Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30, 2009

"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 15:22-24
I have enjoyed camping out in Luke 15 for this entire month. Thanks for joining me in this journey. Hopefully God has touched your heart a time or two.
At a men's retreat where I spoke last week-end I summarized Luke 15 this way: The Lost, The Lord, and Lavish Love. It seems like that says it pretty well. Those three themes are definitely illustrated through the parables.
Over the past few days I have been focusing on the lavish love of the father that was showered on the wayward son.
Lavish love was expressed through the robe of righteousness and the ring of authority.
Thirdly, lavish love was expressed through a pair of sandals. Sandals are the symbol of sonship, acceptance and freedom. Slaves and servants didn't wear sandals, sons did. Coming back with hopes of being hired as a servant, his sonship was restored. Hoping not to be censored he was instead, celebrated!
Lavish love extravagantly given! That is the snapshot of our Father that Jesus showed to the religious leaders who challenged Him.
It sure has helped me to stare at that snapshot and meditate on it! I hope it has encouraged you as well.
As much of a blessing that is, I want to focus on one more aspect of lavish love - the feast!
The ultimate purpose of the robe, the ring and the sandals was to allow the son to attend the feast in his honor!
When you receive the lavish love of the Father, there is a party held in your honor! And some day, there will be a great feast in the honor of the Father's Son, and those with the robe, the ring and the sandals get to attend!
Are you ready for the feast?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

"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 15:22-24

Receiving the lavish love of the Father is an amazing thing!

The wayward son had abused the love of his father before when he took the money and ran. Then he misused the money by wasting it on selfish pleasures. Now he was broke and broken. He was hoping that out of the lavish love there might be a little leftover love.

Shuffling wearily up the dusty road just before dusk, he heard a sound. Could that be footsteps? Looking up he saw someone coming at him in a full sprint. He wasn't sure if he should run away from this fast approaching stranger or run toward him. The confusion was short-lived as he soon realized it was his father! His father was running to him! And the next thing he knew he was firmly locked in the embrace of his father!

"Bring the robe!" the father shouted. The servant obeyed and it was draped around his shoulders covering his filthy stained clothes.

"The ring!" demanded the father. "I need the ring! Where is that ring?!"

A servant arrived carrying a silk bag. "The ring, my master!"

Grabbing the ring and pulling it from the bag, the father reached with his other hand to clutch the hand of his son. "Here! Take the ring! I place the ring on your finger and give you authority to transact business in my name!"

You heard that right! The father in his lavish love restored to the son the very same authority he had just misused. Rather than put him on probation or take him as a hired hand, the father restored his full standing as a son! How extravagant! What lavish love!

The ring contained the family seal. When a deal was struck in the interest of the family business, a contract was drawn up, folded and then sealed with wax. Then the family crest was pressed into the wax via the ring and the "deal was sealed".

Have you ever known love like that? Have you been blessed by lavish love? Have you ever completely blown it and felt so ashamed - and then been COMPLETELY restored no questions asked? Me neither.

Our Father has lavish love like that. He is extravagant! His love is unconditional and He longs to bestow it on you! When you take a few weary repentant steps toward Him He runs to you! And he comes carrying a robe and a ring!

Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009

"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 15:22-24
What do we get when we receive the lavish love of the Father? That is, in addition to the lavish love!
The first thing is the robe!
When the wayward son returned, the father called for the robe.
This son had been feeding pigs. In fact, more recently, he had been wrestling the pigs for food. I don't know if you have ever been near a pig pen, but it is not a place where you want to hang out. Growing up in hog country, I am very familiar with the smell of a hog farm. It is a very distinctive smell - or should I say diSTINK-TIVE? I would wonder if the father may have smelled the son coming before he saw him coming!
Needless to say, the son was ready for a change of clothes!
In addition to that, let's look at the significance of the robe.
Throughout Scripture, the robe is a symbol of righteousness. Righteousness means that we are made right with God. Being made right with God means that we are restored to right standing before God. It denotes a transformation in our moral nature. It shows that the guilt from our sins has been removed and the penalty of our sins have been satisfied.
For the son, this meant that he was better after he returned than he was before he ran away! Because of the lavish love of the father his post-pig days were going to be better than his pre-pig days!
Even better, the robe meant that the son would be admitted to the party. Trust me, you don't want to party with a person who comes straight from a pig pen. Talk about a party pooper, well........
Since the party was in his honor, it is good that he got to go in!
When you and I were connected to the lavish love of the Father, we got a robe! We were given the righteousness of Christ that cleansed us from the filth and stench of our sins and prepared us for the party! The robe enabled us to be in a right relationship with the Father and enjoy more of His lavish love! And as long as we have the robe, we have the connectionn with the Father and there will be plenty of parties to follow!
Have you put on the robe of righteousness? Are you rightly connected with the lavish love? Will you be prepared for the party?

