Grace: Simple, but Hard

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S (Scripture): Luke 15:11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27  The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28  Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29  He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30  But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31  Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32  But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

I just couldn’t cut and paste parts of this story : )

O (Observation): So who gets grace? Jesus says EVERYONE gets grace: the older son, because everything that the Father has belongs to the older son, and the younger son, because his Father welcomes him back home.

The older son needs a change of perspective. Instead of ONLY thinking of grace as something given to those who “mess up,” we can think of grace as ALSO being that which God has already given us!

For the younger son, grace looks like a free gift, undeserved.

A (Application): We really like to forget about this story as Christians in the 21st century. We like to act like the older brother…expressing feelings of anger or jealousy as we “welcome in sinners.” (FYI, we are ALL sinners!)

How soon we forget that our Triune God welcomes all folks into the fold. And we can all do with that as we may. We can embrace the grace, or refuse it.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see the complexity of your grace: the joy that comes with it when we are the younger son, the refining grief that comes with it when we are the older son, and if you see fit, help us to be the father, embracing all… Amen.

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We Pray: God Provide!

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S (Scripture): Genesis 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”

Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”

Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”

8 Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

9 They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”

Abraham said, “I’m here.”

12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”

O (Observation): A very interesting story, indeed. Some look at this story and are appalled at such a disturbing set of circumstances. Some see this story as supporting child sacrifice (which cannot be further from the truth). Some see this story as the beginning of support for animal sacrifice.

Abraham has done almost everything God has asked, to this point. Abraham has been willing to follow God, but took one interesting part into his own hands (fathering a son, Ishmael, with his servant, Hagar). God called Abraham. God does not control Abraham.

So, God sets out for one final test…and does not fail Abraham. Isaac is bound (“akedah” in Hebrew). Bound, Isaac is about to be sacrificed to God. Abraham has been faithful, knowing all along that in some way, God will provide. Will God being Isaac back from the dead? What will happen?

God provides. God provides a ram, caught in the thicket. Abraham is faithful, even to the point of giving full dependence upon God. Even giving up the son that he loves dearly…the son promised by God.

A (Application): The father / son language is reiterated over and over again. You see very clearly the connection and relationship and wonder where the Good News is in this story.

As Abraham knows, God provides. In my study on this text, I came across the following, and leave it here for your reading, in hopes that you can see the Good News in such a text….the Good News that foreshadows Jesus the Christ:

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present. And, of course, as generations of Christian interpreters have seen, it foreshadows the story that forms the foundation of Christian faith – the story of the death and resurrection of the beloved son,5 son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God.

– Kathryn M. S Hoffner decker, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2138

P (Prayer): Lord, you always provide for us. Help us to see your provisions around us. Amen.

The Parable Of The Compassionate Father


To read more about this rendition of the Prodigal Son sculpture, please click here.   

S (Scripture): Luke 15:11 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons…”

25 “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. 27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. 32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”

O (Observation):  The older brother associates the awful behavior of the son with the partying going on inside their father’s house.  Is this younger, prodigal son actually receiving a party because of his actions? No!

The younger brother’s receiving a party because the compassionate father is welcoming him back home.  The younger son knew his wrong and wanted to come back home, and their father delighted to have him back.  

If it was up to the older brother, perhaps the younger brother would have had to work his way back into the family farm.  He might be made to stay in the barn for a time, before even living in the house. 

But Jesus says grace works differently than that.  The older brother feels slighted…but what does the father say to him?  “Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.”   God’s grace is as much for the older brother as it is for the younger.  

The compassionate father teaches the younger so that there is a widened in God’s mercy.  The compassionate father teaches the older son that his love is equal for both children.  One happens to get a party…the other has everything that belongs to the father, and is always with the father.”

A (Application): Why is the church such a hard place to be welcoming and accepting?  What is the example Jesus gives in the story from today’s text?  When someone wants to be a part of the life of a congregation, shouldn’t there be rejoicing?!?!   A party?!?!

But what if they haven’t earned the respect of the people?   What if the newcomers are not like “us”?  What if they have not “put in their time”?  

Hopefully, they are welcomed in and accepted.  Maybe not for their past, but for their present desire to be with us.   Maybe we celebrate, because we can begin to see a hoped-for future…together.  

We can get so caught up in judging God’s grace, that we forget that we already have the Kingdom ( Luke 12:32)!!!  We easily forget that we have God with us (Matthew 1:23)!!!  We forget that we have a peace in God, through the Spirit (Philippians 4:7)!!!

For some reason, we’d like to forget the grace we’ve been shown, and simply work on other people’s problems.   Odd, isn’t it, that we would gladly help lay out a path for others, while ignoring our own brokenness?  

Perhaps a good way forward is to own our own brokenness and to invite others to share their own brokenness.  And somewhere in that mess…somewhere in that hurt and pain…we would see God celebrating as we are made whole, redeemed from the muck and the mire…being made new.  The pain will be there…but so will the celebration!

How do you see yourself?  As the prodigal son? The elder brother?  The compassionate father???

P (Prayer): Lord, we ask you to open our hearts to keep us in touch with our wounds, so that we might share burdens with others who have similar wounds and pains.  Amen. 

A spirit of adoption

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S (Scripture): John 17:1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you – 17:2 just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. 17:3 Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

O (Observation): Eternal life is usually thought of as a prolonged life. Here’s what my commentary says about eternal life according to John:

[Eternal life] is not just unending life in the sense of prolonged duration. Rather it is a quality of life, with its quality derived from a relationship with God. Having eternal life is here defined as being in relationship with the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent.

So, I see eternal life as “now and not yet”. This relationship with God affects not only what happens when I die, but has a significant impact on how I see myself and the world today. Sorrows will last but a moment, and joy comes in the morning. A road might be blocked to me now, but another path is revealed.

