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Entries in Lost (3)

Tuesday
May052015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part II

Luke 15:11-32

Last week we saw two quick parables about God’s heart for those who are lost from Him.  The images then were a lost sheep and a lost coin.  Today our image is going to be a son who is often called the prodigal son, which refers to the fact that he “wastes” his inheritance.  But in reality this parable should be called the parable of the lost son because the emphasis of all three of these parables is that something is lost and needs to be found. 

If you are skeptical of Christianity and the message of the Bible, I would ask you to at least hear out this one message.  In this story Jesus gives us a glimpse into God’s heart for all of mankind.

A Son Is Lost

In verses 11-16 we see the story of a young man who is tired of being in his father’s house.  It is a common story for a young man to chafe under the roof of his parents, and even m ore common is man’s chafing under the administration of God, our Father in heaven.  Throughout this story the actions are illustrating spiritual realities between God and man.

In the story the young man commits a series of very insulting actions toward his father.  First, he asks for his inheritance early.  This action would come across as wishing that your father were dead.  I would rather have the stuff my father is going to give me than to have him.  Now it is not uncommon for an inheritance to be divvied out early, but it would always be at the direction of the father.  Thus the second insult is regarding the father’s wisdom as to when the inheritance should be handed out.  So how is it that we take hold of our inheritance from God before the proper time in order to do with it as we wish?  When we ignore God’s instructions regarding what we have (our body, wealth, time, health, etc…) and then do with it whatever we wish, we are doing the same thing to God that this young man did to his father.

So the young man liquidates his inheritance and goes off to a far country.  This is the third insult.  The son separates himself as far as he can from his father and family.  All by itself it would not be an insult.  But in the context of the actions of the young man it becomes another expression of rejection.  There had already been a separation between the father and son emotionally, but now a large distance is put between them as a barrier to ever fixing this relational problem.  This is true of us with God as well.  We not only neglect relationship with God, but we often put up large barriers that keep God at a distance.  The places and people we hang out and the places we never go, often become shackles that keep us from ever connecting with God.

Although the son doesn’t realize it, the maturity of the Father’s life and decisions is part of what bothers him.  The son wants to live life more.  He doesn’t want to be restricted in his activities and unhampered by the boring things that his father has given him to do.  However, the very inheritance that he takes is the product of his father’s wisdom and maturity.  It is the blood, sweat, and tears of his father put in monetary form.  In the spiritual sense, the temptations of this life call us to cast off the boundaries that God has placed on us and to “enjoy life.”  We want to eat, drink, and be merry at the expense of the work that God has given us to do.  This is an immature mentality that does not produce good things.  Rather it squanders good things.  This lost son is known as the prodigal son because his immature decision making wastes every good thing that he ever had in his life starting with his father and family.  Those who take this path walk away from God and yet take all that he ever supplied for them.  Instead of walking in wisdom they squander all the good that God has given until it is both wasted and ruined.  You will eventually squander all that you have: money, body, mind; and you will be left with nothing to show for it in the end, nothing but spiritual emptiness that is. So the young man became penniless through living the fast and furious, high-life.

Of course this would be the exact wrong time for a severe famine to strike the area, but that is exactly what happens.  Although we often pray for God to help us escape difficult times and difficult things, they have often been the very grace of God to bring people to the point where they can see their need of Him.  As long as he had money and was spending it, the young man never lacked for people to party with him.  But now that he is broke and difficult, economic times have struck, he is alone and in great need.  The young man is so desperate that he takes a job that every Jew hearing this story would have cringed at: feeding pigs.  Spiritually, we can often let desperate times push us into worse and worse decisions, until we end up in a mess that is near impossible for us to fix.  It appears to me that Satan uses these things to herd lost people into prisons of their own making.  Even if they get to a point where they would want to return to their father, they have burnt so many bridges behind them that they won’t be able to make it back.