September 27, 2009

"Now the tax collectors and 'sinners' were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Luke 15:1-2
So, do you?
Will you?
Do you have a plan?
Every believer should! So should every church!
What am I talking about?
I am talking about having a strategy and a plan for "welcoming sinners and eating with them"?
What are you doing to connect with lost people?
What is your church doing to make connect lost people with your church?
Are you building bridges to connect lost people to the lavish love of God or are you erecting barriers?
Two of the guys who have done it the best, like Jesus, have been subjected to severe criticism. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren have built churches with a ministry strategy to welcome sinners and connect them with the lavish love of God.
Over the past quarter of a century Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches have reached tens of thousands converts, developed tens of thousands of disciples, seen thousands called into ministry, sent millions of dollars to foreign missions and planted hundreds of healthy, growing local churches around the world.
Despite those massive footprints in Christian history, they have been accused of compromising and being shallow and selling out in order to get numbers. Most of the criticism comes from people who resemble the Pharisees and religious leaders, small minded people leading small ministries. They have managed to make "seeker sensitive" into a negative concept and built fellowships that are "seeker resistant".
As I have been camping out in Luke 15 this month, I have been reminded of how passionate Jesus is for reaching lost people. He came to show us how to connect lost people with the lavish love of the Father. That sounds a little "seeker sensitive" to me.
Given the choice of building a "holy huddle" populated by the saved, sancitified and satisfied, I'll take the criticism for daring to "welcome sinners". I'll take the heat from narrow-minded traditionalists who can't seperate the methods from the message.
I like the attitude of a young pastor friend of mine who once declared, "I'll do anything short of sin to reach lost people."
If the mindset of the Pharisees and religious leaders had prevailed and if Jesus had bowed to their criticism, I would still be "eating with sinners" - as a sinner.
What are you doing to "welcome sinners"? How sensitive are you to the lostness of people who haven't been connected with the lavish love of the Father? Are you building bridges or barriers?
As for me, at the Judgment I'll hope to stand in the line somewhere behind Bill and Rick - hopefully surrounded by a bunch of former sinners who were reached through my "seeker sensitivity".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 26, 2009

"Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate." Luke 15:23

Do you have a "fattened calf"?
Does your church have one?
Not sure?
When I talk about the "fattened calf" I am talking about expectations. You could call it faith.
Where did this fattened calf come from and how long does it take to fatten it up?
I am talking about preparations.
Was it a coincidence that there happened to be a fattened calf ready for the impromptu feast?
Was it actually an impromptu feast? Or was it planned?
The father was expecting the son to come home so he prepared for his arrival.
Are you expecting to see your unsaved friends come to Christ? What preparations are you making? Are you fattening up the calf? Will you be ready to celebrate?
What about your church? What are you doing to prepare for new converts? Will you be prepared to welcome them? Are you ready to celebrate?
Churches that expect to reach lost people show it by fattening up the calf. They have a designated way of celebrating lost sons who return.
For FredWes it is a lighted cross. What will it be for you? What are you expecting? Will you be ready to welcome and celebrate?

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 25, 2009

"Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate." Luke 15:23

Just outside of Greensboro, NC is an amazing place called "Celebration Station". It is like Funland, Chucky Cheese, and Dave & Busters all rolled up into one! This place is SO good that adults beg their kids to go!
I always liked that name - "Celebration Station". That has a nice sound. It rolls off the tongue doesn't it? When I first heard it I thought, "That would be a great name for a church because that is what a local church is designed to be - a celebration station!
What do I mean by that? Where do I get that?
From Luke 15 where we see Jesus showing us the heart of God to seek lost sinners and to celebrate when they are found.
So, how do we turn our church into a celebration station?
Learn to see with Jesus vision.
We have televison. The military has night vision. Superman has x-ray vision. But Jesus has people vision!
When you look at a crowd you notice people who are about your age or people who are attractive or people who are stylish or people you know. When Jesus looks at a crowd He sees lost people, hurting people, and needy people. That's Jesus vision.
One of the reasons I ask people to put together a list of lost people and begin praying for them is that it helps give us Jesus vision. When you begin interceeding for lost people it slowing changes your focus. The more you pray for lost people and watch for chances to witness the more you develop Jesus vision.
Another way to develop Jesus vision is to go on a short-term mission trip. When you get into another setting or another culture and see the need and feel the spiritual darkness and become overwhelmed by the need - you will never see the world the same again.
Jesus vision helps us become a celebration station.
The second thing is to learn Jesus values. Jesus values lost people. He is the shepherd searching for the one lost sheep while He leaves the 99. He is the woman frantically looking for the lost coin. He is the father anxiously hoping and watching for the return of his runaway son.
In one of my previous messages I pointed out the truth that we search for what we value. That can not be denied! The opposite is true. We betray our misplaced values when we fail to seek lost people.
That is another result of daily praying for the lost people you value most. It helps you develop Jesus value. And that is all you need to do. You don't have to search for strangers. You don't have to value the whole world, but if you will seek to reach those who mean the most to you - that is Jesus value!
Thirdly, for the church to become a celebration station you need to learn to celebrate with Jesus victory! That is what we celebrate? A person whom we loved and sought and prayed for was lost and now is found! What else is there? An eternal destiny has been changed! When a church learns to celebrate what Heaven celebrates, the dynamic of that fellowship changes.
My passion and my prayer is for FredWes to become a celebration station! Will you join us? Will you ask God to you develop Jesus vision, and get Jesus values so we can celebrate Jesus victories?
Who are you intereeding for today? What mission trip are you planning to take? What lost person are you befriending?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 24, 2009

