Saturday, January 30, 2016

HOPE! - No Prodigals

So how much does our own culture and upbringing influence the way we understand and interpret the bible?

Here’s a fun little experiment you can try.

Gather a bunch of middle-class American Christians together and then divide them into groups and have them read Luke 15:11-32… Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.

Then, have each group give a brief summary of the parable.

Pretty easy, right?

However, in most American groups, those retelling the story (to their own shock) will leave out a very important fact…

…the fact that there was a famine!

However, when this experiment was done in Russia, almost everyone mentioned the famine in their brief summary.

So why did the Americans leave out such an important fact?

Because famine is foreign to the experience of most Americans; whereas most Russians have experienced famine at some point in recent history.

Americans, who tend to think a lot about saving and spending money… blame the son’s starvation on his waste of his father’s inheritance… hence the title “prodigal” we’ve attached to him.

However, Russians point out that he was starving because there was a famine… and the people who first heard this parable would have thought the same way.

So why do we call the prodigal son… “The prodigal son”? What makes him a prodigal?

Well… he wasted all his dad’s money on prostitutes and wild parties, right? That would make him a prodigal, no doubt.

But Jesus never calls him a prodigal. The word prodigal is never used in the story. It’s just a label that people gave the son later.

So why the label? Do we think we’re better than the son because we don’t spend all our money on prostitutes and wild parties?

The only reason we attach the prodigal label to him is because we value good finance and frugality in our culture. We value good use of good money. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does get in the way of our view of the son. We see him as someone who threw away privilege – who wasted his life… and we’re just a little bit ashamed of him for that.

But that’s not how Jesus sees the son. Jesus sees him as one who isolated himself from his community of support and lost his way because he thought he could handle life on his own terms and with his own wisdom… and he failed. When life got hard, he hit rock bottom.

But Jesus also shows us that God is the loving father who takes the son back despite his imperfections.

The father doesn’t say, “That prodigal son of mine who wasted all my money on prostitutes has returned to get more money from me.”

The father says, “My son who was lost has come home! Let’s celebrate!”

Friday, January 29, 2016

Living on Mission – The Younger Son

Living on Mission – The Younger Son

“I want more.” ~ Younger Son

How many times have you heard that? Maybe it was coming out of the mouth of a friend, sibling, parent, or child. Maybe you heard it coming out of your own mouth. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty common thought.

The younger son had everything he needed at home. He had food, shelter, and family relationships. Yet, something was missing. He wanted to explore. He wanted adventure. He wanted more. So, he took advantage of the kindhearted nature of his father, went against all cultural convention, and asked for his share of the inheritance. He was bold and determined, and he got more. He traveled. He had all kinds of new experiences. He actually went buck wild. It wasn’t long until he found out that sometimes more is not all it’s cracked up to be. Eventually, the money was gone, there was a famine, and he found himself starving and feeding pigs. The younger son began longing for home.

The good, good father is the hero in this story. He loved his younger son so much that he waited patiently for him to come back home. The father’s heart was for the good of his boy, no matter what. The father was on the lookout for his beloved son to follow his heart back home. The younger son finally came to his senses and headed home to ask his father to take him on as a servant. The father didn’t even listen to his rehearsed speech – he was too busy getting ready to throw a party.

I love that the father didn’t scold the younger son for his bad behavior. He didn’t demand that the son repay all of the wasted money. The younger son wasn’t expected to earn his way back into his father’s good graces. The father was ready and waiting to restore the son to his place in the family. The father’s love was truly more than the younger son dreamed of or expected. The father’s love provided the “more” that the son had longed for in the first place.

Let’s practice Living on Mission and be like the father - on the lookout and ready to provide an avalanche of love when the younger son turns toward home.

Pastor Angela

Thursday, January 28, 2016

PRAY IT! 99+1: Luke

As we continue on in our wonderful Luke passage, this week we read Luke 15:11-24 in preparation for Sunday's sermon.  Need to read it?  Catch up on it here:  Luke 15:11-24.

What a powerful story that Jesus tells here.  As we prepare our hearts and minds for this Sunday's sermon, we can utilize the great little acrostic P-R-A-Y-S to help us pray through our passage this week.

P (praise) - What praises do we see modeled in this passage?  How do you imagine the father felt when his wayward son returned home?  Can you think of joy you have experienced when you "returned home", whether it be to God, to family, or even to a calling that you tried to run away from?  Praise and thank God now.

22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

R (repent) - In what ways do you see repentance modeled in this passage?  What kind of heart-change did the son need to do an "about-face" and return home?  What kind of repentance is God calling you to?  Will you do an "about-face" and return home?  Pray now.

18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

A (ask) - What kind(s) of asking is modeled in this passage?  How can this inform what we ask of the Lord this week?  What kind of posture do we need when we ask?  How can humility shape our asking?  How can pride affect what it is we ask of God?  Can you see the difference between what the son asked for once returning home to his father, compared to what he asked for prior to leaving?  Spend some time getting in the right posture before bringing your petitions before God.

