The Older Son

 

But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.’ – Luke 15:29a

 

Here is how you know if you are a religious, older brother:  It is absolutely no fun being a Christian.  Notice that the older brother has looked at some number of years as being a slave to his father.  One of the greatest checks I frequently make when it comes to following Christ is asking myself, “Do I enjoy being a Christian?”  If the answer is “no,” I kind of shut it all down.  I don’t read my Bible and I only say one prayer, “Lord, give me a love for You again, give me a desire to read Your Word, please let my Christianity be a want to and not a have to.”  It does not usually take long at all until I just miss Him and want to be with Him.

 

‘Yet you never even gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.’ – Luke 15:29b-30

 

I will never forget after being a Christian for probably 10 years that I felt totally ripped off by God. I didn’t think that after 10 years of “service” that I had received my proper reward.  Much like the older brother in the story, I didn’t like seeing people who were doing less than me seeming to be rewarded more than me.  I felt like I had kept my end of the deal. Why wasn’t God keeping His?

 

‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” – Luke 15:31

 

I remember finding out that my favorite preacher to watch on television was only an hour and a half away. Tonya and I drove there one Sunday. From the moment I walked in the door, I felt God’s presence.  It was all I could do to not just cry.  I thought how ridiculous that would look if I just let it out right then and there in the lobby.  I held it together until they sang a song called “When I Think About the Lord” by Christ for the Nations:

 

When I think about the Lord

How He saved me

How He raised me

How He filled me with the Holy Ghost

How He healed me to the uttermost

 

When I think about the Lord

How He picked me up and turned me around

How He placed my feet on solid ground

 

It makes me want to shout

Hallelujah! Thank You Jesus

Lord You’re worthy of all the glory and all the honor and all the praise

 

My Heavenly Father came to visit me that day.  He told me the same thing the father said in Luke 15, “You are always with me.”  I don’t know how it happens, but sin has a way of convincing me that God isn’t enough.  Think about that, the God of the Universe is with me.  When I am thinking properly, that is absolutely astounding to me. When I’m thinking only of myself and have that “What’s in it for me?” attitude, I look up at a holy, mighty, magnificent Heavenly Father and basically say, “You aren’t doing enough for me.”

 

Unbelievable!

 

I guess the question all of us have to answer is this:  Is God enough for you?  If He never granted a single want or wish, could you still love Him?  If all He does is give you Himself, is that enough for you?  Would you honestly prefer gifts from the Giver over the Giver of the gifts?

 

Lord, just give me you!  May your presence alone be more than enough for me.  Help me always be amazed that you are with me.  Help me always rejoice with you when those messy, younger, immature sons come home.  Help me never forget that I used to be one.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Two Sons

 

Have you ever seen two kids grow up in the same home and wonder how in the world they could be so different?  In the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus creates quite a contrast between two sons raised in the same home by the same father.  One son, the younger, is extremely immature and gets Dad to give him his inheritance prematurely.  He proceeds to move far away from home, and then burn through the money with wasteful extravagant living.  The older brother is a rule follower.  He claims that he “never once broke the rules.” (Luke 15:29)    When the younger son finally comes home, the older son becomes angry.

 

This story that Jesus told pretty much describes us today.  There are a lot of Christians wasting their lives with prodigal living, and there are a lot of Christians who are professional rule followers, or at least they think they are.  There also are some, though it be a much smaller percentage, which have the heart of the Father. They simply want to bring people into a real deal relationship with the Father.  In this story, it is really important to see that neither son really knew their dad. I have been each son for certain periods of my life.  If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must evaluate your heart and see if you are like either of these sons.  If you are, you must go directly to God, repent, and begin a real authentic relationship with Him.  The story makes a very clear point; God is always, always willing to receive you.

 

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired servants.”  — Luke 15:19

 

This verse says so much about immature Christians today.  When I first received Christ in my life at 16, I did not believe that a loving Heavenly Father was receiving me.  I believed that I was simply being forgiven for my sinful ways.  I also believed God was very strict and that I needed to start trying harder and doing better.  I still wonder why I thought this way.  Looking back, I think I looked around me and looked at other Christians to figure out how I needed to live.  Most of the Christians that I knew lived clean, followed the rules, and never sinned . . . or so I believed.  I can’t remember anyone ever telling me that they themselves struggled to live out this Christian life.  So many would preach against sin and were quick to point out mine.  For some reason, I just couldn’t stop coming back to God for forgiveness. Even though I was miserable, I really believed in my heart that He was the only way to be saved.

