Mothers for Prodigals

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Father at the Fence

A man and his wife lived a good life in a quiet neighborhood with their two sons. The younger one couldn’t wait to move away and live life on his own; he had big plans. He went to his dad and said, “Hey Dad, I need my share of the family’s money. I’d like to move into the city.” 

The father hesitated for a moment, but decided to grant his son the opportunity to live apart from the family. As the son packed his belongings and money into his car, the father said, “Please keep in touch, okay.”

“Sure, Dad, I’ll call from time to time,” the son said as he drove away, thinking of the freedom he was about to enjoy. “No more parents looking over my shoulder,” he said out loud. “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want,” he yelled as he drove faster into the city. 

His two friends were waiting on him. He moved into their apartment and a couple days later, he found a job waiting tables at a restaurant. His earnings would help pay the rent. He called his dad, telling him that he had a job, a place to stay, and all was well. Soon he became distracted by all the sights and sounds of the city, making new friends and partying every night. He began spending his money wildly and giving into the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and women. The more “fun” he had, the more he wanted. The “fun” consumed him and he repeatedly forgot to call home. 

Meanwhile back in the quiet neighborhood his parents began to worry, having not heard from their son in months. Every time fear began to consume them, the man grabbed his wife’s hand and prayed. Each time after prayer, the peace of God invaded their spirits and they rested in God’s mercy. They held onto the hope of a loving and forgiving God who restores. Waiting for their son to come home wasn’t easy, but they truly believed he would return soon. They looked forward to welcoming him back into their lives. 

Meanwhile the months turned into a year and the “fun” turned into a nightmare. When the young man wasn’t high on drugs or drunk from booze, he was absolutely miserable. His body ached and his mind played dreadful tricks on him. Because he had lost his job, his roommates took all his belongings as payment for his portion of the rent. He had nothing.

One night after a drunken brawl, he ran for his life. He lost track of time and his whereabouts. Finding an empty alleyway, he sprawled out on a trash heap and went to sleep. When he awoke to the light of day, fear rose up inside of him. He realized that all of his so-called friends had long deserted him. Even his roommates had given up on him. Misery and devastation engulfed him as he stared at the nastiness surrounding him. Depression set in when he grasped the severity of his situation. “I am alone and penniless,” he said. “Nobody in this city cares about me. Why am I here? I ran from a family that loved me because I wanted to be free from authority, but now I am trapped in a life of nothingness. What am I going to do?” 

Eventually the young man picked himself up and slowly found his way into the city streets. He soon located a store and asked to use their phone. Timidly he dialed the number to his parents’ house, wondering what to say. His dad answered. “Hello,” he said. 

“Dad,” the young man said hesitantly. 

“Son, is that you? Where are you? Are you okay?” asked the father.

“Dad, I want to come home. I’ve made a mess of my life. I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me? Do you still love me?” the son asked. 

“Of course I’ll forgive you and I’ve always loved you. Just tell me where you are and I’ll be there as soon as I can,” answered the father. “Your mother and I have been waiting a long time for you to come home. Oh what a celebration we’re going to have tonight.”

This story is my version of the prodigal son. Before moving on, let’s read Jesus’ rendering of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24 (NASB). 

And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
What a wonderful celebration it must have been! Both father and son experienced much pain beforehand. The son chose a lifestyle that eventually brought him despair and wretchedness. His choice inflicted sorrow and heartache onto his father, but the father never gave up. He probably daily walked to his property line and waited anxiously at his fence. He continued to hope for his son's return and his arms longed for the hugs that would follow. The love he had for his son would forgive and forget all sins. They could begin life anew and wipe the slate clean. 

Life is full of problems. Sometimes we choose them and other times they’re imposed upon us. It doesn’t matter how far away we’ve run or how worthless we’ve become, hope is not lost. When we come to our senses and repent of our sins, God the Father is waiting for us at the fence with open and loving arms of mercy and grace. 

Prodigals, turn from your rebellious ways of sin and shame and run towards the Father. Tear down that fence and jump into His waiting arms. He’s got enough love to cover over all of your past mistakes. He’s waiting to clean you up and restore you to a brand new life with Him. He loves you!

To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him..... Daniel 9:9 (NASB)
Jesus said, “.....for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28 (NASB) open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. Acts 26:18 (NASB)
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:7 (NASB)
May this be our prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.  Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)  AMEN!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lord, I Need You Today

A message about resting in the Lord came to my mind today for the blogpost, but I realized that I couldn’t share any of our Savior’s words on rest before I myself meditated on God’s greatness in my life and found respite in Him. I need to soak in His love and power prior to sharing His comforting words. Because I feel as though my physical and mental strength is drained, please bear with me as I whine and complain before you and God. Maybe my honesty will help you to be open and frank with the Lord, allowing Him to work in your life as well.

