discipleship, faith, Holy Spirit, kingdom, lost, our hearts, walking

The Old & The New, #12

Matthew 9:16-17, LB

16 “And who would patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth? For the patch would tear away and make the hole worse. 17 And who would use old wineskins to store new wine? For the old skins would burst with the pressure, and the wine would be spilled and skins ruined. Only new wineskins are used to store new wine. That way both are preserved.”

Some might suggest that Jesus came to bolster up the old covenant, to rehabilitate Judaism and to bring it back in alignment with God’s will. This wasn’t the plan of the father. Jesus understood that he didn’t come to repair or reform the old, but to institute the new. That which is old and stagnant could never be made new and fresh.

The kingdom of God was to be something the world had never seen before. Jesus adeptly uses two illustrations to declare what the Holy Spirit was now doing. Patching up the old with something new that wouldn’t ever work, a tear would happen. And to pour fresh wine into something old could never handle the pressure of the new–that would be the height of foolishness.

The Pharisees’ and the scribes were hanging on to Jesus’ every word (and you’d better believe it.) They suddenly understood the threat of his Kingdom had on their own initiative. And these guys were scared; they were threatened by the coming of this new thing. These men were counting on “tradition” to preserve the order of things. They were old wineskins.

I’m thoroughly convinced that God is always up to something that’s totally brand new. Throughout history we see him show up on the scene with things that challenge his believers even further. He’s always had new things up his sleeves. He’s always faithful and true, no question about that. But he’s always been creative and busy in our present-day lives.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they sprout I proclaim them to you.”

Isaiah 42:9, (43:19; 46:9-10).

The real challenge is whether we can keep up with what he’s doing. He’s the “I am,” not the “I was” or what “I will be.” He’s present in this “now” moment! And if that’s true, I out to get a grip. To solidify isn’t the answer.

So what does this really mean? Perhaps, I suppose, I’m to think that the Holy Spirit is full of amazing and incredible surprises!

He’s always moving the goal posts, pulling us along with him. To be honest, I’ve changed dramatically in the last 30 years as a Christian. I think I understand more about the Father than I did in July 1982. (And sometimes, it seems like I know him less.)

I once got trapped in a “rip tide” off of a beach in Mexico. It dragged me along with it, and I couldn’t escape it. The current was pulling,, and I remember flailing against it; but no matter how much I fought and struggled I couldn’t resist the pull. Perhaps that’s how the father’s kingdom works. His spirit is never still or stagnant. He tugs on us, so we must follow him, if we’re going to be obedient.

Our king is moving. We must follow Him.

Scripture tells us that his kingdom is always growing, (Matthew 13:31-33.) He is always faithful and consistent to his people, but yet he’s also always taking us somewhere else. Abraham, Moses, the Jewish exodus all tell us he loves to stretch out his servants this way. Discipleship means following, not sitting under a nice tree, we’ve become brand spanking new—whether we like it or not, (2 Cor 5:17.)

The Bible is full of revival, and renewal, but God refuses to simply re-educate and legislate us to do his will. Rather he re-makes us. We WALK by faith (always steadily moving) and being a pilgrim means we never get to camp out in a nice, comfortable spot. He’s always leading, and I’m always following.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Of Moses, (Hebrews 11:10)

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discernment, evil, father, lost, our hearts, treasure

The Older Brother, #10d

Luke 15:25-32, (part four of four)

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “”Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 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 goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’”

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’””

Things get interesting here. The older brother can’t understand grace, love or real joy. They’re foreign concepts to him. The father and the younger son are partying, and he can’t make the connection from dot-to-dot. All that’s happening is really difficult. His religious diligence won’t let allow him to join in this raucous celebration. People are swinging on the chandeliers, and it really irritates him.

God’s grace is the most radical thing in the universe.

It must be experienced before it can really be explained. Things don’t compute for the elder son. He’s angry, and he feels like he needs to express his “righteous” indignation to his father. He has been holding it for so long that it finally erupts. Ultimately, it can’t, or won’t be contained.

