Mothers for Prodigals

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Notes From a Nursing Home

They sang with a tired gusto. Some notes were scratchy while others were out-of-tune. Occasionally a few words were missed, but the chorus rang out with recollections from the past. It was as if they were all children again, sitting by their parents and singing with the congregation. The memories were there; you could feel them in the air. They sang the hymns with remembrance from their hearts, and I know it pleased the Lord. 

The nursing home residents and visitors together sang, “Come home! come home! Ye who are weary, come home! Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!” It’s a classic hymn entitled “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.” (for the text and tune, go to: )  

When they weren’t singing, the evidence of weariness appeared in the faces of many of the residents. The bodies sitting or lying in wheelchairs expressed weakness and exhaustion. No longer did life’s hustle and bustle exist. Time had passed by and now they all faced time eternal. Were they weary? Yes. Were they ready to come home? Probably. Was Jesus calling them? Softly and tenderly, most definitely He called. And when the pastor began to preach, the prepared hearts were ready with a resounding “yes” when he began with the words, “Are you ready to hear the gospel for today?”

The preacher began with words from Psalm 121.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

By now most of the elderly residents with active minds have understood where their help comes from. Throughout their lives, they’ve probably searched for help from many different sources such as people, work, religion, drugs, and/or alcohol. Just as we all eventually discover, we come up empty-handed when we place our faith in those things. Now nearing the end of life, those elderly residents who willingly attended the church service knew where their help came from. Even though life looked less than stellar, they had not given up. Their faith kept them seeking God; possibly old age and wisdom assisted in their decision.

And so as the service proceeded, the preacher preached about a parable on prayer as told by Jesus (Luke 18:1-8). Jesus spoke of a widow who persevered in asking for legal protection from an unrighteous judge until he gave it to her. He used this parable to tell His listeners that they should pray all the time and never lose heart. He said if the unrighteous judge would finally relent and give in to her persistence, wouldn’t God also bring about justice for His people? He said that God would bring justice quickly for those who cry out to Him day and night. Hopefully all who sat in that room at the nursing home, listening to God’s Word, had cried out to God and experienced His justice at some point in their lives. 

The pastor then continued reading from the eighteenth chapter of Luke. He read Jesus’ words from verse eight. Jesus asked a very pointed question to His audience saying, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 

I feel sure that Jesus will find faith at that nursing home; after all they were at a church service still seeking God and praising His name. They are senior citizens who have most likely lived full lives, understanding that even though they are worn out, they serve a tireless God who will be waiting for them when they come home. 

But what about those of us who are younger, living in this fast-paced society that promises nothing but headaches and heartaches? Are we seeking God with persistence, persevering though the storms of life? Are we trusting in God’s promises of mercy and grace? Will God find faith on earth when He returns? Or will He find that many people have given up? We are not promised tomorrow; we don't know when we will face time eternal. Will we persevere in believing in a tireless God, hanging onto our faith throughout our time on earth? Will we share our faith with others so that when Christ returns, He will find faith on earth?

I was blessed to worship with my mom and the senior citizens at a nursing home last Sunday. My mom played the piano for the service, giving rise to memories in my heart and the hearts of the residents. We ended with a Lutheran hymn (below) entitled “The Church of Christ, in Every Age” and it speaks to the work of Christ’s church throughout the ages. If lived, instead of just sung, faith in Christ will arise and Jesus will be pleased when He returns to take us home. 

The church of Christ in every age,
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.

Across the world, across the street,
the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat,
and never live until they die.

Then let the servant church arise,
a caring church that longs to be
a partner in Christ's sacrifice,
and clothed in Christ's humanity.

For he alone, whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood,
and teach us how to share our bread
and feed the starving multitude.

We have no mission but to serve
in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and spread his liberating word.

Words: Fred Pratt Green
Words © 1971 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blessed by Almighty God

Blessed by Almighty God

Your mercy rains down in showers of grace.
You forgive me as shame hides my face.
Your love shines brightly upon this place.
I praise you, Almighty God.

You walked upon this earth just like me.
You died on that cross to set me free.
You unveiled your Word so that I might see.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.

When I need comfort, You’re always there.
When I need a touch, You send friends who care.
When I’m blessed, You tell me to share.
Come, Holy Spirit.

Three persons in One; You are the great I AM.
You guide and lead; You are the faithful I AM.
When fear seizes me; You are the peaceful I AM.
You ask me to trust and I reply, “I am.”

