“And he said, ‘A man had two sons.’” Luke 15:11
The story we know as “The Prodigal Son” is only recorded by Luke, yet Jesus’ rendition of this parable is one of the most-loved of all.
We’ve heard this story so often, we might overlook some of it if we’re not careful. Even the beginning, because it is in the first phrase where we find who this story is all about: A Father. Jesus even says so.
The rest of the story is common knowledge, in and out of Christianity. A son tells his father he wants his inheritance now, then squanders everything before coming to his senses. He goes back and asks his father for forgiveness. The father not only grants the forgiveness but throws a party because his son has come home and is back in the fold.
There is a back story of course. The other son is not happy, because he’s hung around the home all this time and did what he was told (but probably with a poor attitude). He complains that his father is celebrating a loose-living son’s return. The second son wants punishment for the prodigal, but dad is simply thrilled to see reconciliation take place.
Back to the beginning. “A man had two sons.” In the day and time Jesus spoke these words, fathers ruled the roost. No son would speak to a father like the prodigal did. In truth, asking for his inheritance early, in this culture, was akin to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead.” Really, it was.
So here was a dad, being figuratively spat upon by his own son. The one he raised. The one he nurtured and taught. The one to whom he would one day give half of all he owned. Instead of experiencing the love of his son, this dad was rejected in the worst way.
For this father, his entire world was crashing down. But instead of anger or “laying down the law,” this father granted the prodigal’s wish.
The ending of course, is one of reconciliation. The son comes home and while his brother is less than thrilled with what transpires, the father—the subject of this story—could not be more excited.
Jesus told this story to remind us of his Father’s love for us. We are co-heirs of this reconciliation. We should be ecstatic that our God would love us so much that whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve run off to, if we return to our Father he will throw a party in our honor.
It’s a great parable and we extrapolate many deep truths from this story. We share it with children in Sunday school. But do we believe it?
This is the question we face, because many (perhaps all?) of us have those moments where we seek forgiveness more than once for the same offense. We don’t believe we are totally forgiven. So, we ask again. And again.
Maybe we carry around our shame. We try to make up for our past decisions in different ways.
But once we’ve “come home” to the Father, perhaps the best and most important thing we can do is enjoy the party He throws in our honor. Whatever we are carrying around, let’s lay it down before the Father one last time.
Once this takes place, let’s accept the ring He gives us and get out our fork and knife. It’s time to enjoy the fattened calf and start the party. I think this is what God truly wants from us.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually.” Acts 10:1-2
There are times in our when we see God working elsewhere, but for whatever reason He doesn’t seem active in our own life. Others appear to be in the middle of God’s work and us? We’re watching, wondering why we don’t seem to be included.
Whenever we find ourselves thinking, “God doesn’t notice me,” let’s remember Cornelius in the Book of Acts.
We know Cornelius’ story, but have we looked closely? Cornelius was a Gentile (non-Jew), an Italian centurion—a soldier. Even though he had no connections to the Jewish nation, he gave financially to the Jewish people, and in this narrative, Luke also points out he “feared God with all his household . . . and prayed to God continually.”
Yet, even as God worked among the Jews and we see God sending his messiah, Cornelius was not part of anything. He kept praying. Kept teaching his family about God. Kept giving. But day after day, nothing. We don’t see the Jewish people welcoming him as one of their own. Cornelius was on the outside looking in.
Though he wasn’t seeing tangible results from his prayers, Cornelius—out there on his own regarding faith—stayed committed. Still, we can forgive Cornelius if he ever thought, What about me, God?
Then one day Cornelius received a visit from an angel, who told him his prayers had not been wasted at all. “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God,” the angel told him. The angel then asked our friend Cornelius to send men out to find Simon Peter, and, smart man that he was, Cornelius obeyed.
We know the rest of the story. Peter went to Cornelius’ home, where a mighty move of God brought the Good News to the Gentiles for the first time. Cornelius—the man who stayed committed even when he could see no real results—was likely the first Gentile in the history of planet Earth to be able to call himself “Christian.”
