The Prodigal Son: Developing the Parable

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“For the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23 clearly reads. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20); “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Passages of scripture such as these ensure the reader that God doesn’t play. He is serious about maintaining spiritual integrity determining sin to have severe consequences – no exemptions. So it is reasonable to understand the Scribes and Pharisees (seeing themselves as guardians of the law) shaking their heads in disbelief as Jesus’ story of a Father’s rebellious son going without so much as a reprimand unfolds. Jesus had been watching far too many episodes of the Brady Bunch, surely this was a twisted joke, they thought – what’s the punch line?

In Middle Eastern culture, the only ending such a story as this one could have would be a bloody one. If the wayward son had been fortunate enough to escape being stoned to death, in all likelihood he would have been tied to the whipping post and severely beaten with rods before returned to his father’s house as a slave, the absolute lowest man on the totem pole with no possibility of ever rising above the bottom floor, but that wasn’t the way it turned out. In fact, that wasn’t even the punchline. That the father would allow the boy to live was a thought almost laughable to the religious leaders – “you are kidding aren’t you, Jesus?” but to receive him with honor, to celebrate his homecoming as he was a war hero returning from battle – this is insane. Jesus had now upped the ante bringing the father center stage. Bad enough the son dragging the family name through the mud, but now the father doing the same, insulting and bringing disgrace upon his ancestors

As the Scribes and Pharisees saw it, the family name was of greater value than the family itself. For an Israelite to profane the family name was not only to dishonor momma, daddy, granny and pawpaw; but the entire family tree was shaken; a tree with David and Solomon hanging from its ancestral branches, Moses, and the prophets too, and at its root – Abraham; “We have Abraham to our father” was their proud boast.

To the Jew, Abraham, being the recipient of the covenant, is the progenitor of their faith, and the Jewish nation itself. In Judaism, it is Abraham who gives the Jew a unique relationship with God as the chosen people of God. Thus to dishonor the family name would by default dishonor Abraham and in turn dishonor the Jewish people; a reprehensible act akin to high treason – unforgivable.

As written so long ago by the hand of Isaiah the prophet, though, the thoughts of God and his ways are not the ways and thoughts of man (Isaiah 55:8-9). With as much as the Scribes and Pharisees may have known a lot about Abraham, there was so much they didn’t know about God, about his unfathomable love, the value of a soul, and the great lengths he would go to in redeeming it.

It is the sick in need of a physician, Jesus had said, not the whole. He had come to seek and save lost sheep, find missing coins, to restore them to the place of honor he wanted all along . His was a mission of reconciliation, not condemnation. Abdicating the throne, he substituted the crown with a cross, willingly suffering the full measure of humiliation and shame that should have been ours, paying the ransomed price, a father for his child. Today, 2000 years later, nothing has changed. He still looks for the sick, the lost and missing, rejoicing with each find and each return, you are his child too – still. Might right now be a good time for you to head back toward home?

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In the third sermon of the “Prized” series taught this week by Pastor David Griffin at c|Life, you will grow in faith discovering the foundational truths giving the parable of the Prodigal Son new and deeper meaning. Watch it now by clicking here then click the play icon.

I, The Prodigal

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Pat Cooper

I never ran away from home; I thought about it many times but was smart enough to know I couldn’t make it on my own nor could I fry chicken, or bake a meatloaf like my mother. Of course, I would have only been seven, eight, nine, maybe ten years old then; feeling mistreated or neglected which is to say things didn’t go my way, Daddy didn’t give in and let me have whatever it was I wanted to have or do at the time. As I grew older, though, moving into my teenage years, I was a pubescent  tyrant, a rebel, a wayward child, hooked on Rock ‘n’ Roll and running with the wrong crowd. Growing up in the Hippie age of the 60’s, Flower Power and Woodstock ruled, and Viet Nam generally occupied the lead story spot on the nightly news. We weren’t smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo, as the Statler Brothers sang on the radio, though; it was marijuana and the Mod Squad for delinquent adolescents like me – but we were cool. Mine was the extreme antitype of my parent’s generation – a generation I wanted to be lightyears away from.

Fish netting hung from my bedroom ceiling. Strobe lights and iridescent black lights gave an eerie lifelike appearance to the psychedelic posters of the Beatles, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix hanging on the walls. With the volume of my eight-track player cranked up, and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Bloodrock, Ozzy Osbourne or Grand Funk Railroad pouring through the speakers, I was in my world – a crazy, mixed up world quite distant from my father’s.

Looking back, I sometimes find it interesting that as my older brother and I would from time to time sing as a duet for family gatherings and a Boy Scouts convention once, we did a lot of Bob Dylan type of music. The interesting aspect is Daddy never picked up on the anti-war protest lyrics that was often the subject of Dylan’s music – or did he? It sounded innocent enough I suppose, and made for a nice bridge between our generations. Perhaps he just looked the other way or maybe he understood as Dylan once wrote, “The Times They Are A Changin’.”