Perhaps the saddest line of this whole parable is this, “and no one gave him anything.”  Of course they didn’t owe him anything and times were difficult for everyone.  But when a person is in dire need and has nothing to eat, it is easy for those who have no connections to them to ignore it.  And, those who may have partied for you in the past tend to separate from you.   You might wonder why they do it, in that moment.  But it is the kind of decision that immaturity makes.  The destitute person has nothing to offer.  Only a mature and wise person will help such a one, and this young man had separated himself from such people.  It is here that the real truth hammers into the head of this lost son.  He had embraced the cold decision to separate from his father for the fires of passion in a far country.  But now that he has burned out in rapid form he is on the receiving end of others doing the same to him.  They too embrace the cold decision to leave him destitute for the sake of warming and feeding themselves.  Without God this world quickly becomes a cold hard place where people tend to connect with you only as long as they are getting something out of you.  Yet, in the end their care for you does not go beneath the surface.  Many have taken the path of the immediate decision for their own passions, only to find that no one cares for them in this place they have ended up.

A Son Repents

In verses 17-19 the story takes another turn.  The son repents of what he has done.  Now the word repent in this passage literally means to change your mind.  It is also associated with another word that means to regret something after the fact.  Thus repentance is not just an intellectual change of mind, but an emotional one as well.  Another concept that comes out is that of turning.  The young man has been going in a direction that is taking him farther, and farther away from his father.  But here we see him sorrowfully changing his mind.  Filled with remorse and regret he begins to turn away from those previous decisions and actions and begins to turn back towards his father.  He no longer sees hope further down the road of his way, but rather looks back to his father as the only hope for him now.  Have you reached that point regarding your Father in heaven?  This is true repentance on display for us to see.  When we truly repent we turn away from our decisions and actions in disgust and turn towards God in hope.

It is at this point that the young man comes to his senses, or as the passage says, “he came to himself.”  Until now he couldn’t see himself for what he really was.  He was blinded by his desire and his ignorance.  But now he sees his true condition.  But, the truth can set us free, if we will recognize it and embrace it.  It is not easy to embrace truth.  Much like embracing a cactus, it pierces our skin and causes pain.  Yet, unlike embracing a cactus, the truth can lead us in the direction of hope, wisdom, freedom and especially love.  The rebukes of life are those effects of our poor choices and the added problem of adverse circumstances that we didn’t cause.  This perfect storm mixes together and binds us to a miserable state.  But the question is, do we really see ourselves in that moment, or do we ignore it and press on the same old way?  Like a person banging their head against the wall, we can persist in the same direction in the face of evidence that it is destroying us.  Only the Spirit of God can truly help a lost person to come to their senses and mercifully He works on each person.  However, even then, when those glimpses come, we can choose to ignore it.  The Bible calls this hardening your heart.  When does a heart become so hard that nothing, not even Truth, can break through?  This is something that cannot be answered, but must be recognized.

In this moment of seeing the truth, the young man recognizes that the only path out is to humble himself and return to his father.  This is a plan born out of desperation and yet also the understanding that his father is different than those who surround him now.  Perhaps I can go back and be a slave in my father’s house.  He knows he doesn’t deserve even that, yet, it is worth a shot.  The worst that can happen is that he will be rejected and in the same condition he is in now.  These two key points are necessary to true repentance: humbling and returning.  When we can strip ourselves of all the ways of thinking, reasons, philosophies, and lusts that led us away from God in the first place, then we are able to come back to Him for help.

The young man also comes back without demand and with an attitude of unworthiness.  If we approach God with demands then we are not truly repentant.  The person who repents takes full responsibility for their choices and the effects of them.  They are asking for help rather than demanding it.  At times they are hoping against hope for help, that’s how desperate they are.  Do not be so quick to pump up the self-esteem of a person who is coming to Christ.  Yes, God loves them and yes, He will definitely restore them to the status of a son.  But it will have been over the top of my sin.  When we diminish our sin we are at the same time diminishing the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards us.  If my sin was no big deal then God’s grace is not a big deal.  If I only owe a penny to my friend, it is no big deal when he says to forget about paying it back.  But if I owed him $100,000 and he forgave the loan, I would be indebted to him immensely.

