Waiting to Give

When I was twelve, I remember my dad and I talking while rowing a canoe out on a lake by our house. Our conversation encompassed a lot of areas of life, most of it being future dreams and hopes. We talked about college options and jobs that I would most likely have. We talked about my first car and how crappy it would most likely be even though it would be my first car. We finally talked about love and the future wife God has for me. The whole “birds and the bees” talk happened much earlier.

I am now 26 and still waiting for the person God has for me. There are times when being single is a joyous occasion. Being an adult, going somewhere and doing pretty much whatever I want to do without being concerned about another individual has its time and place. My time is mine (well God’s but you know what I mean) and I can spend it hanging out till all hours of the night with friends or turning in early to catch up on some much needed sleep. There are times though where being single is… well boring. One can only do so much one can do being single. There’s… solitaire.

I have learned a lot over these past couple of years with regards to relationships, though I have not always followed through on what I have learned. One of the big things is being patient, which I am not very good at. The truth is: If we attempt to do things in our own way, we neglect God and His purposes for us. No one wants to be in a relationship where it doesn’t work out and someone wants to be hurt.

I remember my 21st birthday really well. I had a lot of friends over and yet I was really down. I threw myself a “pity party” on my 21st simply because I was single. I then went to a church the following day and a woman asked if she could pray for me. Finding her to be spiritual and in love with God, I said that would be fine. She then put her hand on my shoulder and began to pray one of the most powerful prayers I have ever heard. In one of her last statements, she praised God that I was single! She thanked God that He had been protecting me from all the hurt and pain many relationships experience. She then prayed, asking God to prepare a woman for me in His timing. I never thought of it that way. All of this time, I have been praying, “God, why haven’t you brought someone into my life?” I probably should have been praying, “God, thank you for protecting me from being in a relationship that would result in me being hurt.”

Things haven’t changed since my 21st birthday. Though I have met many wonderful sisters-in-Christ, I have not found the person God has for me. I try hard not to dwell on it but sometimes it is really hard. Sometimes I try to hard to make friendships more than friendships because I am tired of feeling alone. I have a good friend who gave me some good advice: “Just relax and give up. Stop trying to make things work out and enjoy life.” That is some good advice. Though it is easier to say than live out, that is what I am trying to do. I am not always successful at it, but I am trying.

In conclusion, I believe God has someone out there for me. I believe that He is crafting someone who actually wants to put up with me. Though no relationship is perfect, God will be the center of it and we will grow together. I am waiting. Till that time, I am going to try and “enjoy life.” God knows the desires of my heart. I can’t imagine Him giving me all of this love to hold onto it for myself. I am not a selfish person. I truly desire to give it away; I want to give it to someone. In His timing and way, God will bring it to pass.

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Placing the Blame on Everyone else but Themselves

Apparently Janet Jackson’s wardrobe is not the only thing that malfunctions. 17 teenagers from the same school, has decided to make a pregnancy pact and get pregnant. And, when the normal response to this issue should focus on these teens and their decision to do the horizontal limbo with their sexual partners – one being a 24-year-old homeless guy, the shift has been diverted to several others – the first being Jamie Lynn Spears. That’s right folks; instead of blaming the girls who willingly allowed sleazy men to impregnate a half dozen underage women, we should rather blame “I’m not that innocent” Brittany Spears’ sister for giving up her virginity. I guess when the cost of diapers, baby formula, doctor’s visits, and other necessities become too much, they can just call up Jamie Spears and ask for money. I am sure she will understand and provide all of their needs. That must be a relief.

Though, when that option loses its appeal, we can blame movies like “Juno.” That acting looks real anyways. I am sure that movie actually portrays what it is really like to go through the process of pregnancy. Then again, the movie was actually… A movie.  Once again, it seems as though we must find someone or something new to blame a bunch of girls getting pregnant. As long as we take the blame off them, we can go on thinking that these “adorable teens” were brainwashed by society and the media. In their right minds, there is no way that several teens in Massachusetts would want to experience the highs and lows of having a baby grow inside of them.

I am sure their parents had no idea of their decisions. I know we can’t blame the parents, who are their legal guardians. That would mean that we assume their inability to raise their own children. It makes them look like bad parents. Maybe some of the girls came from broken homes or a great divorce that tore apart the family foundation. We can blame it on that.

Or if we want to look at another angle, we can blame it on statistics. “729,000 teen girls got pregnant last year, resulting in 435,000 babies” – one news reporter stated. Supposing those stats were not made up, that means that 294,000 pregnancies ended early (due to either a miscarriage or abortion). Maybe the teens were statistical nerds and wanted to join the “teen bump club” or something. That’s another option.

Then again, maybe we can blame it on the pressures of school and being popular. One of the news reports states that, “Many of the mothers-to-be are “girls who lack self-esteem and have a lack of love in their life.”” I am not a girl (if you knew that or not, now you do). What I do know is that there is a lot of pressure in school to be the best. Sports, education, and having the best looking boyfriend and the coolest friends make up most of our Jr. High and Sr. High school life. I remember I was not apart of the “cool club” at school. I wore the wrong clothes, said the wrong “cool” words, and really didn’t fit in. Maybe if I would have found a couple of girls at school who felt the same way, I could have gotten them pregnant. Then I would have “stuck it to the man” and would have went on to get a job, working long hours, never going to college, because I got some girl pregnant.

I know. We can blame it on global warming. You know, the weather is getting warmer than ever. Like dogs going into heat, I guess these girls just got really horny and before they knew it, their clothes were off and they were pregnant – all 17. Maybe it is something in the water. They should really get those water filters examined by a professional.

No. That doesn’t seem to work either. When we examine all the options, we come back to square one: 17 girls, all 16 and under are pregnant because they made a decision – a pact – to remove their clothes, have sex and get pregnant. In fact, the school’s principle stated to Tim magazine that, “Some girls seemed more upset when they weren’t pregnant than when they were.” Some of the girls, one news report states, gave each other high fives when they found out they were pregnant and proceeded to plan their baby showers.

And let’s not forget about our sexually driven teen boys (at least the majority of them). According to the Massachusetts law, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 16. These guys who would have never expected the consequences of their actions to be as severe as they are, are about to have their lives changed forever. I guess they are going to have to get jobs and forget about the Sr. prom. By this time – in 9 months or so – they will be the proud fathers of new baby boys or girls. Maybe they will get to hold their babies through the bars of jail, as the Mayor of Gloucester city suggested – statutory rape is no joking matter here in the US you know.
The saddest part of all of this, next to a bunch of teen girls losing their virginity to a one-night stand, is the responsibility placed on the parents of these girls. Since these girls most likely do not have jobs that can support a new baby, their parents will be called upon to help out. Their 401k’s will be accessed and their savings will be destroyed because of their new obligation to their grandchildren.

