Sunday, August 24, 2014

Encouraged to Reconcile

Here is another Scripture text that encourages me. I hope it will also encourage you.

 “. . . . God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

From conversations I’ve had over the years, I think many people have a distorted view of God – and for good reason. Sometimes the sermons we hear, or the books we read, or the conversations we have – even with some clergy – can lead us to think of God only as a Supreme “no-nonsense” taskmaster. We create a picture in our minds of Him standing impatiently at the edge of heaven, whip in His right hand, an unblinking and piercing gaze scouring the earth, just waiting for us to screw up. And when we do, He zealously fires off lightning bolts of judgment to smite us with illness, accident, or some other dreaded punishment for our sin.

Scripture, however, presents a totally different view of God. Certainly judgment awaits the hardened, persistent, and arrogant rebel who refuses to bow the knee to the Creator. St. Paul warned his readers a few verses earlier in this same chapter of 2 Corinthians: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for ]his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men . . . . (verses 10-11).

Yes, each of us will stand – one by one – before God’s judgment seat. That image alone should create a reasonable measure of fear within everyone. But for the penitent – and this is important – for the penitent, even for the one who stumbles into and out of sin time and again, for the truly penitent, God reserves only mercy.

Here again is what the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Did you see that word, ‘appeal'? The Greek word Paul used, epikaleĊ, carries with it the idea of pleading, beseeching, or exhorting.

Yes, God stands at the edge of heaven, but not impatiently waiting for us to blow it. Rather, He stands with His arms open, pleading with us, beseeching us, exhorting us, “Come, let’s reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.*

“Come,” He invites again and again . . . and then again, “Repent. Be reconciled with Me and turn from the things you know are wrong. They will only hurt you and those you love in the end.”

And so, knowing of God’s great mercy, why does anyone still choose to not be reconciled with Him who loves each of us so much that He offered His son to die in our place?

*Isaiah 1:18

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bible Study in 1 Peter, lesson 4, now on YouTube

It is easy to read scripture texts that speak of serious, blood-curdling trials. The words fall across the tongue as if we are reading about the local weather report. 

But for some of us, even today, these words strike deep into our spirit, our souls, our lives. The testing of our faith is not an easy journey. It brims over with great sadness, grief, mourning, anger, even bitterness. This is one of the things I talk about in this week’s study through chapter one of Peter’s first epistle. 
You can view the 23 minute study here:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Running Father

Want to be encouraged?  This Scripture in Luke is written just for us.

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons . . . . (Luke 15:11).

During one of his live performances, singer/songwriter Steve Angrisano talked about the Prodigal Son. “It is not only about the Prodigal”, he said, “but it’s also about the Running Father.”

You can find the well-known story of the Prodigal in Luke 15. The young man had asked his father to divide the inheritance he and his brother were to receive. He wanted his share now. He was tired of living under his father’s rules and authority. He wanted to get away, to live on his own, do as he wanted, when he wanted, with whomever he wanted, for as long as he wanted. In a few days, he packed his bags and left with a bag full of money, and soon surrounded himself with drunkards and prostitutes. Until a famine fell across the land, and it wasn’t long before the young man found himself broke, hungry, homeless, alone, and despondent.

We don’t know how long it took, but eventually he came to his senses. “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!” he said to himself. “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands”’ (verses 17-19).

And so he set himself on the road home. I can imagine him, in my mind’s eye. Shoulders slumped, filled with remorse for having left home in the first place, offending his father, wasting his inheritance on sin and rebellion, wondering now if his father would even speak to him. Dread and apprehension smothered his spirit. He would not even lift his eyes from the dirt road as he shuffled along. Dust swirled at his ankles. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He wiped it away with his ragged cloak.

Onward he walked. For hours. Perhaps days. Edging closer to his father’s home.

Had he been confident about his father’s love, the prodigal would not have been looking at his feet as he drew close to the place of his birth. Instead, he would have seen his father in the distance, standing at the perimeter of their property, scanning the horizon, hoping his son would one day return.

But the prodigal didn’t look up, and so did not see his father running toward him –almost at a sprint – arms open, face beaming, cloak flapping behind him as he raced toward his son. Not until he heard his father’s sandals slapping the dirt, did he look up and see.

What did the young man think when he beheld his father’s radiant smile and dancing eyes? What did he think as his father embraced him, as he held him close in a long, so very long, lingering embrace?

“Father,” the prodigal began, “I am so sorry. I was wrong. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Please, make me as one of our slaves” (see verse 21).

But his father seemed to not even hear him. “My son! My son! You were lost, Oh, but now you’re found. You were dead, but you’re now alive. Oh, thank God, you’re alive. Come into the house. Oh, my son, you’re home!”

He was dead, and is now alive. He was lost, and is now found.

What about you?  Have you made a mess of your life? Not wanting to live under your heavenly Father’s rules and authority, you left Him to do what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it, how you wanted to do it, for as long as you wanted to do it?

And now you see your great error?

Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son to make an important point for you and for me about the Father’s love – about His great, overabundant love – for us. An important point perhaps especially for those of us who wonder if we have been gone so long and drifted so far that He won't now even talk to us.

The prodigal “came to his senses” and made his way home. Why not do the same?  And as you take your first step, look up and you will see your heavenly Father scanning the horizon from the edge of heaven. Keep looking, and you will see Him running toward you, His arms outstretched, face radiant, as He embraces you. “Look!” He will shout at the angels. “My child was lost, and now is found!  My child was dead, and is now alive!”

Don’t you want to go home?