Category Archives: Pastoral thoughts

More Bite

I was being the good husband. There were tree branches and limbs that needed to be cut down and cut up. While I’m not the handiest handyman around the house, this is something I’ve done and can do. So I readied our chainsaw and got to work. Things rolled along smoothly for a while – until the chain got stuck and came off the blade. Still no problem – I’ve put the chain on before. I had to loosen everything, take the chain off completely, and then put it back on and tighten it. So I did that – and began to cut away again – except that the saw wasn’t cutting. After some looking I discovered that the teeth of the chain were facing the wrong direction; therefore they had no bite. Thus my lesson for that day: when it comes to chain saws, “If you want more bite, face forward.”  It would be nice to tell you that once I removed the chain again and put it back on everything was fine – but I kept getting it wrong and it took several efforts – and a great deal of time – to get it right. (Remember I said I wasn’t the handiest handyman!) I suppose there are some lessons there as well but I do not want to digress.

So back to the direction of the teeth. The principle, “If you want more bite, face forward,” is not limited to saws. If I want to have more bite in my witness, more bite in my testimony, more bite in confronting the darkness of our world I must face forward. I cannot turn my back or assume that “If I live right the world will notice.”  The letter to the Hebrews is both instructive and inspiring. Hebrews 12:2 states (NLT), “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  The chapter follows the great ‘Hall of Heroes’ in chapter 11. After offering this long list of inspirational Christian witnesses, the author is ready to make his application. I think Eugene Peterson put it well in The Message: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3) “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Such living, exemplified in Hebrews 11 & 12, will take a big bite into our world.

 

 

 

 

Such living will cut down the rotten limbs, clear away the sinful brush, and make room for the good healthy branches to grow and produce richer fruit. So how is it with you?  How big is your bite? How great is your impact? Which way are you facing? Is it time to strip down, face forward, and start running – no spiritual fat or parasitic sins?  Is it time to focus your eyes on Jesus? Is it time to go over His story again? After all, “That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” “If you want more bite, face forward.”

 

 

Powerful Ads

Summer has faded fast. One of the things I miss most is the fresh fruit. I love and hunger for fresh fruit. And we live in an area where it is usually abundant. So abundant, in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to know where to purchase it. Which market, which stand, which store has the best fruit at the best price? That means checking a lot of ads.

Yet as I think about this, I wonder where we go to quench our hunger for a godly, fruitful life. According to the Apostle Paul the godly fruitful life is filled with “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) And note that ‘fruit’ is singular. It is not like the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit where we have some but not all. There is one large fruit that consists of all these characteristics – we do not get to pick and choose!

      

Paul was actually posting an advertisement. He said the fruit comes from the Holy Spirit. “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In other words, the Holy Spirit offers the best fruit available.

But how do people find this fruit? Well, when thirsty for fruit, check the ads. Yet where are the ads? Advertisers know what they are doing. They tease our senses with just enough to whet our appetites and entice us to come and see, believing that once we see we will buy. Similarly shouldn’t we be the ads for the Spirit’s fruit? Jesus says we should be: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:16-17) We should be living advertisements for Jesus Christ. Others should be influenced to come to Him because of us. Our lives should be neon signs advertising the fruit and pointing to Jesus – so when people are thirsty for fruit, they’ll have ads to check. Does the fruit of the Spirit spring from your life enough to whet appetites and entice others to come and see Jesus?

May the Holy Spirit transform your life into a living advertisement that draws others to Jesus. How will He do that? “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” He’ll do it as you love others. When you genuinely do so the Spirit of God will fill and flow through you. Then you will have full access to all the fruitful blessings of our Father – and will be His powerful living advertisement for the fruit that’s available all year round!

 

When You’re Hungry for More

Barb and I were visiting our son and his family down in Texas. We decided to search for a church we could attend Sunday morning. We were hoping for something somewhat familiar and with their help we found the address of a church very near their home and checked it out on the internet. We decided to give it a try. One of our granddaughters wanted to go with us, so we agreed to pick her up Sunday morning.