"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

I have never been a runner. I am not built for it, I am not good at it, and I don't like it. Good runners are timed with a watch. I was timed with a calendar. I once got lapped running the half-mile race. Don't tell anyone.
When I was in high school I ran cross country for one reason - I had to. It was a rule that our basketball coach made that stated if you wanted to try out for basketball you had to run cross country. Well, okay.......if I have to.
My goal for every cross country meet was not to finish last. As bad as I was at running there were always others who were worse. I counted on that.
Now, when it came to basketball or soccer, I could run all day. Maybe it was because you were running in spurts, or maybe it was because it wasn't about the running.
I respect people who love to run and are good at it. I don't understand them, but I admire them.
This morning I want to talk about my favorite runner and the most amazing run ever! What am I talking about? I am talking about the day God ran!
We have been camped out in Luke 15 this month. I hope you have been enjoying it. If not, you should enjoy this one!
The runaway son was making his way back home. He was disgraced. He was destitute. He was desparate and broken. He was hopeful that returning to the father hungry, honest and humble would count for something.
He crossed the county line and saw the hill on the horizon. Home was just a short distance on the other side of the hill. His face was down as he stared at the dusty road concentrating on his speech, "I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be your son....."
That's when he heard footsteps. Looking up he saw the cloud of dust and in front of that cloud was his father! His father was running to him - with outstretched arms! The runaway froze in his tracks still rehearsing the speech in his mind. He wasn't expecting this.
It was textbook tackling technique! Dick Butkus would have been proud (or Ray Lewis - sorry about the generation gap). The running father hit the runaway son and wrapped him up in a bear hug. When he hit the filthy son, there was a toxic cloud released - but it didn't matter. The runaway had returned! It was a sweet reunion!
Think about a God who would run to meet you! There is no other God like that! All the other gods make people run to them and they put down hurdles to make it harder. BUT OUR GOD RUNS!
Have you strayed from Him? Has your heart wandered or your mind drifted?
Whatever may have put distance between you and the Father, I have good new for you. If you will head toward home in humility, honesty and with a hungry heart. You can feel the embrace of a God Who runs!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 23, 2009

"I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.'"
Luke 15:19
When the foolish young son took the money and ran, he left home sick of sonship and tired of having to live by his dad's rules. He was ready to be large and in charge.
Each of us have a little of the younger son in us. We don't want to conform, we don't want to cooperate, we want to control! We think, just as he did, "When I run the show, life will get a whole bunch better!"
So when we read this little parable we are not just reading about him we are also reading about us! How did Jesus know that? I wonder.
Well, let's see how this First Century version of hope and change worked out for the kid. You know the story. When the money ran out so did the friends, the fun and the freedom. Now he was destitute, desparate and despising life. He went from being a partner in the family enterprise to being a pig feeder for a stranger. He discovered the huge difference between sonship and slavery. Suddenly, sonship was looking good. In a matter of weeks he had gone from living in luxury surrounded by the lavish love of his father to hustling the hogs for some husks.
How could he have been so wrong? Why couldn't he see that he had been surrounded by love and yet unable to experience that love? His selfish desire for power kept him from receiving the love of the father.
But that was then and this is now. Now he was headed home smelling like a hog and hungry as a horse. Once hoping to be a big shot, now he was hoping to catch a break. If he was going to be a slave he may as well see if he can hire on with his dad.
He left home feeling smug, now he was heading home feeling small. If he could just catch on as a servant for his father his life would get better and his future would be more certain.
Here's the point in this episode. Selfish pride keeps you and me from receiving the lavish love of the father. BUT, when we return to the father with the heart of a servant things change. There is room for love in a servant's heart.
How about your heart? Are you enjoying the lavish love of your Father? If not, are their some pride issues? Some control issues? Don't live another day outside of the lavish love of God.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September 22, 2009

"I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you." Luke 15:18
The lost son had lost his appetite for the pleasures of the world. He had run out of money and out of luck and out of friends. He was fighting hogs for husks and still coming up hungry.
Desperate for a better option, he made a life-changing decision. He chose to get out of the pigpen and head home to the ranch. If he was going to fight with pigs for food, he may as well be fighting his father's pigs. He remembered how well his father took care of his pigs and he knew he would be better off there.
But, he could not be sure that his father would hire him back? After all, it was his idea to leave and he had blown a share of his father's fortune. Why should his father want him back?
On the long trip back, growing faint from hunger, he began to examine his plight. It is funny how clearly we can think when we are hungry and desperate. Now that his dream was shattered and his tummy was empty it was obvious to him how foolish he had been. He was hit by an attack of honesty, "I will confess my sin to my father and fall on his mercy," he thought. It was worth a try. It was his only hope.
All the way down the dusty road he rehearsed his confession and with each repitition he became more honest. And as he faced the truth about himself and his foolishness, his attitude began to change. He was ready to receive whatever the father would choose for him.
"If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9
The word "confess" in the original language means "to agree with God". What can be more honest than agreeing with the father. When we get agreeable with God, God gets generous with us.
What was it that allowed the lost son to receive the lavish love of the father when the other son did not? It had to do with his hunger and it had to do with his honesty.
Are you hungry for God today?
Are you in agreement with Him about your need?

