LEARNING FROM THE PRODIGAL SON

Father, I have sinned.  Luke 15:18

The Prodigal Son didn’t get into trouble until he left the safety of his Father’s house. Jesus pointed out 4 things about him:

(1) “He wasted his substance.” Satan is a bait-and-switch expert. If you heed his call to come out and play, you’ll end up losing the very substance of who you are and what God’s called you to be. (2) “He went and joined himself to a citizen of that country.” Want to know where you are spiritually? Look at who you hang out with and take advice from. Who do you call, who calls you? Solomon writes, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them” (Pr 1:10 NIV). (3) “He began to be in want.” Something’s wrong! In his father’s house he never missed a meal, now he’s eating what pigs eat. He’s trying to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. Are you doing that? David said, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps 23:1). Who’s that promise for? Those who live in the safety of the sheepfold and stay close to the shepherd. (4) “He came to himself. ” When his elevator could go no lower he decided to get off. Mercifully, he still could. Some don’t get to. The Bible says: “Today, [not tomorrow] if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb 3: 15 NIV). It wasn’t too late for the Prodigal—and it’s not too late for you. The moment he changed his prayer from “give me” to “forgive me,” his father opened his arms, welcomed him home and restored him to sonship. And God will do the same for you, if you let Him.



WHY KEEP THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

God has come to test you. Exodus 20:20 NIV

We don’t hear much about the Ten Commandments these days. They’ve become more like ten suggestions— for others.

“Thou shalt not steal—from me.” Why is this? Because like children, we want to do what we want to do. Ever watch a child learning to walk? She totters this way, then the other way, weaving like a miniature adult who’s had too much to drink. But consider for a moment where that little girl would be with no adults around; if no doors, gates or fences contained her wobbly steps. She might stagger into the neighbor’s yard where the Rottweiler has just gotten loose, or fall into a drainage ditch and be swept away by the current washing down the gutter. It’s vital that she have boundaries. In fact, most children, as well as adults, feel more secure in knowing their boundaries than in having unrestricted freedom. The Ten Commandments serve this purpose. God knows our tendencies like a protective parent knows how to keep a toddler from wandering into dangerous places. Although delivered to the ancient Israelites for their guidance, these commandments remain valid life instructions for us as His modern day children. Instead of seeing them as a list of “Thou shalt nots,” we should see them in terms of protection, guidance, and relationship with Him. After Moses had delivered the Ten Commandments to the people he added “God has come to test you.. .to keep you from sinning.” God desires to make us happy—and holy. And the two go together. Contentment and fulfillment can only be achieved when we walk straight along the path the Lord has set before us.



LIVE IN GOD’S PRESENCE

I have set the Lord always before me. Psalms 16:8 NIV

The words “I have set the Lord always before me,” are the simplest description of spiritual life. When certain thoughts are present, there’s a good chance they’re the result of God walking alongside of us. The first thought involves feelings of reassurance. Whether it’s Joshua taking over from Moses, or Paul going through his worst storm, the message is: “Be not afraid. I am with you.” The second thought you’ll have when God is present is that you’ll get guidance. Maybe you’re stumped with some issue and then an idea comes to you. It might be a big one or a small one, but it will help. Or you’re about to say something that will inflict damage, and suddenly a little voice inside your head says “be quiet.” A third indicator of God’s presence is conviction of sin. You’re going down the wrong road and a little stab of pain says, “no, turn around.” Heed that voice or you’ll violate your values, diminish your influence, and end up guilt-ridden. The fourth kind of thought that will tell you God is present, is joy! “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Ps 16:11 NIV). It works like this: you put in an extra effort, something gets accomplished and you feel a surge of satisfaction—that’s what happened when God created the world, then said, “That’s good!” God can use any of those things to convey His presence. If you “Set the Lord always before [you]” you’ll begin to sense Him in your everyday life.