What about us? Whenever we feel as if we’re on the outside looking in, let’s stay committed. Let’s keep praying. Let’s keep looking for God to make His move. Though we may not see the results today, the fruit of our devotion may be closer than we think.
“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Early in Luke’s narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the Sadducees had a problem. A fisherman named Peter stepped out and spoke to the people (Acts 2) and a stunning 3,000 people chose to be baptized in the name of a man named Jesus.
Just after this, Peter and John—these two average guys from Galilee—healed a man lame since birth (Acts 3). And, after Peter told the people how the man was healed, another 5,000 (and this is only counting the men!) latched on to this new movement.
For the Jewish leader leadership, this was a huge problem. Their hold on the people was disintegrating in front of their eyes. Thousands were walking away from them to follow a man Peter and his friends claimed God raised from the dead.
If the religious leaders didn’t do something—and soon—their entire power base would erode in weeks.
But what was the Sadducees’ biggest obstacle to stopping Peter, John and the others? It wasn’t the apostle’s education; the Sadducees were far more educated. Nor were the apostles trained well in Jewish law, traditions or the rites of the priesthood. Fact is, they didn’t know how to out-religious the religious leadership. They couldn’t sway anyone by claiming more knowledge or understanding.
Yet, the people marveled because this rag-tag group of apostles carried with them one characteristic which separated them from all opposition: They had been with Jesus.
What about us? If we want to reach a hurting world, knowledge has its value. Paul had knowledge and used his education to influence many, and even implores his protégé, Timothy, to “handle accurately the word of truth,” which implies educating ourselves (II Tim. 2:15).
Ultimately however, our greatest influence comes when others see we’ve been with Jesus. But let’s be real. This task is difficult in this crazy, social-media filled, informationally overloaded, busier than ever world.
We must take the time to stop, reset our minds and rest in Jesus Christ, or we will become just another voice in the noise of the culture.
As we go about our day, at some point let’s ask ourselves one question: “What is one thing I can do to be with Jesus?”
Our answers may vary, depending on our personalities. But each of us has an answer which is best for us. Once we receive our answer, let’s do that one thing—so that others may know, “This person has been with Jesus.”
by Kirk Walden Advancement Specialist
“So from that day on they planned together to kill him.” John 11:53
What was the moment when the religious leaders decided to take the life of Jesus? Oddly, it was just after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus saved a life, rescuing a good man from the grave . . . and the miracle was too much for the scribes and Pharisees. They convened a council to discuss the matter and said, “If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
The central issue? Raw power. If they allowed Jesus to continue doing good, no one would look upon them with awe and reverence. Jesus would take their place. The chief priests and Pharisees would no longer rule the people; Jesus would take pre-eminence. And they couldn’t stomach the thought. Too much—their riches, their livelihood and their places of honor—was at stake.
So, they plotted to kill Jesus. All because he rescued a good man.
Things are no different today. Many of us are trying to do something good—rescuing the innocent from death—and there are those who wish to eliminate our voices, our ministries (“fake clinics,” anyone?) and our effectiveness.
They mock us; and they demean us. Though we find it hard to believe any of them would kill us if given the opportunity, is it so far-fetched to consider? If we were in Jesus’ world, where show trials could be convened against anyone the powerful deemed a menace, do we believe the results would ultimately be different?
Jesus’ response to this plot however, is a teaching moment for us. For one, Jesus continued to serve and to teach his disciples. When Jesus was confronted with betrayal, instead of rebuking Judas, Jesus simply said, “What you do, do quickly.”
When faced with false accusers, Jesus was never defensive, always holding fast to the truth. And on the cross, Jesus asked forgiveness for those who sought to kill him.
In Jesus’ day, the rich and powerful thought they won a victory when Jesus went to the cross. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, the cross was the beginning of a mighty movement still growing today.
What about us? When the powerful—with millions of dollars, paid-for lobbyists and PR machines running 24 hours a day—come after us, how do we respond? Like Jesus, we can respond with calm, with truth and with love.
