It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

It doesn’t matter how mine compare with yours. Scripture says they’re all the same in God’s eyes. So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.

Goodies and Godliness

goodiesThere is a rhythm to our repentance and God’s grace.

Part 1: Be Careful What You Ask For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 3: All The Wrong Reasons?

Part 4: He Runs to Us 

Isaiah sees God and laments his unworthiness, only to be cleansed with a coal on the lips (Isaiah 6:5-7).

Daniel is put on the ground by just an angel; he is invited to stand and called “highly esteemed” (Daniel 10:5-12).

In grief over Israel’s defeat at Ai, Joshua falls to his face, which you’d think appropriate, but God says, “Stand up! What are you doing up on the floor?”

The Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:27) and the centurion (Matthew 8:8-9) plead Jesus’ mercy, not their own merit; he grants their requests.

Peter sees a miraculous catch of fish and tries to push Jesus away out of unworthiness; Jesus merely ups his role in the kingdom (Luke 5:8-10).

Later, he says he can’t accept a foot-washing from his Savior; Jesus responds that he’d better find a way to accept (John 13:8)!

Finally, after Peter is faceplanted by the transfigured Christ’s glory (Peter gets a lot of time in the “faceplanted” category, does he not?), Jesus touches him and tells him not to be afraid (Matt. 17:6-7).

Do you see the beauty of it? The more God’s glory is revealed, the more our sin is illuminated. We are driven to our knees by a sense of our unworthiness. Yet God reaches for us. He places us on our feet.

“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 15:21-24)

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He Runs to Us

walkingIt’s funny – in reading your comments, I’ve seen many of you looking forward to this part of Luke 15 as much as I. We know it by heart. Reaching verse 20 is like arriving at your favorite line in The Empire Strikes Back or hitting that favorite song in your old Newsboys album. But better. Chills of delight. (And I’m talking the Newsboys good ol’ days – Entertaining Angels at the very latest.)

(While I’m at it, God, can’t we have just one more DC Talk album? Pretty please? Asked another voice in the throng, never to be satisfied…sigh…)

ANYWAY…

Part 1: Be Careful What You Ask For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 3: All The Wrong Reasons?

Part 5: Goodies and Godliness

“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 ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

Oh.

Oh.

Tears tonight.

I need this.

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All the Wrong Reasons?

homeI have a confession to make: there have been times I’ve doubted the Prodigal’s motives when reading this piece.

Part 1: Be Careful What You Wish For

Part 2: Sex Isn’t Making Anyone Happy

Part 4: He Runs to Us

Part 5: Goodies and Godliness

“When he came to his senses…” (Luke 15:17a)

Biblical commentators make much of the phrase “came to his senses”. Jesus seems to be describing a soul gone mad from sin, detached from reason, and only just now waking up.

Most skeptics think that Christians are the ones detached from reality. Hearing voices, imaginary friends, etc. They say reason leads away from faith.

They’re using the wrong wisdom. When 1 Corinthians 2:14 says “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised”, commentators identify the natural man as unregenerated, governed by carnal motives – labeling even earthly wisdom as carnal and prideful. It can’t reveal God.

Sure, that’s a convenient thing to say to a skeptic. It sounds to them like circular reasoning.

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The Prodigal Son and That “I Had to Sin in Order to Grow” Thing

prodigal.jpgI’ve heard it quite a few times from young believers.

“I had to go through that tough stage of my life in order to find God.”

They’re coming out of a sinful time in their lives and acknowledging its darkness for the first time. What kind of darkness? Who knows. Our minds jump to the usual suspects – sexual promiscuity, drugs, partying – and it might have been that. It might be petty crime, or embracing of the occult. Or it might just a “crowd” that endowed them with a crass, hurtful personality.

Eventually, all things are exposed to light, and the emerging young wanderer starts getting honest. I celebrate with them in their light bulb moment.

But then you’ll hear some of them tack this on, in some form or another:

“I needed to sin so I’d learn my lessons”.

“I went through the wilderness because it was God’s way to grow me.”

“I wouldn’t have understood sin unless I went through it.”

Record scratch.

Wait, what? Where did that come from?

I can take a stab. In our age, popular culture has glamorized the wilderness. The hardened “guy from the wrong side of the tracks” is the hero from our stories; dirt under the fingernails is more impressive than white cuffs. He seems more real, certainly more relatable. His mistakes drown him and inflict their toll, only for him to somehow rise from the ashes and find an inner heart of gold, while the goody two shoes and the irritable authority figures turn out to be the real villain (how many movies have boasted this plot?).

We let this sneak into the church, too. The more debauched the old man, the more impressive the new. So much that young disciples actually feel diminished for having lived well from the start, because their testimonies are boring.

It’s a crock.

No. 

You did not “have” to sin in order to arrive where you are today. That is a lie. It is the wrong response to your wilderness.

And I plead with you to shake it, for it will also prove fatal to your recovery.

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