I don’t want it to seem like I am not empathic to this situation – I am. I am sorry that these girls felt that the only way they could experience true love is to have sex with guys from gym class or a homeless guy. I am sorry that this county is not doing well and that has caused the school system to pull back on a variety of health classes and sex education. I am sorry that these guys will lose their freedom to do what they want to do. And, I am sorry that these children have to be born this way. Be that as it may, let us not blame Juno or the Spears’ family for the actions of 17 girls who made a decision to have sex. That is something they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. In a real seriousness, I am praying for these girls. I hope you will pray for them as well.

The Challenge of Jesus: N.T. Wright Book Review

I think I know own every book N.T. Wright has ever written (at least the ones you can buy at Borders or Barnes and Nobles. The long and short is that really enjoy pretty much whatever the man has written. From his “new perspective of Paul” writings to his views on hell, Wright has proven himself to be a thought-out writer, a compelling author, and a scholar in his own right regarding the New Testament respectively. This book, “The Challenge of Jesus” is one of those books that give us an understanding of the historical Jesus. Wright invites us to read the evidence of Jesus afresh and to know the Son of God in a manner that is both theologically and actively engaging. Seeing Jesus through the lens of this book has opened my mind to receive the words of Christ in a greater way. It is here that I hope to translate that into a thoughtful examination of Wright’s writing.

Jesus was almost bound to appear as the teacher of either liberal timeless truths or conservative timeless truths. The thought that he might have been the turning point of history was, to many on both sides the divide, almost literally unthinkable…the world in which Jesus lived, and which He addressed with His message about the kingdom, was a world in which the Jewish expectation of God’s climactic and decisive action in history was uppermost. It is this, I believe, that has given fresh impetus to the study of Jesus and makes it imperative that we engage in this study (p 23).

This is the first quote in the book that really stuck out to me the most. Who really would have thought that Jesus would have been the turning point of history? Who would have thought that His words would have challenged the world’s leaders and scholars of His day? Who would have thought that He would be seen as one of the most provocative individuals? Here was a man born in a manger (most likely a barn of some form or even a religious booth), seen as a bastard child, and from Nazareth, with a name like Jesus (we could consider this to be like Joshua), and yet His life and ministry has impacted the world through and through. The cryptic language of Jesus, hidden behind His Jewish tradition challenges us to know Him more. We are challenged to understand how He is the Light of the World and the way, the truth, and the life. This is the historical Jesus in which Wright challenges us to know afresh. I can honestly say that I was not prepared to engage with this Jesus when I first began this book. I am truly glad it has made me uncomfortable.

There are six subsections devoted to unearthing the historical Jesus, each having its own chapter. The first chapter sets the tone for the remainder of the book and is vital to understanding the work as a whole. In it, Wright exposes the difficulties and scruples of studying Jesus out of his historical context, namely through Enlightenment or Reformation lenses. After establishing his methodology for studying Jesus, Wright then deals with issues and questions that surround the ministry of Jesus. He then offers his opinion on how first-century Jews and Gentiles would have understood Jesus’ message. Wright focuses on the following issues: Jesus’ proclamation concerning the Kingdom of God, the challenge Jesus presented in relation to Jewish symbols, the realization of the Jewish sacrificial system in Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ deity, and the Resurrection. It is within these middle chapters that Wright adds details to aid the reader in understanding the first-century perception of Jesus. For instance, the reader is encouraged to view Jesus’ mission as extensively political (eschatological) in nature. Wright also draws the parallel of Jesus’ redeeming action to that of Jewish history, particularly the events of the Exile and Restoration. This view, Wright explains, is most certainly how a first-century Jew would have understood Jesus’ vocation. These, among others, are Wright’s attempts to bring the reader as near to first-century Palestine as pen-and-ink can draw.

One of the reasons I believe Wright tackled this issue of Jesus has a lot more to do with where he is from rather than the majority of his audience. Wright is from the UK. For a lot of reasons, which we will not assert in this paper, the issues regarding the church and faith in the UK are less than adequate. The Challenge of Jesus is a challenge not only to you and I as readers and scholars of the Bible, but also to the Church of England, that has pushed Jesus aside. Wright’s book brings the people of the UK face-to-face with Christ. I am not suggesting that is the main purpose of the historical Jesus studies. We owe much to the Enlightenment’s questions and studies of those areas. Maybe it is just my limited knowledge of the Church of England, but in some respects, I see a lot of similarities between the two. Wright asserts,

The Enlightenment notoriously insisted on splitting apart history and faith, facts, and values, religion and politics, nature and supernature…each of these categories now carries with it the minds of million of people around the world an implicit opposition to its twin, so that we are left the great difficulty of even conceiving of a world in which they belong to one another as part of a single indivisible whole (p 21).

Could it be that Wright sees a correlation between the period of the Enlightenment and the Church of England respectively? I am not 100 percent sure. For whatever reason, we must realize the condition in which Wright writes. He is not an American who is looking to spread the latest new book in order to make money. He is a UK native who sees the oppression of Jesus in the Church and has been personally challenged to do something about it. I think that deserves a good paragraph in this paper. Especially since Carson and Moo write from our American perspective of Christ and the Church.

There are some who would say that Wright has no business writing about the Enlightenment period of history. If we were to evaluate Wright’s knowledge of this period, to the importance of this book, it might stand to reason that a lot of effort was placed on this issue when it simply was not needed. This is not one area in which Wright shines in this book. This is probably where I am the most frustrated with regards to his writing. He even states that he is not a “eighteenth-century specialist” and that his premise, regarding such issues of the Enlightenment are assertions from what little he knows about the last five hundred years (pg 18-19). I guess I would have wanted a better response to the issue of the Enlightenment and why he needed to belabor the issue of it if he really was not actively engaged and knowledgeable in this area. The only explanation I can surmise is that since Wright is more engaged with the postmodern era, and that the church is making its way back to that period of time, he attempts to show us where we are going in light of our new ways of faith and church. I guess I shouldn’t be too critical regarding this issue though. It is just a thought that I found to be difficult to shake.

One of the first aims Wright asserts involves maintaining historical accuracy concerning the study of Jesus, and this goal has, for the most part, has been met. Wright makes use of recent discoveries- such as the Dead Sea Scrolls – to support his arguments, and when confronted with the evidence he presents, it is difficult for one to deny his stance. That is not to say that he overlooks other scholarly opinions, though. Perhaps one of the strongest parts of his work is Wright’s willingness to confront tough issues head-on. In fact, he acknowledges that the questions raised by other scholars in this field (Schweitzer, Reimarus, and Crossan, among many others) are even necessary and denies, therefore, the inflexible dogmatism that characterizes many Christians. Wright’s evenhanded position on most issues found in the book lends the reader to believing that he is getting an unbiased opinion toward an authentic historical description. This is indeed a rare thing. His efforts intended to cut through Reformation and Enlightenment theology do not go unnoticed and, at least for this reviewer, are much appreciated even though, as we have already examined, is not the most important and/or well-thought out section of this book.