 

If I had really studied Luke 15, I would have known.  All the Father wants from me is to come home to Him, allow Him to cover my filth with His robe of righteousness, and enjoy Him.  The only thing the Father was interested in doing was celebrating the fact that His son came home.  If this is really the way God is, all I had to do as a prodigal who came home is celebrate with Him.  Not follow rules, not do better, not try to adjust my behavior . . . just enjoy being home with the Father.  Following the rules would come much, much later, and I would follow them because I wanted to, not because I felt forced to.

 

We don’t teach this in church.  We have preconceived ideas of what it looks like to be a Christian.  Most of it probably comes from what we heard and were taught growing up.  I guess it is just easier to teach conformity to the rules.  The major, major problem with this is that there are prodigals refusing to come home because they honestly believe Christianity is impossible.

 

If you feel far away from God, He is right there waiting for you to make a move towards Him.  He doesn’t want you as a hired servant.  He is not looking for someone who follows rules perfectly.  He’s looking for sons and daughters who enjoy being at home and celebrating with Him. He will not force Himself upon you, but He sure will love all over you the moment you decide to come home.

 

Come home!

 

Next week, I plan on writing about the other brother.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Voices

 

“Why have you come down here, and with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” – 1 Samuel 17:28

 

“You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him, you are only a young man, and he a warrior from his youth.”  — 1 Samuel 17:33

 

“Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks? Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals.”  — 1 Samuel 17:43-44

 

There are so many voices that tell us what we can and can’t do.  The story of David and Goliath teaches us that the more things change, the more they say the same.  If you ever decide to step out on faith and trust God completely with your life, you will not lack for voices of opposition.  In the first verse I used, the voice was David’s own older brother, so he had opposition from his family.  The second voice was king Saul, so the government discouraged David from stepping out in faith.  The last one was from Goliath, his enemy . . . no surprise there.  There were literally no human voices encouraging David.

 

Yet, he believed God did and still could do the types of miracles He had done in the past.  He knew the story of Gideon.  He knew the story of Samson.  He knew that God was with those who dared to place their lives in His hands.  Armed with only a sling and 5 stones, God used David to triumph over the Philistine.

 

It is interesting how before I preach or write one of these WMD’s how I get bombarded with voices. “Nobody reads these things anyway.” “You didn’t prepare enough to preach.” “You’re not smart enough to preach.” “God is not with you.”  “These kids aren’t going to listen to you.”  It is all so crazy.  Fortunately, I have done it enough now that I have been given a great weapon of my own.

 

Right before I preach, I listen to those same voices.  Here lately they have become a lot less intimidating, because I know I’m about to use my weapon.  Right before I preach, I like to find me a little corner in the church, kneel down, and completely agree with a lot of what those voices say.  “Lord, I’m not smart enough, I don’t know that I have prepared like I should, I can’t make anybody listen . . . but I do trust you, and I love you.  Will you fill me with your Holy Spirit and use me?  Speak through me, Lord.”

 

Thank God my trust is not in myself . . . my trust is in Him.

 

Trust in Him today.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Hitting Reset

 

For you have ben called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters.  But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.  Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  – Galatians 5:13

 

I’m sorry I skipped posting last week’s devotional.  I did have a good reason.  I went to Kentucky and preached to 78 middle-school students.  The stuff we’ve grown extremely accustomed to like the Internet, television, and cell phones are all pretty much cut off for the week. In the two years that I’ve gone there, I’ve realized just how important it is for me to be there.  It is like this giant spiritual reset that you didn’t even know that you needed.  It is kind of wonderful.

 

I’ve learned something about Christian kids.  Many of them feel like they have disappointed God.  They seem to think that they have done something that has damaged the relationship and God is mad at them, or at least is withholding Himself from them as a result.  I don’t know when it actually hit me, but I was changed fundamentally as the week went on because I felt this way as a Christian too, especially in my younger days.

 

I preached over and over that our sin should drive us to God, not away from Him.  I tried to change the mindset that God is quick to punish when we do wrong.  There are certainly examples in the Bible where we could make the argument that He is this way, but we are also clearly taught that God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger (Psalm 103:8).  Why do we all go through spells of not believing this?  Even when I sin now as an adult, I immediately begin to think that God isn’t going to speak through me when I preach.  Something in me screams that God can’t work through me anymore.