MONUMENTS

[My] life is worth nothing unless…Acts 20:24 TLB

It’s said that in Mount Hope Cemetery you’ll find several strange gravestones. Farmer John Davis had them erected. He began as a lowly hired hand, then managed to amass a considerable fortune. In the process he didn’t make many friends. Nor was he close to his wife’s family since they thought she had married beneath her. Embittered, he vowed not to leave them a penny. When his wife died Davis erected an elaborate statue which showed both her and him at opposite ends of a love seat. He was so pleased with this that he planned a second monument, with his wife kneeling at his future graveside placing a wreath. Then he had a sculptor place a pair of wings on her back. One idea led to another until he’d spent a quarter of a million dollars on monuments to his wife and himself. Whenever someone from the town asked him to contribute to a hospital or a swimming pool for children, etc., the old miser would say, “What’s this town ever done for me?” After using up all his money on statues, Davis died at 92, a lonely, grim-faced resident of the poorhouse. But his monuments… it’s strange… each one is slowly sinking into the Kansas soil, fast becoming victims of time, vandalism and neglect. Monuments of spite and self-centered living. There’s a certain poetic justice in the fact that within a few years they’ll all be gone. Oh, by the way, only one person attended Farmer Davis’ funeral: Horace England, the tombstone salesman. What a way to go! But not Paul: “[My] life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus.” Can you say that?



LIVING OUT OF THE WRONG BAG

 

Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Ephesians 5:17 TM

Have you ever mistakenly picked somebody else’s luggage off a conveyer belt at the airport and taken it home? Two seconds after opening it up you discovered—you can’t live out of somebody else’s bag! You can’t wear their clothes or fit into their shoes. So why do we try to? Parents! Dad says, “Son, your granddad was a farmer, I’m a farmer, and some day you’ll inherit the farm.” Teachers! A teacher warns a young girl who wants to be a stay-at-home mom, “Don’t squander your life. With your gifts you could make it to the top.” Church leaders! “Jesus was a missionary. Do you want to please Him? Spend your life on foreign soil.” Sound counsel or poor advice? That depends on what God packed in your bag. What if God made the farmer’s son with a passion for literature or medicine? Or gave that girl a love for kids and homemaking? If foreign cultures frustrate you while predictability invigorates you, what are the chances you’d be a happy missionary? “

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”

(Ps 139: 16 NIV). God gives us eyes for organization, ears for music, hearts that beat for justice, minds that understand physics, hands that love care giving, legs that run and win races. Secular thinking doesn’t buy this. It sees no author behind the book and no purpose behind or beyond life. It says “You can be anything you want to be.” Wrong! Don’t make their mistake. Don’t live carelessly or unthinkingly. “Make sure you understand what the Master wants.”


NOTHING IS EVER LOST!

apples

 

Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.    John 6:12 TM

Did you know that what starts as a curse can end as a blessing? When the Mexican boll weevil devastated the southeast Alabama cotton crop, farmers reverted to planting peanuts and ended up producing more than any county in the nation. Consequently the town of Rucker erected a monument bearing this inscription, “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity.”

When Jesus discovered Lazarus was sick he didn’t respond till after he’d been dead four days. But because Jesus was waiting didn’t mean He wasn’t working. He chose to demonstrate His resurrecting power—to prove that nothing’s too hard for God. Joseph was falsely imprisoned for 13 years. But God was with him and he went on to save multitudes, including his family who’d mistreated him. Joseph’s struggles made him better, not bitter. But it could have ended differently if he hadn’t maintained the right attitude, God used Esther to save her people, but first he put her in the position of living where she didn’t want to live and doing what she didn’t want to do. Even though a widow, Ruth ended up gleaning in a field where she met and married a wealthy man named Boaz. In addition to bearing him children, she became part of Jesus’ ancestral bloodline. So if you’re struggling to see God’s purpose in your suffering today, rest assured He has one. After feeding a multitude Jesus told His disciples, “

Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” In God’s kingdom nothing is ever lost. When you trust Him He makes “all things work together for good”

(Ro 8:28).


BE HUMBLE

the tempted Jesus

Do not be wise in your own eyes.   Proverbs 3:7 NIV

A member of the British Parliament took his 8 year-old daughter to visit Westminster Abbey. The awesomeness of it struck the little girl. As she stood looking up at the columns and studying its beauty and grandeur, her father said, “Sweetheart, what are you thinking?” She said, “Daddy, I was thinking how big you seem at home, and how small you look in here.”

