grateful

grateful…

for a Heavenly Father, who loves me. Though it’s too good to imagine, it’s true. I am (we are) loved with undeserving, but unfailing love. Adopted into The Royal Family, an heir with a His Son, by a Father so far beyond my words.

for a no matter what love. No matter who I am or what I’ve done, I am forgiven and loved (you are, too).

for His Word. Against all accusations I stand in His Word, and on its promises. Truth. Black and white and red truth. Lies and the enemy are torn down as I read, accept and receive the truth. Life, and my Father Himself are in those pages.

for His beauty reflected everywhere. I see it in creation all around me, in His plans and His way. Through counseling couples about to get married this year, I’ve been reminded that His way not only holds us together, but it answers deep questions within a man and woman. His way is beautiful.

for His willingness to use us to display His manifold wisdom to those in the heavenly realms. He uses broken, hurt, fallible people to carry brilliant, marvelous light into the darkness. I don’t have to be perfect, just willing.

for a story bigger than mine; for His Story. It’s a story with a beginning and an end even better than the beginning. In the midst of the struggles in our present day, I’m grateful history has a direction and something incredible is coming!

for my beautiful bride. Reflecting on 26 years of marriage, I am so thankful God created Celia & that she's my wife. I could go on and on and on, but it’d be too mushy. I love who she is. She is the love of my life, and one glance from her captivates my heart…still.

for our kids, who no longer look or act like kids. Well...maybe I got all swept up in gratitude. They’re sweet and I love who they’re becoming. Every morning I thank God for all His answers in their lives, but first that they are His. Joy, adventure, laughter, strength, discipline, kindness, love and fun are just a few of the things I see and am thankful for in them.

IMG_1882.JPG

for family. Parents who loved us and taught us so much, like what keeping their covenant means. Best of all, they modeled what it looks like to follow Jesus. For 4 brothers, their wives and children. I’m thankful for each brother, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, niece and nephew.

for my friends. I’m so grateful for the friends I get to meet with each week, listening, encouraging and challenging each other. For old friends, and for those I walk alongside now.

for this church community. Volunteers who know they are The Church, working to make church happen every week, in the midst of their busy schedules. There are principals, apartment managers, and school staffs who know me as a guy who will help, even though I have no idea how. I’m useless without our church behind me, backing up my yes. In every one of those situations, we get to share the love and hope of Jesus. I'm truly grateful to be a part of our church community.

for our NW staff. A team that loves, supports and encourages one another. And they’re really, really good at what they do! I’m thankful for each one of them.

for being a part of a larger staff at ACF. The community pastors, our fearless leaders and every other staff member. Every time I hear one of them share their heart, I’m grateful to work alongside such incredible people.

for our small group. We’ve been together for years now; we pray for one another, rejoicing in victories, promotions, achievements and share in the losses. More to come, and for that I am thankful, too.

for the crazy mob that shows up on Thursday nights. Celia and I are so thankful for our friends who show up week after week, to laugh, eat together, hang out, worship and pray for each other. If you’re down on millennials, you should come to our house on a Thursday night and be overwhelmed. Our times are crazy, but I’m encouraged to know these are the people who will be leading in the days ahead.

and last, but not least, for my old buddy Leroy. Thankful he’s excited to see me every morning and every time I come home.

IMG_2018.JPG

Yeah, I’m grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

“From His abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.” – John 1:16

grace upon grace

PrayeRadiation

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. Candidly, I haven’t felt like I had much new to say.

Until yesterday.

God hit me hard with a concept that I want to share briefly with you. It’s called Prayeradiation. Or said differently, Prayer Radiation.

As I’m sure you know, radiation treatments are extremely effective in battling cancer. Doctors are able to blast cancerous growths with deadly pinpoint accuracy. The radiation changes the DNA of the cancer cells and keeps them from reproducing. And this treatment can be done, usually, without too much damage to the surrounding, healthy cells.

I believe that is a perfect picture for how God wants us to respond to spiritual battles and other “cancers” in our lives. When devastation strikes, we need to respond with the powerful pinpoint accuracy of prayer.

