: Luke 15:25-15:32

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men." So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11-24)


Friday, December 9, 2011

Mr and Mrs Job: Managing Our Expectations

This series has been fun to do, but every time I think I am done, another little pearl pops up. One of my regular readers (yes, I do have a few of those) sent in the following comment (edited) which brought up another issue that I thought we’d address.

“I am really enjoying this series! Like many others, I have never given any serious thought to Mrs. Job's grief due to the loss of her children. I can relate to how she may of felt. I was angry with God at one point in my life because of a loss of life. I thank you for helping to make God's words and ways so plain for us. My reactions of anger directed at God were not so different than Mrs. Job… I have some relief when I am able to see that this may be a natural reaction to an unrealistic belief. I had a belief that things will always go GOOD in one’s life, never encountering the BAD.” G.C.

What this commenter says at the end is something I think worth further discussion. This is not about Job or Mrs. Job specifically, but about faith and religion.
Somewhere along the line many of us have bought into the fairytale that our lives will be perfect, perfected or materialistically blessed based solely on the fact that we believe in Christ. This is not sound thinking inside or outside of the church.

What we get is peace, not stuff. And, when we get this peace, it does not mean that our children will become perfect, or that we won’t have disaster in our lives, or that our loved ones won’t get sick and die. What it means, at least what I think it means is that we have internal peace. The Apostle Paul says it best, a “peace beyond all human understanding”.

This is a peace we can remain with, and return to. And, a Comforter that is with us, and ever-available to us to help us get and/ or keep our act together. Here’s the key: this Comforter is like a parent. But like any other parent, it can’t keep us from skinning our knee or getting into quarrels, or screwing ourselves up financially. And, like every parent, He can love us, and hold us, and teach us, and love us.

And we can reach out for that peace of mind again and again and again. It is always there.
So, here in Job, despite the rebuke, he is saying to her and by extension to us, “Life is life. We must take the bitter with the sweet, the good with the bad.”
But as Job has said earlier, I know that my Redeemer will come…

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Facing Trials: Mrs. Job [5]

Mrs. Job has been left alone, except by God, in her darkest hour. Who has come to speak with and for Mrs. Job? No one.
Who has offered her comfort? No one.

No one!
This is an important concept for us to grasp. God will not condemn you for your rebellious anger. Look at the text yourself. He doesn’t bump her off because she is pissed off with Him and with life.

We have talked about Job's friends, and they teach an important lesson. We too often fail to be good comforters during life's trials. We should learn from this brief study of grief that Job's wife had a normal response to her suffering and grief, and that we need to accept this kind of response in others who suffer tragedy.

It is our job to be present and attentive to our friends and loved ones in their hour of need and desperation to help them get through it.

Yes, it sounds trite but…

we are to be the hands, feet and heart of the love of God to other people.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Facing Trials: Mrs. Job [4]

This brief study of Mrs. Job is study in grief and how we all react to it. When we are faced with grief and suffering, there are two possible avenues open to us in terms of how we get through. We can choose resignation or rebellion.

Job took the route of resignation, which is clearly the best way to go. But his wife took the way of rebellion, which is so much tougher. Many of us... in fact, most of us opt for this more difficult route, because most of us are just not made like Job.

We feel we need to be angry in our grief, and get their negative emotions expressed before we can settle in, adjust, and accept our suffering. We need to rail at the sky and shake our fists at the heavens about how unfair life is. Then we can take a breath and accept things as they are.

Job's wife was angry at life, and angry at God, and angry at her husband for his excruciating patience. Maybe he did not mind dying by inches, but she could not tolerate it another moment.

Notice also that three of Job’s friends and another man come to comfort him and debate with him.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Facing Trials: Mrs. Job [3]

All the stories about her being the devil's accomplice are nothing but slander, because no one can say for sure. We don’t find anywhere in the scripture that God condemns her.

Instead, what we read is that she becomes the wife and mother of the ideal family once again, and they live happily ever after in God's blessing. I prefer to see Job's wife in the light of God's treatment of her, and Job's love for her, rather than in the light of histories condemnation of her.

If we learn nothing else from the study of Job's wife, let us learn this: Check it out for yourself. Look into what people are trying to teach you and your own personal convictions against the Word of God. If they don't fit the facts of Scripture, then think it through again for yourself. Once you know what the Scripture says, then it can be of value to search history and tradition for support.

The contemporary poet, Thomas John Carlisle, in his book Journey With Job, has this excellent sympathetic description.

Job's wife is often caricatured as a second Satan since she said "Curse God and die" though few would like
to have their own biography encapsuled in one phrase in or out of context.

At least she didn't prostitute theology and make believe to dust her husband's ash pit.

Perhaps she had to take a job to shield herself from the poor house and provide for doctors bills-if one would come- and to take her mind off what the patient looked like and all that had happened to her as well as him.

