Prodigal Love

Art by Aaron and Alan Hicks

“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” Ephesians 1:5-8

Prodigal love is lavish love. It is love freely and seemingly recklessly given. Today’s gospel lesson told of the reckless, seeming wastefully spent love of a father on a son who who had squandered the inheritance he received from his father and had returned broke and broken. The father’s prodigal love cared not what looked appropriate as he ran to wrap his son in his embrace and welcome him home. Robing him in fine clothes, feeding him a feast, and serenading him with celebratory song–all fit for a prince, not a wayward son. Such was the father’s prodigal love.

Such is the love of God for me…and for you. It is the same prodigal love. God the Father did not spare His beloved Son. That is why Jesus came to earth–to give his life, freely, recklessly, without reserve. His life for ours. On the Cross He wore our sins so that we might be robed in His righteousness. He comes running to find us wherever we are and to fold us into His embrace. He tells us He has prepared a home in Heaven for all who believe in Him, who return to Him and accept His prodigal love.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

“If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened…I will give you rest.”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

We may be prodigals, but we have an even greater Prodigal Father!

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Advent Preparation

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Peter 2:9

Nathan Ward candle

Photo by Nathan Ward

Advent.  A time to reflect on our need for a Savior.  Do we need saving?  Indeed!  Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian, wrote a collection of Meditations on Divine Mercy.   His writings are helping me this Advent season to dwell on God’s mercy towards all mankind which culminated in the birth, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Pray with me Gerhard’s  prayer– “Thanksgiving for Conversion”

“O gracious God, I give thanks to You that You converted my hardened heart, which did not know how to repent, and that You removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  I had the power to fall into sin and guilt.  I did not have the power to rise to repentance.  By my own power, I was able to go astray.  I was able to return to the right path ONLY by Your power.  Just as one who is born crippled cannot be restored with natural remedies but only by divine power, so my soul was born spiritually curved toward sin and earthly things.  No human power could correct it.  Only Your grace was able to restore my soul so it loved You and desired Your heavenly blessings.  I had the power to deform myself by various sins.  You alone were able to reform me.  Just as an Ethiopian cannot change his skin or the leopard his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so I was not able to do good because I was fully devoted to doing evil.

“You, my God, converted me, and I am converted (Jeremiah 31:18)  After I was converted by You, I repented.  After I came to understand, I struck my breast (Jeremiah 31:19).  I was dead in sin, and You made me alive.  I was able to contribute as much to my conversion as a dead person is able to contribute to his resurrection (John 6:44;  John 11:43).  If You had not drawn me, I would never have come to You.  If you had not awakened me, I would never have watched for You.  If you had not enlightened me, I would never have seen You.  Sins were sweeter to me than honey and honeycomb.  That they are now pungent and bitter, I owe to You, the one who gave me my spiritual taste.  Virtuous works were more bitter to me than gall and aloe.  That they are now pleasing and delightful, I owe only to You, the one who changed my corrupt fleshly judgment by the Spirit.  I went astray as a sheep that was lost (Isaiah 53:6);  I turned to the way of iniquity.  But You, Good Shepherd, sought me and led me back to the flock of the saints.

“Only recently have I recognized You, the true light, because there were great, dark clouds before my vain eyes that prevented me from seeing the light of truth.  Recently, I have recognized You, the true light, because I was blind and loved blindness and walked through the darkness of sin toward the darkness of hell.  But You, my illuminator, sought the one who was not seeking You.  You called the one who was not calling to You.  You converted the one who was not converted to You.  With a voice full of power, You said, “Let there be light in the inner parts of this heart,” and there was light.  I saw Your light and recognized my blindness.  For this immeasurable kindness, I will praise Your name forever.   AMEN.

from Meditations on Divine Mercy:  A Classic Treasury of Devotional Prayers by Johann Gerhard.  Translated by Matthew C. Harrison.  CPH  pp. 75-76.

 

April 14 Increase Our Faith!

Photo by Sandara Lee

Photo by Sandara Lee

Joshua 9:3-10:43;  Luke 16:19-17:10;  Psalm 83:1-18;  Proverbs 3:4

“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to  come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, saying “I repent,” you must forgive him.

* * * * *

“The Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Luke 17:1-6

Television shows, movies and songs glorify revenge; glorify inflicting harm in return for an injury received (sometimes even one that is just ‘perceived’).  ‘Someone hurt me, I’m going to hurt her in return even if she says that she’s sorry for what she did.’

Revenge makes for juicy, emotionally charged story plots that reinforce human nature’s view of justice, of fairness.

Where does Jesus’ teaching about repentance and forgiveness fit into those kinds of stories?

Where does Jesus’ teaching fit into my life or your life when a great wrong has been done and our human nature cries out for a chance to get even?