Sometimes it takes the words of someone else to actively aid in one’s consideration of the text. Wright, throughout several points of this book does that for me. Wright states, “He would not rebuild the Temple in a physical sense. He would become the place and the means whereby that for which the Temple stood would become a reality. He would be the reality to which the sacrificial system had pointed” (90). To think that we should be engaged with Jesus as the Jewish people were engaged with the temple presents a new challenge for me. I have learned over the years that there weren’t any chairs in the Temple because there was always work to do. In fact, we need to hear that more often than we do. Wright paints a picture of people bypassing the material Temple and coming to The Temple and offering a sacrifice of praise and atoning for the their sins. And, though it does not require of us to bring a goat or a lamb to be sacrificed, we must not come in an attitude of pride or arrogance. The price is far too great to come to The Temple in that manner. We must actively engage with who this Temple was and is today. With that in mind, we must also struggle with some other issues in which Wright asserts.

Jesus knew – he must have known – that these actions, and the words which accompanied and explained tem, were very likely to get him put on trial as a false prophet leading Israel astray, and as a would-be Messiah; and that such a trial, unless he is convinced the court otherwise, would inevitably result in his being handed over to the Romans and executed as a (failed) revolutionary king (91).

I am not sure Jesus had to have known what He shared would have put Him on trial or not. Though, I know Jesus knew He was going to die for the sins of the world, I am not sure I would ran as hard as N.T. Wright does in this manner. I can only state that Jesus knew who He was and knew that His profound words would impact the world and upset a lot of people (not because He was trying to but because the words He spoke were not easy to hear). This would enviably land Him in a trial in which He would be crucified. That is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

The final aspect of Wright’s writing I would like to explore is his section on The Road to Emmaus and his look at two very unique Psalms and this story found in Luke. These two poems found in the book of Psalms. The psalmist is far from God geographically (away from the Temple). The psalmist longs for God. People who oppose God also surround the psalmist. The disciples are distressed by the events that just occurred in Jerusalem concerning Jesus. It is a time of shock, and disequilibrium. They are living out the distress of Psalms 42 and 43. They are longing for answers that they cannot find the answers to and long for God’s redemption to be near. Then Jesus appears to disciples. They recount the story of the last few days. Jesus then shares with them His story, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets. As evening approaches, Jesus is invited to stay with these two disciples. Jesus graciously assumes the role of host and breaks bread with them—we cannot help but notice the Lord’s Supper, and then the disciples see that it is Jesus. In good pietistic form, the disciples then recount, “didn’t our hearts burn within us as Jesus opened the Scriptures?” The longing has been satisfied. The despair has been lifted. “As the deer pants for water, so the soul longs” after the one who made heaven and earth. The experience the disciples have is by far one of the more unique experiences. This brings us, in a very short sense, to the issue of Easter, or as I would rather call it, the day of Resurrection. Easter is not just dry ancient history. Easter is an event that continues to move into the future, into our lives, into our world. We proclaim Christ is raised. The despair of Psalms 42 and 43 break into shouts of hope and joy. This is the beauty of the resurrected Christ today. We must passionately embrace the story of Jesus in His resurrected presence.

The final aspect of this book deals with how we can take this information to the world. This is by far the most important chapter of the book. What good is information if we cannot engage with it and do something with it that is encouraging and edifying to the body of Christ? Wright challenges you and I to take this information and go to the world with it. We are encouraged to continue our pursuits of knowing Christ and knowing God. Though there were always be opposition to the body of Christ and the work of God in this world, we must not allow those things to dictate our active pursuits of know Christ. This is what makes this book so unique from any other book I have been asked to read for this class or others. In closing, I will quote Wright. “The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulation in story and music and art and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and truth wisdom” (196). It is to this end that we are called to the challenge of Jesus. It is my hope that we will meet the challenge head on with boldness and certainty. For the sake of the Church and our faith, we must successfully accomplish this goal. The challenge has begun.

A New Testament Study of the Missio Dei

I wish I could say that my adoration for the mission of God was an organic result, which has continued to grow throughout my Christian existence. I wish I could say that the mission of God was explained clearly and accurately in order that the good news of God’s message could be regenerated through personal relationships I have encountered throughout my life. I wish I could say these statements truthfully without a burden on my conscience. I am unable to though because that is not how my desire to understand the mission of God came about. Until the fall of 2002, my understanding of God’s mission was bound to one statement: God sent Jesus to save sinners like me. Since the fall of 2002, I have wrestled with the existence and mission of God. I have been challenged to wrestle with profound and sometimes strange statements Jesus makes. My journey to grasp the mission of God has been thus far, one of the most exhilarating yet scary journeys I have ever experienced. Using examples in which we have studied in this class, along with my personal study and experience within a missional community, I hope to extrapolate the main implications of this divine missional story with respects to my own personal life as well as the universal church as we know it presently. I look forward to providing an accurate depiction of several themes of the mission of God through the New Testament, providing a natural timeline of events, important people, and the results of their efforts. With concluding thoughts regarding these events, I desire to bring this paper to a close with personal principles and thoughts regarding the mission of God and our responsibility as believers to be apart of what God is currently doing in our communities.

The Word becomes flesh:

With regards to the Missio Dei, we must first look at Jesus, the center of the Bible and the center of this grand story in which we actively are called to be apart of. Through the Gospels of Luke and John, we are given a unique picture into the sending of Emanuel, God with us. The Angel, Gabriel was sent from God to a girl named Mary who was yet to be married. The words of the Angel and his visitation must have been bewildering to her. She would conceive a son and call His name Jesus. Mary is now apart of something greater than herself and asks a very logical question: “How can this be since I am still a virgin” (Luke 1:34)? We are then told that the Holy Spirit will descend upon her and will indwell her womb. What will be conceived in her will be from God. “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1: 32-33). The Holy Spirit reminded Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

The familiar verses of John give us a unique perspective of who Jesus was and why Jesus came. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:  1-5). John continues saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We learn that the Word, Jesus, was with God and was God. Moreover, the Word became flesh to dwell among the darkness to be the light of the world.

In the Gospels of Luke and John, we gain access into the mind of God. His mission for the world was to send the Word to us in the form of a baby through a young woman named Mary in order to set up His kingship and to be a source of light where darkness resides. As we will see though out the Gospel message, Jesus came for a lot of reasons, many of which we will see through out this paper. He came to set the captives free, He came to reconcile the people of God to the Father, and He came to die on the cross and resurrect from the dead in order that those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Without the sending of Jesus, the mission of God would not exist. It was put in place from the beginning of the foundations of the universe and has been manifested through the Word. Let’s not get a head of ourselves though.

