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scriptures

Bible Scriptures, Ministry

God’s Grace to the Sinner & the Saint

The story of the prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15: 11-32, tells of a young man who squanders his inheritance through wild partying and reckless spending.

But after losing everything, he resorts to taking a job feeding pigs. He’s so poor when a famine hits that he steals chow from the pigs in order to quiet the rumblings in his own stomach.

Hitting rock bottom, the story indicates that this young man finally “came to his senses,” realizing that even the hired hands on his father’s farm were in a better position than he was in that moment.

He set out to go back to his father, and on his way plans what he will say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”

But before the young man could even get the words out, his father, seeing his son approaching in the distance, starts to sprint, embraces and welcomes his child home.

Imagine the look on his young son’s face when he felt his father’s arms wrap around his frail body.

The parable is such a beautiful metaphor for the redemption and reconciliation that awaits anyone who turns away from wrongdoing and seeks a relationship with God.

It serves as a great reminder that the almighty God always, always meets us where we are.

Anger after years of devotion

Meanwhile, in verses 25-32, the eldest son — the one who committed his life and made the choice to doing his father’s work — is fuming, becoming angrier as he witnessed his younger brother receiving the royal treatment.

I can just hear the disgruntlement begin to percolate.

Who does he think he is showing up after all this time?
He thinks he’s so special.
What about me? Look at everything I’ve done for Father!

The older son, like a petty child, refused to take part in the festivities to celebrate his little brother’s homecoming.

Seething, I’m sure, the Bible says he “refuses to go in.”

In another surprising act, the father leaves the party and goes outside to reason with the older son.

Bible scholars believe that ancient hearers might have expected the father to discipline the elder son; instead, the father listens to his son, and in a loving and understanding tone attempts to impart wisdom as the sounds of revelry reverberate in the background.

The elder son laments:

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!

Was the older son hurt? It sure sounds like it.

Was the older son bitter? You bet.

In his mind, he had devoted himself to doing what the father wanted, and wasn’t so much as thanked for his devotion. He believed he was entitled to the better treatment. He was superior, he thought. But, in fact, he was wrong.

The father, gracious and all-knowing, saw otherwise. Because the younger son was “dead and is alive again” and “lost and is found” this warranted a celebration.

The parable teaches us what is important to our Father in heaven — and that is, when a lost soul comes home. Commitment and devotion are pleasing in the Lord’s sight, too. But when our motives are self-centered, as is shown by the elder son,  this bothers God. And it should also bother us.

Which ‘son’ are you?

At times we are that lost child as is the prodigal son, the one who strays. The one who squanders everything. The one who then grovels back to God for forgiveness and reconciliation.

On the other hand, especially for those who’ve walked faithfully with the Lord for some time, it’s easy to follow the pattern of the elder son, who grew bitter, jealous and prideful after years of dedication.

Which one are you?

I believe the older son could have prevented his unrighteous response.

At least, I’d like to think he could.

And here’s how I believe those in ministry and in other leadership roles can avoid resentment while in service to others:

  • Be open about your shortcomings and confess your sins. No one is perfect. Not even the most devoted Christian. Routinely humble yourself before God, and a trusted spiritual mentor, as you examine your heart and actions. Romans 3:23 NIV says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moreover, no one “should claim to be without sin,” according to 1 John 1:8 NIV.
  • Show compassion. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, according to 2 Chronicles 30:9 and Psalm 86:15. Throughout the Bible, God rescues and forgives his people when they turn back to Him. In the same way, Jesus showed compassion “when he saw the crowds… because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 NIV) What this world absolutely needs from those who are faithful to God, is more compassion, more love and more grace. After all, that is what God showed us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)
  • Share your testimony and minister to others. If you’re a believer, then the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 applies to you. We are called to baptize and to teach others. Holding a pastoral role, in whatever capacity in your local church, puts you in a position to regularly share how God has changed you and is currently shaping you. Don’t miss out on that opportunity by using your leadership role to talk only about how “great” your life is or what blessings God is bestowing on your life or barking orders about what other church members “need” to do. Rather, use it is a platform to elevate the love and mercy God extends to anyone who becomes a disciple of Jesus. Share your story. As a result, I pray, as the Apostle Paul writes in Philemon 6, that your partnership in the faith “may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.”
  • Stop thinking you’re better than someone else. The Apostle Paul urges believers in Romans 12:3 (NIV): “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” He is referring in this passage to roles in the church, but the advice is appropriate for any situation. The statement could’ve certainly helped knock some sense into the elder brother in an ancient parable that continues to teach modern-day believers the value of right-sized thinking in times when all seems ….”unfair.”