Our first surprise came when we found the church building – much smaller than the website made it appear. But not to judge a book by its cover, we parked across the street in the dirt parking lot and bravely ventured forth into the church. We were quickly greeted by a couple of older women who were truly glad to see us. We soon moved into a pew row and sat down – only to look around and discover that among the maybe 30-40 in attendance our granddaughter appeared to be the only child there. The truth is, we were among the youngest there – we now knew why they were so glad to see us!  That was surprise number two.

Surprise number three – the organist began her prelude and as we sat listening the lady in front of us turned to us and whispered with pride, “Our organist is 102 years old.”  In all fairness, for 102 she did a good job. I would hope I could do that well at 102 – especially since I can’t play the organ at all now! But I digress.

Surprise number four occurred at about the same moment – our granddaughter began shivering because the church was cold (it was an unusually cold Texas day) – and the overhead fans seemed to make it worse. Since Barb’s jacket was heavier than mine she wrapped it around her – now Barb, too, was cold! After that the service moved along slowly but fairly well. Then the minister began to ‘preach.’ Surprise number four! As a preacher I tend to be fairly lenient when it comes to judging sermons – but I must say I’m still looking for his point and wondering what I was supposed to bring home. He rambled to first base then to left field then to third base then to center field then back to the dugout then to second base…well you get the point; he never made it home. By this time I was pretty empty – and hungering for some sense of the divine. Oh, Jesus was mentioned but mostly matter-of-factly.

Then surprise number five. When he finally concluded his message He went to the Table and began to serve communion. There was very little introduction or explanation, but the elements were distributed – and I was hungry no more. The bread and the cup placed Jesus before me. Then it hit me: “When you’re hungry for more, give thanks for the bread and cup.” I had fallen into the trap of wanting worship to feed me – I was accustomed to what I’m used to. I had stopped focusing on Jesus. Rather than be thankful for a place to worship and a small family of people who loved their Lord and were sincerely giving their all to Him in worship, rather than be thankful for the opportunity to sit in worship with my granddaughter, I hungered for something more. And to think I shake my head in wonder at the Israelites for clamoring for more than daily manna! I wonder how they could miss the miracle of the bread. But here I was – missing the miracle of the bread, the miracle of Jesus in our midst. “When you’re hungry for more, give thanks for the bread and cup.”

There’s a reason God fed His people manna (bread) and water in the wilderness – that’s enough to sustain life. There’s a reason Jesus said He was the bread of life and the living water – He is enough to sustain life. “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:14) “I am the bread that gives life! No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty.”

As I thought about it, the lesson was not just for worship – it’s for daily life. “When you’re hungry for more, give thanks for the bread and cup.” What have you been hungering for? What are you forgetting to be thankful for? Have you looked to the bread and cup? When it comes down to it, what more do you need? “When you’re hungry for more, give thanks for the bread and cup.”

An Apple a Day

We were in a restaurant eating lunch with our son and his family. As usual we tried to split the grandchildren up so we could be sitting next to all three of them. One of our granddaughters ended up next to my wife who, therefore, helped her order her entree. On this day our granddaughter did not want a selection from the Kids Menu; she was determined to order something from the adult selections. So that’s what she did, with grandma’s permission! A short time later the waitress brought the food to our table. After she was done our granddaughter looked down at her serving and said, with a brilliant smile, “I have an adult plate!” Whether or not she would enjoy the food didn’t matter – she felt like an adult.

I was reminded again that such simple things – like allowing a child to order as an adult – mean so much. We all crave positive encouragement; we long for anything that raises our self-esteem. And more often than not our simple, well-chosen words offered to someone else accomplish this for them. Consider Proverbs 25:11 – “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  As Prov. 15:23 adds: “What a joy it is to find just the right word for the right occasion!”

It sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes discipline to offer the apple regularly. In fact, as Paul was teaching the Ephesian church about new life in Jesus, he mentioned the critical nature of words and speech. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (4:29) He continued by explaining that this meant that they were to “…get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Still later (5:4) he said “Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” A Christian’s speech should be clean, clear, uplifting, encouraging, and enabling – especially when addressed to children. (It is especially important in this time when adults all around them and in the media are not living by that standard – but that’s another blog for another time.)

I can testify to the power of the apple. I still remember receiving so many apples as a child and youth – words and notes of encouragement. They came from Sunday School teachers, pastors, youth leaders, school teachers, parents and other family members. One of my most vivid memories is, following a speech I gave at my High School graduation, receiving a note of commendation, appreciation, and encouragement from a local judge who was in attendance. His note, along with all the other apples, prepared me to answer God’s call to ministry. Their apples have profoundly influenced my life, and the many apples I have opportunity to offer.

What were some of the apples in your life? Whose words influenced and impacted you? And to whom are you giving apples? Who has Jesus placed before you? I truly believe an apple a day is a powerful way to positively influence our children. What apples can you give out today?

 

 

 

 

Lessons From a Trigger Finger

Last week I had minor hand surgery to repair a trigger finger. And, man, did I learn a lot! I certainly learned some things about trigger fingers, hands and tendons. But that was minor compared to the learnings God brought to my mind.

This spiritual learning started when the surgeon came and took my right hand. While holding it he verified who I was, which finger was the problem, and that he was going to help by doing the surgery. He then marked on my hand, with indelible ink, an arrow to the finger and placed his initials next to the arrow. It was his way of making sure everyone knew I was his patient and that he alone was responsible for the surgery. Then, when he was ready to begin he once again held my hand up and verified everything, for my sake and for the confidence of all the staff around us. Then he went to work on my hand, doing the surgery to release the finger. When the surgery was about done he again held up my hand and asked me to move the finger to assure us all that he had done what he had promised to do.

The most valuable learnings – perhaps more reminders than first-time learnings – had to do with how God, through Jesus, has His hands on us.

God, through Jesus, reminds us who we are – we are His!

  • But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.                (Isaiah 43:1-2)
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him… he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

God, through Jesus, has taken responsibility for us.

  • “From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.”            (Isaiah 43:13 New Living Translation)
  • “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me,for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.”                                                    (John 10:28-29 New Living Translation)

God, through Jesus, helps us.

  • “For I hold you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”                (Isaiah 41:13 New Living Translation)
  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and when you pass through the rivers,they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2-3)
  • “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.”                    (Hebrews 4:15-16 Contemporary English Version)

God, through Jesus, does surgery on us.

  • “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness…he has turned his hand against me…he has made my skin and my flesh grow old and broken my bones…he walled me in (and) weighed me down…he pierced my heart…I have hope because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:1-23)
  • Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Wow! From a brief minor hand surgery came these powerful major lessons from God. I am the richer for it. I certainly have a new appreciation for the old saying, “There are no minor surgeries!”  So “Thank you trigger finger. Without you, I would be the poorer.”

 

 

Oh That Crazy Bird!

It was a fascinating yet frustrating experience. We had a beautiful but crazy red-winged blackbird (1) visiting us very regularly – multiple times a day, in fact. He watched us and even sang to us. But it wasn’t all that nice. Now before you start thinking I’m a bird-hater, I assure you I love watching birds – just not this one.

Here’s the scoop. For some reason, out of all the houses around, he decided to stop by our back porch for a rest. The problem is he spotted our patio door – and in the patio door he saw a reflection of himself. But he didn’t know it was just his reflection. He thought it was a rival male blackbird invading his new territory. So he sat on the railing, spreading his wings, and squawking in an effort to scare this ‘other bird’ away. (It appeared like he was watching our every move! Kind of creepy!) But when this ‘other bird’ didn’t fly away, he made a beeline for our patio door. Of course he crashed – but when he bounced off the door he went back to sitting on the railing, only to repeat the scenario over and over again. I played a blackbird squawk on my computer, hoping he’d be frightened by an invading sound. It didn’t work. We put chairs up against the window hoping to break the view. He began flying to the patio screen door and hanging on to the screen. So we hung paper bags on the outside of the patio doors to deter him. It didn’t work. “Get a life!” I screamed. It didn’t work. So we hung bigger bags on the inside to wipe out his image (and our view of the outdoors!). He finally stopped crashing and sitting on the railing. But I knew he was still hanging around – I kept hearing his familiar squawk. (2)