September 21, 2009

"He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!" Luke 15:16-17
We have taken a look at some reasons why certain people were not able to receive the love of God that was available to them. The pharisees and religious leaders couldn't receive God's love because of their pride. The younger son was unable to receive love because he was on a power trip, looking to use his father's fortune to take control of his life. Finally, there was the older son who was enable to receive his father's love because he was caught in the performance track. He thought he could earn love based on what he did.
Do you recognize any of these attitudes creeping into your spiritual life? They seem to be engrained in our human nature and if we are not constantly watchful, they can become barriers to receiving the extravagant love of the father.
So, with that in mind, how do we make sure that we receive the love we need and the love that the father desires to lavish on us? Let's study that. To do that we must study the only one who was able to know the love of the father.
The first thing I notice is that he received the father's love when he was hungry enough to seek the father.
It wasn't until he was so destitute that he was forced to fight the hogs for food that he thought to do something different. It occurred to him that if he had to fight with pigs for food, he would go back home and fight with his father's pigs. So, he got up and began the long trip home. He was heading home hungry hoping for some scraps from the father's table. The days of feeding on the things of this world were over, his appetite had changed.
Jesus once said, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled." The lost son was about to discover that truth.
When you get your fill of power, pleasure, and playing at life, you may be ready to head home to the father. And when you head home with a spiritual appetite, you are a candidate for receiving his love.
He did. And he did!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September 20, 2009

Every once in awhile when I am getting my change at a drive-thru window, I will fumble the handoff of the change. Have you ever done that?

If it is a penny that gets dropped, I’ll drive on. If it is a nickel that gets dropped, it will drive on. If it is a dime that falls, I’m moving on. BUT, if it is a quarter or more I am putting the car in neutral, opening the door, and looking for the change. Usually when I get down there I see a bunch of pennies, nickels and dimes lying there!

What am I talking about? I am saying that I consider the value of something before I decide how to respond. I act differently toward the things I value more highly. You do, too.

That is the point of the three parables Jesus tells in Luke 15. During the month of September we are studying that portion of Scripture in an attempt to examine our attitude toward lost people.

So far we have learned that God places high value on lost people and He sent Jesus to prove it. God expects us to place high value on lost people, too.

Last week we looked at the Lost Sheep and the shepherd who valued him so much that he left the rest of the flock and went searching until he found the lost sheep.

Why did he do that? Why did he put himself at risk and venture out of his comfort zone to find this one lost sheep. He searched until he found it and brought it back. That is how people act toward what they truly value.

Similarly, the religious leaders made it clear they did not value lost people by their refusal to get involved and by criticizing Jesus when HE DID!

Today I want you to join me in looking at the second parable Jesus told – the parable of the Lost Coin and reinforce this truth that we search for what we really value. I don’t care what you claim about lost people, if you are actively searching for them, you don’t value them like you should.

A woman was leading a horse that bit her 2 Caret Diamond off it's gold setting while she standing near a coral fence. Now what would you do if your horse swallowed something that valuable? Well, that customer of mine finally got the diamond back, but it took a lot of dirty work, because they had to wait for the diamond to go through the horse's digestive track and then... well you know... they had to go searching with rubber gloves on their hands. They did however, eventually find the diamond that was very valuable. What if that horse had swallowed some cheap costume jewelry? I guarantee you that those dear folks would not have searched at all for that stone. Why, because it would not be valuable.

Here’s the story – Read Luke 15:8-10.


When you understand the background behind this story you appreciate why she valued that lost coin as much as she did. This coin was likely part of her dowry. Brides often took the coins from their dowry and made them into a necklace or a headpiece and would wear it as evidence that they were married - much like a wedding ring nowadays. So, one of those coins would be very valuable to her - much more valuable than it would be to anyone else. Therefore, when it was lost she had the greatest motivation to find it.

By it’s very nature this story implies that this woman would care much more about her lost coin than anyone else. It certainly meant much more to her than anyone else. She was the most logical person to find it. And, find it she did! In the tradition of the Little Red Hen, once she found the coin everyone was happy to celebrate with her.

Bill Adams, CEO of a large hospital in Virginia, received a frantic call from a woman. "My mother came into your hospital with her wedding ring, and now we can't find it," [she] said. … "I want to make an appointment to discuss this with you." …

At the meeting she explained that her mother had died a few days earlier as a result of cancer. With moist eyes, she described how her father and mother had been married for 50 years and what a wonderful loving couple and caring parents they had been together. Then she told Bill how the day before, her dad, with tears in his eyes, had said to her, "It would mean so much for me to be able to slip that ring back on her finger before we bury her."

"So," the woman continued, "I was hoping that there was some way you could help me fulfill his dream of putting that ring back on my mother's finger. Is there anyone you can think of who may be able to help us find that ring?"

Bill was deeply moved by the woman's story and her sad, but calm, manner, and he promised to do all he could to locate the ring. "In my heart, I yearned for a way to help them," Bill told me. "I left my office and stopped by the ward where the lady had spent her final days. The staff told me how the deceased had lost so much weight during the time she was there that they suspected her ring might have fallen off her finger. … They had looked on the floor underneath the bed, around the room, and in the bathroom. They had searched everywhere they could think of, but it was all to no avail. I went back to my office disappointed. But I was restless and not ready to give up. I just had this strong sense that there was something more I needed to do. Then I got an idea. I went into the basement of the hospital and located the laundry chute. I climbed into the bin and tumbled amidst the wet, soggy, dirty laundry. To my surprise, I found the ring. I almost cried right there and then. I will never forget the look on that woman's face or on her father's face when I handed them the ring the next day."


I think one of the reasons that people don’t get more excited reaching lost people is that there is a limit to how many people we can highly value. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission he told us “to go into all the world and preach the gospel” was He suggesting that each one of us should go to the whole world and try to reach people?