When we do this, the world takes notice. And a movement—one of life and hope—continues to grow.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
The other day I was tasked with keeping the scorebook for my son’s 8-Under baseball game, where the coaches pitch, the ball gets tossed all over the place and somehow, the umpires keep track of it all.
Keeping the scorebook is not difficult in this league. It’s a chore in “real” baseball, because scorers must track “official” hits, decide on errors, describe every out in detail (but with numbers only) and more stuff I can’t fully explain.
For instance, if a major league player hits the ball to the third baseman who bobbles the ball before making a throw and the runner reaches first, it’s scored E5 (Error on the 3rd Baseman). In our league, if all ten (we need an extra) players in the field throw the ball over each other’s heads for 15 minutes and the runner—exhausted—finally reaches home, it’s a home run. Easy peasy.
My job as a scorer then, was simple. All I had to do was track who made outs, and whether a kid got around the bases for a run. That’s it. No errors, no fancy scoring. If at the end of the game my book matched the score book for the other team, all was good. No nuance in this league, believe me.
Sure, when errors are made, the kids are corrected. But we’re not tracking this stuff. We’re just happy they are out there. We’re happy they are playing.
Our game is about encouragement, hits and scoring. And even the word “hit” can have a different definition. Heck, when my kid hits the ball, we’re cheering whether he is safe at first or headed back to the dugout.
One night, the only time he connected with the ball it rolled a few feet into foul territory. He told me later, “I got one hit tonight!” Good enough for me. We’re flexible in 8U baseball.
Which tells me something about God. If we—being the somewhat decent parents we are—are such encouragers, what about God?
Sometimes we see Him as a taskmaster, recording our sins and constantly chiding us for our failings. It’s as if we see Him with a score book, noting nothing but errors and—to take Isaiah 64:6 out of context—seeing anything good we accomplish as nothing but “filthy rags” in His sight.
Yes, we make errors. And a good parent gently corrects a child who makes a mistake—either in the field or in life. But we don’t spend much time keeping track. We focus on the good, celebrating those times when our child hits the ball or performs an unselfish act.
Maybe God is more like a good parent than we realize. Perhaps He is cheering us on, even amongst our errors, urging us to “Go!” and change our world.
One kid on our team cries every time he doesn’t make it to first base. His head drops, he drags his bat back to the dugout and then collapses on the bench in agony. Each time this happens, a coach tries to cheer him up and get him “back in the game.” Almost always, it works.
What about us? Do we focus on our failings?
Perhaps God focuses more on our scoring than on any errors we make. When He closes the book on our day, it may be true that we bobbled the ball of life and threw it the wrong direction. He will correct this at the appropriate time. But I wonder if He turns to His Son at His right hand and says, “Wow, he sure hit the ball on that one play, didn’t he?”
And maybe, like an 8U baseball parent, He smiles.
But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus—Luke 6:11
We know wherever Jesus went, many loved him and followed. But some—almost always the cultural and religious leaders—despised him no matter what he did.
In the verse above, the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogue were filled with rage because Jesus did the unthinkable, healing a man’s withered hand . . . on the Sabbath. How dare Jesus do such a thing? Couldn’t he have waited until Sunday?
No, Jesus could not wait. He had a point to make. Over the years, those in charge of all things religious had been adding to the law of God, creating extra rules regarding what it meant to “keep the Sabbath holy.” These rules were relatively easy for those in authority to keep; they didn’t have to worry much about tending flocks, finding food and getting oxen out of ditches.
But for those under their religious authority, keeping all the man-made Sabbath rules was an incredible burden.
Jesus then, asked a question when he saw the man with the withered hand. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it?”
Like every one of Jesus’ questions, this was a good one. It boxed the religious leaders in a corner, pointing out the hypocrisy of their thinking.
Therefore, they were “filled with rage.” To Jesus, it was not surprising to see leaders of his own culture angry with him. He appealed to normal people, and this was too much for them to stomach.
Today, it’s no different. In our culture the “leaders” are those who preach to us about what we must think and how we must behave. They are in Hollywood, the media, and some are in the political realm. They tell us we are to bow down to gods like “choice” and “tolerance.”