I have several friends and co-workers for whom we’re seeking physical healing. One is partially deaf, one has cerebral palsy, and one has a brutal and rare autoimmune disorder. We’re using prayeradiation to treat them and to solicit their healing.

We use the same prayeradiation strategy to treat failing marriages, drug, alcohol and other addictions, and to go after the spiritual blindness that afflicts so many of our loved ones. It’s a great strategy, and one that is way under-used.

What issues in your life do you need to assault with prayeradiation? It’s easy to do:

  1. Determine the area you want to attack
  2. Find a verse or verses that describe what you want God to do in the infected area
  3. Assault the need daily with the prayer promise, and make sure you have others agreeing with you in prayer
  4. Don’t stop the prayeradiation treatments until God has either fully answered the prayer or told you to pray differently.

And now, I’m off to a prayer meeting. There’s Kingdom work to be done.

*If you want to learn more about pinpoint praying, feel free to check out my book Pray Big.

 

talking to yourself?

bird talking to ball.jpg

Hustling between appointments earlier this week, I drove past a man in the midst of a very animated discussion…with himself. He was giving himself or somebody a good talking to.

After watching playoffs and the World Series, seeing this man reminded me of Mark Fidrych. “The Bird” pitched for the Detroit Tigers in the 70s. He used to talk to the ball, and himself, while on the mound.

The Bird was also known for taking time to manicure the mound before each inning.

The Bird was also known for taking time to manicure the mound before each inning.

We all do this, right? Most of us are more discreet than the man I saw or The Bird, but we have these internal discussions.

You might imagine you hear a friend say something negative about you.

You imagine your response, kinda tough, and kinda harsh.

Then, you imagine they say something you can’t believe,

and a split second later you unload on them for even thinking such a thing.

Your blood pressure is up,

your heart is pumping…

Only, nothing was actually said. The heated exchange only happened in your mind. Yet, you’re upset.

Some of my most intense conversations spill out under the hum of my mower, in the backyard. Other than the sideways glance from my faithful lab Leroy, no one ever hears, but these discussions bounce around in my head from time to time.

It’s not just me, and the guy on the corner, is it??

My friend Jay has shared with our Friday morning group we all have this internal discussion going on all the time. Seeing this guy on the street reminded me of something else Jay said about those conversations.

Why don’t we invite Jesus in? We’re already consumed with these thoughts, so why not invite The Lord in and share our conversation with Him?

In isolation, our fears grow bigger, our battles are more intense and our worries run out of control. Alone, we imagine the worst.

God’s Word, though, encourages us to share the deepest burdens with our Father. He wants us to bring our true concerns to Him. 

"Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you." - 1 Peter 5:7

We often hesitate because we’re not sure we can lay it all out. The Lord might not like what we’re thinking. Friends, He will not be surprised by anything we say.

Psalm 139:1,4 - God knows our thoughts, so we're free to be honest with Him!

Psalm 139:1,4 - God knows our thoughts, so we're free to be honest with Him!

We don’t have to hide our lack of faith or our struggles with others from Him. He’s not looking for a perfect performance. He’s looking for you and me.

“O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.”

– Psalm 62:8

When we bring everything to The Lord, He surrounds us with His peace, protecting our mind and heart.

Philippians 4:6-7 - pray about everything!

Philippians 4:6-7 - pray about everything!

This is The Good News; we have been saved, not only from separation from our Father forever, but that we have a Father who loves us & is with us. We often stop at salvation, but there’s so much more.

Our enemy would have us think if we haven’t spoken to God in some time we should be ashamed and keep our distance. That.is.a.lie.

“I am pleased each time you initiate communication with Me…When you realize that your mind has wandered away from Me, don’t be alarmed or surprised. You live in a world that has been rigged to distract you. Each time you plow your way through the massive distractions to communicate with Me, you achieve a victory.” – Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Imagine a Father who loves you so much more than anyone has ever loved you.

Imagine He was willing to give up His very own Son, to cover all your sins, so that you could come into His perfect presence.

Imagine He did all this, so you would be with Him.

This is your Father. No need to talk alone. Invite Him in.

