Where’s your prodigal?

” . . . the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining”. – 1 John 2:8b

Has someone you love walked away? Rejected what you believe? Who you are? The way you live? It hurts, doesn’t it? And nothing you do seems to fix the problem.

Then sometimes God steps in. And when he does, we find out he had a plan all along. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, a 1st-century Christian. One day, Onesimus ran away. Runaway slaves in that time could be put to death. It was a serious crime to break free.

Onesimus headed for Rome, probably thinking he would never be found on the crowded streets. But, God made sure Onesimus met Paul, and Paul introduced him to Jesus. Everything changed for Onesimus at that moment, and Paul apparently told him he had to make things right with Philemon. He had to go back home.

Paul sent him on his way with a letter to Philemon explaining the change in Onesimus now that he was a Jesus follower. He asked Philemon to take Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as Christian brother. In fact, Paul says that maybe, just maybe, Onesimus’ escape was for an eternal purpose: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever.” (v. 15)

God knows the bigger picture: He may have a plan for our prodigals that means we can have them back forever. So we stand still and strong, praying and trusting that, at just the right time, he’ll step in to help them find their way back to him and back to us. Keep the light on.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

 

 

Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Me, too.

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“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love”. – Psalm 17:6-7a

The bleeding woman was healed. She came to Jesus in desperation. She came secretly, pushing through the crowds, bending low to touch the edge of His robe, hoping beyond hope His power would flow through to her and stop the bleeding she had experienced for twelve long, expensive, lonely, and frightening years.

She was immediately and completely healed and, amazed, turned to leave. But Jesus did not let her go unnoticed. Instead He called her to face Him in front of the pressing crowd and He lovingly pronounced her clean saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Does anyone else want that? Do you have something in your life from which you want to be released or healed? An old wound? A destructive habit? An illness or condition? A pain-filled relationship? A spiritual frustration?

Me, too, Lord.

Heal me of my past, my pain, all that causes me to bleed.

Free me from my suffering.

May I, too, go in peace.

Me, too, Lord. 

I want to be whole, usable, intimate with You.

“God’s gift was – and is – a visible reminder that He is interested in restoring the lives of those who have been broken, battered, and desperate.” – Jo Kadlecek

 

Broken

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“When there is nothing left that we can do, God can do anything.” – Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Have you ever made a bad mistake? Or followed a sinful desire? Or been deeply wounded by someone? If so, you will be able to relate to this story told by a professor from California:

“In my office sits a pot. A student made it as an extra credit assignment in a class for me last Spring. She wanted to do something other than a typical research assignment, so we decided she could do a piece of art.

She went to Home Depot, bought the ceramic pot, broke it into pieces, painted each piece, wrote a New Testament passage on each piece that speaks about God restoring and redeeming us, then made a valiant effort to glue it all together again.

When she delivered her finished assignment to me, I asked her what spiritual lessons she had learned from the exercise. She did not hesitate. ‘Two things,’ she said.

‘First, I discovered that the pieces would never fit perfectly back as they once were. Then I realized that no matter what God did in my life, I would never be exactly as I once was.’

‘Second, it took me far longer to reconstruct the pot than I imagined. And I realized that the work of God in my life might take a lot longer than I expect. I should be patient.'”

Broken? It’s OK. God can work with pieces if we consciously, intentionally give them to Him. Then we need to be patient while He works, knowing He has a beautiful result in mind!

“I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” – Psalm 51:17 (MSG)

(Story used by permission from Dr. David Timms, Professor of New Testament at William Jessup University. Go to http://www.davidtimms.wordpress.com if you want to read more from him.)

Cracked

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“For God . . . made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6

I’m cracked. Really cracked. I have lived enough years now to look back on my life and recognize the bumps along the way that have caused cracks.

Some came as a result of bad decisions I made, others because of decisions other people made that hurt me in some way. Some are there because of my own sinfulness and failures. Many cracks came just because I live in a broken, sinful world and bad stuff happens to us all.

No matter how those cracks got there, I live with them. They are part of me now. That seemed like a sad thought until I realized the cracks are the places in my life where God was able to reach me, to teach me, to remold me, and to fill me with His light.

With that understanding, being cracked is not so bad. The light has to get in before it can shine out! Cracks allow both.

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.” 

I have a feeling that you are cracked, too. Let’s thank God for the experiences in our lives that allow His light to come in. Our cracks make us unique light-givers in God’s gallery of broken, but usable, vessels!

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

  • Quote from Leonard Cohen

Seeing and Being Seen

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“I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light.” ~Mary Gardiner Brainard

Do you remember Hagar, Sarah’s maid? When she and Sarah had a confrontation, Hagar ran away. As she sat despairingly in the desert, God spoke to her, told her to go back to Sarah, and then gave her promises about the son she carried and the descendants who would follow. Hagar’s difficult circumstances had not changed, but after she met God, she saw everything in new light. Her response was “You are the God who sees me . . . I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:13b)

I thought back on my own life and remembered all the times that “the God who sees” was with me just as He was with Hagar. I thought of times of financial stress, family crises, job pressures, and health issues. He was present at every turn for me. Seeing His hand, even in retrospect, is powerful. “Lord, You see, You know, You do not run away. You stick by my side and are more powerful, more loving, more consistent, and closer than any human companion could possibly be. Thank You for coming close to me when I felt lost and alone.”

The God who sees is also the God who lets us see Him. As we do, we become aware of His provision, guidance, and intervention. For Hagar it was promises about Ishmael and his descendants and direction to go back to Sarah. For me it has been reassurance, understanding, opened pathways, restored relationships, and wisdom.

My life is still messy sometimes, and I am sure yours is too. I am learning to look for God in the middle of the mess – I know for sure He is there! And He’s there in your mess, too. Stop and look – He wants us to see Him!

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)