Come and follow me:

One of the most significant statements Jesus ever spoke was, “Come and follow me.” For most of us, we understand these words to be the calling of the disciples. The calling the disciples meant more than making a career change. The significance of being called by someone like Jesus means that Jesus believes that these men can be like Him. From this point on in the story, these fishermen, tax collectors and other blue-collar men, will become Jesus’ disciples. They will learn what it means to be a Rabbi and to lead others. Through following this Rabbi, these disciples of Jesus will gain wisdom and knowledge into the Kingdom of God and will eventually see that not only is this man Jesus a very gifted Rabbi but that He is the Son of God, the Messiah in which the people of Israel have been waiting for, for a long time. For now, they are called to follow and to learn. Jesus will provide for them all of the disciples’ needs and protect them. In a very real sense, Jesus will shepherd them as His own sheep.

John 3:16:

Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, it seems as though God hates mankind. In fact, in one verse, God states that He wondered why He had even created them in the first place.  He brought about a flood that destroyed every living creature in the sea and on the earth except eight people who were kept safe in the protection of the Lord Almighty in an ark that would float for forty days and nights.  He also stated that He loved Jacob and hated Esau.  God hates sin and He also hates Satan, who is determined to destroy what He had made “very good” and pervert it into evil.  John 3:16 provide us with a new perspective into the mind of God. We are told that God love the world. In fact, He loves the world so much that He sent His Son into the world that whoever believes in Him will not die but have every lasting life.

Here we see the heart of God in its truest sense. This is a profound statement, asserting that the world does not include every living person on the world. It also does not solely include those of Jewish heritage to be the only recipients of God to receive eternal life. For some, this verse has brought thoughts of worry and concern to those who are “saved.” There are many who wonder if they are apart of this election of God’s saving grace. Philippians 2:12 makes restitution to the worry that is set in. It is God who gives a Spirit of fear and trembling to those whom God has drawn into His presence. Salvation is made sure through the atoning work of Christ alone and therefore should be received and celebrated. This also adds a significant problem though to our individualistic equation of salvation: To say that God loves the “whole world” equally, would assume God loves all things (everything that exists in the world) as much as He loves those whom He has chosen to be His children and heirs of His eternal Kingdom.

For the same reason God, in His righteousness chose Israel over any other nation. It was because God loved them because He Himself is love. There is nothing about us, either fleshly or spiritually, God loves outside of his own Spirit that dwells in us. Rather it is because he loves us because He is love. It shoots down the pride and ego of the world and humbles humanity to realize God loves because He is love; that if He did not love, He would not be God because God is love. Love is the agent that He uses to draw those whom He has “elected” to Himself.

One holy prayer:

One of the most significant prayers in the Bible occurs between Jesus and the Father. Though we are not given the Father’s response in a vocal sense, we are given the words of Jesus that give us a glimpse into the heart of Christ regarding His disciples. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given Him” (John 17: 1-2). Jesus continues saying, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth; having accomplished the work that you have gave me to do” (John 17:3-4).  The prayer between Jesus and His Father is an incredible examination of the relationship Jesus has with the Father. The unity and oneness they share with one another is unsurpassable. Verse three tells us that Jesus has accomplished everything the Father has sent Him to do and now desires to be with the Father once again. Like a child away at boarding school, Jesus is done and is ready to return to His Father’s house. Before Jesus goes though, He must suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world and resurrect on the third day. All these events were to soon take place for Christ.

Jesus then prays something that is both thought provoking and grand: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17: 25). As the Father sent Jesus into the world, Jesus desires that those whom the Father has given Him will be united with Him for eternity. It is a beautiful prayer that gives us access into the heart of Christ. When we see Christ on the cross, we must come back to this prayer and realize that is why Christ died for us in the first place. The ultimate mission of God was to make a way for creation to be united with the Father again. There was a problem though. Sin had come into the world and darkness took up residence in the hearts of creation. From the beginning of the world, God’s plan was to fall into place, sending His Son into the world on our behalf. That is how much God loves us. It is a beautiful picture. It is this love that nailed His Son to the cross for us and the same love in which we are called to love one another and to make disciples of all nations.

Go make disciples:

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He gathered His disciples to Himself gave them a very important command. We find this all-important message in Matthew 28.  This part of Scripture is commonly noted as being “The Great Commandment” of Jesus.  Verse 19 and 20 state, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is wrong to emphasis “Go” as the main thrust of this passage because in fact “make disciples” is the main verb.  Another fallacy would be to translate the participle in this way: “as you are going…” In reality the main thing Jesus wants His disciples to do is to, “Go and make disciples.” This is an example of attendant circumstances, meaning that Jesus is commanding us not only to go but also to make disciples.  Both are parts of the command as they function as a unit. The Great Commission tells us how we are to “make disciples.”  We are to baptize them and teach them all that Christ has taught us.  Making a disciple does not just mean that they are converted, or that they have been baptized.  A disciple must also be taught what we have learned from Christ.  Perhaps as Christians, we have heavily ignored the teaching part of the process.  We are really good at converting people and we usually understand the importance of baptizing a new believer but that is usually where it ends.  The problem is that the work is not done after someone is baptized.  We must be willing to invest in an individual the Word of God and teach them what the Lord has taught us and commanded His people. This is what we learn from Jesus.

Just a little Greek:

I don’t want to dwell on this issue of making disciples but I find all to often pastors pressing the “go” part of the Great commission and not the “make disciples” part of the message. Therefore, to understand the importance of the disciples being sent by God, I felt it important to add some basic Greek regarding this passage, which will ultimately shape the responsibilities and the purposes of the disciples through the rest of the New Testament story. The aorist imperative is “maqhteusate” or makes disciples, making this our main verb of the passage.  This is also the reason why we do not place the emphasis on “go.”  The participle “poreuqentej” or go fits into the “attendant circumstance” category of participles, which we have discussed in the above paragraph.  Attendant circumstance participles normally are: aorist participles, which usually announce the main verb of a passage.  Since the other two participles do not precede the main verb, we can simply view them as participles of means.  In other words, the other two participles that precede the main verb answers the questions of how the main verb is to be accomplished.  This then gives us a very interesting perspective on how Jesus called us as His disciples to spread the good news of the Gospel. The disciples realized that they had a responsibility to announce the good news that Jesus is Lord and that He is the Messiah that they have been waiting for.

We also learn that Jesus “breathes” on the disciples during this conversation. The act of breathing on the disciples has some profound aspects to the ministry the disciples are about to embark on. First and foremost, the act of breathing on the disciples is a picture of God breathing on His creation, Adam, making him a living being that has the ability to do act and have life. It wasn’t until God breathed into the nostrils of Adam though. Before that moment, Adam was just a shell unable to move or talk or have a true being or action. In a very real sense, Jesus is giving the disciples the ability to live and act in a manner in which Jesus commands them. Having the breath of Jesus, the disciples now are commissioned as Rabbis with the authority of God. The second aspect of Jesus breathing on the disciples is the giving of the Holy Spirit. The word for Spirit in both the Greek and the Hebrew also carry the meaning of wind, breath, and breeze. Jesus breathes on the disciples as a symbolic act, as if to say that the Holy Spirit would be with them as they went out. Though the Holy Spirit does not fall upon the disciples until later, it is the symbolic act of Jesus to His disciples that carries an important facet of their ministry and authority.