 

 

fierce independence

The Marlboro Man. Is there a manlier image from my childhood?

The Six million dollar man was an actor defined by fake stunt scenes, super heroes are super goofy (please – they wear tights) and even Rocky was just another actor.

Sports figures like Lee Roy Jordan, and Mean Joe Green come to mind, but they’re pro athletes; not many of us can become one of those. This guy, Darrell Winfield, was actually a cowboy in Wyoming.

marlboro man 2.jpeg

The folks at Phillip Morris were looking for an authentic cowboy to establish their cigarettes as masculine. They went to Wyoming, and found Darrell working on a ranch. He did the ad campaign for a period of time and is referred to as “the real Marlboro man.”

The image spoke to me as a kid. Back when cigarette ads graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, I saw a tough guy who looked like he could handle just about any challenge. He reminds me of Billy Crystal & Bruno Kirby’s comments about Curly in “City Slickers”:

curly.jpg

“Did you see how leathery he was? He was like a saddlebag with eyes.”

 “This guy Curly, is a true cowboy. One of the last real men. He’s untamed, a mustang.”

Most would say how negative the ads were because they promoted smoking and made it look cool. I agree; that’s another blog for another blogger.

For me, the power of this image is one of fierce independence. It’s a quality that defines our country, and many would argue, what makes our country great. All great qualities also have some negative side effects.

Being independent, able to take care of myself and not needing a thing from anyone, is a value that was just engrained in me. As I read God’s Word, and learn what it means to follow Christ, I have to fight my own fiercely independent nature. It’s not what Jesus has called us to be.

Here are a few fallacies of fierce independence:

Independence teaches me to trust myself, but dependence teaches me to trust my Father in Heaven. David was a shepherd, alone on the Judean hills protecting his flock, where he developed a dependent heart on God. He fought Goliath, a giant no one else would fight, because David knew God was with him; it wasn’t his effort, it was God’s results. He learned this by trusting God every day as a shepherd.

By saying we’re Christians, we proclaim to trust Jesus Christ with our lives. It doesn’t make sense to say we’re His, and only pursue what we want. Jesus’ disciples, His first followers, dropped their nets to follow Him. The more we follow Him, the more we learn to trust Him.

“He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.” –Psalm 23;3

 “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:6

 “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. “ – 1 John 4:16

Independence leads to the best I can do, but dependence leads to God-sized results. When we surrender our lives to God, He moves through us in ways we never thought possible. In Acts 10, Peter has a dream and ultimately connects with a Gentile named Cornelius. By following God’s direction in his dream, Peter winds up sharing his faith with Cornelius, his household, friends and relatives. They all come to faith in Jesus; something Peter never expected.

When we follow God, rather than our own way, we see Him move in ways we would have never guessed. He is, after all, supernatural!

“We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer.” – Proverbs 16:1

 “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” – Ephesians 3:20

Independence fosters loneliness and heartache, while dependence fosters a close relationship with our Heavenly Father and community. When I pursue all I want with fierce independence, I’m tempted to put on a good face, convincing those close to me that everything is great. In dependence, I learn to live a more authentic life, pouring out my heart to my Father and friends.

I become free to be exactly who God made me to be. In trusting and following Him, I experience real love and acceptance.

“Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light."- Matthew 11:28-30

 “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent me and that You love them as much as You love me.” – John 17:23

Dependence requires surrender, but to a Father who loves us way beyond what we can grasp.

waiting…

Anthony was a wealthy Egyptian, who lived from 251-356 AD. That’s over 100 years, in a time where long life wasn't common.

When Anthony came to faith in Christ, he read the verse about selling everything he had and giving to the poor. He renounced his wealth, his wealthy upbringing and all his possessions. He left his family and went into the desert to live in solitude. Not for a week, or a month, or even a year, but for 20 years Anthony lived in solitude.

He gave up all he knew and lived alone to learn compassion. He gave up all his activities to understand prayer and communion with God. It is said of him, that he battled the devil intensely.

Curiously, when he emerged from two decades of solitude, he began to love and serve the poor. People sought out his thoughts and opinions. He ministered to many, including Emperor Constantine Augustus.