A Father And Son Are Reunited

In verses 20-32 we have the fun part of the story.  The son goes back and is received by his father.  It is interesting that the father runs out to meet his son.  It is as if to say that if we will take steps back towards God, He will come out to meet us and bring us all the way back home.  God is looking for any movement in our life back towards Him.  He isn’t waiting for us to prove ourselves.  Rather, He runs to us quickly in order to help us come all the way.

It is also important to notice the compassion of the father.  God has a great deal of compassion for sinners who repent and turn back towards Him.  Of course, He had compassion before, but it was internal.  The lost person’s heart is separated from God and wants nothing from Him.  But, when the lost heart turns back towards God, His compassion can now flow towards them.  Now that the son’s heart has changed, God can act in a way that would not have been received before.  If the father had showed up while the son was partying he would not have been received.  If he had shown up too soon, when the son was working as a feeder of pigs, the son might have willfully stayed there eating pig slop.  But at just the right time, the father runs out to his son.  This is God’s way with us.

Next the Father throws a celebration for his son.  God doesn’t just bring us back into the home.  He celebrates.  We cannot fathom the heights to which the heart of God ascends when a sinner repents, or I should say when we repent.  We should ponder long the reality of what is being shown here.  God does not just require repentance; He throws a party when we do it.

The father also blesses his son as if he was a favorite son.  He gives him the best robe, a ring, and sandals (and most likely a bath).  This is a picture of the lavish love that God pours out upon those who turn to Him.  He will not hear of us serving only as a slave.  He will not leave us in our filthy stained condition.  But, rather, He will lavish upon us those things that we do not deserve.  Believers have the privilege to delight in the robe of the righteousness of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can walk in the authority of His favored Son, Jesus.  We also have a future with the Father that we had thrown away.

It is at this moment that the beautiful story hits a snag.  The older brother is offended.  He hears what is going on and refuses to go into the celebration.  He begins to separate himself from the path of his father’s choice.  Up to now he has followed his father’s wisdom, but this is too much.  At that moment, he too becomes a son who is in jeopardy of becoming a lost son.  Whether he goes off to a far country or not, he does not want to join with his father.  His complaint that he never got to celebrate with his friends is flimsy.  First of all the lost brother most likely doesn’t have any “friends” at the celebration, only the father and his servants.  Second of all, the celebration is offset by the grieving that went on before.  Imagine that the celebration is like 100 happy points all in one day.  The older son can only see that he never got 100 happy points all in one day.  This isn’t fair is it?  The reality is that the day the younger son left the father experienced something like a 1,000,000 sad points.  Every day since his leaving the father had grieved with sadness over the loss of his son.  Now the 100 happy points seem small.  Now let’s continue with these happy points.  Imagine that one normal day with his elder son was like 10 happy points.  How many days had they dwelt together with no real sad points to think of and 10 happy points racking up: 10 per day, 70 per week, 300 per month, 3,652 per year.  It is so easy to discount the happiness of “normal.”   It may not be a festival celebration, but the simple meals that we have together, day after day, are not a drudgery when we love each other.

Ultimately being lost is a matter of the heart.  We have all been lost children of God.  His heart yearned for the return of each of us.  He has planned a great celebration and feast for those who return to Him.  In all of this we see God’s heart for each person who has been found and for those who are still out there squandering their inheritance.  When you first get saved you are the younger brother.  But over time our hearts can become entitled and we can become derisive towards those who turn back to God after us.  Beware of such a heart because it is a lost heart as well.

The Lost Son audio

Thursday
Apr162015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part I

Today we will pick back up in the Gospel of Luke 15:1-10.

This chapter has three parables that are in response to a complaint by the Pharisees regarding the fact that Jesus allowed sinners to be around him.  They were not wrong that these people were sinners.  However they were wrong in understanding how God wants us to interact with them.

Now it is never easy to be told that you are damaged goods.  Whether you are being rejected by others in a relationship, or being looked over by those who are looking for skills and abilities, or even a certain genetic makeup, there will always be those who are not acceptable in the eyes of others.  This creates a natural division between the haves and the have nots, the pure and the damaged.  Yet, the message in the Bible makes all of these distinctions moot.  God says that all mankind (yes even Mother Theresa) have been damaged by sin and are in need of healing.