That sounds pretty overwhelming. I don’t know anyone who could actually do that. We aren’t wired that way. Jesus knows that. I don’t think that He ever expected every Christian to try to reach all the lost people in the entire world. But I do think He expects us to reach the lost people who matter most to us – the other sheep in our flock or the coin that belongs to us. We will naturally be most concerned and motivated to reach those lost people that we value the most. That’s what He means when He says begin in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, etc.

Here’s the principle that I believe summarizes the truth of what Jesus is saying here –


The Shepherd focused on one sheep – and rescued him.

The woman searched for one coin – and found it.

If we try to reach the whole world we will burn out, wear out, get discouraged, or become overwhelmed. But we can concentrate on two, or three, or five people who are important to us – whom we highly value. We can reach them. We can begin by praying for them and ask God to give us favor in their lives and invest in their lives with kindness and love. We can do that! We should do that!

I believe that is the principle that Jesus is teaching in this parable.

I want to tell you about a little girl who loved the Lord and longed to share the message of salvation with those who had never heard it. So she contributed a penny to a missionary to help with the work of evangelizing the people of Burma. That small coin was all she had, but it was given from her heart. The worker on the foreign field was deeply touched by the child’s earnestness and decided he would do the most he could with the money. After careful thought, he purchased a Gospel tract and personally gave it to a young chieftain. Apparently the Christian did not know that the tribal leader was not educated well enough to read it. God instilled within the ruler a burning desire to know the meaning of the leaflet, however, and he traveled 250 miles to find someone who could translate it for him. After he heard the Gospel message, it wasn’t long until the young chief was gloriously converted. Returning to his people, he told them what the Lord had done for his soul. Later he invited missionaries to come and preach to his entire village, and many tribesmen who heard the good news accepted the Savior. All this and probably more resulted from one dedicated penny given in Christ’s name by a little girl who wanted the lost to hear about Jesus The moral of the story is you don’t have to wait until you can do "great things" to start working for the master. God can do wonders with dedicated little things. Little things like having a meal with sinners.

What did she do? She concentrated on a focused few and made an eternal difference. That is what I am talking about!

A young man learns what's most important in life from the guy next door. It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.Over the phone, his mother told him, "Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday."

Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days.

"Jack, did you hear me?"

"Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It's been so long since I thought of him. I'm sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago," Jack said."Well, he didn't forget you. Every time I saw him he'd ask how you were doing. He' d reminisce about the many days you spent over 'his side of the fence' as he put it," Mom told him.

"I loved that old house he lived in," Jack said."You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man's influence in your life," she said."He's the one who taught me carpentry," he said. "I wouldn't be in this business if it weren't for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important... Mom, I'll be there for the funeral," Jack said. As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown.
Mr. Belser's funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.
The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture....Jack stopped suddenly."What's wrong, Jack?" his Mom asked."The box is gone," he said."What box? " Mom asked."There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he'd ever tell me was 'the thing I value most,'" Jack said. It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it."Now I'll never know what was so valuable to him," Jack said. "I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom."It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. "Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days," the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention.

"Mr. Harold Belser" it read.Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack's hands shook as he read the note inside. "Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It's the thing I valued most in my life." A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: "Jack, Thanks for your time! Harold Belser.""The thing he valued time."

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. "Why?" Janet, his assistant asked. "I need some time to spend with my son," he said."Oh, by the way, Janet...thanks for your time!"
If you are willing to concentrate your prayers, your time, your kindness and some attention, you God can use you to reach some people that you value.

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf's edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person he said, "You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference." The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"
God wants you to make an eternal difference in the lives of a few people that you AND God highly value!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

September 19, 2009

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Luke 15:31

Back somewhere between the invention of the wheel and the Dark Ages a group called "Air Supply" had a hit song called "Lost In Love". Actually, it was in the 80's, but that was a while ago. But that idea fits the two sons in Jesus' third parable. They were surrounded by the lavish love of a gracious father and neither of them were able to experience it. I have been examining why that was true.
The younger son got caught in the pleasure trap. He thought that fulfillment and happiness were "out there" somewhere to be captured. So he took his fortune and began a wanton search only to come up bankrupt and in bondage. He had to abuse grace to learn how to use it.

The older son was missing out because he was caught in the performance trap. He thought he could earn the father's love by his faithful service. He didn't know he could get it by grace. Unfortunately, he refused grace.
He apparently believed that since he had served the father faithfully he deserved a better deal than what he had. Since he felt he was getting cheated, he refused to celebrate with his father over the return of his little brother. It seems that people who have trouble receiving grace also have trouble giving it.
So, surrounded by lavish love, he lived feeling unloved. God's love is real. His love is free. It is unconditional. But we need to know how to receive it or we will never experience it. Feeling the need to earn love, he spurned love.
If you are like this older son and have trouble accepting the Father's love because you feel the need to earn it, learn from the younger brother. When you come to the Father confessing with a contrite heart, not expecting anything, the Father gives you everything! If you come seeking His face you receive His grace. It's not about Him accepting what you've done, it's about you receiving what He's done.
The younger son partied and the older one pouted.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Luke 15:31