Ultimately, after serving the poor and in prisons, Anthony retired to solitude, to spend his days in direct communion with The Lord.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new,

and yet it is the law of all progress that is made by

passing through some stages of instability - 

and that it may take a very long time…

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

-Teilhard de Chardin

 

waiting alone.jpg

Our lives are lived at such a fast pace. We drive thru for a fast food meal. We don’t know how long it’s supposed to take, but if the magic time is 3 minutes, we intuitively become uneasy at 3:30, and begin to get angry at the 4-minute mark.

Honestly, we race thru life, don’t we?

Delayed gratification in our world means spending 3-4 more years in higher education, so that we can have a career in our chosen field for 30-40 years.

Jesus spent 30 years in obscurity before beginning the most transforming ministry ever lived. His ministry only lasted 3 years. Anthony spent 20 years in the desert, then served the poor. He was noticed and then brought to the Emperor for advice, decades after he decided to follow Jesus.

“Be still in the presence of The Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.” – ps 37:7

We remember when we look back to see the things God has done, we’re on a journey. The best things rarely happen immediately. Our worries, cares and fears subside as we see God moving, and we learn slowly we cannot control the outcome.

In time, we learn to turn to our Father, and our hearts soften. He becomes our Strength, and Shield. He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. His timing, though, is not ours.

So, when we look at hard circumstances in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, we can trust His timing. We should remember we're on a journey, and they are, too:

Our kids, even if they’re wayward right now

Struggles with our spouse

Family members in the midst of illness, or a mess

Pressures on our family

Difficult relationships at work

Through our longest and hardest seasons, let’s remember the hand of God may move slowly, but it moves faithfully. He is at work, accomplishing everything He desires for us, and for those we love.

 

waiting - bench 2.jpg

Somebody’s praying

“Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” - Hebrews 7:25

 Have you considered the idea, that Somebody is interceding for you?

After about a week in Onaville, Haiti, our little team hugged and left our friends Tuesday afternoon. We met together that night, talking and sharing much of what we had experienced this past week.

Thoughts became prayers. These pastors, kids, men and women in Onaville have become our friends. 

Delecsan attends Green Church Number 1. We’ve played with he & his brothers at our VBS programs for the last few years. He’s growing into a sweet young man who helps Pastor Noel around the church property.

Delecsan attends Green Church Number 1. We’ve played with he & his brothers at our VBS programs for the last few years. He’s growing into a sweet young man who helps Pastor Noel around the church property.

Mario, the pastor of Green Church Number 4, loves his young family, and is pastoring his church so well.  

Mario, the pastor of Green Church Number 4, loves his young family, and is pastoring his church so well.

 

Simi and Pierre will be instructors for the trade school we hope to get off the ground this year.

Simi and Pierre will be instructors for the trade school we hope to get off the ground this year.

Todd Lewis and me, with instructors we had the privilege to work with this week, making plans for the trade school.

Todd Lewis and me, with instructors we had the privilege to work with this week, making plans for the trade school.

Magdala, her husband and daughters. She sewed every one of those beautiful outfits. She will be the sewing instructor at the trade school. 

Magdala, her husband and daughters. She sewed every one of those beautiful outfits. She will be the sewing instructor at the trade school. 

Kristi, her baby Prince and her husband live next to Green Church Number 4. We asked if we could pray for her and she wanted to us to pray that Jesus would change her life. I’ll never forget how quickly she opened up to us. It was sweet, and raw, and wonderful.

Kristi, her baby Prince and her husband live next to Green Church Number 4. We asked if we could pray for her and she wanted to us to pray that Jesus would change her life. I’ll never forget how quickly she opened up to us. It was sweet, and raw, and wonderful.

Kids at Green Church Number 4. Our hope is to start a small school this fall for these kids.

Kids at Green Church Number 4. Our hope is to start a small school this fall for these kids.

And of course, Todd and me with Pastor Noel, who leads the Green Church Network

And of course, Todd and me with Pastor Noel, who leads the Green Church Network

These are just a few of our friends. This time in Onaville, we learned more about their circumstances, ministries and lives.In our minds, they face challenges that are, well, too much. Wondering if they will have enough for food, or enough to keep their kids in school, or if they’ll have jobs.