The Apostles’ cry in response to the Lord’s teaching about repentance and forgiveness is our cry, “Lord, increase our faith!”

They knew how impossible it was to do what Jesus was asking of them.

We know how hard it is to forgive.

Jesus knows it is impossible on our own strength.

But He gives us what we need to do what He asks of us.

He gives us more faith.  Faith capable of doing the impossible!

Lord God, your ways are not our ways.  Please help us to follow your ways!  Increase our faith today, so that we can forgive those who have sinned against us.  Help us to remember the great cost that Jesus paid on the Cross–instead of getting revenge on all those who mistreated Him, sinned against Him–He bore our sins and suffered death.  But Praise to you, O God, you raised Jesus from the dead.  His resurrection power bolsters our faith and enables us to do the impossible in Jesus’ name!  Grant, Lord, that we forgive even as you have forgiven us.  For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

December 11 Walking Clothes

Photo by Kevin Carden

Photo by Kevin Carden

Amos 4:1-6:14;  Revelation 2:18-3:6;  Psalm 130:1-8;  Proverbs 29:21-22

“I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and your will not know what hour I will come against you.

***

“Yet you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.  I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

Revelation 3:1-5

Jesus gave a wake up call to the Christians in Sardis.  Their reputation was solid, but it was a charade and Jesus saw right through it.

Wow.  That means He can see right through me too. When I think I’m walking the walk, and talking the talk Jesus says, “Wake up!

I’ve been doing some sleeping lately; my motivation for writing a Christian blog on a daily basis teeters on a “have to” thing rather than a missional “I want to serve Him in this way, this day” thing.

That’s why Jesus’ words in this letter to the Sardis Christians speak hope to me:  Repent!  He sees.  He forgives.  He gives me His set of walking clothes–His righteousness won for me on the Cross are mine to wear, because I believe in Him and what He is able to do through me!

Thank you Lord God, for your letters to me and to all Christians as found in the book of Revelation.  Thank you for caring enough about our spiritual welfare that you write us strong warnings and give us your encouragement to “hang on.” Thank you for the assurance that our names are written in the book of life as we continue to put our faith and trust in You and You alone.  In this season of Advent, may we remember your letters to us and to give you thanks and praise.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

November 8 NEVERTHELESS

Photo by Laura Jostes

Photo by Laura Jostes

Ezekiel 18:1-19:14;  Hebrews 9:1-10;  Psalm 106:32-48;  Proverbs 27:10

“Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;

he gave them into the hands of the nations,

so that those who hated them ruled over them…

Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes

and were brought low through their iniquity.

NEVERTHELESS

he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.

For their sake he remembered his covenant,

and he relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”  Psalm 106:40-45

~

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful.”  2 Timothy 2:13

~

We are not so unlike the children of Israel,

who, even though they experienced deliverance upon deliverance

and miracle upon miracle

and visibly saw the glory of the Lord

go before them as fire by night and cloud by day,

and the walls of Jericho fall at their feet

and their enemies driven away by the Hand of God,

turned away from Almighty God

to chase after idols and adopt the ways of the unbelieving

nations around them.

~

We, who have been saved by faith,

washed in the waters of Baptism,

partaken of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist,

have succumbed to the siren song of sin

seeking to please ourselves rather than God,

to listen to “new”, “enlightened” voices of this age

promising self-fulfillment, bank accounts overflowing,

and disease free living;

have neglected God and His Word by skipping worship,

by stingy giving,

by neglecting the needs of our neighbors.

NEVERTHELESS

God remembers that He sent His beloved Son, Jesus, to this earth to be the price-payer for our very

rebellious souls.

He remembers the cost of His Son’s life

given freely on the Cross–for us–

and in his never ending love and compassion

has mercy on us when we cry out to Him

dirtied from the pollution of our choosing,

and puts His Son’s robe of righteousness upon us!

Thank you, Father God for the NEVERTHELESS aspect of Your relationship with us;  that in spite of our weakness and waywardness, you let us come before Your throne by grace.  Thank you Jesus, for your sacrifice, for breaking down the wall that separated us from the Father, for your continual intercession on our behalf.  Thank you Holy Spirit, for bearing the sword of Truth that pierces our hearts, convicts us of our sin, and restores us to fellowship with one another and with You. “Save us, O Lord, our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your Holy Name and glory in Your praise.  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! —and let all the people say “Amen!”  Praise the Lord.

August 9 Hard Stuff

Photo by Richard Wong

Photo by Richard Wong


Ezra 8:21-9:15; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Psalm 31:1-8; Proverbs 21:1-2

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name ‘brother’ if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolator, reviler, drunkard or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-13

Church discipline.