Deborah D. Crawford   7/22/10

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NASB)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:1-10 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26 (NIV)
So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]. What can man do to me? Hebrews 13:6 (AMP)

“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.”
Genesis 15:1 (NASB)

 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (NASB)

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (NIV)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I Am Because He Is!

I am because He is!......girded with strength and might and joy. 

I’m really nervous. I feel very intimidated. I can’t do this. Have those statements ever come out of your mouth? If they have, then why? 

While attending a writer’s conference, I uttered those words as I prepared to speak with an editor about my book idea. A friend heard me and quickly adjusted my thoughts. She declared that I was having an identity crisis, and suddenly I understood. Without thinking I pronounced inadequacy over my life, speaking aloud a negative influence. Why? What possessed me to speak with a defeatist attitude? In one weak moment, I forgot who I am. I forgot Whose I am. I forgot Who called me to write for Him.

The identity crisis I was having—it’s called pride. Yes, you heard me—pride. Pride occurs when you’re focused on yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re arrogant or insecure, pride centers on self, not God. My attention turned inward instead of upward and I felt inadequate. Well, of course, I did. I can do nothing without Him, but with Him, I can do all things (Phil. 4:13). 

We’ve all experienced some sort of pride during the course of our lives; we’ve had those conceited moments as well as unassertive ones. Even the great patriarchs of the Bible suffered from too much self-consciousness. Moses, the human deliverer of the Israelites, came up against pride when God called him from the midst of a burning bush that did not burn up. It happened while he was pasturing his father-in-law’s flocks. God appeared to him in that bush and the following conversation ensued.

God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:4-11 (NASB)
Alright, let’s mull over this dialogue between God and Moses. The Creator God of the universe called Moses by name from a bush that burned without burning up. That in itself is a miracle. God explained who He was to Moses which frightened him. God told Moses that He had seen the sufferings of the captive Israelites in Egypt and had heard their cry. (Moses fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian for beating an Israelite. Moses understood what God was talking about. If interested, read Exodus 1-2 for some background.) The God who knew all things chose Moses to bring the afflicted Israelites out of Egypt. But doubts in Moses’ mind rose up and he questioned his identity, having a momentary crisis. He obviously forgot God’s identity until God spoke to him again saying, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Exodus 3:12

Moses then responded saying, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (vs.13)

God answered saying, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (vs. 14) 

God called Himself “I AM” which is a reference to His eternal, omnipotent sovereignty. So if He is all-powerful, couldn’t He infuse Moses (and us, for that matter) with His power? God continued to tell Moses what to say to the Israelites, including His identity and His plans for them, and it was good. (If interested, read the rest of the chapter or even the complete book of Exodus to hear God proclaim His plans of success.) 

Like Moses, we can have an identity crisis, forgetting who we are and whose we are. When the Great I AM calls us by name, we can choose to follow or not. We can answer Him with our selfish pride or with His certain power. We can choose to stay in our own circumstances or we can rise about them in the power of His name. 

Jesus, God’s Son, used the name “I AM” many times.* If we receive and believe in the Great I AM through Jesus Christ, we become empowered. He becomes all things to us, filling us with His strength and capability. Like Moses, what we accomplish in His name will succeed and bring Him glory.

Like Moses, I choose to remember who I am and whose I am. God is my God. Jesus is my Savior. He rescued me from my sins and declared me clean. He says I am His child, His daughter. I am a child of the King. I am empowered with His Holy Spirit. Why should I be afraid? Why should I feel insecure? With confidence, I will praise Him using the words of David from Psalm 65.

There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God,
And to You the vow will be performed. 
O You who hear prayer,
To You all men come.
Iniquities prevail against me;
As for our transgressions, You forgive them.
How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You
To dwell in Your courts.
We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Your holy temple.

By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,
You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea;
Who establishes the mountains by His strength,
Being girded with might;
Who stills the roaring of the seas,
The roaring of their waves,
And the tumult of the peoples.
They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.

You visit the earth and cause it to overflow;
You greatly enrich it;
The stream of God is full of water;
You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth.
You water its furrows abundantly,
You settle its ridges,
You soften it with showers,
You bless its growth.
You have crowned the year with Your bounty,
And Your paths drip with fatness.
The pastures of the wilderness drip,
And the hills gird themselves with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with flocks
And the valleys are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.

