El Salvador – The Prodigal Son

Hello everyone,

I apologize again that we have not posted a review of the trip yet.  We have had busy weeks with new stresses recently.  Amanda has recently started a new case with more hours and we have been working to get the house prepared for winter.

I hate to disappoint, but we still do not have our review ready to post.  I promise that it is on our to-do lists!

To tide you over until then, I have included the transcript of the the message/lesson that I (Dan) gave at la fuente, the after-school ministry that we were helping at.  Enjoy.

Luke 15:11-24

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “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.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 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.

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

22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

This parable of the two sons presents us with a lot of truth, wrapped up in this short section.  Jesus has this amazing ability to use the parables to teach about who he is and what our relationship with Him can look like in just a few paragraphs.

In this parable, Jesus tells about God’s reaction to two different ways that we may interact with Him.  today, we will focus on what the older brother in this parable teaches us, and next time we are here, John will talk about what the older brother in this parable teaches us about our relationship with God.

Let’s start by making an observation about who the father in this story is.  Honestly, we don’t really get very much information about the father at the start here.  What we do see is that he loves and generously gives to his children.  Right in the beginning, in verse 12, the younger son asks fora  portion of his fathers property, his inheritance.  This request was highly unusual.  Typically, an inheritance is given upon the death of the father.  Even when the portion of the fathers property was given before death, it was the fathers choice.  The son was requesting something that was not yet his, with a  complete disregard for the fathers authority.  The younger son was seeking and asking for the things the father could give, but had little regard for his father.  Even still, the father generously grants the son what is not yet his.

Both sons are starting this parable here, in the presence of their father, each with a share of their fathers property.  it is at this point that their paths diverge.  The younger son, the same son that was asking for his inheritance, takes what his father has given him and leaves his father.  He goes far away and spends everything.  He was living the good-life, enjoying what comfort “things” could give him, until famine struck.  The only work he could find didn’t even pay well enough to provide him a decent meal.

In fact, he had nothing to eat and spent his days deeding pigs.  In their culture, pigs were incredibly unclean animals.  For him to work feeding pigs was the lowest of jobs he could have had.  It would have been shameful and humiliating.  Imagine a rich son who leaves his father, spends all that he has been given, and the only job he can get is worse than a garbage man [in Salvadoran culture, the garbage man was seen as one of the most unclean, shameful jobs].

Have you ever felt like that? We are often just like the younger son in this story.  God has already granted us more than what we deserve, and well before we before we should have received it.  he has given us life and joy, skills and desires, day and night, and we squander them all.  God wants us to thrive near him but we insist that we take control, walk away from him, and throw away what He has so graciously given us.

It can be tempting to depend on these gifts; God has given us many, great things.  But when we depend on these things that God has given us instead of on God himself, the joy and comfort that the gifts provide, does not last.  They cannot be self-sustaining.

We can depend on our friends and family, but they will let us down and disappoint us.  We can depend on our own strength and skills, but we will not be able to do it on our own.  we can depend on having stuff or relationships but they will not continue to satisfy us.

Because then, when we have had our fun, famine arises, ans we are left feeding the pigs, in the lowest of all places.  Maybe the famine deprives you of food, or perhaps you are void of joy?  or you feel alone? or hopeless?

Maybe you experience a physical famine and feel dirtier than a garbage man, but your famine may not be so tangible, but instead seen in some of these other ways.  maybe no one else can tell that you feel like you are missing something in your life and no amount of success and comfortable living can fill that void.

The beautiful thing is that this story, our story, doesn’t end with the famine.  The son comes humbly back to the father, planning to ask for a job.  The son knew that he had done his father wrong, and that something must be done to make up for his mistakes.  He prepares an apology, admitting his faults, and plans to beg fora  place as a servant at his fathers house.

But before he even gets there, the father comes running with arms open wide.  Though the son was prepared to apologize, the father ignores his apologies and instead embraces his son, and begins preparing for a celebration of his return.

The father gives more gifts to his son that had returned.  he brings the best robe, puts a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and he kills the fattened calf.  These were all valuable gifts hat the son did not deserve.  He may have deserved to be living with the pigs, or, at best, his fathers servant because he squandered what his father had already given him, but instead the father gave him compassion, and a loving embrace.