A (Application): Throughout my days, I’ve had great relationships with mentors in the faith. Each one reminded me that their relationship with God is what made them who they were. They self-identified as children of God, adopted in baptism into the body of Christ.

Somehow, God made that concept of adoption real to me in my young days. This relationship with God that my mentors sensed then flowed through these mentors and pastors and camp counselors and church members, and they each essentially adopted me! I knew God’s adoption, because my forebears of the faith adopted me and made me sense that God was real and cared deeply for me and for how I viewed the world.

I often wondered, and still do at times, what made the mentors in the faith so obedient to Christ? My conclusion is this: they sensed that they became children of God by way of the Holy Spirit and baptism, and in a secure identity as a child of God, obeyed God’s commands out of joy, rather than compulsion.

How is your identity as a child of God? Are you obeying God out of compulsion or joy?

Who have been your mentors in the faith?

Take 60 seconds to pause and think about who these people are and think about how they self-identified as children of God.

How did they express that relationship? With adoration? By passing on that spirit of adoption? With love for their neighbors?

Feel free to share a comment below to keep this conversation going. Thanks!

P (Prayer): Lord, you protect us and claim us as your own. Give us a sense of being your children, that we might joyfully obey you and pass on their spirit of adoption. Amen.

Service to the End

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S (Scripture): John 13:1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end…13:4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.

O (Observation): While service to one another is an appeal Jesus makes here…loving one another, he points out, goes beyond service. Jesus, having loved his disciples, is now going to serve them to the very end (John 13:1b).

Jesus would eventually go to the cross for his friends/disciples (and all of us). But the witness here is that Jesus has formed relationships with a bunch of has-beens, never-beens, and never-will-bes. They’ve done nothing to earn his love. They goofed up along the way. Yet, Jesus knows that his relationship with the Father is to be made real and manifest here on the earth.

So Jesus makes his love known symbolically, with washing the disciples’ feet. And soon, the cross will make known Jesus’ love for all people.

A (Application): Over the years, I’ve learned how to take care of a lot of household projects. My dad taught me how to do these things. My mom demonstrated for us how to take care of a couple of rowdy kids, and mostly keep your sanity : )

It takes love for your children to do these things. And now, as parents, my wife and I are learning how to show love to our children, teaching them spiritual disciplines and household chores.

As members of the body of Christ, we can also try to establish relationships where we learn from one another – specific groups of people establishing real relationships. I do this through a process called “huddle.” This is a vehicle for making disciples who make disciples.

As families, these connections pre-exist. As members of the body of
Christ, we have a harder time seeing that we are indeed brother and sisters already. And as brothers and sisters, we should be able to go to one another for discernment, and prayer, and comfort…but, we don’t normally do this. Thus, huddle has become a way of doing this for me.

Who do you go to for discernment, and comfort, and prayer? Do you rely only on your own personal circumstances or the life circumstances of those around you? Is Scripture something that informs your life? Do others pour into you?

Jesus calls to wash one another’s feet. He calls us to lay down our lives for one another. Is anyone doing this for you? Are you doing this for anyone else?

Who can you seek out to join you on this journey of life?

P (Prayer): Lord, you make us your own, and you guide us. Help us to serve one another…to bear one another’s burdens. We do this, because you have first served and loved us. Amen.

For Glory

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S (Scripture): John 8:54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God.’ 8:55 Yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and I obey his teaching. 8:56 Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”
8:57 Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” 8:58 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” 8:59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area.

O (Observation): Jesus is speaking WAY over the heads of the Judeans. They just don’t seem to get that he is from God. In fact, he really confused them with the statement about Abraham. Abe’s been dead a LONG time…how could Jesus have seen him???

Ultimately, though, Jesus seems to be pointing to the fact that God sent him and this is all for God’s glory.

A (Application): Being sent as a representative is a big deal. A lot of weight on your shoulders, especially if the issue is controversial.

Yet Jesus reminds us that the yoke is easy and the burden is light. And as we, representatives of God in this world, move forward to share the Good News, we go with God in front of us, in is, with us, and behind us.

To where is God calling you today? Over the last few months I’ve felt called to hold a neighborhood front-yard BBQ. I just need to do it! It will be great for the neighborhood and a fun time, I believe. I just have to remember that we will be glorifying God…and not ourselves.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to move forward in faith to respond to your call…even if it means others will despise or dislike me. Amen.

Authority to Heal

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S (Scripture): John 5:19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. 5:21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.

O (Observation ): Jesus has just healed a man who ailed for 38 years. And “Poof”, just like that, the man is healed. Too bad it was on the Sabbath, in plain site of some religious authorities. Or was it “too bad”?

Jesus is always trying to point God’s people back to the center. Is the main thing “Sabbath”? Or is the main thing that people be restored to life and health?

And what’s more? The religious authorities question where Jesus gets his authority. Where does he say he learned all of this from? God, who happens to be his Father! Oh Jesus…now you’ve done it! You’ve stepped in it big time! How dare you claim God as YOUR father!!!

Two strikes against Jesus: healing in the Sabbath, and claiming God as Father.

A (Application): Sometimes we get comfortable in the Church. We are pretty good at believing God does miracles, but not to me. God brings life, but not for anyone I know. When is the last time you prayed for healing, and believed?

Other things cloud our vision of the church. So we ask: what is the main thing for us as Christians? More Christians? More in “church” on Sunday morning? How about mature disciples? I’ll go with the last one.

We are called to believe in God who brings life. We are called to abide in God daily, like we do with this blog. Let us remain in God. Let us believe in the one who brings life.

For what do you need healing? Do you know others who need healing? Pray for them.

God gives authority and power to those who believe. If healing doesn’t come, repent and believe, and try again.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to believe that healing still comes. Amen.