Share your thoughts! How do you guard against disgruntlement, discontent and bitterness while serving in ministry or other leadership roles in and outside the church?

Christian Lifestyle, Devotionals, Faith

Devotional 8: Has Your Love Grown Cold?

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold... Matthew 24:12

This was the scripture that led the discussion at a recent midweek service. It was a topic that immediately struck a cord because I had been thinking about disobedience and sin — the things that can separate us from God.

The scriptures and questions that followed probed my heart, and I’m sure others in the room.

They were the kind of questions that I think were meant to make you stop and think about whether you were in right standing with the Lord.

The pastor comfortingly urged us to explore the questions, honestly and with intentionality.

You see, what keeps us in communion with God is our heart. We can be doing and saying all the “right” things, the religious things, but if our heart’s not really focused on the Lord and His will for our lives, then it’s all just facade.

A heart for God follows the pattern of 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Indeed, there is an urgency to get right with God. You’re alarmed by unrighteous behavior. And you’re concerned that a misalignment with God leads to disconnection with Him.

For this reason, I want to share my notes with you from that night, in hopes that you, too, will allow your heart to be pierced.

Thanks for stopping by, dear friend. It’s time to reclaim your First Love.

Let’s explore…

  1. If the Bible did a quick body scan of your thoughts and heart, would it register as ‘devoted’?
  2. When was the last time you had a deep dive in God’s word, the Holy Bible?
  3. When we read the Bible does it ‘read’ you back? The Word of God should be a mirror. James 1 says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror.” In other words, are you letting the Bible change you, or are you walking away having no sense of your condition before God? Just like a woman checks her appearance before walking out the door, so should the Bible govern your attitudes and behaviors at all times and help you “course correct” before you get off track.
  4. Are you reading the Bible simply for information — or transformation?
  5. Don’t violate the boundaries that God has set for your protection, or you will succumb to evil desires. You will eventually lose your identity in Christ and start to reflect the world.
  6. Love grows cold when there is an increase in obscenity, debauchery, perversion, laziness, selfishness, pride, and disobedience to God’s Word.
  7. When there is an increase of man there is an decrease of God. In other words, if you’re constantly putting your needs and desires before God’s expect a lesser degree of holy living and God’s blessings to follow.
  8. When your spirituality is compromised, one’s love for God grows cold.
  9. Even as a self-proclaimed Christian/disciple of Christ, you can be physically present in church even though your heart has departed from God a while ago. Is your heart still aligned with pursuing righteousness?
  10. Is Satan ‘doing’ you in? Sin can make you feel weighed down, “spiritually fat,” and out of shape. According to John 10:10, the enemy’s only intent is on stealing, killing and destroying you. However, the good news is that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is here to give you life in abundance!
  11. Are you obedient?
  12. Do you weigh your life on a righteous scale? Or do you weigh your life on a worldly scale?
  13. Are you spiritually able to keep in step with the Holy Spirit? Or are you falling behind? What’s holding you back?
  14. What are some habits of Godly living? Daily time with God, meditation on the scriptures, exhibiting fruits of the Spirit, sharing your faith, etc.
  15. Is your spiritual life a bestseller?
  16. Do you add light or darkness in your relationships? Is your inner spirit dead or alive?

I certainly hope you have found these questions and insights into God’s word heart-probing and that they help you reach higher spiritual ground!

Any questions or insight on staying close to God despite the increased wickedness in the world? Weigh in in the comments section below. Remember this: There is always hope in Jesus Christ! So please don’t despair. Blessing to you, my friend!

Christian Life, Family, Inspiration

Devotional 6: Lesson Learned on a Family Roadtrip

My family and I were in Georgia for the Fourth of July holiday, visiting my mom, dad, and one of my older brothers. The 13-hour drive to see them is always an opportunity to reflect on life and where I’m going.

Long drives can do that, you know.

As we pass other vehicles on the road, destinations and pit stops, it’s a reminder that we’re all on this journey, a journey that is oftentimes rife with the proverbial bumper-to-bumper traffic, detours, bumps in the road, and near-death collisions. Oh, how unexpected life can be.

Long road trips are also a lot of fun. My two children in the back seat, with their endless appetites, chomp away at snacks that I pack for the family. They sometimes fight over who gets to use the electronic device first. Every once in a while, we’ll all join voices and sing one of our favorite gospel songs by Tasha Cobbs, sounding so woefully off-key.

Yes, family road trips are a reminder that life is not all good, but not all bad either.

My dear husband drives about 90 percent of the way. I take a couple of naps during our journey. Feeling refreshed, I ask if he needs a break, and more than often he says no. I offer again as we near Atlanta, which is usually when his fatigue really starts to set in.