God, I’m tired......tired of these raging hourly hot flashes that make me drip sweat like a man and cause me to huff and puff as if I just ran a 100 yard dash. I’m tired of the night sweats that wake me up three or four times a night, resulting in my indecision of sleeping with or without covers, and, of course, being TIRED in the morning. I’m tired of going to work everyday and trying to meet all the needs of my special needs class; they are wearing me out. I’m tired of cooking supper and having to clean all the dishes. I’m tired of my husband working all the time and being tired. I’m tired of things not working out for my daughter. I’m tired of praying for all the heartbroken parents whose children make bad choices and nothing seems to change. I’m tired of all the leaders in my country and the world making decisions that affect me. I’m tired of hearing about people who are enslaved by sex trafficking, drugs, alcohol, or even a government dictator. I’m tired of hearing about another person diagnosed with cancer or any other nasty disease. I’m tired of wounds afflicting the minds, bodies, and souls of people I know and don’t know. I’M JUST PLAIN TIRED, GOD!

I’ve had these feelings all week, God, but I don’t need to tell You because You already know. Somehow I’ve let the physical issues of this world overpower the joy that is found in You! Forgive me, Lord! Thank you for showing Yourself to me today at church, reminding me of the heavenly foundation that I have in You. Thank you also for the earthly reminder, through a song, of my family’s belief in Your greatness. Thank you for helping me to remember the times my extended family gathered around a piano, singing together “How Great Thou Art” and giving You praise. 

It’s a memory that I’ll cherish forever, and the song “How Great Thou Art” reminds me of those moments etched in my past. My maternal grandfather loved that old hymn, and on special occasions when all of our family gathered together, he requested that everyone congregate around the piano and sing while my mom played “How Great Thou Art.” I closed my eyes this morning while the congregation sang this beloved hymn, and visions of my family surrounded me. The recollection brought tears because over the years, the older members of our family have died, including my dad (I think I heard them singing from heaven). It also brought smiles and strength as I remembered my family’s love for God. Thank you, God, for your help; I raise this Ebenezer (blogpost from 9/15/13) in response to your salve for my soul. 

Lord, I need You. I need You to give me rest—rest for my mind, soul, and body. Today I give You thanks for filling my mind with memories of Your presence in my life. May I constantly be reminded of Your abiding love, supplying my soul with joy, and overflowing with strength into my body. For it’s in Jesus’ name that I pray, AMEN.

If you need rest, open yourself up to the Lord and be honest with your feelings. As you pour out your heart to Him, may He pour joy into your soul, filling you with His strength. 

Start by reading the scripture below. Allow the words to speak to you and through you back to God. May you be blessed enough to raise an Ebenezer of your own to God today, and may the joy of the Lord be your strength.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.Nehemiah 8:10

I Need Thee Every Hour
Text: Annie S. Hawks, 1835-1918   

1. I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; 
no tender voice like thine can peace afford. 
I need thee, O I need thee; 
every hour I need thee; 
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

2. I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby; 
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh. 

3. I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; 
come quickly and abide, or life is vain. 

4. I need thee every hour; teach me thy will; 
and thy rich promises in me fulfill. 

5. I need thee every hour, most Holy One; 
O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Raise Your Ebenezer

If these people become silent, then the stones will cry out. What? Stones cry out? I’ve never known a rock to say a word. What does that mean? 

Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem one week before His crucifixion. The crowd surrounding Him began to praise God loudly for all the miracles they had witnessed. Some of the Pharisees nearby told Jesus to reprimand His disciples. But Jesus said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:35-40)