At this point, we have seen God the Father send the Word to a woman named Mary. The Word that was with God and is God became flesh in order to be the light of the world. The Word as we know it is Jesus who called twelve men who carried blue-collar occupations, to follow Him and learn from Him the ways of the Kingdom of God. After Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, we see Jesus telling His disciples to regenerate their discipleship with others. They are to go and make more disciples who will follow the ways of Christ and announce that Jesus is Lord to the people of “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the whole world” (Acts 1:8). We have also seen a new picture of Jesus and the Father. We have seen the Father’s love displayed through the Son. This love is not solely for humanity’s sake but is also for the world. It is with this love that the Father sends the Son. At this point, we are now confronted with the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Acts church. We will see the disciples in action as they continue the regeneration of discipleship as they are sent out into the world to be the light of Christ. From this point, we will see the work of the Holy Spirit, who was given by Christ. We will see this thing we call the church grow through some of the most unlikely people. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives though, God will take people who were less then prepared to do some amazing things for the Kingdom of God. God seems to work in the same way, using people who you and I probably would not have picked for this important job. Then again, I guess the reason is to make sure that we do not take any of God’s glory for ourselves. We now enter the book of Acts and the start of the Church.

The Holy Spirit is sent:

After Jesus leaves and returns to the Father, not many days later, the Holy Spirit comes and rests among the disciples. To the rest of the people who observe this, some are in awe while others think they are drunk. It is in this passage of events that Peter stands up with the eleven and tells the men, “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day… “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see vision, and your old men shall dream dreams;”” (Acts 2: 15, 17). In the form of tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit is given. After Peter’s speech, about 3,000 get saved and are baptized. I have no doubt that Peter and the eleven were prepared for this. But, as Jesus called them to do, they followed through with the great commandment and began to disciple these new believers. The task must have been overwhelming at first. But we learn a lot of great things that occurred through their efforts: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Act 2:42-44). In today’s culture, something like this could not possibly be foreseen. Here are 3,000 plus people, living together, learning together, and being disciples together in one another’s houses while sharing everything in common and having a profound impact on their neighbors. Here we see the disciples regenerating new believers, making disciples and training them to be leaders themselves. This is exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Stephen, The first martyr:

I am sure Stephen never thought he would be in a position where he would lose his life. I did happen though. God prepared Stephen to be the first martyr of the New Testament. He was called upon by the Apostles to look after the women who had lost their husbands. They were basically servants to these women who needed assistance. In some respects, we would call them deacons. Those in power did not like the fact that people were looking to these deacons for their needs rather than their leadership. The seized Stephen and threatened to stone him. What makes the story as interesting is that Saul, who would later have an encounter with God and receive a new name, officiated over the stoning of Stephen. It was at this point Stephen began to speak some harsh words over those who wanted to kill him. He said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). As they were about the stone Stephen, he saw Jesus stand up in heaven. This is the first and only time we read about Jesus standing up from His throne in heaven. Any other time, Jesus is seated next to His Father. Stephen might not have understood the significance of his stoning but Jesus did. Jesus sent Stephen as an instrument of His voice in order to present to the religious leaders of that time, a history lesson and a rebuke. The result was a man of God martyred for his faith and his servant-like actions. From this event, the people of God spread out from Jerusalem because they feared for their lives. Though this one act, Acts 1:8 would be fulfilled as we read Acts 8:1. It says, “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  The saddest part of this whole story is that it took persecution for the people of God to scatter in order that those who lived in Judea and Samaria could hear the announcement that Jesus is Lord. It just goes to show that God’s ways are not always are ways but He is always glorified through everything.

Saul is now Paul:

In chapter 9 of Acts, we read about this man Saul who officiated over the stoning of Stephen. While he is riding a horse, he is confronted with a great light that throws him off his horse. As he gathers himself, he hears a voice that says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? Saul realizes at that moment that he was persecuting God through the killings of the Church. Blind and unable to eat, Saul is led to a man named Ananias. Ananias is given a message from God, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in an lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:11-12). Jesus then says to Ananias to, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles an kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name’ (Acts 9:15-16). So we see Saul, now given a new name of Paul, called upon by God to take the message that Jesus is Lord to the Gentiles, who were considered the scum of the earth to the Jewish people. Paul would also suffer for the sake of the Gospel message as well. In fact, we read throughout the New Testament how Paul was whipped, beaten, and left for dead. Still, throughout the ministry of Paul, the Gospel message was announced to the Gentile people and many believed through his efforts. With respects to Paul’s ministry, the rest of the book of Acts charters his journeys to disciple and begin churches. With each church, he enlisted several men to come along with him and train new leaders to govern over the church and encourage the believers in those cities.

Paul calls Timothy:

One of the guys Paul takes with him is a man named Timothy who is young and eager to learn from Paul. Timothy’s Mother is a Jew but his father is a Greek and so Paul circumcises Timothy in order that the Jewish people see him as one who has authority as a Jewish man. Throughout Paul’s journeys, Timothy learns how to be a leader and how to disciple others. It is not very long until we see Timothy taking a significant leadership role in the ministry. As the church continues to grow, Timothy begins to lead boldly and encourage the churches, as there is need. It is a beautiful picture of regeneration.

Peter is sent:

We find Peter in Acts 10 having a vision of unclean animals. The voice of God says, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Peter, being a good Jew, tells God that he has never touched anything or has eaten anything that is unclean. God responds saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). It isn’t until Peter gets a knock at his door that he understands the vision God had given him. This vision was sent by God to show Peter that the message of God needed to go to the Gentile people. Peter ends up going to a man named Cornelius, to share with them the good news and announce to them that Jesus was Lord. Before Peter could even finish his speech, the Holy Spirit fell upon those in Cornelius’ house and they began to speak in tongues. Seeing that Peter could not withhold baptizing these new believers in Christ, he did so. Afterwards, Peter went to the council and told the Jewish leaders all that had taken place in Cornelius’ house. The Jewish leaders agreed that the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentile people and that the message of the Gospel was also for them. If we were to ask a Jewish person while Jesus was still alive if they had any chance of receiving the message of God, most of them probably would have laughed at you and I. Until this point, the message was exclusively for the Jewish people only. Things were changing though in a variety of ways. Nobody was prepared to see how far the message of God would really go. If the Gentiles receiving the good news were not enough, God had another part to His mission in store: The Samaritans would receive the message as well. This was simply not heard of or considered.