St. Paul addresses the Corinthian Christians regarding one of its members who claims to be a Christian yet lives in sin with his stepmother.

What to do? What to do?

Paul’s pretty clear about what to do–

Excommunicate. Remove from fellowship. Call a spade a spade.

In the hope that the man might see the truth of his sin, repent and be restored.

Church discipline.
Is it necessary?
Is it vital?
Is it soul-saving?

Indeed it is!

Lord God, grant wisdom and discernment to those in authority over our church bodies–our congregations–our places of fellowship–to do the needful disciplining–to speak the truth in love, to offer forgiveness to those who repent, to restore to fellowship those who have renounced their sinful ways. Lord, search my own heart and bring to light anything in me that is contrary to your will that I may not be a stumbling block to my brothers and sisters in the faith. Bless O Lord your Word of Law and Gospel that it may have its full effect in the Body of Christ our Lord. Thank and praise you that because of Christ’s work on the cross no one need be lost. We have the assurance of full forgiveness. In Jesus’ name and for his sake I pray, Amen.

August 2 Never Too Late

Photo by Matt Gruber

Photo by Matt Gruber


2 Chronicles 32:-33:13; Romans 15:23-16:7; Psalm 25:16-22; Proverbs 20:16-18

“Manassah was 12 years old when he became king and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty five years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals…He bowed down to all the starry hosts…He sacrificed his sons in the fire…practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than all the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress, he (Manasseh) sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” 2 Chronicles 33:1-13

No matter how far we might stray
from the faith,
succumb to the siren
songs of false gods,
plumb the depths
of depravity
it is never too far
from the ears and heart
of God
who picks up a humbled
heart’s plea for help
and returns a repentant
one to the start,
to a forgiven beginning.

Thank you Father that even the most horrendous life is redeemable in your sight. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That is why you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, that we, who have been led around by the hook of sin in our noses, might be set free. May we take this message of hope to those who fear it is too late for them. May we take them your message of Grace–for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

May 12 The Cure

Image

Photo by Charl Christiani

1 Samuel 12:1-13:22;  John 7:1-29;  Psalm 108:1-13; Proverbs 15:4

“The tongue that brings healing is the tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Proverbs 15:4

 

Speak the truth

in love.

The truth may

hurt,

may prick the

edge of guilt,

may pry it off

a heart

bound with self-

justification and deceit.

Speak the truth

in love

to free the sin-sick soul,

to ease the

aches and pains

of one who needs

to hear–

“You’ve messed up.”

( the Diagnosis)

“You have a Savior.”

( the Cure)

Lord God, even as I believe in you and have assurance of eternal life, I still sin.  I still covet and lust and lie and rationalize and fail to do your will.  When my spirit feels the weight of my sin, your Spirit comes to me and applies the surgical knife of the Law-“You messed up”-and the Gospel-“but you are forgiven in Christ Jesus.”  Repentance and forgiveness restore me.  Thank you for your healing Word of truth.  Grant, Lord, that I may speak to those who need to hear a good word–Your good Word.  For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

May 5 Sent To Messes

Image

Photo by Russell Martin

Judges 21:1- Ruth 1:22;  John 4:4-42;  Psalm 105:1-15;  Proverbs 14:25

“Now he (Jesus) had to go through Samaria.  So he came to a town called Sychar…Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink? (for Jews don’t associate with Samaritans.”  John 4:4-9

A woman–

part Jew part Gentile

mixed up

messed up

thirsty

meets up with the Messiah

who also thirsts

with longing to

draw her

to the living water that

only He can give.

 

He comes to messes

like her

with the message

of hope

that what has happened

in the past

need not determine

the future

if one drinks deeply

from the well

of repentance

and is filled with

assurance of sins

forgiven.

 

The woman,

 mess turned messenger

talks to the town

bids them come

to the well.

More messes come

take drink,

and are filled to

life everlasting.

 

Thirst quenched.

 

“They said to the woman, we no longer believe just because of what you said;  now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  John 4:42

Lord God, thank you for saving messes like me–for giving me the thirst quenching truth of your love and grace and mercy–that my sins are forgiven and you remember them no more.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

“And Jesus said, “Come to the water

stand by my side.

I know you are thirsty

you won’t be denied.

I’ve felt every teardrop

when in darkness

you cried

and I strove to remind you

that for those tears

I died.”

 

January 19 Seeds

Image

Image by Natanis Davidsen

 

Genesis39:1-41:16;  Matthew 12:46-13:23;  Psalm 17:1-15;  Proverbs 3:33-35

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  This is the seed sown along the path.  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  but since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.  The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.  But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:18-23

Lord God, bless the hearing of your Word today.  May seeds of faith be received on soil ready to receive it through repentance and acceptance of Your Grace through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  We thank you for your life giving Word!  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.