Likewise, we do not deserve to return to God, our father.  We may even feel like we need to do something to make up for what we have done.  This feeling that something must be done before we can come to God isn’t wrong.  We had spent our inheritance and it is not free to replace.  But our God ran to us before we even started our journey back to Him.  He loves us so much that He doesn’t require us to pay back what we have squandered.  Instead, He sacrificed His perfect, sinless son, Jesus, to bare the weight of our actions.  We had accumulated a debt to pay and Jesus paid it in full.  We were dead, and are now alive through Christ.

No matter how far we have walked away from God, He is still waiting with open arms to lovingly embrace you, graciously forgive you, and joyfully celebrate your return.


 

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Victory in Jesus

With the Olympics coming to a close in the next week,  I thought it would be a good time to revisit this post from last year.  This truth is something that I often need to remind myself.  I have added a little more to this post than was posted in 2014.  Comment your thoughts at the bottom of the page. Enjoy.


We have victory in Jesus! That is really awesome, isn’t it?  We will “run the race set before us” and because we have Jesus, not even the fastest man in the world can catch us, right?  We finish looking like this:

Bolt at the Finish line

Usain Bolt crossing the finish line.

We have crossed the finish line, and we feel great, we may even raise our arms to praise Jesus (BTW, that’s not why Bolt has his arms raised).  Sounds lovely.

Unfortunately, victory in Jesus, is not always so lovely.  When we cross the finish line, we will probably look less like Usain Bolt than we would like to (especially me, as one look at me could tell you that I am definitely not Jamaican).  The sad truth is that if we are truly living our lives for Jesus, we will be beat up, the race will be hard, and we will most definitely have some hurdles to get over in our lives.  When we cross the finish line, we are more likely to look like this after we cross:

26-erik-sjoqvist-is-exhausted-at-the-finish-line-of-the-5000m-event

Erik Sjoqvist is exhausted at the finish line of the 5000m event.

or like this when we feel so weak we can’t even stay on our feet:

a-fitts_20111105_1258-edited

Kristan Higgins finishing the 10K meter run.

or like this when we can’t move alone

Meghan Vogel helping Arden McMath across the finish line at their high school state track meet.

Meghan Vogel helping Arden McMath across the finish line at their high school state track meet.

or even like this:

Bill Iffrig lay on the ground after a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Bill Iffrig lay on the ground after a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

All of these runners had long, hard runs.  They were not sprinting 200 meters, but running races of endurance (Hebrews 12).

The point here is that there most definitely is victory in Jesus, but victory in Jesus usually means limping across the finish line after a long, hard race.  We all have our pitfalls, we all have things that we struggle with.  We all have our sins that we can’t seem to escape, no matter how hard we try or how far we run.  The good news is that we still have victory in Jesus; while that does not mean that all of our struggles will go away, we will still cross the finish line into heaven.  Some of us will cross still struggling with addictions or with overcoming a particular sin, but no matter how much it hurts, no matter if we can stay on our feet or need to lean on those around us, all of the followers of Jesus will have victory in Him.

 


Original content posted by Dan Buckley on Oct 27, 2014.

P.S. The men’s marathon will be running while you are  church on Sunday.  Keep the phones in your pocket until the preachers says Amen. 😉

I’m Pressing the Reset Button Now

Reset. Start over. Try again. Do overs. I feel like this is my theme right now, and it is apply to every area of my life.

I find myself getting stuck in a cyclical pattern of personal growth where I make some progress towards growth, then stop pursuing growth which means I stop making growth (or even backtracking), and then I face the decision whether to start the pursuit again or give up. I get really frustrated when I realize that I’ve stopped trying, especially when I’m desperately trying to make growth. There are two areas where this frustrates me the most, 1) my relationship with my Savior, and 2) my relationship with myself.

One of my big pictures goals is to have self-control, while still submitting wholeheartedly to the Lord. I let things like anxiety, delicious desserts, netflix, and the enemy (who likes to use self-doubt, self-hatred, and the “you can’t do it” mentality) make decisions for me so that I don’t do what I’ve just said I’m going to do. We all deal with this! And I keep saying to myself that I’m going to stop letting everything around me dictate what decision I’m going to make.

