Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3: 16
King James Version
“God’s Plan In Action”
“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.”
Luke 15: 20
What action and initiative has God taken to draw me back to Him?
“There is little in a house to draw someone back to it.
It’s love that draws us home.”
John Doe, Disciple
“Ah, dear love of God, always embrace this soul of mine, for it pains me above all things when I am separated from You.”
Mechtild of Magdeburg
My mother is an extremely tidy person. Her house is always clean. You never walk into my mom’s kitchen and find dirty dishes in the sink. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not finding fault with her, I admire her neatness gene. And to mother’s credit, she doesn’t require everybody else to live up to her level of cleanliness. However, when my sister and I were growing up, there were certain requirements we had to obey. First, when you got out of bed in the morning, you made your bed. We never left the house to go to school with unmade or messy beds. And second, we had to clean our bedrooms once a week – vacuum, dust, and tidy up.
I remember one particular week when I decided I’d like to play in my room rather than clean my room – a normal behavior for most kids. My mom walked by and said, “You know Dorothy, you have to take the initiative here, your room isn’t going to clean itself.” I didn’t know what the word “initiative” meant. So thinking I could put off cleaning a little longer, I decided to engage my mom in a word definition discussion. I asked her what “initiative” meant. Her response was brief and to the point: “Get busy,” she instructed me!
In our study over the past few days, we have found that God plans ahead! Before trouble ever erupted in the Garden of Eden, God designed a plan, so comprehensive and wonderful that He was, even if the worst happened, ready to deal with the downfall of His disobedient children. And when the “fall” occurred, and sin polluted the pureness of planet earth, God came, in the embodiment of His Son, to be “God with us,” to bring harmony, unity and oneness back into His family again.
As the Son, Jesus, lived on this earth He longed to bring the reality of the Father He knew into the lives of the people He touched. For many of God’s children, God was someone they feared. The false picture painted by Satan brought terror into people’s hearts rather than love.
So everyday, as Jesus healed the hurting and brought hope to the broken, He also conveyed the message, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14: 9, N.I.V.). In fact, when Jesus’ disciple Philip asked Jesus to “show us the Father,” Jesus replied, “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me” (John 14: 8-10, N.I.V.).
Throughout His teachings, of all the examples Jesus gave that described the unbelievably personal and gracious love of His Father, none so poignantly conveyed the “Heavenly initiative” – the ability of God to “get busy,” as my mom said, and swing into action to bring us back into His home, a place of wholeness, as the story of the Prodigal Son points out. The apostle Paul describes God’s behavior this way in Romans 5: 8, (N.I.V.) “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Talk about a God who took the initiative – a God who said, “I’ll make the first move.” This is the kind of God, Jesus came to earth to introduce us to. And in Luke 15, Jesus tells one of my all-time favorite parables when He shared with us the behavior God manifests toward children who willfully wander away from His home of security and protection.
We call this story The Prodigal Son. It could easily have been a daughter except that the “inheritance” in that culture and at that time, went to the son and asking to receive your “inheritance” before your father’s death was a key element in the way Jesus told this story. In fact, I didn’t understand how important this part of the story was until I read what author Kenneth E. Bailey wrote in his book about the parables, Poet and Peasantand how author Henri Nouwen underscores this request in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
To properly set the stage, Jesus told a story about a man with two sons. The younger, tired of the confines of his father’s house, asked for his “portion” of the family inheritance. Here’s how this act is described and how such a request would have been viewed at that time:
“The evangelist Luke tells it all so simply and so matter-of-factly that it is difficult to realize fully that what is happening here is an unheard-of event: hurtful, offensive, and in radical contradiction to the most venerated tradition of the time. The son’s manner of leaving is tantamount to wishing his father dead,” Bailey writes.
“For over fifteen years I have been asking people of all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of a son’s request for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has always been emphatically the same…the conversation runs as follows:
‘Has anyone every made such a request in your village?
Could anyone ever make such a request?
If anyone ever did, what would happen?
His father would beat him, of course!
The request means – he wants his father to die.’”
Bailey explains that the son asks for the division of the inheritance, but also for the right to dispose of his part. “After signing over his possessions to his son, the father still has the right to live off the proceeds…as long as he is alive. Here the younger son gets, and thus is assumed to have demanded, disposition to which, even more explicitly, he has no right until the death of his father. The implication of ‘Father, I cannot wait for you to die,’ underlies both requests” (Bailey, p.164).
As Henri Nouwen views this story, he shares: The son’s “leaving” is, therefore, a much more offensive act than it seems at first reading. It is a heartless rejection of the home in which the son was born and nurtured and a break with the most precious tradition carefully upheld by the larger community of which he was a part. When Luke writes, ‘and left for a distant country,’ he indicates much more than the desire of a young man to see more of the world. He speaks of a drastic cutting loose from the way of living, thinking, and acting that has been handed down to him from generation to generation as a sacred legacy. More than disrespect, it is a betrayal of the treasured values of family and community. The ‘distant country’ is the world in which everything considered holy at home is disregarded.”
As this story continues, we find the young man blew all his money and ended up in a pigpen eating corn husks. Down in the slop he got to thinking about good old dad and the soft, warm bed he left at home and said to himself, “Things weren’t so bad with my father. I think maybe I’ll go home.” But, he wondered how his father would ever accept his smelly, disheveled exterior and his rotted out interior.
Oliver McTernan paints this picture of the son’s return home:
“The younger son in the story was totally responsible for his own downfall. When he decided to return home he was motivated by feelings of self-pity and self-preservation rather than by any sense of sorrow for what he had done. The father allowed none of this to get in the way of his desire to re-admit his wayward son into the family circle. At the risk of looking foolish in the eyes of the rest of his household, he runs out to greet his son. There is no wagging finger or prolonged interrogation, no “I hope you learnt your lesson.’
The story is about God’s love for us. God’s is a love that allows us space to make mistakes, a love that is not possessive, jealous, or intrusive. That does not mean that God is indifferent to our plight. Whatever our human condition, be it self-induced through ignorance or arrogance, we remain loveable in the eyes of a God who is always ready to embrace us unconditionally.”
The story of the prodigal son is a story of God – “getting busy.” A God who has taken the initiative and done everything He can to put into action a plan to bring me back into the family. It’s an unbelievable plan that brings me home!
“Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here.”
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, ungrateful? I cannot look on Thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them,
Let my shame go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love,
“who bore the blame? You must sit down,” says Love,
“and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
“But the Father said to His servants…Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this my (daughter) was dead and is alive again; (she) was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15: 22-24
“Cries of desperation
Like the screaming sea gull
Robbed of his food
Knowing ears are not dull
Threatened and hungry
He pursues til he gains
All he has lost
Til it’s his again.
Give me such desire
As the gull has
That I not rest
Til returned to Your home
In looking for other
Your love for me
Like a faithful mother
Jesus calls me friend
You call me son
I want to know You
Til You’re the only one
For there is none like You
Of this I am sure
Your love for me is holy
Powerful and pure.”
Cries of a Desperate Heart
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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