I wondered, “Why is he so persistent?” I concluded it was because he was selfish and wanted his own territory – he wanted what he wanted and no one else could have it. As I thought about that, I realized there are people just like this blackbird. They see someone they believe is a threat to them, or who opposes them, or who stands in the way of getting what they want and they become obsessed with them. They will try to attack and scare off the ‘enemy’ or opposition at every opportunity. And why? Because they’re selfish and want their own territory – they want what they want and no one else can have it. It’s their way or the highway. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong or in the minority – just get out of their way; only then will they leave you alone. Does this describe anyone you know?

I believe this is called selfishness. The Bible (3) has something to say about this. “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:1-2) Ever met anyone like that? In contrast, the Psalmist wrote, “Turn my heart towards your statues and not toward selfish gain.” (Ps. 119:36) And Jesus told us to lose our lives for His sake – to stop being selfish and self-centered and seek to live Christ’s way. That, He said, is how we truly find our lives. (Matthew 10:39)
Apparently there were those who caught the vision. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Are you more like a blackbird or like Jesus?

(1) Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash
(2) Photo by Adam Muise on Unsplash
(3)Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Cracking the Case

I needed more razor blades. Being on Sabbatical and not in our home town, we went to the nearest store. There I found the brand of blades I use. They were packaged differently, with the container of blades encased in a bigger, hard plastic case. But why should that matter? They were the right blades.

All was well…

Until I needed to use them. When it came time to open the bigger, hard plastic case, the trouble began. There was no way to open it. I’m not kidding! There was what appeared to be a little switch that could serve as a lock but it wouldn’t move. So I got out my trusty little knife and pried – and pried – and pried. Nothing changed. Being in a motel, I had few other resources so I banged the case on the counter-top by the sink. Nothing but a loud noise – not even a crack in the plastic. After a few more bangs – each harder and louder but with no results – I gave up. I was mystified. Access to guns and drugs appeared to be easier than access to these blades! The old blade currently in my razor would have to work another day or two until we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home. There we’d find a way to ‘crack the case.’ Long story short – after chuckling with us about the crazy case, my brother-in-law took it out to his garage and cracked open the case with his hacksaw.

I’m still not sure why razor blades had to be placed in such a secure case. But I do know no one was going to get at them without tremendous effort. They were securely sealed – which brings to mind our security in Christ. We, too, are securely sealed. No switches, no knives, no banging; nothing can get to us. Suddenly I realize that being locked out had a message for me: “When the case can’t be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

Paul preached it forcefully. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:21-22) “You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ.” (Eph. 1:13 CEB) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) We are sealed, held fast, protected. No one and nothing can get to us but through the hands of Jesus. We can’t be cracked – give thanks for the seal!

The Heidelberg Catechism confesses it beautifully:

What do you believe when you say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever adversity he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.”            “What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

Give thanks for the seal. We can’t be cracked. No one, nothing can crack His case around us. Not knives, not counter-tops, not hacksaws. As Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:27)

 

 

 

When the case can’t be c thanks for the seal.”

The Four Greatest Words

I was spending a week in a cottage of one of our congregation members. They had offered to let me stay there as I wrote and developed a discipline/discipleship Bible study.  The combination of seclusion and the beauty of the surrounding nature was the inspiration I needed to keep at the task. I still find it hard to believe all I accomplished during that week.

Yet I also longed to be home because I missed my wife and three young boys. Since Facetime and Skype were still years from being developed my only contact with them was via phone – for which I had to pay long distance charges!