As I get behind the wheel, adjust the mirrors and seat, I can’t help but think about how blessed this life is.

For one, it’s a privilege to visit my mom and dad. Though they are getting up and age, and their bodies show signs of wear-and-tear, they are still on this side of heaven. For that, I am grateful.

Family. It warms my heart to be in their presence.

I get a feeling of wholeness when we make the long trek to Georgia from Washington, DC.

Sure, we could take trips to more exotic locations or locales in the U.S. where the air smells different and new. I’m sure the kids wouldn’t mind an amusement park now and then, instead of the Georgia countryside. But, no, Disneyworld can wait.

Let’s be honest. Life is so fleeting.

James, Jesus’ brother and a leader in the church, said it best:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If this is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

No matter how long we live, this life is a blink of an eye compared to eternity.

I am humbly aware that my shelf-life here on earth is short. In fact, it is not even in my hands. My life, your life, is in God’s hands.

Being aware of my humanity compels me to listen to the Holy Spirit, which guides me and presses upon my heart the righteous thing to do.

It is that soft whisper that compels me to go see my family whenever there’s a chance. In doing so, I submit to the Lord’s will.

And I am all the more better for it. Time with family, in the place we call our roots, refreshes the soul.

As James suggested, tomorrow is not promised. Our earthly lifetime is, indeed, short. Therefore, let’s not put off tomorrow, what we could do today.

Here are some simple ideas from my own life:

  1. Spend quality time with a loved one.
  2. Call a friend/family member and tell them you love them.
  3. Forgive a wrong.
  4. Speak honestly to someone who needs it.
  5. Give a much-needed hug.
  6. Let go of regret.
  7. Kick a bad habit.
  8. Try something new.
  9. Get real with God and turn away from a sin/fear/doubt/insecurity/bitterness, etc.
  10. Serve someone in need.

What are you putting off tomorrow, that you could be doing today?

Faith, Family, Inspiration, Prayer

Devotional 2: God’s Hidden Messages

Now that my daughter, who recently turned 9, is tall enough to reach the mirror over the bathroom sink, she often spends extra minutes after her shower standing in the steam doodling on a foggy mirror. She writes messages attempting to make contact with anyone who will notice her scribbles, which can only be seen from a certain angle — a slant to the left and a slant to the right, usually.

Her most recent message appeared to be meant for my husband. I love you Daddy, she wrote.

I don’t think she realized it yet, but he recently replied back to her: I love you very much. Daddy

God often communicates in much the same way to his devoted daughters, doesn’t He?

He sends hidden messages to his daughter throughout the day, weeks, months and years, letting his devoted daughter know that she is seen, heard, worthy and loved by Him.

These divine messages, however, require a certain spiritual outlook in order to be seen. Much like the tilting of the head to decipher a note on the foggy mirror, you must angle yourself, rooted in scripture, to discover God’s notes of encouragement and admonishment.

Indeed, the messages aren’t always obvious; hence, why I call them ‘hidden.’ They are embedded in the holes and corners of life, indiscernible by the hurried and worried disciple.

The messages are delicately inscribed throughout the mundane, everyday routines of life, too. Much like the words composed on a foggy bathroom mirror. They can only be seen by the keen, discerning eye.

Do you hear His call?

In a whisper he calls out to her. His daughter need only listen and watch. Listen and watch.

It is the message of hope when you get word that your best friend’s cancer has gone into remission.

I hear your prayers, says the Lord.

It is the message of unconditional love, when your child tackles you from behind and with tightly wrapped arms says, ‘I love you, Mommy.’

As do I, says the King.

It is the message of wholeness when he binds up your wounds and mends your broken heart.

My arms are not too short to save, He proclaims.

His voice is also hidden in a message of grace, when you fall short of His glory but vow to walk in obedience next time, and the time after that.

I see you, God says, and I will stoop down from my heavenly throne to make you great.

Dear sister, God’s messages are nested in all sorts of places in your life. You need only wait in holy expectation.

It is a daughter’s resolve to reach the Holy One, connecting with Him through the messages of a righteous life lived — indeed, her devotion — that compels the Good Father to take notice, and to respond.

Whether in the Bible or in the nooks and crannies of your life, how is God speaking to you?

Prayer

Dear Lord, you are a good, good Father. Help me to have eyes to see and ears to hear when you are speaking to me. Teach me, O God, how to discern your whispers even when the world calls out in its loud, distracting voice. Give me the strength and resolve to be obedient to your call. And grant me peace and contentment as I walk with you all the days of my life.