Over time, these leaders created their own commandments; commandments which seek to impede—or even stop us from reaching those who need all of us in the pregnancy help community. According to these commandments, we are to cease talking about faith. And, we must desist from speaking honestly about the wonder of human life.
As those who serve in the pregnancy help community, we understand the opposition Jesus faced. Like him, we ask ourselves, “Is it lawful in our society to do good? To save a life?”
Our answer is always “Yes.” Because just like Jesus, we realize there is never a wrong time and never a wrong situation . . . to do good.
“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11:31
We all probably know the story of Rahab the harlot. As a quick refresher, Joshua sent spies into the city of Jericho to check out the city Israel was to conquer. Rahab, a woman of ill repute, took in the spies and when the King’s men asked her to turn them over, she hid Joshua’s men in her attic. Then, she lied to the king’s men, telling them the spies “went thataway!” Off the king’s men went, never finding the spies.
A short time later, the army of Israel marched around Jericho for six days. On the seventh, they blew the trumpets and the walls fell.
Rahab’s faith—a belief that the spies were men of God—saved her and her family. This led to a series of amazing events.
Here’s a question: “What would have happened if Rahab obeyed her king instead of taking her step of faith?”
The quick answer is, “Well, God would have worked it out another way.” Maybe this is correct. But we don’t know this.
What we do know is; a woman who was likely at the absolute bottom of the social ladder, who was likely mocked by the very men who accessed her services, who was labeled in the most hurtful way . . . suddenly faced a choice and an opportunity.
She could choose to obey the authority she knew (her king), or she could choose the God she did not know. She decided on a leap of faith.
Hundreds of years later, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews still called her “Rahab the harlot.” So no, she didn’t lose her label. But she did gain entrance into what we now call, “The Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.
Rahab’s choice led to the conquering of Jericho. Which led to Israel’s rise as a nation. Rahab’s choice also led her to marry Salmon, which led to the birth of Boaz. Boaz married Ruth, one of only two women to have books of the Bible named after them. Rahab, Ruth and others created the generational line leading to the mighty King David. And King David led to . . . Jesus.
One choice. Just one. By a woman with everything stacked against her.
Two thoughts to keep in mind.
One, the clients and patients who come in our door may have everything stacked against them. But one choice—just one—can change everything. Let’s always remember this.
Two, what about us? We all wonder at times, “Can God work through me?” I don’t write the following to diminish Rahab, but her being labeled a harlot is a lesson that God uses the unlikely. Regardless of our pasts--whether better or worse than Rahab’s--God seeks those who will seize the opportunities He gives.
Rahab seized her opportunity and her moment of faith changed the scope of human history. Why can’t this happen when the unlikely person walks in our door? And why can’t this happen with us, his unlikely servants?
“Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the father . . . but an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the father in spirit and in truth . . . .” John 4: 21-23
There’s a Polish proverb which millennials often use today: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” It’s a way of saying, “Don’t drag me into your drama and your issues—I’m not getting involved.”
My daughter used this phrase once and it captured me, because Jesus used this thinking often. The Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. We know the story; when Jesus asks the woman to call her husband, she says, “I have no husband.”
And what does Jesus say to this? He tells her something he would not be expected to know; that she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Stunned I’m sure, she responds, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”
Let’s pause for a moment and say collectively, “No kidding!”
She goes on however: “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain and you people (Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Jesus response? In the words of the Polish proverb, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” In John 4:21-23 he cuts right to the heart of the matter, saying it doesn’t matter where we worship; it matters who and how we worship.
I love it. Jesus never got sucked in to religious debates on non-essential issues. He was about one thing: Reconciling men and women with his father. To Jesus, peripheral matters were a waste of time.
When we reach out to those who enter our centers, clinics and maternity homes, we can count on faith questions. But just like the Samaritan Woman, many of these questions will be peripheral, such as “Do you believe in this doctrine? Do you believe a Christian can do this? That?”
Most of the time, those seeking answers to peripheral issues want to find a dividing point; a way to say, “You don’t believe like me, so I won’t listen to you.”