So I highly valued the few phone conversations, which were largely with my wife. But one time she said one of our sons wanted to speak to me. She gave him the phone. Across the miles, beyond the separation, even when we he couldn’t see me he said, “Daddy, I love you.” Then he gave the phone back. Wow! My heart melted and the tears rolled gently down my cheeks. It took all my energy and focus to remain at my task and not immediately head back home to give him a hug.

Those are, I believe, the four greatest words we can hear: “(your name) I love you.” No matter who we hear them from, they stir our hearts and lift our spirits. I have a hunch you know what I mean. That moment in time reminded me of how important it is to say them to those we love.

Yet it also brought another thought to mind. God likes to hear those four words from us as well. I’m certain Jesus had this in mind when he taught his disciples – and us – how to pray. “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9) The word Jesus used was Abba, a term of love and intimacy; it was “Daddy’ rather than ‘Father’ or even ‘Dad.’ All that Jesus prays for in this prayer flows from a loving, trusting son to His loving, faithful Daddy. And Jesus said this is how we are to pray. In other words, let God, our Father, our Daddy, know we love Him. Imagine what it means to Him to hear those words – especially in those times when we may feel distant from Him.

How often do you tell Him? When was the last time you simply prayed “Daddy, I love you?” When was the last time you prayed “Daddy, I Love you” and said nothing else, made no requests – just let Him know you loved Him?  How often do you sing a love song to Him? John Fischer expressed beautifully when he wrote and sang (1):

“Love Him in the mornin’ when you see the sun a -ris-in,                     Love Him in the evenin’ ‘cause He took you thru the day.                     And in the in-be-tween time when you feel the pressure comin’,                  Remember that He loves you, and He promises to stay.”

Sound, sensible advice. Perhaps it’s time to follow it. Today how will you say/pray/sing “Daddy, I love you?” Go ahead – do it now. And tomorrow – and the next day. Do it often. After all, they are the four greatest words that will melt even the heart of God.

(1) “All Day Song”, John Fischer, © Lexicon Music, Inc. 1973

 

 

 

When Self-Pity Sets In

It happened way back in the 9th grade but I still remember it vividly. (In that bygone era 9th grace was the end of Jr. High – Sr. High started with 10th grade. Some of you ‘young uns’ need that clarification.) The faculty asked for suggestions for a theme for the 9th grade graduation ceremonies. I dutifully submitted my entry – “The End of the Beginning.” It was from a wartime speech of Winston Churchill – “Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I really liked it. Apparently someone else did as well – it was selected as the theme. I was elated!

Graduation night rolled around and there was a big banner in the gym with the theme in printed bold letters. There was a printed program bulletin with the theme on the cover. Now I was even more elated – until I realized that nowhere was credit given to me for coming up with the theme. “Well,” I consoled myself, “Someone’s probably going to say something during the ceremony.” Guess again – nothing, no how, nowhere. I was crushed. I was hurt. I was angry.

How unfair, how inconsiderate, how rude! Certainly I should have been credited or somehow duly noted. After all, if I hadn’t come through there would be no theme – or at least not one this good. I didn’t want attention – just credit (or so I told myself!) On and on it went in my mind. For some reason I didn’t really enjoy that might very much! The faculty spoiled it for me. At least that’s what I thought then.

As I look back from my wiser adult years I see and learn some things. I see, for example, a comrade in self-pity.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Lk. 15:25-30). (1)

I realize now that on my graduation night the older brother and I were twins. And, if I’m honest, since that night there have been many other times I’ve ‘twinned up’ with him. The malady is called self-pity. If only the older brother had gone home and joined the party! He might just have had a good night! If only he had listened to his father. The lesson? “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

I now know that going home, joining the party, brings to mind some important truths.