But I have to fight this pattern several times every day, and I have to constantly be putting in the effort to make better choices. But I mess up. A lot. And sometimes, I make a string of bad choices before I catch myself. And so what happens? I have to reset. I have to stop, think, and make the right choice. I also have to forgive myself for my mistakes, and when sin is involved, I have to ask God (and often Dan) to forgive me as well.

These cycles even happen in my relationship with God as well, specifically in my spiritual practices, like daily prayer and scripture reading. It’s not that my faith is wavering, but it is my ability to put Him first each and every moment of each and every day. That is a choice that we all have to make. And even when we make the wrong choice, He is always there to welcome us back like the prodigal son.

Scripture constantly uses the word “steadfast” to describe God, which is good news to us because we are such flaky beings! We have a steadfast, unchanging, unwavering God who is not going to shift on us when we make wrong choices! I am so thankful that our God is this loving, merciful, and awesome to not be thrown off when I’m dancing around in circles instead of walking on His straight path. Now, I just have to choose to cling to Him.

I’ve had a bit of a “blog drought” and I’m hoping that this post will be another chance for me to reset here as well. Life constantly involves moments were we just have to reset ourselves so that we can get back on the path we want to be taking. I pray that He can lift me up and get me back on track so that I’m walking in His way, and I humbly ask that you pray for me as well. Thank you!

God is Always There

The coolest thing about our God is that He is always there, and He is NOT dependent upon me for any of it. Seriously, I had this seemly silly realization this week: God is like the best friend who I can pick up a relationship with, no matter when we had last talked! I love my earthly best friend, and I love that our relationship doesn’t change even we haven’t talked for days, weeks, or months. The greatest thing is that the relationship we have with God is even more awesome than our best friend relationships! God and I can pick up our conversation and relationship if it has been minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, etc, and THAT IS SO AWESOME!

Now, you may think that this is not that big of a relationship, but let me give you the backstory to this realization. I have been in a bit of a bible-drought lately, and it hasn’t felt too good to be out of communication with my Heavenly Father. This past week, I finally got back into the Word and it felt great! God met me again in His word even though we hadn’t talked in a while.

I started reading the Psalms and in Matthew. Personally, I like to read something from both each day, but I read as little or as much as I want to. Some days, I still don’t open my bible and I am praying that the Lord draws me so close to Him that I go running to His Word like I run to my best friends or husband. Other days, I just get in a chapter or two, and feel satisfied to hear His word to start my day. When my day goes how I have planned it, I read a few psalms and a few chapters in the Gospel, while also taking time to intentionally pray with scripture. The best thing is that no matter when, where, or for however long I’m in the Word, HE MEETS ME THERE. I don’t have to bring perfect theology, hours of time, or even a settled heart to feel His love and be sustained through His word.

So go there. Be in His word. See Him. And feel your heart drawn to the one who has made ALL things possible.

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. – Psalm 55:22

PS Remember, we are righteous when we put our trust in Jesus, and then His righteousness extends to us! (2 Corinthians 5:21 says “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”). It can be a confusing idea, but I’d love to articulate what I am learning if you are curious. Just send a comment or message my way!

 

It is God who redeems

Accountability. I need it. One great thing about this blog is that I am accountable for my quiet time with my Bible. How can I be writing in a blog that focuses on Him without spending time to focus on Him? Clearly, the answer is that I can’t, and so here we go!

This first thought comes from my reading in Psalm 26:11, which reads, “I lead a blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me”. Throughout Psalm 26, David  basically is saying ‘Hey God, I’m doing good stuff and living a good life that brings you worship’, but at the end, he threw in this little gem that stuck with me! David could DO a lot of different things (i.e. not sitting with bad men and not consorting with hypocrites (v.4), washing his hands in innocence (v.5), etc.), but he knew that it is God who redeems him. AND David needed God’s mercy in the end because his life wasn’t actually that blameless!

Now, this doesn’t mean we should stop trying to lead a blameless life, but it is a reminder as to who is the one doing the saving at the end of the day. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I think David got this point, even though he didn’t know the end of the story. On the cross, Jesus died the death that we should have died to give us the life that we don’t deserve. It is that sacrifice and gift that brings us redemption, mercy, grace, and eternal life with our God, not any of the works we try to do. This is a great thing, because my works will never be good enough, but Jesus’ sacrifice is always enough and His righteousness always meets the mark!