 

The verse I’ve chosen for today says we are free.  I believe it means that we are free to not have to be the morality police all the time. We don’t have to sit around and let everyone know what they are doing wrong.  By the same token, we don’t have to sit around and evaluate our own performance and think that God has abandoned us because we are performing poorly.  I will make this easy . . . we are going to sin. God is constantly perfecting us and making us brand new by this crazy awesome restoration process called sanctification.  If you recognize that you are using your freedom to indulge in too much worldly things, then you simply stop feeding that nature.  Hence, Paul says, “don’t use your freedom to satisfy the sinful nature.”

 

The last line is what I’ve never thought of until recently.  Over the past 27 years of being a Christian, I thought when I sinned that I was supposed to just feel awful for it and be sorry.  I think God has called us to freedom from that as well. Yes, we are to repent and let God know that we agree with Him that we have been overindulging and it has kept us from Him.  Afterwards though, we are not to beat ourselves up over and over again and think that God is done with us and can’t wait to get even with us.  We are to actually receive the forgiveness and restoration that He offers.  Paul tells us the opposite of indulging our flesh . . . serving one another in love.

 

I spent a lot of this summer doing very little.  Indulging my flesh by watching movies, playing games on the Internet, sleeping too much, and just time-killing.  Nothing that anyone would look at and say, “Sinful!!”  I just used my freedom to satisfy my sinful nature and let it keep me from God’s presence.  At camp, I met some kids who have done the same thing.  What was the answer?  We were to spend a week together serving one another.  I might have thought that I was there for them, but it turns out I was there for me.

 

If you are like me and tend to judge others based on their behavior, or maybe you judge yourself based on your own behavior and decide that it is lacking, then Paul tells us the perfect solution:  Get out there and serve one another.  If we stay busy serving, then we aren’t busy indulging our flesh.

 

Later

 

Adam

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The Fleeing Tortoise

 

Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? – Matthew 3:7

 

I have seen a lot of turtles in my day.  When I was a kid, I remember catching an absolute monster while fishing with my Papa. I thought I could play with it just like a small one.  My Pop proceeded to teach me just how hard the big ones can bite.  Turns out, when he cleaned it, she was loaded with eggs. I took those eggs down near a stream and buried them in the sand.  I checked them every day that I could.  Weeks later, a ton of them had hatched and there were baby turtles everywhere.  I thought that was so cool.

 

Earlier today, I saw what I believe was the fastest tortoise I had ever seen.  He was crossing the road really fast for his kind.  My wife loves the little guys.  If safe to do so, she is one of the great turtle rescuers of our day.  I’ve been known to rescue a few as well in her honor.  I didn’t need to rescue this particular one; he was across that road in record time.  It was like he understood how dangerous his situation was.  I’ve seen cars crush them accidentally, and I’ve seen them crush them on purpose.  The most dangerous place to be as a turtle has to be our roads.

 

For just a moment as I kept driving, I remembered a time that I was on the wide road that leads to destruction as mentioned in Matthew 7:13.  For too many years I was way too comfortable on that road.  I was like the majority of the turtles I’ve seen just thinking I could take my time without a care in the world and everything would be just fine. When God really convicted me in that little Church of God, I ran to God like my life depended on it.  I imagine that I looked to God like that turtle looked to me.

 

In an instant, I realized that I haven’t been running the Hebrews 12:1 race very well lately.  I’ve been wondering why evil has been catching up with me these past few months and it’s because I’ve been like the majority of turtles trying to get across the highway.  I need to be like this last one that I saw.

 

And what about the other turtles?  I like to think this guy right now is letting the others know, “Look, that place right there is dangerous, be careful and get the heck across that road!”

 

As a preacher of the word who has made it across the road, am I letting others know how dangerous this world is?  Am I preaching with fervency this Gospel that can save?  There is nothing more important than telling people about the Name of Jesus, for there is no other name given among men by which we all must be saved (Acts 4:2).

 

Who knew that God could use one exceptional turtle to wake up the spirit of one of His followers?  It’s amazing all the things He says in one single snapshot of time when He chooses to do so.  Meandering is not the same as walking with a purpose.

 

I’m reminded of the scene in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian slept at the arbor while climbing the hill of difficulty.  The arbor was intended for a quick rest, not a place to sleep.

 

For the first time in my life, I’m thanking God that he made turtles.

 

Lord, wake me up!  It is so easy to get complacent on this planet, especially in America.  It is so easy to care about anything and everything but you! Help me to spiritually be like that turtle and walk towards you with a purpose.  This world is dangerous.  Comfort is dangerous.  It is so easy to get comfortable here and not even think about you!  I love you, Lord.  Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died. Help me.  Fill me.  Our time here is so short.