And with the words of David, I will lift my voice in 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 (NASB)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. 
Psalm 19:14 (NASB)

*Below are the words of Jesus, the Great I AM. 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies. John 11:25 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (NIV)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Urging Father

True to his word, the father organized a party for his son. He planned for it to commence once he returned from the city with his remorseful son. And what a celebration it was!
Many of the parents’ friends and family members attended. During the time of waiting, they had supported this distressed family with their prayers. Now together they all gave thanks for God’s blessings upon their lives. They praised Him for His protection and provision, and they expressed their love to a young man who thought he deserved only rejection. 
Later that evening the older son returned home from work, wondering why so many cars were in the driveway, why the house lights shone brightly, and why noise blared so loudly. He spotted several couples leaving and asked them what was happening. They enthusiastically said, “Your long lost brother came home and your parents are throwing a party.”
“What!” he screamed. “They never gave me a party and I’ve been here all along. Maybe I should leave and see how much my father cares for me.”
One of the men that the older son had spoken to suddenly turned and ran into the house looking for the father. “Come quickly! Your oldest is outside and refusing to come in. He seems very angry,” he said.
The father ran out of the front door, joined his son on the lawn, and begged him to calm down. “Son, what’s happened? Is something wrong? Talk to me; then let’s go in and celebrate because your brother is home,” he said. 
“Dad, why do you have to give that good-for-nothing a party. What’s he done for you except to cause trouble? I stayed here the entire time, helping you out, giving up my life because of his stupidity and selfishness. Don’t I deserve something from you?” the older son said.
“Son, everything I have is yours for the asking. You’ve been a great help and I thank you, but your brother decided to come home. Yes, he made many foolish mistakes and caused misery for himself and our family, but he’s decided to turn his life around. He’s so ashamed of himself and is asking us to forgive him for all of his wrongdoings. Won’t you come inside and celebrate with us?” the father pleaded.
This is my version of the continuing saga of the prodigal son. He returned with a humble and repentant heart, asking for forgiveness from his family. But there was another son and his heart revealed his true feelings when he realized his father celebrated the return of a “loser.” Does this son’s reaction to the situation reflect the beliefs of most people who try to walk the straight and narrow with self-righteousness? Before we address this situation, let’s read Jesus’ account of the older son found in Luke 15:25-32 (NASB).
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” 
The older son represents many people who think nothing is wrong with them, that their good works should be applauded. They are those of us who point fingers at all the sinners out there instead of worrying about our own sin within (Matthew 7:2-4). The older son portrays the Biblical Pharisees who believed they were sinless because of their obedience to all the rules for right living. Read Jesus’ compelling parable of a Pharisee who compared his righteous acts to the sinful acts of other people like the tax collector in Luke 18:9-12.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.‘ (NIV)
Because they fasted and attended the Temple regularly, followed all the ordinances for cleanliness, and gave back a tenth of their earnings, the Pharisees considered themselves righteous. But Jesus knew their hearts and He saw their wicked attitudes. He recognized their unclean thoughts. Hear what He says to them in Matthew 23:25-28.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (NIV)
Jesus firmly spoke to the misguided hearts of the Pharisees. His heart was saddened by the self-righteousness of the teachers of the law. He knew His mission was to exchange the sin and self-righteousness of His creation with His own holy righteousness; all they had to do was believe in Him. But His message of grace was (and still is) rejected by many people. This is His gut-wrenching conclusion of the warnings to the Pharisees in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (verses 37-39 -- NIV)
The father in the story of the two sons rejoiced when his prodigal son returned with a submissive and repentant heart. But sadness crept in again when he realized the anger and jealousy of the older son over the celebration of his brother's return. The father extended his compassion to this son as well and pleaded for him to come celebrate, but he would not. Rather than enjoy fellowship with his family, the older son preferred isolation, not restoration. 
God longs for us to come to Him with humble, repentant hearts just like the prodigal son did when he returned to his father, asking for forgiveness. When we puff ourselves up with our self-righteousness, we cheapen the grace offered to us by our merciful and compassionate Heavenly Father. Only His righteousness poured into our humble forgiven souls will set us free to celebrate His grace.  Thank you, Jesus. 
Remember the two men that went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee spoke words that placed himself above the tax collector. How sad God must have been when He heard His prayer! Listen now to the prayer of the tax collector. God heard that prayer and prepared to celebrate the homecoming of another sinner. Praise God!
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14 (NIV)
Is the Father at the fence urging you to come home? Will He find you a willing recipient of His grace, or not? 
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)