In our passage today we will look at the first two parables that give parallel pictures of God’s heart for the sin-damaged soul.

Jesus Did Not Despise And Reject Sinners

When Jesus taught, it was not just religious people who showed up to listen to him.  Many people who had long quit following the Laws of Moses, AKA “sinners,” also came to hear him.  This was not normal.  When religious teachers were teaching, generally only the devout would come to listen to them.  Sinners tend to avoid environments where they are reminded that they are sinners.  The Pharisees obviously expected Jesus to run them off or have them removed.  But, instead Jesus let them listen and even ate meals with them.

Notice that many sinners were drawn to Jesus.  He was different.  Instead of rubbing their sins in their face and pushing them away, he spoke the truth in love and invited them in.  His teaching promoted righteousness as the heart of God for mankind rather than the disqualification of the sinner.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Jesus was in some ways stricter than the Pharisees.  Imagine being in the crowd the day he says that to even think with lust toward a woman was committing the sin of adultery.  The shock of such a statement blasted past any pretense and moral superiority and stripped all as bare and naked, lacking any real righteousness with which to clothe themselves.

So how do we explain the approach of Jesus who did not compromise truth, yet wanted sinners to come to him?  The reality is that sinners need to know their true situation.  God is just and will judge everyone, even those self-righteous types who outwardly look devout but inwardly are full of every kind of sin.  Yet, Jesus knew that God was trying to draw people towards Him, not push them away.  They really wouldn’t come to hear Jesus if God wasn’t working on their heart already.  And, they wouldn’t stick around long if they wouldn’t accept the truth.  Yes, we can point to the popularity of Jesus and castigate the Church today.  However, to be intellectually honest, we must recognize that the multitudes of sinners did not stay with Jesus for long.  The closer he came to the cross the less people who decided to stick with him.  In fact, his disciples basically fell away and later had to repent of their doubt.  Jesus wasn’t trying to control how people responded and force them in a mold.  The truth would either draw them in or push them out.  It is their choice.  Judas becomes a perfect picture of this.  We never see Jesus pushing him away.  But in the end the reality of who Jesus was and the truth that he taught caused Judas to betray Jesus.  We should not change the message of Christ to draw people.  Rather we need to change our attitude of trying to control the response of others.  In such an environment of freedom, the Spirit of God is free to work on the hearts of men.  Some will believe and many will walk away.

In each of the parables Jesus will emphasize that the friends of God will rejoice when a sinner repents.  Thus he turns the complaining of the religious leaders back on their own heads.  Their spirit of offense and anger at his interactions with sinners was itself proof that they were not true friends of God.  Otherwise they would be rejoicing in what Jesus was doing (and they would have been doing it themselves).   The truth is that they are lost sinners themselves in need of hearing the truth and repenting.

A Lost Sheep & A Lost Coin

Although these three parables (#3 is the Prodigal Son) underline the same spiritual message there are some contrasts worth noting.  We have three very different characters that represent the heart of God: a shepherd, a woman, and a father.  Some have pointed out that this is most likely to emphasize the work of Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, the woman with the lamp, who is the Church aided by the Holy Spirit of Truth, and the father, who represents God the Father.  This demonstrates how all are working together to accomplish the same goal.  Secondly we have three very different lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  Again we can see three different facets of how mankind is “lost” from God.  A sheep is a living being but has no understanding.  It wanders out of ignorance is dear to the shepherd as that which is a creature.  However, in others ways we see the lost coin represents the immense value that each person who is lost has to God.  The person has value, but they are separated from him and may spend an eternity stuck between floor boards.  Lastly, the most tender picture is that mankind is like a wayward son that has turned its back on a loving father and squandered everything that he has supplied for them.  In each we hear the same echo: yet, God loves them and wants them back.  Do you believe that today?  God loves each sinner and desires greatly to have them back to himself.