Don’t forget the Samaritans:

For the first time ever, the Gentile people were seen as equals to the Jewish people with respects to the Gospel. The message of God did not stop here though. Acts 1:8 said that it would spread even to the Samaritans. The Jewish people knew the Samaritans as “half breeds”. They were actually considered lower on the status poll than Gentiles. To even have a conversation with a Samaritan was taboo (Jesus talking to the woman at the well would be a good example of this issue). We read in Acts 8:5 that, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.” By Acts 8:14, we learn that, “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.” When Peter and John arrived, they laid hands on the Samaritans and they received the Holy Spirit. This act broke down the walls of division and opened up a relationship between the Samaritans and the Jewish people. By Acts 15:3, we are told that, “the church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad.” And so, the Gospel had reached every type of person and had broken down every wall that had been put up throughout the generations. I am sure the disciples never thought they would have considered the Samaritans as ones who would enjoy the message of God as they have. This was something new and exciting for them to experience.

Catching our breath for a moment, we have come full circle. God the Father sends His Son into the World. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among humanity. The love of the Father is so great that He gives His Son in order to die for the sin that exists in nature. During Jesus’ life, Jesus calls twelve men to follow Him and learn from Him the way, the truth, and the life of the Father. They are then sent to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. The Son returns to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus had taught them. When the Holy Spirit comes, about 3,000 people are saved and communities of discipleship and training are formed in community. From this community, leaders rise up and are called to some extraordinary tasks. Stephen is called to preach the good news and becomes the first martyr for his faith in the New Testament, Saul is called to share the good news to the Gentile people, Peter is called to share the good news with a group of Gentile people who begin to speak in tongues and are baptized, and Philip and John are sent to investigate the workings of the Holy Spirit among the Samaritan people. In a span of several years, the people of God grow into a great multitude of people. Churches are built and established. Paul calls leaders like Timothy to help in the efforts of training and Discipling leaders around the world with the help of Paul. The result of all of this is a growing and faithful church that continues even until today. Without these men, the message of Jesus would not have extended as far and as wide as it has today. We should be grateful for their efforts and obedience to take the message of God to the world.

My reflections and conclusion:

After spending several hours rereading these stories and seeing how God orchestrated the lives of these people to send the message of Jesus to the world, I have take a moment and consider what that means to me as a believer in Christ who has been called to do the same. I will take a lot away from these stories. The first thing that comes to mind is how much the Father loves us. I know we say it a lot in our churches and in our prayers, but the mission of God to send His Son for us because He loves us is something that no matter how close we get to God will never really understand. Secondly, without the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no good news. Once again, this is something that I am sure we know in our minds but most likely do not process in our minds as much as we should. Thirdly, God chooses some of the most unique and unqualified people to take His message to the world. That is good for me because I know where my limitations lie and where I fall short. I am glad that God picks people I would not pick. That truly gives me hope that I can do great things through Christ who strengthens me and supplies my every need. Fourthly, the Holy Spirit is extremely important to the mission of God. He allows us to remember the things Jesus teaches us and works within the lives of those we know and those we will meet. It is important then to pray for each encounter we might have with another person. We should be willing to pray that God’s will be done in one’s life. We should also then pray for opportunities to be the light in someone’s life, ready to share the good news with them. Fifthly, we must come together as a body of believers and encourage one another. There mustn’t be any division among us. We are all seen through the eyes of God as important and significant. No one person or people group are more important to Jesus. He desires that all people be saved. We should as well. We must not call what God has called clean unclean or common. Each person has an important role to play in the body of Christ. Finally, we must embrace the mission of God and take ownership of it. For the sake of the Gospel, we must take it with us and allow it to transform us into the people God calls. It is our responsibility and should be a joyful response to our risen Lord.

In conclusion, I have taken some time to consider what it will be like when the mission of God is fulfilled fully and we are united with the Father forever. I can’t say that I can comprehend it at all but it seems amazing to me when I read of what this union will look like through the eyes of John in his writing of Revelation. He writes,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the see was no more… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 1, 3-4).

We are left at the end of Revelation with the promised hope of Christ coming back and fulfilling these things. The mission of God will soon be completed and we will dwell with God forever. Since we only have a short time in which we are called to take the mission of God to the world, we must do it. Until all is fulfilled, the mission of God must go forth throughout our families, our communities and the world. As believers in Christ, this must be our aim. Let us not grow weak in our message but fight well for His sake and the sake of His calling. Amen.

Stories from the Homeless (25)

We didn’t go to Love Park tonight. We decided that we would instead do something a little different. We went to the free library a couple of blocks from Love Park and hung out with a lot of people we normally would never see. The great thing about doing that is that the same people at Love Park would not attack us for food and drinks. Those who we talked to would be more open to talking first and then we could offer them a sandwich afterwards. Since they didn’t know us, and we didn’t know them, this would be fresh ground to do some ministry. I was excited that perhaps we could trade off Love Park every other week for the library or something. As I approached the park near the library, I have to be honest and say that I was a little worried. I was worried that we would not be welcomed as we were at Love Park. There was no “Love” sign for us to look at from time to time. We had one another and a few sandwiches to hand out. That’s it.

Instead of engaging with one or two people tonight, I thought I would do a couple of laps around the area and see the different types of people who made the ground their homes. My one friend thought that perhaps these people weren’t homeless at first, due to the many blankets laid out all over the ground. I shared with him that these are the blankets of homeless people who would soon find it to be their bed for the night. I was right. The place was dirty and smelled (worse than any smell I had experienced at Love Park). There were dirty socks and clothes all over the place. The trash was scattered across the park area and the dust that surrounded us in that area was intense. I had a couple of lunches, which got stolen from me from other people who had ran up to people to talk to them. I was a little upset about that because I had not had a chance to have one conversation with someone and already I had no lunches to offer.

I spent a lot of time in prayer and walking around. The stereotype that most homeless people are middle aged black people was quickly erased from my mind as I saw such a multi ethnic present in the park area. As I walked around, I found some friends who hand out vegetarian food to the homeless. They are this group called, “Food, Not Bombs.” They are a bunch of volunteers who go into dumpsters and get food from other places and make really good food for the homeless. A couple of friends I have made from that group were down there so I went over to hang out with them for a little

These guys are differently not the type of people you would expect to be doing this kind of work in the city. Some of them wear shirts that promote not buying coffee at starbucks and homemade clothes. Some also have a unique style of hair, several tattoos, and more piercing than I could tell you. Even still, they are doing a lot of great stuff. Check out their website and learn more about their activism. Anyway – I received a whole bag of fresh bread from a Panera’s and went to hand it out to people. I never thought I would be met with so much hostility. As I am about to hand people bread, they are telling me that they are not birds. I couldn’t believe people would pass down this bread. In the store it is so expensive. I guess I have more to learn about this kind of stuff or something.