The long and short of it is this: I was to my dad what that demon the apostle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was to him, “a thorn in the flesh”. In modern terms, I was a pain in my daddy’s butt, but he loved me. Everything he wanted for me, though, was the thing I didn’t want for myself. College, no way – I did my time, at least all the time I was legally required to do and that under duress. Having dropped out of school in my junior year, I was running down a dark path looking for freedom; Freedom from the confines of my father’s rules, freedom from him; to do my thing whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever I pleased. Sex and drugs – drugs and sex, were the things that mattered – the only things. Today, more than 40 years later, I still am astonished that I never became an addict or wound up in prison. I owe that good fortune to my daddy and my God.

Bottom line, God loved my father, and both God and my father loved me. Though many times in my mutinous life I may have questioned that love; as I look back over the roadmap of my youthful years noting the rugged roads I chose to travel, ironically, they always wound there way back to the place and person I wanted away from and he was always there waiting for my return with outstretched arms, a hand and a pocket book to help.

So very many times he came to my rescue bailing me out of the frequent fixes I would get myself into or just be there for me (regardless of the hour) when I would show up on his doorstep needing help – again. I certainly wasn’t deserving of his goodness, I had blown that aspect of our relationship years before burning bridge after bridge. Funny, though, it seems every time I would set a bridge between us on fire, he would go behind me to put it out. Why? Why was he always there for me, putting out fires, bandaging my self-inflicted wounds, and doing so in spite of my foolish ways and inability to get my act together, to make right choices and do the right thing? I am his child, that is why, and for no other reason.

Our heavenly father is that way too, you know; always watching and waiting for the prodigal son or daughter’s return home. Regardless of how rebellious you may have been or may now be. No matter how great your sin – God loves you still. Even as I write, he is peering through the window of time looking for you, patiently waiting to see your precious face appear on the horizon; and don’t be surprised when he comes running to meet you, wraps his arms around you, and kisses you on the cheek, both sides. Why would he do that? You are his child, and he loves you – unconditionally.

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This devotional writing inspired by the current sermon series titled, “Prized”underway at the Community Life Church (c|Life). To follow along or learn more about c|Life click here.

About the Prodigal Son

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We got into a time machine today and wound up in first century Palestine. Jesus was there telling the story of a young man who demanded his father give him what he would have inherited upon his passing but wanted it then and there. His dad handed it to him, he took it and headed for the Vegas of his day – bright lights, big city, fast cars (chariots back then) free flowing cocktails and hot women.

Little doubt the boy’s father’s face stung at such a demand coming from his child as if he had been slapped to the ground. It was a despicable request that would not only have been frowned upon in that period of time but was a disgraceful act of disrespect that could have well found this young man severely beaten, disowned and banished, even put to death. It was in essence a son saying to his father, “I want nothing more to do with you. I don’t like your rules, I don’t like your lifestyle, I don’t like you – you are dead to me old man”, our pastor pointed out.

When life in the fast lane hit a traffic jam for our young high roller, though, when famine hit the land; similar to a Wall Street investor during the great depression this wayward son’s money ran out and so did his luck, his friends turned up MIA too (funny how it works that way).

With no soup or bread lines to get in, he was forced to accept a job slopping hogs, and with increasing hunger pains making the slop look good and the putrid stench begin to smell good, he stops and takes inventory discovering that life back on the farm wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, his dad’s hired servants were far better off than he. The bitter aftertaste of pride setting in, he swallows hard, puts together a well-worded speech, rehearses it repeatedly and heads towards home to face the father he had dishonored and beg for his mercy.

Seeing his son in the distance coming towards home, this dad runs to him embraces him, and though the son tries to get his prepared speech for mercy past his lips, the father wasn’t looking for an explanation, not even an apology. He calls out for the tailor to replace his son’s filthy, worn and tattered clothes with his finest robe, he gets the jeweler to put a beautiful ring on his finger, the cobbler to get new sandals on his feet and the family chef busy about preparing a gourmet meal for family and friends – it was going to be a celebration, one gigantic party.

The startled band of religious leaders listening to Jesus’ story stood around in stark horror at such an atrocity being perpetrated against a good man going without severe repercussions – unheard of. In fact, it is reasonable to think the Pharisee’s in complete disbelief would have said to Jesus, “not one father in all Israel, in the entire world, would respond to such a shameful son in this manner.” Then Jesus would look at them and say, “I know one”.

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This devotional thought is based on a powerful and convicting message delivered at the Community Life Church on Sunday, June 19, 2016. It is the second in a four-part sermon series titled, “Prized”. You can follow along by clicking this link http://www.clifec.com/resources/sermons/

Being A Chaplain

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I was recently terminated from my position as a hospice chaplain with a local company (Greater Dallas area) choosing to remain faithful to this vow. Let me know if you agree the work of a chaplain (clergy) should not be determined, regulated or restricted by the dictates of a company, government or any other such institution or organization. Pray for those who serve the spiritual needs of others – please.