Thus the reality in these parables is that sinners really are lost from God.  The term “lost” summons a picture of hopelessness and despair; and on our own that is very true.  But Jesus does not share it as a pejorative in order to put us down.  Rather, it is a statement of why he is working so hard to reach sinners.  Lostness has nothing to do with intellectual ability, or genetic material.  It is a description of our separateness from God and His ways.  Sinners are lost because they are not walking in fellowship and harmony with God.  As such, they are in dangerous territory and subject to great harm like a sheep that has run off from the shepherd.  Sinners are also a great value that is squandered in the darkness and hopelessness of life, like a coin that has fallen into a crack only to be forgotten.

Yet, in both cases, the lost thing is not forgotten.  It is not expendable to the shepherd or the woman.  Yes, the shepherd has 99 other sheep and the woman has 9 other coins.  But God will not let it go.  He will go out after that which is lost and seek to reclaim it.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life.  What in the world is God doing right now?  God is seeking throughout this world for lost sheep that He can bring back into His fold.  Every one of us enters life innocent of sin and yet quickly we turn to paths other than God’s.  Yet, God diligently goes out after each of us in order to bring us in.  No, we are not lost to Him in the sense that He doesn’t know where we are.  Rather, we are lost to Him in the sense that there are barriers that keep us from Him.  Those barriers are our desire for sin, but also our wounds, feelings, and twisted ideas.  Those barriers are all the lies that we have come to believe about the world and about ourselves.  So God is seeking us in that He is trying to break through those barriers and draw our hearts towards Him.

Each of these parables ends with great rejoicing when the object is found.  Even just one sinner repenting is enough to cause God and all the angels of heaven to rejoice.  Though we cannot see it and may even doubt it, we have the world of Jesus himself saying so.  Notice that the goal is not to get sinners to hang out with Jesus.  The goal is to bring them to repentance.  We can eat all the meals we want with those who are still lost but if we never give them the message of truth, they will not know their need of repentance.  If they do hear the truth they will feel the polarizing affects of it.  Truth forces us to face reality and make a decision.  Jesus is happy that sinners are coming to Him, but he is also sad that so many will eventually walk away and cling to their sins instead of embracing the truth.  His true joy is when we repent.  To repent is to reject our way of life and our “truths,” and then to turn towards the way of Jesus.  He is the Truth, and the Life and the Way to peace with the Father. 

It is not our job to force the choice.  Part of seeking is finding the words and the issues that will speak to the heart of the lost person.  We have to learn how to discern the hurts and wounds that serve as barriers between them and God.  However, in the end their choice is between them and God.  God pleads through us to them, but ultimately it is He who pleads.  Why do we get so uptight when people don’t respond as we want?  Perhaps if we did not take so personal the slowness of response and even flat out rejection of the message, our spirit would much more pure and much more alluring.  Yet, some believers do not seem to care about the lostness of others.  If we really understood how much joy it brings our Lord, we would be more patient and persistent in our attempts to help Him find the lost and make them “found.”  Ask God to place His Spirit upon you  and light up your life in such a way that sinners will see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

Heart For That Which is Lost audio

Tuesday
Jul242012

The Keys to the Kingdom

No one knows who invented the first lock and key.  But it stands to reason that the necessity of protecting valuables mothered its invention not long after sin entered the world.  The oldest discovered locking mechanism is 4,000 years old and was found in Nineveh.  It is similar to other locks found in Egypt within that same time.  The Bible also makes mention of locks in the book of Judges, which isn’t long after this period.

In Matthew 16 Jesus uses this imagery to speak about the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a place and dominion that you need a “key” in order to join.  We don’t generally think of heaven as being a place that is locked.  But Jesus here reveals that he is giving his disciples “keys” that would unlock its gates to specific people.

Do I Know Who Jesus Is?