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.

12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.

Y (yield) - What kind of yielding is evident in this passage?  In another translation, this passage says the son came to his "senses".  In what areas do you need to come to your senses?  In what areas of your life do you need to humbly submit to God?  Talk to Him about that now.  He is listening.  Sometimes yielding seems like the weak and nonsensical choice.  Yet, as we continue on in the passage, can you see the beauty that results when we obediently yield?

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

S (souls) - This passage in its entirety beautifully tells of the compassion a father has for his lost son, who returns home.  Who in your life desperately needs to "come to their senses" and return home?  Who is lost?  Who is wayward?  Who is running?  Lift them up in prayer now. 

PoC|Coverage is tonight at 6pm! Hope to see you there.

Pastor Celia

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

FAMILY IT! — Wednesday Family Devotional — “99+1”

So here’s a question: do you remember the last time you questioned God?  Now, I didn’t say, “When was the last time you had questions for God?”  I mean when’s the last time you struggled with who God is.  Do you remember having real doubts?  Was there a time you wrestled with whether or not this whole “Jesus thing” was really worth it?  Have you ever fallen into a pattern of thinking that life may just be easier if you called your own shots and got to do whatever you wanted to without needing “guidance” from the Father?  

That’s exactly what happens to the main character in our story today.  Jesus wraps up His “lost-and-found” trilogy with one of the most well-known parables in scripture.  Grab a Bible and read Luke 15:11-14.

I love scripture.  Really, I do.  But there are times I wish it was written in the last century, because then it would include some of the emotional details that make the stories so powerful.  This son disgraced his father.  By taking his inheritance early, he basically told Dad he wished he were dead.  Then he ran away from home and did the young adult version of blowing it all in Toys R Us.  Great plan!  Only after he was scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel, homeless and hungry, did he finally realize what he’d had in his relationship with his father.  And the cool part of this story is that, even with all of the hurt and stupid decisions, it’s the father who comes running down the road to meet his thankless son.  It’s the father who glosses over his son’s apology and goes straight into party-planning mode.  

This is the ultimate reconciliation story.  We love those!  But we don’t always know when we’re in one…or when we need to be in one.  Do you remember your own “prodigal” story?  Do you remember when you were living your own life, far away from the Father?  Do you remember when you decided to “go back” into relationship with him?  How he opened his arms of forgiveness and brought you into the family? 

Maybe this isn’t a story from your past but something you’re going through right now.  Are you wrestling with who God is: is he real, is he worth it, is he someone I should really choose to follow?  Maybe you’re living by your own rules, questioning whether you even need “the Father.”  It’s amazing how quickly we can slip into that kind of thinking, either because life seems to be going fine without a lot of holy help, or because we’re frustrated with the help we are getting.

I remember a conversation I had back when I was a youth pastor.  One of my teens very candidly shared that he fully intended to be the prodigal son.  “I want to be able to have my fun now when I’m young.  There will be plenty of time for God when I’m older.”  It’s been over 10 years, and that thought still weighs on me.  First of all, I’m older, I love God, and I still have fun.  But more importantly, this young man chose a life of sin, chose to turn his back on God…and he’s still wandering around all these years later, lost.

It took him a bit, but the prodigal son realized that the fun he so desperately wanted only lasted for a short while.  Then he was stuck in a life he wanted no part in.  He recognized that life with father, a life of being loved and cared for, was way better than anything else he could get for himself.  Do you know that today?  There are a lot of things tempting us out there, lots of different ideas about the right way to live.  But nothing—NOTHING—is better than being loved and cared for by the Creator himself.  It doesn’t matter what choices you’ve made, God is looking for you.  You could be questioning and doubting, or you could be flat-out running away—God is looking for you.  Maybe frustration has started to set in, or maybe you’ve been living with some sins for years—God is looking for you.  There is absolutely nothing you could do that will keep him from reaching out to you.  I guarantee that if you start walking back to God right now, he will come bolting to meet you and, according to verse 10, throw a welcome home party like you’ve never seen before.

We are working together as families to reach the +1’s God has placed in our schools, our neighborhoods, and our work places.  Before we do that, let’s reach out to the +1’s in our homes.  See if anyone sitting with you wants to pray right now and leave that sin-filled life, leave the frustrations and the doubts, and ask God to welcome them back home.  Then gather together and pray.  There are no magic words.  Just ask God to forgive you and be your Father.  Then end your family time with a little party…just like the angels!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

EXPLORE IT! - The Context of Luke 15

The Travel Narrative

In the center of the Luke’s Gospel is a section (9:51–18:14) known as “The Travel Narrative” or “The Journey to Jerusalem.” This travel narrative fits into the overall theme of Luke-Acts by the way it attempts to show the reader that Jesus came not only for the Jews and the law-keepers, but for the Gentiles and sinners as well. Luke appears to be a very Jewish work, but it deals with issues that the early Jewish Christians would have been facing, such as what to do with the Gentiles.