On a religious basis, the older brother’s issues might be commendable to some readers. He works hard in the fields of his father. He’s unlike his flighty brother, and yes, he makes a point of that. There’s a certain logic here. But honestly, logic isn’t a part of the kingdom of God. It never was. It isn’t.

Anger and resentment drives this part of the parable.

You must understand anger in order to understand. Resenting others often comes when grace is absent. The basis of religion is always comparison. We can theorize grace, but we can’t or won’t receive it for ourselves. And to be painfully honest, we’ll never see it in others–even if we “profess” it. We might turn it into systematic theology, but it remains theoretical.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are, and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

Anger and resentment are the quiet killers of the spiritual life. We never get what we think we’ve earned by working in the fields. He didn’t understand what the fuss is all about when his younger brother came home. He didn’t understand grace, and the absolute joy that is a vital part of it.

Anger has made the older brother foolish.

That concept alone should alert us of trouble in our own hearts. To be “un-graceful” will take over our hearts and cause us to distort the Kingdom into something very ugly. When will we see this?

The father calls the older brother “son.” He also communicates his love and acceptance. But the father also shares his new-found joy over the prodigal’s return, (verse 32, Amplified). That particular vision communicates on a level that it violates the “rules” of being a good Christian.

This last part of this story very quickly shifts from religious anger to an unreal grace. I often ask myself, am I fully understanding God’s grace, do I see the Father’s joy?

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faith, joy, lost, our hearts, repentance, separation

A Very Lost Son, #10a

Painting by Rembrandt, 1667

Luke 15:11-32, part 1 of 4

11 He also said, 

“A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 

14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ 

20 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. 21 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.’

22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’”

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 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 goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Magnificent, defined

adjective

  1. impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking/ “a dramatic landscape of magnificent mountains”
  2. very good; excellent/ “she paid tribute to their magnificent efforts”

This is one of the most exquisite passages in all of scripture. If the Bible is a mountain range, then this would be Everest. This is the third parable–all in Luke 15, and all dealing with lost things. Everything is lost in this chapter, but we could also say that everything is found, and we wouldn’t be in error. This story is one artists love to paint, and preachers like to preach.

They say that every actor dreams about playing “Hamlet,” and Jesus’ story is a dream for every reader and thinker or actor. As a writer I don’t really know how to begin, I could easily produce a library with this simple parable. (And some have tried.)

There are just three characters here: the Father, the son and the elder brother–and each play an integral part of the story. The prodigal is the main character, but the father is the main focus. The son is a wastrel, a good-for-nothing rascal who blows his father’s inheritance on parties, booze and prostitutes. He lives for the moment, he seeks pleasure in those things which destroy him.

Haven’t we all done that; at least to a degree?

The father represents God, who represents the loving patriarch of the parable. He’s the one who has turned over the prodigal’s portion of the inheritance. To a degree I suppose he has funded the prodigal’s descent into depravity, and yet it was the son who decided to go crazy. The father is not to blame.

But in this story, the father is vital. His actions are very difficult for us to grasp. He behaves outrageously, his behavior is quite difficult to understand or fathom. Who acts this way? Granted we think our earthly fathers might do this, but on a superficial level it doesn’t make any sense at all. This parable describes how God feels about sinners.

But don’t blame dad.

This post is merely an introduction. I intend to do a couple of posts based on this parable. Obviously, I can’t begin to do this justice, and even with two or three more posts I’ll be only skimming the surface–most likely, inadequately. I covet your prayers. I love this parable, perhaps more than any other, I definitely want to do it justice.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”  

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

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discernment, evil, Jesus, lost, our hearts, separation, sheep, wealth

The Story of a Lost Sheep, #8

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

Luke 15:1-7

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“So he told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”

What does it mean to be lost? All of us have that much figured out by now–and if not, we will. The Bible nails us with this particular story, and it rings very true of the human condition. You don’t need a PhD in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man, a woman is in the awful state of separation, and for some of us–we understand. For others, the clock is ticking.

Let’s face it, the Pharisees and the scribes have issues. Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime are mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells a story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep. In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins and sons. Essentially, they each explain things; they’re very aware. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do. Some of us need to listen closer to sinners, and to stop listening to religious people.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally enabled us to finally see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’re lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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