Where appropriate we’ve worked to give to and support our friends. At some point, though, there are physical, medical and financial needs we cannot address, and are just part of their stories.

 

Yet, they are not alone.

 

God not only sees them, but His Spirit is within them, encouraging, counseling and guiding them. Wednesday morning I was reminded that Jesus is at the right hand of our Father, interceding for them.

“Christ Jesus, who died — more that that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” - Romans 8:34

What could I possibly do or pray for them that would be better than what Jesus is asking God to do for them?

Then I wondered, what about me? And what about you?

Wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus is praying over your life right now? Imagine you could agree in prayer with the Son of God—that ought to add some serious firepower to your prayers!” -- John Eldredge, Moving Mountains

Why wouldn’t we agree in prayer with Jesus for our lives? What about our loved ones? Doesn’t it encourage you to know Jesus, our High Priest, sees them and knows them? He is before God Almighty, pleading for them.

So, I took a deep breath this morning, and asked The LORD to let me join His prayers, for my beautiful friends in Onaville, for my wife, my children, and me.

How about you?

What are you going to do with the knowledge that Jesus is before our Father praying for you, and your loved ones?

so we are

So we are Christ’s ambassadors…” – 2 Corinthians 5:20

This week I boarded a flight with the zone 2 boarding group. After first class boarded, those with special needs or concerns, the medallion class, platinum, premium, gold, silver, tungsten, and boron classes boarded. 

boarding.jpeg

Finally, the friendly lady at the gate gave a kind of “all the rest of y’all” call and we straggled onto the plane to fill the middle rows of our flight.

We live in a contractual, reward based society. If you fly enough, purchase with the right card, you’re rewarded with fine meals, drinks and whatever else goes on in 1st class.

Everything operates this way. If you complete a degree in higher education, you’ll likely land a better job. Once you start working, if you work harder or smarter, you’ll earn more. We intuitively get contractual relationships based on the idea of “when you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.”

Religion is man’s effort to earn their way to God. Based on how everything else in our world works, religion makes sense.

Christianity, though, is God’s way of making us right with Himself. He has done for us, what we could not do for ourselves.

“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law…We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” – Romans 3:20-22

With our contractual tendencies, we struggle to understand Jesus and His Good News. He gives and grants things to us.

So we are ambassadors of Christ. I read this a few weeks ago, and keep thinking of these 3 words…so we are. It’s hard to accept this, is it not?

Ambassadors are sent to a foreign land, to represent the interests of their King. In our world, an ambassador earns his position. At a minimum, they have a relationship with the ruler, but hopefully, they’re chosen because of their credentials and abilities. Essentially, they earned the king’s respect, and are qualified to be a representative of their homeland.

However, based only on our belief and trust in Him, Jesus has made us His ambassadors.

“So we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, "Come back to God!"” – 2 Corinthians 5:20

So we are His ambassadors. Unearned, but appointed by God Himself, we find ourselves in an undeniable position. We represent Him. The King. Here, and now.

When an ambassador arrives, it’s noticeable. In the spiritual realm, when a believer walks into a situation with non-believers, something happens. Light, not our little light, but the light of The Lord God Almighty, which resides in us, pierces darkness. 

ambassador's arrival.jpg

We don’t decide when we’re ready; we’re ready when He says we are. He orchestrates events in our lives, protecting us from some things and permitting others. He has appointed us to shine, struggle, walk through or sit in each circumstance, for Him (eph 2:10).

It is in the brilliance of how God moves and orchestrates that He is able to accomplish extraordinary, supernatural things with ordinary people.

We have a responsibility to remember our position, and to live lives worthy of this high calling. As His ambassadors, our authority only comes from our direct relationship with the King. The closer and stronger our relationship, the better we’re able to represent our King.

Ambassadors don’t set the agenda, or take liberties with the King’s message. They trust the wisdom of the King’s timing and plans.