This verse from the New Testament has always puzzled me until recently when I discovered another verse from the Old Testament. It reads:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12 (NASB)
Before an explanation of this verse, let’s understand the verses that proceed it, beginning in the fourth chapter of the first book of Samuel. Samuel was a prophet of God to the Israelites, and the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh. Shiloh means a place of rest; it was a city of Ephraim, on the north side of Bethel. Scripture tells us in Joshua 18:1 that the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. This was the place that Israel’s leaders met with God because the ark of the covenant was kept there. 
Now the Israelites and the Philistines were enemies. Israel was camped beside Ebenezer and the Philistines were camped in Aphek, and Israel went to meet the Philistines in battle. The Israelites were defeated and about four thousand men were killed. The people were dismayed and decided to go get the ark of the covenant from Shiloh and carry it with them. They believed it would deliver them from the power of their enemies. As they brought it into their camp, all of Israel shouted loudly, and the Philistines knew that the ark of the Lord was near. The Philistines were afraid, fought hard, again defeated Israel in battle, and took the ark of the covenant to the city of Ashdod. But the ark of the Lord brought them much destruction over a period of seven months. Through a series of events and guilt offerings, the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant to the Israelites. Many years passed and the people of Israel grieved for the Lord. Samuel told the people to remove their idols and return to the Lord with all their hearts. The people obeyed and gathered at Mizpah for Samuel to pray to the Lord for them. They said, “We have sinned against the Lord,” and Samuel judged the sons of Israel there.
The Philistines discovered that Israel was gathered at Mizpah and went up against them. The Israelites were afraid and begged Samuel to continue praying to the Lord for them. As Samuel offered up a burnt offering to the Lord, the Philistines drew near to battle the Israelites. The Lord confused the Philistines and rerouted them. But Israel pursued them and defeated them. Samuel then took a stone and set it up as a remembrance of the Lord’s help. Here is the verse again:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12 (NASB) And Scripture tells us the Philistines were subdued, never returning to the border of Israel. This action packed story can be found in 1 Samuel 4-7. 
Samuel used a stone to remind the people of the Lord’s help, placing it at the site of God’s victory over Israel’s enemies. The people could look at the stone and remember how the Lord helped them. Samuel appropriately gave it the name of Ebenezer, meaning stone of help. The stone itself was a witness of God’s mercy and grace. 
There is an old hymn entitled “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” who’s original text has been changed over the years. Instead of studying the text and then explaining the meaning of the words, it was assumed modern people would not understand it. How sad! Robert Robinson wrote it in the 1758, penning just the right words that expressed love for his Savior. He used Scripture to express praise for the Lord. Now that you know what Ebenezer means, read the words below, paying special attention to verse two, and begin thinking about the Ebenezers in your life.
Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above.
I'll praise the Mount I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I come.
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

So to grace, how great a debtor,
Daily I'm constrained to be.
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Have you lived a similar story like that of the Israelites? Do you feel defeated by life’s situations? If you’ve known God and turned away for one reason or another, have you cried out to Him, admitting your sin and grieving over your damaged relationship with Him? Remember He is merciful, loving, and gracious. If you haven’t known our great God of the universe, then cry out to Him for a chance to know Him and His love. He is merciful, loving, and gracious. 
Have there been times in your life that you know God has helped you? Have you ever raised up an Ebenezer in remembrance of the Lord’s help? When we remember how the Lord has helped us, a more trusting relationship with Him will develop, and trust is key to knowing that God loves and cares for you. 
Be truthful with Him right now about your life and cry out to Him about your circumstances. When (not if) He comes to you, set up a stone altar (real or imagined) and give Him praise. Raise your Ebenezer, realizing how He has been your help. If you are reminded of other times He has helped you, raise your Ebenezer higher. You will then become a witness of praise for God’s love, grace, and mercy. Others will see and be drawn to the Lord God Almighty. 
Don’t be silent about the help you’ve received from the Lord. He deserves to hear your praises for Him and the people of this world need to know of His love and mercy. Raise your Ebenezer high like Jesus’s disciples were doing as He rode a donkey into Jerusalem. They knew He had performed miracles and their praises rang out. If God’s people tell of His great love and how He has helped them, then the rocks (the stones placed in remembrance of a helpful Creator) will NOT have to cry out.   

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The P's and Q's of Prayer

“Okay, let’s say our prayers,” I said to my 4-year-old granddaughter as we lay in bed. I folded my hands and began saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and she said, “No, Nana, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” 

I was completely astonished as I sat back and simply listened to her while she uttered out loud the prayer our Savior taught in Scripture. She spoke it rather quickly, probably not even knowing everything she was saying, but she had learned enough to recite it. She will gain understanding of the prayer as she grows spiritually. Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer? If you can, have you grasped the significance behind each word? 

Last week’s post focused on revealing God, not ourselves. But when we pray, we usually begin by listing all of our needs and wants instead of centering our prayers on God. Jesus taught the protocol of prayer to His disciples and we can read it in the sixth chapter of Matthew.  