Well we finally gathered for the night and prayed. I can only imagine what going to this end of the city will do for us. For once, people do not expect anything from us. We would also get opportunities to share Jesus with others. I think that is a great deal. I am sure we will go back to Love Park. But I think for a little anyway, we should stay where we were last night. That is just my personal suggestion though.

[Re] Reading the Prodigal Son… Again

The prodigal son is an amazing parable. I have done several studies on it before. Still, I have come to the conclusion that I have a lot I can learn from this amazing spiritual lesson in story form. If we ever end up getting bored by the Scriptures, we need to take a step back and ask God to refresh our minds and our hearts to read the Scriptures afresh. So, with that in mind, I am going to look again at a familiar passage and learn something new. If you would like to follow along, open your Bibles to Luke 15: 11-32.

The story is simple enough. A man has two sons. The younger son tells the father that he wants his inheritance. The father gives what is his and the son runs off to do whatever he wants. After losing everything, the son is forced to work on a pig farm and almost eats pig slop because he is so hungry. He then realizes that those who work for his father eat a lot better than he was eating. So he goes back to his father. The father runs out, the son repents and the father clothes him and throws a party for him. The older son comes back to the house and finds out that the younger son has returned. The older son gets mad and won’t go in to dine with everyone. The Father comes out and speaks to the older son and tells him a few lessons about life and then says that they must celebrate because his brother has returned. That’s the basics of the story. Here are a few things I have learned that enhance this story a little more.

The younger son treats the father as though he has died. You would not get your inheritance unless your father has passed away. This is one of the most disrespectful things a son could ask of his father. For whatever reason we are not told, the father gives the younger son his inheritance. The son goes off with what he has and begins to live the high life. The younger son moves to a country far away and ends up spending everything he has. We do not know how much money the son lost but we do know that it only took a couple of days for the son to lost everything. We can only infer that a manner of gambling and high-risk adventures was explored in the son’s spending. Partying also must be considered apart of the son’s downward spiral.

If losing money were not such a big deal, there is a famine that comes to this land. We in America do not understand what a famine is. Not eating for 4 hours is not a famine. Think having no food for weeks upon weeks. Think not knowing how you will make it another day. Think about going through the trashcans, wondering if you can find a moldy banana or a leftover piece of pizza and eating it as if it was a fresh piece of stake. Think about walking around, seeing people who have lost so much weight, their ribs are showing. If you need a better picture of what a famine looks like, turn on your TV and watch a Compassion International commercial or type in famine into a google search and look at the pictures they have. Let that be engrained in your mind. The younger son was so desperate for food; he took an odd job as a servant in a Gentile’s farm.

The term used here in the Greek denotes being hired out. There is no doubt that this job didn’t pay much but this son was willing to become a hired servant. What I did not know though is that the term “hired” carries a negative connotation. It is a derogatory statement. You were never “hired.” You were called upon to do a job. No one was ever hired though. When the younger son says, “Even my father’s hired servants eat better than me,” the son is using the same derogatory statement of his father’s servants. This is a cultural thing that we do not understand but is something that adds to this story.

The son offered to feed pigs for a citizen in that country. In today’s understanding, that is like a man who comes up to your car to wash your windows while you are waiting for a red light to turn green. You didn’t ask for the man to do anything for you but he does anyway. He is desperate for money and “offers to do you a favor” in hopes of receiving some form of money for his “hard work.” In this connotation, the younger son is essentially doing the same thing. Since there is a famine, I highly doubt this citizen really wants another person to pay. The son convinces him though and is sent out to feed pigs. This certainly would have defiled the son – this shows how desperate the son was and how much in need he really was. Since there was a famine, people couldn’t afford to give the son anything if he begged. He was essentially an outcast with no money, no real job, no friends, and no hope of seeing things in a positive light.

The story then says that the son “came to his senses.” I wonder how many of us need to come to our senses. Do we really even realize how good we have it? I doubt it at times. It took this son a while to get his act together. We need to be willing to do the same. For our sake, we need to come to our senses and realize our current condition and ask ourselves the kind of questions the son asks himself.
So the son decides that he is going to go back to his father and repent for his actions. What does he have to lose? The son has nothing. We learn that he has lost almost everything but the very clothes off his back. We learn later that he does not possess shoes. There is a significance to that we will bring up later. The point I am making here is that he has nothing. Going back to the father and repenting is the only option he has left. He considers all the responses the father will give and walks back to the father. That must have been one of the hardest walks for him. How do you ask forgiveness to someone you treated as a dead person? The son reasons with himself that he could be a slave for his father and at least have a place to sleep and money. The son never considers the option of being a son again though. He believes he could never be forgiven for his actions.

When the son is in the middle of the town, the father sees the son and begins to run after the son. Perhaps the father heard people yelling at the son, saying things like, “How could you treat your father this way?” The father runs out to the son. Let me write that again because I think you missed it. The father runs out to the son. This would require the father to lift up his robe and expose his undersides to anyone who saw the father. This would disgrace the father. A reasonable man would never do this kind of action – period. The father does though and takes the son and begins to plant kisses on his cheeks over and over again. The son is dirty and filthy yet the father kisses the son over and over again.

The son has enough courage to speak to his father and asks for forgiveness. The son doesn’t even ask to be a hired servant, most likely because he is so filled with despair. The son’s demeanor is not uncommon of what you and I would consider to be normal. We would see ourselves in the same way if we had treated our father that way.

The father calls on a servant to get his best robe (signifying that he has several of all different degrees of value), a pair of sandals and a ring for his hand. What the father is doing is something very unique and something the son was not expecting. The father was reconciling the son. Wearing a robe meant that you were someone important – a master. The ring signifies that you have power and authority over slaves and would have been used in important documents while the sandals meant that he was not a slave but a son. I never realized the significance of the sandals before but I have come to learn that if you did not wear sandals, you were a slave. If you had sandals, you were not. What amazes me is that the father does not tell the son to wash up first then have the clothes put on him. It is done right away. Underneath these expensive garments, the dirty clothing of the son remains on him. The symbolism of this could not be any clearer. Even though the son knows how dirty and disgusting he really is, the father clothes him with new garments so that he is seen as clean. Finally, regarding this issue, we must not forget something very important. The best robe, these sandals, and this ring are the property of the older son. This is what the older son is supposed to have as his inheritance when his father dies. We will see how this ends up creating a huge issue in a few moments.

The father then decides to throw a party and kill a cave for the son. The father invites a ton of friends and everything is a go. In walks the older son. He had just been out in the field overseeing the workers who worked the field and heard a commotion going on in the house. There was music and people dancing. What was going on? The older son asks a young boy what had happened and the boy tells the older brother that his younger brother has come back and they are throwing a party for him! The older son is pissed off and refuses to go into the house.