The words are simple. God has placed us here to represent Him. He has declared it, so we are His ambassadors. So. we. are.

the prodigal father

Prod-i-gal: adjective, 2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.

When we say prodigal, our first thought is the story in Luke 15, of a son who left his father. For now, though, let’s consider the prodigal love of the father.

His youngest came to him, demanding his share of the inheritance. Imagine as a parent how you’d respond. Um, how about…No!?! Or maybe you’re no would be more colorful, and you might think your child was a little unstable. You’d likely be offended, even hurt.

This father of the story isn’t like us. He actually gives his youngest half of his estate.

Remember, Jesus told this story to a group of His followers and His challengers, in response to accusations of why He was spending time among known sinners. What’s compelling in His response is no one who has ever lived or will ever live knows the Heavenly Father like Jesus.

“No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is Himself God, is near to the Father's heart. He has revealed God to us.” – John 1:18

Jesus. He is the unique One, who came to us, to reveal how God thinks of us. They have such a close relationship; they are one in the same.

In John 12, Jesus says when we see Him, we are seeing The Father. We struggle to understand this relationship because it is hard to comprehend and mysterious, but it’s worth our struggle because of His extravagant, prodigal love for us.

“I had no idea that God’s love was extravagant and irresistible. I had no idea that the God of the universe loved me with no conditions, no addenda to the contract, no fine print. I had no idea God was passionate about me. His passion for me, His love for me makes me want to love like Him.” – Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli

This prodigal father lets His son go, with half of his belongings, and he waits for his son’s return. The return isn’t a guarantee, but the father waits.

We, too, have a Father who permits us make our choices, with eternity on the line. He waits for us to turn to Him.

When the son comes home, the father runs to him. No questions about where he’s been, where the money is, who he was with or what he has been doing…he just runs to embrace his lost son.

Jesus’ point? Everyone has value to our Heavenly Father, and when they turn to Him, He rejoices! All of heaven rejoices with Him.

Friend, He rejoices over you!

In this chapter, Jesus tells 3 stories that all end with the father figure rejoicing over the return of their sheep, coin or son. And Jesus says this is how heaven rejoices when we turn to our Father.

It’s a wonderful story, but does the Creator of the universe really feel this way about me?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

In His Word, we learn His nature; to forgive us, to come for us, to lavish His love on us, in spite of our faults and mistakes. He is extravagant. His love for us doesn’t make sense; it’s reckless, overwhelming and exactly what we need.

“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. ...The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. – Psalm 103:3,4,8

“But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” – Romans 5:8

“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)” – Ephesians 2:4-5

Let’s stay in His Word, and spend time with Him, until we grasp a better view of ourselves. We desperately need to see ourselves, and all of those around us, like our Father sees us.

the older brother & a blue bike

I’m a younger brother, and I have an older brother. In many ways, we were typical brothers. The more I read Jesus’ story about the prodigal, the more deeply it resonates with me.

All through our childhood, my older brother did exactly what he was supposed to do, and I tried my best to figure out how to get away with not doing what was expected. This was true of us not so much in big things, but in the little every day things like schoolwork, chores and especially yard work.

My Dad loved a good Saturday morning project, especially when it began early at Stripling Blake buying supplies and lasted all day long. When my Mom woke us up, told us he was downstairs and wanted to run an errand, I knew before my feet hit the ground my Saturday was shot.

For the next couple of hours, I schemed to get out of the work. My big brother took a different approach. He found out what Dad wanted to do, and worked hard to get it done more quickly. We’d return home from the lumberyard with boards, plants, dirt and big building plans.

Not soon after all the work began, I’d offer to get everyone water. After delivering two big glasses of water, I’d somehow get lost in the house; claim a need for the bathroom, heat stroke, or anything I thought Mom might buy.

Ultimately, I angled to get her okay to slip out the garage and ride my bike down to Murchison pool to see what my friends were doing. One Saturday, I slipped off with on my brother’s blue, 10-speed Schwinn. Hours later, his unlocked bike was stolen from the pool.

My older brother was incensed. At the time, I couldn’t understand why. He was old enough to drive, had a car and never rode the bike…so, why did he care? Reading about the prodigal’s brother, I think I understand.

