Monthly Archives: September 2016

Go In

Come on over!

It’s party time!

“And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24, KJV).

The sun had set on another busy day but the fun was just getting started.

There was music and dancing and laughter.

The fattened calf showed up – strapped to a large pole roasting over an open fire. It had met its end as a symbol of repentance, restoration and rejoicing. Its well-fed life was given to the cause of glorious celebration.

The succulent aroma wafted through the open doors of the large brightly-lighted farm house.

Who doesn’t love a good party?

He doesn’t.

See him? He’s the slouched solitary figure trudging across the open field. He’s been supervising field hands all day. He’s done and headed for home.

He’s tired.

This is the one we know as the older son. His father, host of this extravagant affair, loves this boy too. He’s different than his younger sibling but no less cared for by the generous and compassionate man of the house.

Let Jesus tell us what happens next.

“And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant” (Luke 15: 25-26, NKJV).

He knew it was some kind of party. But he was startled by what he saw. He didn’t understand.

What was the occasion for this apparent celebration? Surely he would have been informed. He would have been included in the planning.

Dozens of townspeople he recognized even at a distance. They smiled at him, some waved; others beckoned him into the house.

Jesus goes on:

And the servant “said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf’” (verse 27, NKJV).

“Your brother came home”.

“Your father ordered a feast – barbecued beef!” (The Message)


The incredulous son becomes so immediately angry that it’s apparent this is not some momentary reaction. Rather Jesus implies clearly it is the pent-up seething of years of sullen resentment – covered up but just barely.

The young man stands defiant at the entreaties to enter the house.

He can’t believe what is happening. This is so wrong in so many ways!

At this point, the religious leaders in Jesus’ audience nod in agreement. It’s about time there was some justice and virtue in this strange story. Good for the older brother! Finally somebody’s doing the right thing.

A weak father gives an immature and rebellious son gobs of money, which he throws away on filth and garbage in some big-city Sodom. Now the kid’s back with his tail between his legs and the old man pretends nothing happened and decides to throw one more wild party for this debauched and spent rebel.

At last this older son brings some sanity to this sordid business.

Word comes to the father that the boy is refusing to come in.

Earlier today this man had run to tearfully embrace his lost younger son. Now with a loving sigh he once again sets aside his dignity to go outside and plead with the angry older one.

Here’s when we see the older son as he truly is. Turns out he’s no less a disrespectful rebel to his father’s love than his kid brother had ever been.

He just kept it hidden under a self-righteous façade of joyless compliance.

Why don’t you come in son? Your brother’s in there.

The son vigorously shook his head, pulled away from his father and exploded in a bitter retort:

“‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.’”

The son raises his voice and waves his arms in anger. He points to the house.

“’Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’” (Luke 15: 29-30, NLT, emphasis added).

His father speaks in a soft but insistent voice and gently smiles at the boy.

He places his hand on his shoulder.

“’Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15: 31-32, NKJV).

The father’s tender words move us still, after 2,000 years.

But did they move this son?

Did they move the Pharisees who were listening to this beautiful story of grace and unquenchable love? Did they see themselves?

Who knows? Jesus doesn’t tell us. He intentionally leaves the ending up in the air.

Jesus knew this story is about us. We write our own ending.

What did the son do? What do we do?

Do we stay or do we go?

Do we come in from the cold and warmly embrace God’s amazing grace? Do we love and accept others – no matter who they are or what they’ve done?

Even to us?

Do we forgive?

Or do we stand outside in the dark – tightly clenching our self-righteous bitterness and resentment and wounded memories with hands as cold as ice and hearts like stone?

Love is the ultimate evidence of our faith.

Come in. Your brother is here.

This story is about you and me.

Let this be how it ends.

Go in.

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He did it every day.

Usually it was late in the afternoon, around sunset.

He would gaze at the fence gate.

It was here he had fastened his hope and his faithful prayers.

It was here where his heart had been broken and where now it mourned. Through this gate he had watched the determined silhouette of his younger son disappear over the horizon.

This father never stopped looking. He never stopped loving.

He held deep in his broken heart a quiet confidence that in time – if nothing had happened to him – his son would again walk through that gate at the end of the road.

Some of you know this man’s feelings. You’ve had them yourself. Perhaps you still do.

Jesus says simply of the young man, “And he arose and came to his father” (Luke 15:20, KJV).

He wasted no time once his mind was made up. The road back was slow and painful. He was hungry, tattered and torn; exhausted by lack of sleep. He was unshaven, unclean and smelly.

He’d lost 20 pounds. His bare feet burned with blisters.

He rehearsed his speech to himself.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you … I am not worthy …make me a hired hand”.

On this day, the father looked across the horizon. His eyes stopped at the gate. He sat for a few minutes staring at it, lost in thought, and then rose to leave.

He’d walked just a few steps when one his servants cried out excitedly.

“Look!” he exclaimed, pointing at the gate.

Could it be? Yes, it he was him! The father’s heart leaped. Though it was at a distance in the setting sun, his dad recognized the undeniable gait and form of his boy.

How does Jesus describe this father’s reaction to seeing his wayward son? Did the father hesitate? Did he indicate any reluctance or foreboding at this unexpected sight?

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him …

… and had compassion …” (Luke 15:20, NKJV, emphasis added).

Not anger or bitterness or condemnation or dread – compassion.

He loved his son – at this very moment maybe more than ever. This was what he immediately felt when he first saw him, thin as a reed, slowly walking through the open gate. Sadness mixed with regret at the frail shadow he witnessed, but love more than anything else.

Jesus tells us that this dignified man of prominence and wealth – respected by all as one of town’s leading lights – ran down the road toward his son.

“Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (verse 20, NLT, emphasis added).

Surprised by joy, the dad engulfed his son in love.

The father took pity on the son’s obviously wretched condition. The boy was ready with his well-practiced speech. The father listened – at first.

“Father,” the son slowly and deliberately began, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (verse 21, NKJV).

The father had heard the most important part of this.

“I have sinned … and am no longer worthy …”

He gently raised his hand. The father had heard enough.

There was no time to spare. What must now be done must be done quickly – without a moment’s hesitation or doubt.

The whole town would know. Good!

The father turned to his servants, out of breath after running behind their master.

“Quick! Bring forth the best robe!” The son’s soiled rags would be exchanged for the robe of honor.

“Put a ring on his hand!” Nothing has changed the fact that this is still his son.

“Put sandals on his feet!” He may be willing to be a hired farm hand but they don’t wear shoes.

“Now quick, take this lad and clean him up! He smells like a pigpen!”

The son looked at his father in stupefied disbelief. The father smiled broadly. Both men had tears.

“Oh, and that fatted calf we’ve been keeping for a very special occasion? Kill him! We’re having a big party tonight!” (Luke 15: 21-23).

He grabbed his son with a strong hand on each shoulder and looked at the boy’s harrowed and scruffy face with tenderness. Tears streamed down the dad’s cheeks.

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

“My son”.

Here is the climax of Jesus’ story. This is why we love it more than any other.

It’s about us.

This is God our Father, seeing us in the distance of our sinful alienation, running to tenderly embrace us as his own children. He takes away the filthy rags of our self-reliance and clothes us with the robe of his righteousness. He gives us the ring of divine possession and places on our feet the sandals of peace.

Then God invites us to his banquet celebration and raises over our heads his banner of unconditional love (Song of Solomon 2:4).

And the angels rejoice.

What is our story? This is our story.

Once you and I were dead and we are alive again. We were lost and now in Jesus Christ we are found.

That calls for a celebration of eternal praise.

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Epiphany in a Pig Pen

The day dawned gray.

His stomach groaned with the now familiar pain.

Loneliness riveted his soul.

On the crowded city streets he wandered as a solitary vagabond desperate and despondent.

In just a fortnight his fortunes had reversed. He had then played with an abundance of easy money and a house full of happy friends and hangers on who knew where the action was.

The parties lasted until the wee hours.

Now it was all gone. The final faint sounds of laughter and clanging bottles echoed through the house and then vanished into the haunting stillness.

Severe famine had spread depression to the countryside and swept away hope.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want” (Luke 15:14, KJV).

That’s how Jesus put it in his story.

Suddenly the happy and confident young man who had it all had nothing.

No money. No friends. No food.

He came across a pig farm and pleaded with the owner to give him a job. He must have looked pretty pathetic because the gruff guy relented and sent him into the fields to feed the swine.

The kid who had lived high off the hog was now slopping them.

Engulfed in stench and muck, he was so desperately hungry he would have eaten the pods he was feeding the pigs but those belonged to them and this was business. He dared not touch the farmer’s supply.

Jesus goes out of his way to emphasize the often selfish cruelty of a disinterested world. As destitute as this young man was, Jesus says that “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15: 16, NLT).

He looked hopefully into the faces of passersby but found not a glance of compassion or sympathy.

The world can be a cold place; a fickle friend.

“Reproach hath broken my heart,” cried the psalmist, “and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20, KJV).

Once valued for what he had and could give, he was of no consequence in a famine-riven land.

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4, NIV, emphasis added).

Yet hope is not quite gone. Jesus turns a page in his story.

He tells us that this young man has what many might call an epiphany. Triggered by some memory of happier days and a sudden longing for home, “he came to himself” (verse 17, KJV).

He returns to his senses. He is touched by logic. He is enlightened by sound reason.

Paul writes in Ephesians that the unsaved mind is “hopelessly confused” and its “understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:17, 18, NLT, KJV). When the mind is touched by the Spirit of God, the life is transformed because the mind is spiritually renewed (Romans 12:1).

So it is with us. So it is with this young man. He comes to himself when he has come to the end of himself.

It suddenly dawns on him that back home the hired hands and servants he once ridiculed and dismissed are living far better than he is.

“And here I am dying of hunger!” (Luke 15: 17, NLT).

There is an irony in this.

After all, these hired workers are “my father’s” (verse 17, KJV).

He turns his heart toward home. But what will he do? What will he say to the one he hurt and offended so profoundly?

“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (verse 19, NLT).

Assuming the young man’s sincerity, which Jesus implies, this is the meaning of repentance. It is the model of repentance.

Since returning to his senses, the son has thought about this. It hasn’t been easy.

He remembers that day he asked for his share from a startled father. He remembers the day he left a grieving father. He remembers his self-will and arrogance. He remembers the good times and the parties – and when it all went away.

He looks at himself now in the pig pen. He knows one thing for certain – above all else.

He’s been wrong. Undeniably wrong.

He’s made a mess of his life worse than the one he’s standing in. He weeps softly the bitter tears of remorse. His heart is broken. So is his proud spirit.

We find here no excuses or justifications; no rationalizations.

We find no pride or defiance.

We find no plans for bargaining or negotiation.

Instead we find plain and open confession. We find contriteness. We find candor.

We see a different young man.

He has recited to himself the simple but profound facts of his life as he knows them to be. He knows what he’ll tell his father.

“Father, I have sinned…”

“…against heaven and against you …”

“I am no longer worthy…”

The young man has taken stock of his life. His is an honest introspection.

This is our need.

This is our prayer.

This is our story.

We know this.

When we come to our senses.

When we come to our God.

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