God’s presence has a way of humbling us. And that’s good, because when we empty ourselves God has a useful vessel. Your Bible overflows with examples of those who did. In His gospel, Matthew mentions his own name only twice. Both times he calls himself a tax collector. In his list of apostles, he assigns himself the eighth spot. John doesn’t even mention his name in his gospel. The 20 appearances of the name “John” refer to the Baptist. John simply calls himself “the other disciple,” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Luke wrote two of the most important books in the Bible, but never once penned his own name. Paul, the Bible’s most prolific author, referred to himself as “a fool” (2Co 12: 11). He also called himself “the least of the apostles” (I COR 15:9). Five years later he claimed to be “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8). In one of his final epistles he referred to himself as “the chief of sinners” (See 1 Tim 1:15). As Paul grew older, his ego grew smaller. King David wrote no psalm celebrating his victory over Goliath. But he wrote a public psalm of penitence confessing his sin with Bathsheba (See Ps 51). So, the word for you today is ‘be humble!”



BE HUMBLE

the tempted Jesus

Do not be wise in your own eyes.  Proverbs 3:7 NIV

A member of the British Parliament took his 8 year-old daughter to visit Westminster Abbey. The awesomeness of it struck the little girl. As she stood looking up at the columns and studying its beauty and grandeur, her father said, “Sweetheart, what are you thinking?” She said, “Daddy, I was thinking how big you seem at home, and how small you look in here.”

God’s presence has a way of humbling us. And that’s good, because when we empty ourselves God has a useful vessel. Your Bible overflows with examples of those who did. In His gospel, Matthew mentions his own name only twice. Both times he calls himself a tax collector. In his list of apostles, he assigns himself the eighth spot. John doesn’t even mention his name in his gospel. The 20 appearances of the name “John” refer to the Baptist. John simply calls himself “the other disciple,” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Luke wrote two of the most important books in the Bible, but never once penned his own name. Paul, the Bible’s most prolific author, referred to himself as “a fool” (2Co 12: 11). He also called himself “the least of the apostles” (I COR 15:9). Five years later he claimed to be “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8). In one of his final epistles he referred to himself as “the chief of sinners” (See 1 Tim 1:15). As Paul grew older, his ego grew smaller. King David wrote no psalm celebrating his victory over Goliath. But he wrote a public psalm of penitence confessing his sin with Bathsheba (See Ps 51). So, the word for you today is ‘be humble!”



USE YOUR BUSINESS To DO GOD’S BUSINESS

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Using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd. Luke  5:3TM

Luke writes:

“He climbed into the boat that was [Peter’s].. .using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd” (Lk 5:2-3 TM). All our boats belong to Christ. Your boat is where you spend your day and make your living. And Christ says to you “You may drive my truck… work on my job site… serve in my hospital wing… preside in my courtroom . . .edit my newspaper…program my computer.” To all of us He says, “Your work is My work.”

Later, Peter the boat owner wrote:

“You are royal priests. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God” (I Pet 2:9 NLT). And what does a priest do? He represents God to people—and you’re supposed to do that too! “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus” (Col 3:17 TM). Moses prayed, “Let the loveliness of our Lord.. -rest on us, confirming the work that we do”

(Ps 90: 17 TM).

Perhaps you see no way God could use your work. Your boss has the disposition of a pit bull. Hamsters have larger work areas; your kids have a better per diem. You feel like you’re sentenced to an outpost in Siberia, and hope left on the last train. No! Henry Giles, a 19th century preacher, said, “There is no task so low that we may not elevate it; so dull that we may not enliven it if we understand that what we are doing is service to our Lord Jesus Christ.” So, use your business to do God’s business!



WHO DO YOU SERVE?

mens ministry

The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve. Mark 10:45 NKJV

Jesus entered the world to serve. And we should enter our Jobs, our homes and our churches —to serve. Servanthood requires no unique skill or seminary degree. Notice: (1) To serve is to love the overlooked. Jesus sits in your classroom wearing thick glasses, outdated clothing and a sad face. You ‘ve seen Him. He works in your office. Pregnant again, she shows up late and tired. No one knows the father. Water cooler rumors say even she doesn’t. You’ve seen her. When you love the misfit and befriend the hurting, you love Jesus.

“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored … you did it to me” (Mt 25:40 TM). (2) To serve is to wave the white flag. We fight so much: “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from?” asks James, “Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way” (Jas 4:1 TM). Real servants don’t struggle, they submit. (3) To serve is to do something each day that you don’t want to do. Pick up someone’s trash. Surrender your parking place. Call that long-winded relative. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Helen Keller once told the Tennessee Legislature that when she was young she longed to do great things and could not, so she decided to do small things in a great way. Don’t be too big to do something small. “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort”

(I COR 15:58 TM).



 

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