The bike stood for something; he stayed by our father’s side and did the work, while I figured out a way to run off. In his mind, I never got the appropriate punishment.

The thing was, no matter how much work either one of us did, we were both loved by our parents. He was right, some of the things I got away with weren’t fair, but like the older brother  in Luke 15 and most teenage older brothers, he didn’t share our father's heart for me.

I love my brother. He was and is a great big brother. I’ve always looked up to him and we have a close relationship. To this day, if we argue or fight about something, it always ends with him teasing me that I owe him a bike.

Hey Pablo - I found your blue bike!

Hey Pablo - I found your blue bike!

Like me, I’m sure you’ve felt like the older brother, too. As a pastor, if I’m honest, at times it can be a struggle to work to do the right things and see what I consider to be little or no response. Though results are God’s responsibility and not mine, I can fall into the bitterness and anger of the older brother.

Jesus’ brilliantly nudges the Pharisees in this story with the truth. They didn’t set out to become self-righteous. They were good, godly people, who took their eyes off of their Father by comparing themselves to others and when they did, they lost His heart.

This is our challenge, too. Bitterness and resentment can slip into our lives, just like they slipped into the older brother’s life as we try to lead and love others.

We have to remember our Father’s heart for us, let it soak into our mind and fully receive His love. Only then, are we able to share our Father’s heart and love others like He does.

“His father said to him, “Look dear son, you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours.”” – Luke 15:31

Dad, Paul & me fly fishing in the Tetons. We had a wonderful childhood, and were deeply loved by our folks, for which I could never say thanks enough. And no little brother has a better big brother than me!

Dad, Paul & me fly fishing in the Tetons. We had a wonderful childhood, and were deeply loved by our folks, for which I could never say thanks enough. And no little brother has a better big brother than me!

prodigal

prodŸiŸgal – adjective – spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant

You probably know the story of the Prodigal Son. Whether it’s the father, the older brother or the prodigal, every one of us can relate to someone in this story.

In my own life, I am a younger brother. At one point, I acted more like this younger brother than I care to remember. I‘ve also struggled with the struggles of the older brother. And as a parent, I can relate to the father.

Jesus’ story is brilliant and beautiful. In spite of the son’s wasteful extravagance with half of his estate, his father more than welcomes him home.

Through the father’s response to his son’s return, we see how deep the unfailing love of our Father is for us. Jesus’ story helps us understand His grace for us, and breaks through the idea of earning our Father’s love and acceptance.

Let’s consider a few lessons for us from the story of this younger son.

One: His father knew better. This son demanded his inheritance before he had the maturity to handle the money. He pursued the passions of his heart and wastefully spent everything. We’re prone to consider our way best, fearing to seek, wait on and trust our Father’s plans for us.

“Trust in The LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear The LORD and turn your back on evil.” – Proverbs 3:5-7

Two: By leaving home, the son physically left the blessing and covering of his father’s home. The younger son rebelled; thinking his way was better than his father’s. God has a way for us, not to harm us, but to bless us. We fear God’s way will limit us, but His way is filled with blessings like joy, peace and His Presence.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name. …

 Surely goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of The LORD forever.” – Psalm 23:1-3,6

Three: He broke. Coming to his senses, he realized he would be better off as a servant in his father’s house than as a slave in this foreign land. This young son, hungry and slopping pigs, finally came to the end of himself. All of us, at some point in our journey, break. We become overwhelmed by the circumstances of life and turn to our Father.  And there we find Him!

“God blesses those who realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” – Matthew 5:3

Four: As soon as the son comes home, his father rejoices in his return. I believe this to be “the” lesson in this story. Our Father rejoices over us! We haven’t earned this love, but we have a Heavenly Father who created us, who loves us so much He sent His own Son to reconcile us to Him. He did all of this, so we could be in a close relationship with our Heavenly Father.

 “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing." – Zephaniah 3:17

There are so many lessons, and there is so much beauty in this story. Regardless of who we are, what we have done or where we are right now, we can turn to our Father and He will lovingly take us back. In fact, He rejoices over you and me.