Job did not cry which doesn't mean she didn't.

It's hard to have a hero for a husband.

Job's wife carried a great burden, just as did Job, so her grief reaction is understandable. How can we criticize her until we have been where she was?  How do we know what we would do unless we have lost children and watched our loved one die a slow death?

How do we condemn?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Facing Trials: Mrs. Job [2]

Even though the text clearly lays out the details of Job’s suffering and what his friends say, and what God says, Mrs. Job gets about 10 words. This is not surprising because this is a patriarchal society. Her marriage was probably arranged, but they have been together a long time, and I suspect that she loves and cares for Job a great deal. They have had a prosperous life and 10 children together. When the children are killed, they are partying at one of their own homes; this indicates to me that they were adults.

They lose 10 children in one of the first tragedies to strike Job’s life. She has lost 10 children to whom she has given birth and nurtured to varying degrees of adulthood. Now she has a husband who is sitting on a heap of ashes, helpless, and apparently fighting a hopeless battle against some dreaded disease.
Many times we find it more difficult to watch a loved one suffer than to suffer ourselves. It is very hard to
picture her as an uninvolved bystander. People talk about the great suffering of Job, but few ever talk about the greater suffering of his wife.

She has frequently been portrayed as a tool of Satan and a harpie. What I see, trying to stand for a moment in her shoes, is a woman in despair who

cannot take anymore of the heartache of seeing her husband die a slow and painful death. I think what she is feeling is an agonizing mercy for her husband, and she wants him to do whatever it, whatever it takes, to make it end quickly; to get out from under this weight.

Job clearly admonishes her for her desperate advice, and tells her it is stupid to be angry with God. He goes on to say that we must take the bad with thegood and that is just life. Job has a spirit that handles crisis in a calm philosophical manner, and he stifles his wife's more emotional reaction to grief.

What I see here is a couple in a very common experience. We have two people coping with tragedy with two different perspectives, both of which represent millions of personalities.

When we dig a little deeper, I think we find that that Mrs. Job's reaction is just as common, and just as normal as Job’s.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Facing Trials: Mrs. Job [1]

Mrs. Job takes a pretty big hit for so few words. Let’s try to really look at what’s happening here. First we have to “get the facts.” Well, we obviously can’t get the facts first-hand so we have to rely on Biblical versions and translations.

Here is what happens according to the NIV:

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Here is what happens according to Young’s Literal Translation:

7And the Adversary goeth forth from the presence of Jehovah, and smiteth Job with a sore ulcer from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

8And he taketh to him a potsherd to scrape himself with it, and he is sitting in the midst of the ashes.

9And his wife saith to him, `Still thou art keeping hold on thine integrity: bless God and die.'

10And he saith unto her, `As one of the foolish women speaketh, thou speakest; yea, the good we receive from God, and the evil we do not receive.' In all this Job hath not sinned with his lips.

One says “curse” and one says “bless.” So what did she say?

If we look a little deeper, we find that the Hebrew word (Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and not English, but you already knew that. :)) for what she says is: בָּרַךְ, pronounced barak.

And if we take the next step and look up the definitions, we find several. Some of these seem to contradict each other. They are: 1) to bless, 2) to kneel, 3) to be blessed, bless oneself, 4) to praise, salute, and curse.

This word is used 330 times in the Old Testament, 302 of those times, in context, means "to bless."

So, since you and I don’t know enough Hebrew to figure it out on our own, let’s try to walk through this with her. And, feel free to disagree with me here or anyplace else.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [21]

Why do we have troubles in our lives?

The first reason the Lord sends or allows troubles is, disciplinary or for correction.

The second purpose for Christian suffering is a trial of faith. This is the type of trial which God spoke of through the prophet Zechariah. He calls it a trial by fire:
This third [part of Israel] I will bring into the fire;

I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.

They will call on my name and I will answer them;

I will say, "They are my people," and they will say, "The Lord is our God'' (Zechariah 13:9)

Out of this kind of trial, faith is strengthened and refined. In the severest sufferings the believer's eyes turn more steadfastly toward heaven, and our faith clings more firmly to God.

It was by such a test that Abraham's faith was tempted and shaped into a grand form. "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice" (Hebrews 11:17)

It was also for this reason that the Lord tried Job; and for such a purpose God still chastises his children.
Granted, under the heavy burden of trials, we don't always remember that trials are for our benefit.

Yet God’s dealings with his children are not so different from the way we earthly parents deal with our own children. What child can completely understand and appreciate exactly why a parent makes him do a certain thing? Children can only trust that we are making choices in their best interests.

Likewise the sons and daughters of God trust that in some way our heavenly Father is dealing with us for our good.

So, boys and girls we finally come to the end of Job. Hopefully, we have shed a new light of understanding about Job, his suffering and faith.

But wait...What about Mrs. Job?