Unique Material

This travel narrative is unique in many ways to the four gospels, including the three synoptics. While other gospels show Jesus and His disciples making their way on up to Jerusalem, Luke’s presentation of this event contains much material not seen in any of the other gospels. It is thought that much of the material Luke incorporates into this section of his gospel came from a source or sources not used in any of the other gospel accounts. These sources are known as “L” among New Testament scholars. What does not come from the “L” source in this section is thought to be derived from the “Q” source and Mark’s Gospel.

Luke’s Purpose

In the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the writer states that he intends to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus. However, when you get to “The Travel Narrative,” you can see that this portion of the story differs from the rest of the narrative. While much of Luke appears to be in chronological order, and interested in being as historically accurate as possible, this section deviates from this pattern, and the arrangement of the material is not according to chronology, but rather to theme.

The Fulfillment of The Law

At the beginning of “The Travel Narrative” it says that Jesus turned His face toward Jerusalem. This verse lays the foundation for all that is about to take place. From this point on, the story of Jesus is based for the most part upon His teachings, rather than upon the actual events, presumably that were given on His way to Jerusalem. Many think this portion of Luke is arranged according to certain themes presented in the book of Deuteronomy, and that each theme in Luke is presented in the same order as they are presented in Deuteronomy. For example, the event towards the beginning of “The Travel Narrative” where Jesus sends out the seventy (or seventy-two) is seen to parallel or correspond with the seventy who accompanied Moses when he went up the mountain, and so on. Luke pulls from Deuteronomy to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of The Law and the Savior of both Jews and Gentiles.

Monday, January 25, 2016

READ IT! - 99+1 (week 3)

Throughout the Bible, God uses all kinds of imagery to describe the relationship he has with his people. He is the One who seeks us out and finds us when we get lost and brings us back into his home. In what specific ways has God sought you out?

From the Torah: Deuteronomy 4:29-40
From the Former Prophets: 1 Samuel 9:1–10:7
From the Latter Prophets: Jeremiah 50:1-10
From the Books of Wisdom and Poetry: Psalm 119:169-176
From the Late Books: Song of Songs 3:1-5
From the Gospels: Luke 15:11-32
From the Epistles: Romans 8:18-30

From the Torah

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.

Deuteronomy 4:29-40

From the Former Prophets

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”

But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”

Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”

The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” (Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, “Come, let us go to the seer,” because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)

“Good,” Saul said to his servant. “Come, let’s go.” So they set out for the town where the man of God was.

As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”

“He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”

They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.

Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”

“I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”

Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited—about thirty in number. Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”

So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.’” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.

After they came down from the high place to the town, Samuel talked with Saul on the roof of his house. They rose about daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Get ready, and I will send you on your way.” When Saul got ready, he and Samuel went outside together. As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us”—and the servant did so—“but you stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God.”

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance? When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’

“Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.

“After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

1 Samuel 9:1–10:7

From the Latter Prophets

This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:

“Announce and proclaim among the nations,
    lift up a banner and proclaim it;
    keep nothing back, but say,
‘Babylon will be captured;
    Bel will be put to shame,
    Marduk filled with terror.
Her images will be put to shame
    and her idols filled with terror.’
A nation from the north will attack her
    and lay waste her land.
No one will live in it;
    both people and animals will flee away.

“In those days, at that time,”
    declares the Lord,
“the people of Israel and the people of Judah together
    will go in tears to seek the Lord their God.
They will ask the way to Zion
    and turn their faces toward it.
They will come and bind themselves to the Lord
    in an everlasting covenant
    that will not be forgotten.

“My people have been lost sheep;
    their shepherds have led them astray
    and caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
    and forgot their own resting place.
Whoever found them devoured them;
    their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty,
for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture,
    the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’

“Flee out of Babylon;
    leave the land of the Babylonians,
    and be like the goats that lead the flock.
For I will stir up and bring against Babylon
    an alliance of great nations from the land of the north.
They will take up their positions against her,
    and from the north she will be captured.
Their arrows will be like skilled warriors
    who do not return empty-handed.
So Babylonia will be plundered;
    all who plunder her will have their fill,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 50:1-10

From the Books of Wisdom and Poetry

May my cry come before you, Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
    deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise,
    for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word,
    for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me,
    for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, Lord,
    and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
    and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
    Seek your servant,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:169-176

From the Late Books

All night long on my bed
    I looked for the one my heart loves;
    I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
    through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
    So I looked for him but did not find him.
The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city.
    “Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
    when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
    till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
    to the room of the one who conceived me.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
    by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
    until it so desires.

Song of Songs 3:1-5

From the Gospels

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and 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.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘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!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Luke 15:11-32

From the Epistles

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Romans 8:18-30