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] (verses 7-13, NASB)

Did you catch what Jesus said to His disciples? He told them not to use meaningless repetition. I’m sure that sometimes I sound like a “broken record” as I pray to God (an older generation, like me, will recall how records—not CD’s—would repeat the same thing over and over again when scratched). I know God tells us to ask with persistence, but sometimes I get hung up on all my needs and my prayers turn to nagging. My focus tends to be about me instead of the God who created me and already knows everything about me. 

So how did Jesus begin His prayer? He said, “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” He began with praise for His Father in heaven. Just as our lives should be all about God, our prayers should center on Him as well. The proper way to pray begins with the glory of God, His holiness, and bringing honor to His name. After all, He is Sovereign over all the earth. He created the world. He is God Almighty and as His relational creatures, we should bring Him glory. 

God knows that we have wants and needs, but He desires for us to want and need Him first. He desires for us to get to know Him and trust Him. Remember (a few blog posts ago) when we considered the ravens and lilies. Jesus stated that if God can take care of the birds and flowers, then He surely will take care of His most valued creation—humans. Jog your memory with these words:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air.....And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow.....Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:25-26, 28, 31-33 (NASB)
Seek FIRST His kingdom and righteousness (seek Him first with your praises and honor), and He will take care of your needs. He said it and He is a man of His word. He will be faithful to His promises! Trust Him and bring Him glory with your praises.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
1 Chronicles 16:23-25 (NASB)

And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
Isaiah 6:3 (NASB)
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13-14 (NASB)

When you pray, begin by giving God glory through praise. Acknowledge His holiness and speak it aloud. Bring Him the honor that His name deserves. Your list of needs and wants can follow, and God won’t be surprised by any of it. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reveal Him, Not Me

I want to be famous. I want to be a star. I want to be teacher of the year. I want to sell the most products. I want to be the president of my company. I want to be president of the United States. There’s a pattern in these statements and it centers on me; I want to be recognized.

I need a job. I need to earn more money. I need a new car. I need to pay my bills. I need to put food on the table for my family. I need some new clothes. There’s a pattern in these statements; I have needs. 

Why doesn’t my child listen to me? Why is she making wrong choices? Why did my dad have to die? Why is my life destroyed by cancer? When is my financial situation going to get better? Why did I have to lose everything I own in that hurricane? There’s a pattern in these questions and it’s still about me. 

Did you know that this life is NOT about us? It’s about God our Father who created heaven and earth. It’s about Jesus, His Son, who came to earth to live and die for us, bridging the gap caused by sin. It’s about His Holy Spirit who lives in us when we accept Christ Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. This God, who is three in one, shares His glory with us, and we are to share it with others. 

The world that God created needs Him; oh how we need Him. Sin has spread like wildfire and captured many people within its fiery tentacles. The only escape is through belief in Jesus. It may sound trite and silly to those who don’t believe or have struggled with God’s answered or unanswered prayers, but it’s true. Jesus rescues, delivers, and frees people from sin through belief in Him. 

Jesus lived to bring God the Father glory and show us how to share in that glory. He died to free us from sin. He is the truth that can set us free from anything that binds us (John 8:32). The things that have seized our hearts and minds, leaving us paralyzed with worry and fear, can be replaced by a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7, Colossians 1:20). We can have inexpressible joy instead of heart-wrenching sorrow (Isaiah 61:7, Jeremiah 31:13). The love of God can fill us with His strength and security (Psalm 37:39, Zechariah 14:11). We can live in freedom through Christ Jesus. 

The way to begin living in this freedom is by giving God our praises. Our songs of praise and thanksgiving should ring out loud and clear, making the glory of the Lord known to all around us. When we sing praises to our Father in heaven, we receive His truth, peace, joy, and love. Then His glory is revealed in our lives and life becomes about Him, not us. 

Let’s take the focus off of ourselves, our problems, our needs, and our desires, and set our focus on God Almighty. Let’s praise God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit with His words from Scripture, and rest in the assurance that we will be set free from the pain and strife in this world. Then His glory will shine through our lives, and others will see and believe. 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Psalm 61:1-3 (NASB)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart exults,
And with my song I shall thank Him.
Psalm 28:7 (NASB)

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. 
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 146 (NASB)

Jesus lived to reveal God’s glory. His life centered, not on Himself, but on prayer and praise to God. Jesus prayed, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” His prayerful praises revealed God the Father. Let your praises ring out this week with Jesus by praying the first sentence of our Lord’s Prayer. Reveal Him, not yourself, and return next week ready to praise God with your prayers. Just as the skies reveal His glory, may the glory of God be revealed in us! (Over the summer, I took these pictures and saw the glory of God in the heavens.)