Truth – in the other half of the story

The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.

Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”

“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”

At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.

Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong. 

Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.

You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.

And the party started without him.

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.

After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”

“All that I have is yours.”

What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.

I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.

Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.

In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.

Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!

Counterfeit Gospels Day 1

How did we get here? Are people basically good or evil? Is there hope in this world? What happens when someone dies? What does the future hold? Pg. 40

Those are the daunting questions posited by Trevin Wax near the beginning of his book, Counterfeit Gospels.  They are the questions considered by every individual, every age, every race…every man at one time or another. Thankfully, Wax doesn’t propose to answer them himself. In fact, that’s where he starts, the fact that no person, promise, system or story can definitively, answer these questions, except for Jesus Christ. The church holds the the answers to these questions in the pages of the Bible. Now, her responsibility is to truthfully, faithfully, boldly declare the wonderful answers to these questions.

Here Wax introduces the dilemma, the crisis in his words.

“First, we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change a life…We are told we need a new gospel for a new day. Bigger. Better. Improved…our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness.”

It’s the second problem that Wax address first. New gospel, bigger, better, improved. Wax calls it the Therapeutic Gospel. How many maladies are diagnosed as symptoms of low self-esteem? Modern Americans crowd the counselor’s office in hopes of leaving feeling better about themselves. Practically everything we do is designed to answer our question, “What am I here for?” The resounding answer, proclaimed by our behavior is, “To be happy, of course!”

Think of it…why do you do the job you do? Undoubtedly, it’s either because it makes you happy, or because you hope the income it provides will bring you happiness.

Why does the average family utilize family planning? To ensure they have the financial capacity to keep themselves and their children happy.

Why do even unbelievers fill the pews on Christmas and Easter? To feel better about themselves. In fact, I wager that many rears in the pews every Sunday are capped by minds quickly salved by their compulsory Sunday attendance. Is that the gospel: Jesus came so that I could live happily ever after?

The ultimate failure of the Therapeutic Gospel is that it makes the sin (we didn’t live up to our potential), Christ (who came to rescue us because of our inherent value) and eternity (I’ll believe or do the “right” things so that I can live happily ever after) all about us. And the church kneels to accommodate  the self-centered mindset, “promising to help us along in our quest for personal happiness and vocational fulfillment.” pg. 52

How do you know if you’ve fallen for the Therapeutic Gospel? Wax says to examine your prayer life. Do you come to the Father at customary times with a list of needs and desires? Even needs presented as, “make me a better person,” fail to recognize that we will never be good enough apart from Christ’s righteousness. Or do you come in humble, Christ-centered adoration, accepting His pardon, His completion, His sufficiency, exchanging all your desires for His glory?

Ironically, I read in a separate devotional this morning…

Christians who believe what Jesus said about being the sole Mediator of redemption are often seen as narrow-minded, bigoted, and mean-spririted. Even professing evangelicals are increasingly apt to deny this foundational Christian claim: “There is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts. 4:11-12)

NEVER dilute the raw truth of: JESUS ONLY FOR SALVATION, FOR HIS GLORY ONLY, for the sake of anyone’s fuzzy feelings.