The Amazon River is the largest river in the world. The mouth is 90 miles across. There is enough water to exceed the combined flow of the Yangtze (yan' s ), Mississippi, and Nile Rivers. So much water comes from the Amazon that they can detect its currents 200 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. One irony of ancient navigation is that sailors in times past died for lack of water ... caught in windless sections of the South Atlantic. They were adrift, helpless, dying of thirst. Sometimes other ships from South America who knew the area would come alongside and call out, "What is your problem?" And they would exclaim, "Can you spare us some water? Our sailors are dying of thirst!" And from the other ship would come the cry, "Just lower you buckets. You are in the mouth of the mighty Amazon River."
What a shame that sailors would die of thirst while surrounded by water. But that is the plight of many in our world today. People are dying for love while surrounded by the boundless grace of God. How tragic!
I see that truth illustrated in the story Jesus told about the man with two sons in Luke 15. They were surrounded by the lavish love of a gracious father, and yet were dying inside. How does that happen? Why does it happen? It may be helpful to examine that.
In my last post I dealt with how the religious leaders of Israel could be so zealous for religion but so devoid of love. They were witnesses to three years of Jesus' teaching, ministry and miracles. That is long enough to see the effects of His life-transforming love, but with a few exceptions, they were left wanting. They were caught in the pride trap, believing that they were good enough for God.
As hard as that is to comprehend, how could you spend your entire life with this fabulous father and not receive the full benefits of his love? That deserves some examination.
Let's take the younger son first.
I believe that he missed the love of his father because he was overcome with self-indulgence. He bought into the notion that happiness and satisfaction are "out there somewhere". He was caught in the pleasure trap. It didn't take him long to discover how wrong he was. Even though it was a high-priced lesson, so lessons are worth it. Since this one had a happy ending, it WAS worth it.
What this young man foolishly thought would bring him freedom, took him into bondage. What he mistakenly believed would bring satisfaction delivered destituttion and desparation.
Only after he was purged from the pleasure trap was he able to recognize and receive the love of his father. And, when he received the love of his father he got all the other stuff he have been looking for. Instead of getting pleasure he got joy!
Why does this matter? Because all of us have some "younger son" in us. At some time in our life we have bought into the pleasure trap. We have chased possessions and passions so hard that we didn't have time or energy for anything else. After coming up empty, we were suddenly open for the "God option".
If you are not living in the lavish love of the Father, could it be that you are still caught in the pleasure trap? Have you believed the notion that your happiness is "out there" somewhere? That may worth some prayerful examination this morning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009

"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
The other day I got a new insight on what it means to be lost. Being lost means being unable to receive God's love.
God's love is a constant. God can't love you more than He already loves you. He cannot do anything more than He has already done to show His love. But love is a gift and as a gift must be received.
God IS love. In order to receive His love we must receive Him. You can't have love and not have God. But you can't have God when you are living sinfully. And when you can't have God - you are lost.
That is all the more reason why those who do know the love of God, should feel compelled to help their friends find the love of God, too. How can you know the love of God and not want people you love to also come to know His love?
In Luke 15, there are at least three examples of people who are lost because they weren't able to receive the love of God.
The religious leaders were unable to receive the love of God. They had trapped themselves in a joyless routine of religious rules and rituals. Somehow they had managed to create a religious system where love wasn't even required. They were lost in their own self-righteousness.
How were they lost? They were lost in the pride trap. As long as they kept their rules and maintained their rituals and lived by their laws, what's love got to do with it?
Love is hard and demanding. I have to love back. That's risky!
Pride is easy and rules are predictable. Plus, we make the rules! So, if they get too hard to keep we can just change them! And, if I honor all the laws and commands and do all the rituals God will have to love me!
Pride trumps love everytime - and is proud of it!
God couldn't reach them with His love. Jesus couldn't put a dent in them.
Are there still lost people like that today? Uh, uh.
Where do I find someone like that?
Maybe in the mirror? Are there any hints of self-righteousness? Any private sin you are harboring? Any questionable behavior you're excusing? Any impure thinking that you are allowing? Any unhealthy attitude you are tolerating?
Take a hard look.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16, 2009

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:8-10
I would help you look for your lost child because I care about you and your child.
You would do the same for me.
But, let's be honest, each of us would search harder for our own child that we would for another's child. That is human nature. You know it. I know it. And certainly, God knows it.
When you look back at the story of the lost sheep, you realize that the one who cared the most about that sheep was its shepherd. He was the only one who went looking because he was the one who valued the animal the most. He was the one most motivated to search.
Now, when he found it and brought it back safely, there was a great celebration. Many people were happy that the sheep was found and returned, but now one cared as much as the shepherd. It just makes sense.
As we focus on the next parable, The Lost Coin, we see this truth even more clearly. The coin that was lost by this woman was likely part of her dowry. In that culture they didn't wear wedding rings but instead they took the coins from their dowry and made a necklace from them. They wore that necklace around their neck or on their head to show that they were married. Obviously, that necklace and those coins would have far more value to the woman than to anyone else. So, when one coin detached from the necklace and was lost, she was the one most motivated to find it. No one else came to aid in the search, but many joined in the celebration when the lost coin was located.
You could say that is wrong, but I think Jesus is saying that is natural. Afterall, Who understands human nature better than Him?
As I study these two parables I draw out this principle for reaching lost people - CELEBRATE ALL BUT CONCENTRATE ON A FEW.
In Luke 15, Jesus isn't chiding these religious leaders because they didn't care about ALL lost people, He is upset with them for not caring about ANY lost people.
When Jesus left us with the Great Commission, He didn't expect any one individual Christian to go to "all the world" and reach the whole world. He gave that command to the WHOLE Church. Collectively, we are to reach as many lost people in our corner of the world as we possibly can. That cannot happen by one or two individuals doing all the reaching. But it becomes a real live option if a majority of believers commit to reaching a few lost people.
No one will be more motivated to reach the lost friends or family members than you because you care for them more than anyone else. And, by virtue of your relationship to them, you have more trust and credibility with them. You are the most likely person to bring that lost person home.
Don't feel guilty or defeated because you don't feeling motivated to reach the whole world. Feel bad if you don't get excited when lost people come home and repent if you don't care enough to reach the few lost people God has placed in your life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 15, 2009