Jesus had asked his disciples who people were saying that he was in verse 13.  Of course they gave several answers.  Then in verse15 Jesus makes it personal.  Who do you say that I am?  The question is directed to all the disciples.  They had been with him for a while now and Jesus checks to see what they have come to understand about who he is.  Peter is the one who steps forward and answers for the group.  Obviously he risks “getting it wrong.”  However, this time, Peter nails the answer in verse 16.  The first part of his answer is that Jesus is the Christ.  Now Christ is a transliteration of a Greek word, not a translation.  The translation would be Anointed.  So Peter declares that Jesus is The Anointed One.  Now what is he talking about?  In the Old Testament the first group we see being anointed (having oil smeared on or poured over) was the priests.  Aaron and his sons were anointed for the ministry they were going to perform.  It was a picture of the presence of God’s Spirit to empower them for the holy function they were called to do.  Later the same was done for those who were to be King of Israel.  Thus only those called to an important and holy job on God’s behalf were anointed.  This idea of anointing was later given a connection to another concept of a Messiah or Savior that would rise up to save Israel and the World.  We see this in Psalm 2.  In this Psalm God’s Anointed One becomes a specific title.  The messiah would be God’s Anointed One who would be given the kingdoms of the earth.  Thus Peter recognizes Jesus as this Messiah/Anointed One for whom the world had been waiting.

The second part of Peter’s statement is that Jesus was the Son of God.  Now in a physical sense we can understand Jesus being called the Son of God because he was directly created by God in Mary’s womb.  Jesus was miraculously born by a virgin girl through the power of God.  Just as God directly shaped Adam and breathed the spirit of life into him, so God directly creates the matter that would become the man Jesus.

Yet, Jesus was the Son of God in an even deeper way.  The apostle John brings this out in the first chapter of his gospel.  In regard to his humanity, Jesus came into being just over 2,000 years ago.  But in regard to his spirit, he had existed from before the creation.  In fact he was in essence not only with God the Father, but he and the Father were together One God.  Yes, this does bring up the mysterious Trinity that can be a mind bender.  But this is what the disciples came to know about Jesus.  He and the Father were two and yet One.  To see the Son was to see the Father.  Both Son and Father have eternally been One with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was the only, True God-Man that has ever existed.  All others have been pretenders and fakes.

The Key of  The Knowledge of Who Jesus Is

Jesus points to Peter’s statement as important.  First it was not given to them by a man.  It was God himself who had revealed this to the disciples.  How did God do that?  He did it by first sending his Son, Jesus, who performed miracles and spoke the words of the Father.  He confirmed this by the Scriptures that had been given before hand.  The disciples could recognize the God of the Scriptures in what Jesus said.  The third thing is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.  When push came to shove, something within the disciples testified that Jesus had the “Words of Life.”

In verse 18 Jesus then begins to talk about the Church he was going to build.  The Church would be built upon the truth of who Jesus is.  This truth is an immovable rock that is like a mountain in comparison to the small rock that Peter was.  But all of these individual rocks making their confessions of the Great Rock of Jesus and his true identity would build a group that even Hell itself could not stand up against.  I know that some try to make Peter himself the foundation of the Church but this seems to fly in the face of the language that is being used.  Yes, Peter is a part of the foundation of Jesus and His apostles, but that is it.  This knowledge of the identity of Jesus is a key that opens the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Thus the main task of the leaders of the Church is to use the Key of Knowledge to open the door to those who will receive it in faith.  However, this knowledge also repels some, just as it did in days of Jesus.  In like manner today, the truth of who Jesus is repels some and because they refuse to receive it, acts like a lock that both keeps them out of the Kingdom and stuck in their lost condition.  They are bound in a prison of their own making as they refuse to receive the truth.  So all who follow Christ and proclaim the truth of who he is have this key that both looses and binds those to whom they proclaim it.

Now the word “keys” is plural.  So it stands to reason that there are other keys and we will talk about those in the weeks to come.  But this key is critical and cannot be left out.

Here are some practical thoughts for those who have put their faith in Jesus.  People who have not heard the truth about who Jesus is are bound in a prison and kept back from his Life.  They are bound by a principle of death that comes from the effects of sin.  Only those with the keys to Life can help them.  God has given you a powerful key to life in the truth about who Jesus is.  Are you sharing it?  We must first see the plight of the lost before we will be motivated to help them.  What was it like for you before you became a believer?  May God start by reminding us of our own past, but also continue the teaching by opening our eyes to the pain, hurt, and death that is in the lives of people around us who do not know him.

Keys to the Kingdom audio