If we wish to reach others with the love of Christ, our mission begins by finding the heart of the matter, like Jesus did. A few moments after the Woman at the Well asked her non-essential question, Jesus’ response—piercing her heart—led her to say, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that one comes, he will declare all things to us.”
Aha. Jesus prodded her to something new, something bigger than her “where do we worship?” question.
Then, Jesus said, “I who speak to you am he.”
Wow. All because Jesus found the heart of the matter. For Jesus, the “where to worship” argument was “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” And within minutes, a heart was changed.
It’s a good lesson for us. Let’s seek the wisdom to lovingly say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to some of the questions we are asked—and seek the heart of the matter. For someone searching for true answers, it can make all the difference in the world.
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Acts 21:13
Paul was a man on a mission, headed for Jerusalem—even when common sense stood in the way. In Acts 21 we see the story of Paul’s travels and a couple of uncommon occurrences. First, in Acts 21:4 the disciples warn Paul (through the spirit of God, no less) not to set foot in Jerusalem.
Yet, Paul appears to ignore this counsel, instead moving toward that very city, stopping in Caesarea to stay with Philip the evangelist. While there, we have our second uncommon occurrence: A prophet, Agabus, came from Judea. He took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands saying, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
Those gathered did what any of us would likely do; they begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). Common sense, right? How many times did God have to make this clear?
Everything added up perfectly. Paul’s response then, should have been, “I’ll stay right here with you folks; Jerusalem is off my list of destinations.”
But Paul decided to go anyway. Some might read this and say, “This was Paul’s mistake.” Maybe they are right.
Perhaps however, Paul was being given a choice. Knowing danger awaited in Jerusalem, he could choose the common-sense path and avoid persecution. Or, he could go forward in service to Christ, knowing exactly what was ahead.
Agabus’ prophecy proved correct. In Jerusalem, Paul was dragged from the temple, beaten and bound with chains (Acts 21:30-33).
Yet something else happened in Jerusalem, too. Jews and Gentiles alike were encouraged through Paul’s visit there. In addition, the good news flourished, even as Paul experienced incarceration and several trials.
In our lives and in our work, sometimes all the arrows appear to point toward a common-sense decision. Sometimes, those arrows are correct. But we need to at least leave room for uncommon-sense decisions which appear to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
We must also be aware that “uncommon” decisions can lead to trial. We might lose something—as Paul lost a portion of his freedom—through an uncommon-sense decision.
Biblical historians may argue over whether Paul made the right choice, but we can know this: Paul’s decision was based on a desire to serve his master, and to take the good news message anywhere it was needed—no matter the personal cost. Because of Paul’s decision to think in terms of serving, God continued to use him in a mighty way.
When we find our work has a cost, we can take heart. We may not always make the correct decision, but we can know that if our heart is one of servanthood, God can work through us in ways we cannot imagine.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” James 1:19
We’ve been told countless times how we should be “slow to speak and slow to anger,” as James writes. Many of us have been taught to “count to ten” before we speak, so that we won’t be driven by impulse and say the wrong thing.
This is important wisdom we should live by each day.
And yet, there is something else in James’ exhortation to his readers: an admonition to be “quick to hear.” It’s an interesting use of words, isn’t it? For how can we hear “quickly?”
As we know, James is not talking about jumping to conclusions on what we are hearing, or listening “fast” so we can get it over with. Perhaps James wants us to focus in on those we are listening to, saying to ourselves, “What this person is about to say is important to me. They need my undivided attention, and quick-like.”
Too often we can find ourselves “waiting to speak” instead of stopping to truly listen. Because of this, we have miscommunication, which can lead to frustration, division and anger. But when we are “quick” to listen, we set aside our desire to create a retort and instead wait patiently to hear the core of what our friend is saying.
James is a practical writer. Later in his letter he will tell us how faith must lead to actions on our part, or it is not faith at all.
In this short excerpt, James wants us to know faith leads to listening with our whole heart. When we choose to listen with all we have—and choose to focus on our speaker in a hurry—many potential problems are averted.
As we serve those we see, let’s be quick to listen. We might hear a heart which is open to the love and faith we offer.
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