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:8-10
Several times I have dropped change as I paid the person in the drive-thru window. When I drop a penny, I let it go. When I drop a nickel, I let it go. When I drop a dime, I let it go. If I drop a quarter, I put the car in neutral, open the door and try to find the fallen quarter.
Ever done that?
If you have done that you know what you find when you go down their - lots of pennies, nickels and dimes.
Why is that that? There seems to be sort of inherent value system coded into our psyche that determines whether the reward gained is worth the effort expended. Simply stated, I am only going to do something if I think it is worth the effort. You, too.
That is the 800 pound gorilla in these three parables. We decide what we will do or don't do based on how much we value something or someone.
The shepherd ventures out into the wilderness because he values the lost sheep more than he values his own comfort.
A woman grabs and flashlight and a broom and searches day and night until she finds the coin that was lost. Why does she do that? Only because of the high value she places on that coin. That coin means more to her than the time and effort expended to find it.
When a son goes lost his father makes time everyday walking down the road to the top of the rise to search the horizon for that missing boy. Why would he do that? Because that son is more valuable to him than anything else he could do during that time.
So, Jesus is making an important statement about God's value system and ours. He is clearly stating that God values lost people more than just about anything else. In fact, God values lost people more than He valued His own Son. How do I know that? Because God gave His Son to atone for the sins of lost people.
Words are important. Words have meaning. But, actions speak louder than words. God expressed His love through the writings of the Torah and especially through the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. But that wasn't sufficient. He wanted to show His love and prove it by his actions.
So, what we do ultimately determines what we value, and vice versa. Conversely, we get insight into what we don't value by virtue of what we fail to do.
Jesus told three stories to make it clear that God values lost people. He expects us to value lost people as well. And He expects us to prove our love for lost people by seeking them, searching for them until they are found and brought to the Father.
Heaven values lost people because God values lost people. Heaven proves its love for lost people by celebrating whenever one is found.
Do you share God's value system? Don't tell Him. Show Him. Your action will speak more than your words. So will your inaction.

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 14, 2009

"Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" Luke 15:3-4
In my previous post I decried the lack of urgeny over lost people. That is the point Jesus is trying to make in Luke 15.
So, we understand what lostness is, how does it happen?
How does a sheep get lost?

Have you ever thought about how sheep get lost? Even with a shepherd, they still get lost. How does this happen?
Sheep get lost through their nibbling.

As Joel Preston says: -Sheep are stubborn. Sheep can get easily lost because they tend to go their own way. Sheep get lost by nibbling away at the grass and never looking up.

The issue for sheep is their ability to stay focused. They see a nice patch of grass and think, “Mmm, this looks nice, maybe I’ll have a little taste.” They finish the bit of grass and without looking up, they move and continue grazing. They nibble a little here, then a little there. They take a few steps and nibble a little more. Before they realize it, they are lost. Sheep made a series of small choices that led them away from the flock.
A sheep gets lost by his nature.

The nature of a sheep is to get lost. It is in his DNA. It is like he has a lostness gene or something. That is a pretty sad situation. Sad, but true!

Why should we care about sheep? Why should sheep matter to us? They are stupid, stubborn and of little value.
WE ARE THE SHEEP! THIS STORY IS NOT REALLY ABOUT SHEEP IT IS ABOUT US. Everything that Jesus is pointing out about sheep in this story applies to us. This is how we get lost.

We nibble. It is in our nature to nibble our way into lostness. We nibble away at sin over here and we nibble at sin over there and with our focus on sin, we drift further away from the shepherd and the other sheep.

We have a sinful nature. It is in our DNA. We are born with a sinful nature that we inherited from Adam and Eve. So, we come into this world lost and separated from the Good Shepherd, Jesus. We aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.
The urgency Jesus expresses in this story is precisely for this reason, people He loves and cares for are lost and will remain lost until reached by a shepherd.
If you are lost, or if you care about someone who is. What are you waiting for? How can you be casual about that risky condition? How will you face that lost friend in eternity and explain to them why you never tried to reach them? How will you explain that to the shepherd?

September 13, 2009

"Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" Luke 15:3-4
I believe that Jesus believes that we don't have enough concern for lost people. He challenges us in that area.
I can't only speak for myself and I must confess that I often lapse into a casual attitude toward lost people. I am found, my life is good, my future is secure, so my sense of urgency wanes. In fact, it should be just the opposite.
If you have ever been like me. If you have ever lost your urgency over the plight of people who are spiritually lost, Luke 15 is just what we need.
Jesus tells three stories that deal with the desparation of lost people and their value to Him. The first deals with a lost sheep. Let's see what we can learn about lostness.
There are not many things sheep do well. The one thing they are most known for is – GETTING LOST.