There is a tradition in Eastern cultures that we do not have in our current culture. When a father throws a party, the older son serves the honored guests of the party as an act of thankfulness for their arrival and fellowship. It was the oldest son’s responsibility to administer and serve these honored guests as an act of respect to the father. The only problem was the honored guest of the party was his younger bother! There was no way the older son was going to serve his younger brother after he had learned what had happened.

The father comes out of the house and pleads with the son to come in and join the party. The son refuses. If the older son does not come in and serve the honored guest, the father is disgraced once again not by the younger son but now by the older one. The father, in his love rather than his anger allows the son to make his case.

The older son said, “I have worked for you so many years and have never disobeyed you.” Perhaps this was true. Perhaps the older son did whatever his father asked. The older son did not work, as I have already mentioned like a servant but as an overseer of the servants. He probably sat under a tree and relaxed while the workers did their jobs.

The son then makes a significant statement in which we run over time and time again. The older son states, “This son of yours…” The older son dismisses the younger brother’s existence. They are not family in his mind. Since the younger son has left, the older son sees him as a dead brother. So the son throws his words at his father. If the father wants him as a son, that is up to him. The brother wants no part of him anymore. If you and I was the older son, we might well understand the older son’s anger. What the older son didn’t understand though was the aspect of grace the father was showing the younger son. The older son has been trying to win the father over by all the work he had been doing. In my final concluding remarks, I will come back to this thought. For now though, I will continue.

The father rebuttals the son’s statement by saying, “This brother of yours.” The father, in his love attempts to soften the older brother’s heart towards his brother. The father says that everything the father has is his and always has been. They needed to rejoice though because his younger brother has been restored after being lost and dead. Symbolically, the father saw his son as ending up dead and lost forever. Now that the son was there, he is reunited into his family and is seen as alive and found in the father’s eyes. This is extreme grace.

There is where my final thoughts will occur. The younger son runs off with his inheritance. This is a defiant action and rebellion. This is something we understand. We were rebellious towards God and attempted to live on our own and make things work out. We ultimately fail though and lose everything we have. We come to a point where we almost break and die. Eventually, we come to our senses and realize that there has to be something more to life. We go back to the beginning and God is there, waiting for us. He clothes our dirty, sinful bodies with His shed blood for us. When we are truly repentant, God clothes us with His goodness, mercy and love. He reestablishes us as His children and gives us authority and power. It is not by works we are saved or please God but we are loved because God is truly merciful. No matter how much we have run from God, and no matter what we have done, when we are repentant, and God takes us back. We are not seen as His slaves but His children. It is so amazing to me how much, like the father in this story, God runs after us and embraces us even when we are far off. He does not wait until we are at the beginning. He runs to us as soon as He sees us. That is the most beautiful aspect of grace.

I don’t know where you all are at with regards to God. I don’t know if you are in a rebellious state or if you are on your way back to Him. What I do know is that with out God, we are dying in a famine of disgrace. I hope this study has been encouraging for you as it has been encouraging for me to write it. God bless you all.

Stories from the Homeless (24)

There are a lot of people who make excuses for not serving the homeless. I know I have spoken about this before but it bothers me still. I love when we go to Love Park and adults pretend like the homeless do not exist while their young children just stare as they are being led by their parents. It is sad really. With such a great opportunity to learn and teach the future generation about a reality that exists, it is passed up and lost. I guess there is simply not a lot of time to talk stuff like that with our children. We leave them to figure things out on their own with hopes that they will not fall into the wrong crowd and make the same choices these men and women have made. I guess that is one way of raising kids. It isn’t the way I would want to do it personally but I guess most people would rather “protect” their kid’s minds from something like the homeless. Never mind the TV shows they watch and the violence they endure through that. The again, I am just ranting as I usually do. I just wish we would spend a little more time teaching our future generation the truth about life in a manner in which is appropriate for them to understand. I guess that is another post for another day though.

It amazes me how much someone can smell when he or she doesn’t shower regularly. Bending down to pour lemon-aide in Love Park, the odors and smells are sometimes unbearable. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in that environment everyday. It is just another reason I should be thankful for what I have – including soap, shampoo, and a warm shower to wash myself in. I also have more clothes that I know what to do with sitting in drawers that have not been warn in several weeks but await to be worn. It seems that I often find myself staring at my feet as if the answers to all of their needs are found on my shoes. After handing out about 27 cups of lemon-aide, I had to get up and stretch my legs. The smell was also getting to me and I was in need of smelling something else than the smells of a homeless person. I got up and looked around, seeing many of those we had just served going through their lunches and eating bananas and sandwiches.

Since I had spilled coffee earlier that night all over me in one of the driver’s cars, I went across the street to get a new cup with a lid. On my way over, there was a man who looked asleep until I got close enough for him to ask for money. Looking around, there were other people watching me. I figured they were going to either ask for money as well or tell me to go about my business. I bothered me that they stared at me. I went in and grabbed a nice cup of coffee – 2 sugars and 3 servings of cream packets. On my way out the door, the guy that had tried so hard to get money from me was nowhere to be found. I guess he had something more important to do.

When I went back, I saw a woman named Mary. She was wearing a black head covering that acted as a hat of some form, a black and gold dress that was dingy and dirty. As I looked down at her feet, she only had a pair of think tan socks. Eating a sandwich one of our group members bought for her, she look visibly cold and tired. She would be spending the night in the subway against the wall in attempts to say warm. As she left she gave me a big hug and walked on her way.

As we were lining up to pray, a very drunk man came over to us and began to yell at us. He told us that we really didn’t care about the homeless because we didn’t invite them into our homes. Seeing as a confrontation was about to begin, I stepped over and told him that we loved people. He just walked around and starting cursing at us. It was quite a shock. With that, we asked him if he would like to pray with us. He just looked at us and opened his arms, signaling that he was ready to pray. Before anyone could say a word, he started off his prayer. I can’t quote the whole thing but he basically said, “God created everything – even us freaking humans (at which point I began to laugh) – and that Jesus came down to help us.” With that, as soon as he took a breath, I began to pray from his last point and ended the prayer. With that, he walked around with his chest out and proud, telling us that no one can stop him.  One by one, we gathered our stuff and began to walk back to our cars. As I was leaving, he stopped me and told me that we were not needed in Philadelphia to serve the homeless because we really didn’t care. I simply put my hand on his shoulder and told him that I would pray for him and I left. As I was leaving, I could hear him yelling and cursing about us. Driving home, I thought about this man who was so angry. Maybe he was just having a bad day. I could tell from the scar on his check that he had been in a knife fight with someone. And, though I wasn’t there when it happened, I can only assume that it was due to a drunken confrontation. Though I should never be surprised by what we see in the city, I can only laugh. We never have a dull time there. I can’t wait to go back. I hope he is there and that he remembers us.