  • First, self-pity simply means I have forgotten the blessings that surround and fill my life every day. The father told his older son, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” When self-pity sets in I need to go back to the place of blessing, back to my Father. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”
  • Second, self-pity means I’ve forgotten that I already have the most important recognition and approval of all – that of my heavenly Father. In reality, His recognition is the only recognition that counts. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”
  • Third, self-pity means I’ve failed to remember that it’s not about me – it’s about God. Any honor in my life should always go to Him. I just need to get back home with my Father to remember this. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

So from now on I try to see self-pity as a special delivery message from my Father, inviting me home. Hopefully I have enough wisdom to do so. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.” (2)

 

 (1) For a lesson from the younger son in the parable see last week’s blog: When You’ve Had Enough

(2) For more on self-pity read chapter 6 of my book “When the Going Gets Tough”

 

 

When You’ve Had Enough

I knew our young son was upset. But I was surprised – and broken-hearted – when I walked past his bedroom and saw him packing his little bag. When I asked him what he was doing he replied that he was leaving home. When I asked where he was going he said he was headed to his best friend’s house. Tired of the regulations and rules he wanted out. He wanted freedom. He wanted to live life his way. To make a short story even shorter, we chatted and fortunately he remained home. All ended well.

The whole incident reminded me of another son and his father. We meet them in a story told by Jesus (Luke 15: 11-24) This young son (quite a bit older than mine) rebelled. He was bored with life; he’d had enough of the laws, the chores, the responsibility of doing for others. He was a “man” now, ready to do it his way. So he cashed out his inheritance; that meant he made a complete break from his family and his home; there was no longer any attachment or legal standing to his family; he had legally and literally severed the family tie.

Whether or not you’ve ever felt that way with your earthly father, have you ever felt like that with God? The reality is most of us have run from God – or wanted to. There have been moments when we wanted to throw off our religious upbringing, or rebel and run away from God to build our own lives, to get out from underneath the rules and regulations of what we perceived as a tyrannical, freedom limiting God. We want no strings attached to our lives. We want to do what we want, when we want, where we want, how we want. We don’t want anybody else calling the shots. We desire the power to make all our choices for ourselves.

Not convinced you match up to this young son? Think about it. Our inheritance is all the resources of life – our intellect, emotion, will, and the gifts and resources of the Spirit of God. They are all ours to use as we desire! God only asks that we remember the source. But what have we done with our gifts? Too often we have stuffed our lives full of what we can touch, taste, save, and sell. We, too, have taken the Father’s capital – our energy and ambition, our highly developed reason, our technological skills, our ability to be inspired by great things and ideas, our abundant giftedness from the Spirit – and have gone to the far country, without the Father; we have failed to take Him into account. So let’s admit it – we all have a little far country to which we’ve run. Whether we rejected our faith, broke or abused our relationships, blew our priorities, or messed up our involvements, anytime we placed our desires first we traveled to our far country.

But notice what happened. The family tie pulled at the young son’s heart. It pulled him towards home. He remembered the real source of his life, and who he really was. His life came from his father. He would always belong to his father. To think he could cut himself off from his father is like thinking we can hold our breath and be independent of oxygen. Sooner or later, we return to the source of life. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

So the son headed for home. Remember that he no longer had any claim to the family – he had completely severed the tie. So he was ready to repent and ask to be the lowest of the slaves. Here’s the rest of the story.

“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.                                                              “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.”

The father, of course, is a picture of our Heavenly Father. Jesus wants us to know that never once are we out of our Father’s mind and heart. Never once do we come home to an empty house or a cold heart. Not only is the welcome mat always out but our heavenly Father throws a party of celebration and reinstates us as His children.

How can we be sure? We see the Father in Jesus. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus’ story illuminates the faithfulness of God’s love, a faithfulness and love seen in Jesus dying on a cross.  Because of Jesus we can be certain that we are always welcome at home. God loves us for who we are, not what we do or where we go. And being His children our Father is always ready to run and embrace us, to kiss us, to love us some more. It doesn’t get much better than that!

So the next time you think you’ve had enough, remember: “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me…’ Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home.”