Philip Keller was a sheep rancher. In his book, "A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty-third Psalm," he says that sheep they require more attention than any other livestock. They just can’t take care of themselves. Unless their shepherd makes them move on, sheep will actually ruin a pasture, eating every blade of grass, until finally a fertile pasture is nothing but barren soil. Sheep are near-sighted & very stubborn, but easily frightened. An entire flock can be stampeded by a jack rabbit. They have little means of defense. They’re timid, feeble creatures. Their only recourse is to run if no shepherd is there to protect them. Sheep have no homing instincts. A dog, horse, cat, or a bird can find its way home, but when a sheep gets lost, it’s a goner unless someone rescues it.
Being lost means being out of relationship.

Because of their propensity for getting lost, the two things that sheep need most are: A SHEPHERD and OTHER SHEEP. They will not survive long without those two important things.

That is what happened in Jesus’ story. This sheep got separated from the care of the shepherd and the security of the other sheep. He did not know where he was, where he needed to be or how to get there.

Sheep are not worth much and a single lost sheep is even less valuable. Apparently the other 99 sheep didn’t even notice he was missing. Only the shepherd noticed and only the shepherd cared.

Even though the sheep was out of relationship with the flock and with the shepherd, the shepherd did not stop caring about the lost sheep.
Why should we care about sheep let alone a single lost sheep?
Because this story is not about sheep - it is about us, you and me. We are created for relationship. God designed us to need Him and other people in order to be healthy and happy. And we especially need to be in relationship with God Who is our only hope for abundant life now and eternal life later. Anyone who is out of relationship with God is spiritually lost and dead.
Being lost means being in great risk.

A sheep has absolutely no means of defending itself. It cannot fight and it cannot run. Its only security is found in the flock with 99 other sheep and under the protection of the shepherd.
But this sheep had wandered away from those two sources of safety. To a lion or a wolf a lone sheep looks like lunch! This sheep had put himself at great risk.

Also, sheep have been known to graze themselves off a cliff and fall to their death. They are not very bright to begin with and even worse when they are preoccupied with grazing. It’s not a good picture. Sheep, lost out in the wild, are goners. They aren’t very bright. They have no natural defenses. They can’t even run real fast. On their own they don’t do well at finding adequate food and water. Every time the word lost is used to describe a sheep, it’s a word in the original that carries a powerful sense - in fact it’s a word for absolute destruction, death, ruin. That’s what it means to be lost. By becoming lost, this sheep had put his life at risk.

So, why does this matter to us?
Because Jesus is not really talking about sheep, He is talking about us. He is warning of the great risk faced by those who are out relationship with God and the church. A lost person remains lost until he is found. If he never gets found he will slip into eternal lostness. That is unacceptable to God and should be unacceptable to us!
Why isn't it? Why do we not feel a sense of urgency? How can we be casual when people are out of relationship and at eternal risk?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September 12, 2009

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " Luke 15:31-32
What a sad ending to an otherwise great story.
When you say, "Psalm. People think 23rd Psalm."
When you say, "Parable. People think Prodigal Son."
It is one of the most popular, well-known and best loved parables that Jesus ever told. But it deserved a better ending. The finale should have been the party for the Prodigal, but instead, it focuses on the party pooper, a.k.a., the elder brother.
Why did it end that way? Why didn't this older son enjoy the party with his father and his brother? Everyone loves a party, don't they?
Well, let's review his complaints:
"You have never had even a small party for me and I have faithfully served you for all these years."
Am I sensing a little resentment here? Was it justified? Did he have a valid complaint?
Well, let's think about it. Should you expect a party for doing what you are supposed to do? Serving the father was his job. Do you get a party for doing your job? I don't think so. For doing your job you get to keep your job and you get to make a living. This son had a nice living. He had access to everything that his father possessed. He had a comfortable home, he had the love of a family, and he stood to inherit all that his father had.
Don't you think the father would have thrown a party for this son anytime the son would have asked? He never asked for a party.
If you ask me, I think this young man had an attitude problem.
"But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes come home, you kill the fatted calf for him."
Should the father not be excited about the return of his son? What was this older son thinking? Shouldn't he have been happy to see his brother return safely? Shouldn't he have at least acted happy out respect for his father?
When I look at this older brother I see some deadly attitudes that take the joy out of life.
There was an attitude of entitlement. "I have done these things so I deserve this thing." Apparently he wasn't serving the father because it was right, he was doing it for the reward.
There was an attitude of self-righteousness. "I am more deserving because I have done the right things." Sure, his actions were good but his attitudes were all wrong.
There was an attitude of envy. He thought he should have been getting the party instead of his brother. He saw himself as more deserving that his younger brother.
So, who lost out because of these bad attitudes? Not the younger brother, he got the party. Not the father, he went to the party, too. It was the older brother who missed out because of his lousy attitudes. He allowed his negative attitudes rob him of the joy of the celebration.
Bad attitudes usually lead to an unhappy ending. It is unfortunate when it happens in an otherwise positive parable. But it is tragic when it happens in real life.
Unfortunately, I have seen these attitudes steal the joy from Christians and from churches. And then they wonder why there is no joy in their life or in their fellowship. They look resentfully at other churches that have the joy.
Joy is the attitude of celebration. Celebration in the church is centered around lost sinners who come home. Giving into feelings of entitlement, self-righteousness, and envy, will crush the spirit of celebration everytime.
Please learn from the party pooper in this parable. Ask God to search your heart for any attitude that will rob you of your joy and keep you from the party.