 

Amen

 

Adam

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Embracing Your Past

And he went outside and wept bitterly. – Luke 22:62

 

I would think that Peter would say the worst thing he ever did was deny Jesus three times.  When a grown man as tough as him is weeping bitterly, that says a lot.  We know from reading on that he thought his relationship with Jesus was over.  When the three ladies went to visit the tomb of Jesus and found it empty, the angel said, “Go tell the disciples, and Peter.” The angel knew that Peter thought it was over for Him.  It had to ignite a small spark in Peter’s heart to know that he was mentioned specifically by name.

 

Here is what I’ve been pondering with all this:  If you could erase the most hurtful things you’ve ever done, or even the most painful things you’ve ever experienced, would you do it?  Looking back, I’ve done terrible things that I assumed would separate me from God.  The demons jump in so quickly with their voices, “It’s over for you . . . you’ve gone too far.”  Yet, on the other side of these poor choices is grace, forgiveness, and love that is absolutely impossible to experience outside of a relationship with God Himself.

 

I have been in a really dark fog for the past several months.  I really don’t know when or how it started, but I know that I allowed the darkness to descend upon me.  It seemed to strip all desire to do the things that I do for Jesus.  I didn’t want to write, didn’t want to preach, didn’t want to study, and didn’t even want to pray.  The only saving grace was that I didn’t want to let go of Him.  I would take long walks and just imagine being in His presence.  It was actually nice to just be with Him and not really have to say anything.

 

To make a really long story short, a couple of weeks ago, the dark fog just lifted.  It is amazing the level of darkness we will allow as long as it slowly gets darker and darker.  When it lifted, I could see myself holding on to Jesus for dear life. For maybe the first time in my life, I was holding on to Him and only Him.  I had no trust whatsoever in my own goodness or my own religious activities.

 

Peter had to feel a bit like I did.  When the performance aspect of his religion was taken away from him, he thought it was over.  I can’t imagine the darkness and despair that he was in.  I feel so sorry for him because he honestly thought his savior was dead and couldn’t speak to him anymore.  I have the privilege of knowing Jesus came back to life and restored Peter fully.  I know that Jesus never once said a single negative word about what he did.  He never made him feel the least bit guilty. He simply asked, “Do you love me?”

 

Why should I think that He would treat me differently?

 

Lord, you know that I love you.  Thank you for every trial and temptation that we go through that forces us to hold on to you and only you for dear life.  The light on the other side of the darkness is so bright and so wonderful. Help me never take my eyes off of you and help me never let go of your hand.  Most of all help me never be convinced that you have taken your eyes off of me and have stopped reaching out for me.  You are amazing, God.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Through the Bible

 

All Scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped in every good work.  – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

 

If God reveals Himself through His Word, shouldn’t we consistently be in His Word?  I ask Christians quite often if they’ve ever read through the entire Bible, and the overwhelming majority of the time the answer is “no.”  I admit that it was 5 years after I became a Christian that I took the challenge seriously and read through the Bible for myself.

 

The most common goal is to give ones self an entire year to read Genesis through Revelation.  There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, so 1,189 divided by 365 is 3.25.  Therefore, three chapters a day will get you pretty close.  Even one chapter a day will get you through it in 3 years and 3 months.  If you wanted to complete the whole thing by the end of this year, 6 chapters a day will get you pretty close.  The main thing is that you choose a goal and remain consistent.

 

I’m journeying through the Bible right now with two of my former Algebra 1 students.  We started 5 weeks ago.  This means that I should be right around Exodus chapter 20.  I just finished Exodus chapter 2 (I will catch up!). The two guys I’m reading with are kind of smoking me, which is a good thing.  It isn’t a competition.  All we do is send a text to each other when we finish reading a portion of Scripture. It is really cool to know exactly when these guys have just finished reading.  It reminds me to pray for them right then and there and pray that God really opens their eyes and draws them to Him.

 

Pretty much the only requirement that I suggest when going through the Bible, especially for the first time, is to remove your religious glasses. We tend to bring our own brand of Christianity to the table when reading God’s word.  We like to make what we read fit what we already believe about God. Don’t do that.  I say just pretend someone told you about Jesus for the first time, you gave your life to Him and said, “I want you to work in my life, Lord. What would you have me to do?”  He plops down this big book with 1,189 chapters and says, “Read this.”

 

Choose a friend or a group of friends and read through the Bible.  Find a way to hold each other accountable like we do with the text messages, and go for it.

 

Later

 

Adam

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