Salmon Do It

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Salmon do it; every year, mid-July through September (into November for some species), these herculean creatures migrate from the ocean waters where they have grown to maturity to spawn in the upper reaches of the rivers of their birth, depositing their eggs on the same gravel beds where they were spawned – it is called the Salmon Run.

With uncanny precision, Salmon return to the natal river where they were born, and, yes, even to the very spawning ground where life began for them. With as amazing as this is, the greater wonder is for most species, it will be their last voyage, afterward, they will die.

Although death is a ninety-nine percent certainty once the salmon has spawned, many will not survive the journey itself. Swimming upstream often against high water and powerful currents brought about by early floods take an unfortunate toll draining their bodies of the strength needed to continue forward but they won’t give up the quest. Their will to survive, to proliferate the population is simply mind-boggling.

Another interesting fact about Salmon is their ecological contribution. In places where the salmon have become extinct, the entire ecosystem is at risk. In turn, river otter, mink, bear and eagle experience loss of population.

Okay, where am I going with this? I believe followers of Jesus should be as Salmon in our fight to reproduce other followers of Jesus. As our world continues in what appears to me a downward spiral into utter godlessness, and the true gospel (not the watered down, feel-good, prosperity, name it and claim it version) looks as if it may be in line for a place on the endangered species list, our spiritual ecosystem is at risk. No, it will not ever become extinct; Jesus has promised, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35), but it will shrink into obscurity as the world will become delusional in latter days choosing to believe lies, and be damned (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Tragically, the headwinds of this approaching storm are already blowing across many of our colleges and university campuses as the new atheist movement and other such anti-Christian, anti-God groups grow in number and influence.

Salmon go against the flow and are not deterred from their goal by opposing forces, nor are they familiar with roadside parks and spring break. Each day they continue forward doing whatever it takes, if necessary paying the supreme price so that a new generation can be born. We should be salmon-like.

Christ follower, there is too much at stake to risk taking a lackadaisical posture with the issues before us. Our families and friends are in the crosshairs, daily falling prey to the deceptive practices of a very real, highly persuasive and extremely aggressive enemy.

Jesus, speaking in Matthew 11:12 tells us this: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force”. The Lord does not alert the reader to an enemy attack on the kingdom of God with these words, but the zeal and determination with which his followers were advancing the gospel. The overriding thought is that of the gospel being propagated in the world not passively, but aggressively. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church” (Matthew 16:18) is another passage where we find Jesus speaking in such terms, there suggesting not a defensive strategy to be held by his followers, but an offensive one. Should we be on the march? Yes, I think we should.

I do not suggest disruptive demonstration or advocate picket lines and boycotts that in many ways only give the enemy added ammunition to shoot back with, but a determinate effort by believers to unashamedly stand up for, proclaim and defend spiritual truth (the gospel) in love. The good news being proclaimed respectfully, out of love and concern for the eternal well-being of others, will result in many coming to faith in Christ and in turn, many more will follow. We find our Heavenly Father does not desire that any should perish but that all should come to a place of repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9); it should be our desire as well and we should be serious about it while we still can be.

Edmund Burke has said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, Burke is right. We cannot sit on the sidelines or up in the bleachers and just watch the game, we need to be out on the field playing hard, playing to win. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul said this, Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!  All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NLT). Those do not sound like the words of a mere spectator do they? No, not at all, armchair quarterbacks are not what he has in mind.  Friends, fellow followers of Jesus, there is simply too much to gain to lose.

Lastly, if you choose to enlist in the effort to keep the fires of faith burning, expect resistance (salmon do), expect to at some point, somewhere, go head to head with a person as much against the faith as you are for it. What you have that your opposition doesn’t have, however, is a promise; the same promise God made to Joshua when he said to him, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

That’s my opinion – what’s yours?

End Note: There are many helpful books and websites on sharing your faith and the subject of Apologetics (defending the faith) available online and in your local Christian bookstore. If your church does not currently offer training in these areas I would recommend asking your pastor if such may be worthy of his or her consideration. You will also find helpful Facebook pages such as “Apologetics: Defending the Faith”, and “Reasonable Faith” groups which provide supportive and informative insights and local group meetings where you can interact with others learning to meet challenges effectively.

You’ll Make It

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Life is a long and winding road filled with mystery and suspense, at times mazelike, an extremely difficult obstacle course, if you will. Along the journey our paths come upon good times and bad; times of health and times of sickness; times of sufferings, times of triumph; times of jubilation and times of sorrow, disappointment, and dismay. To everything there is a season, a time and purpose, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us. Both the high hurdles we fail to jump and the winner’s circle are a part of living life, experiences our heavenly Father allows for the purpose of conforming us into the image of the Son.

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi to say, “. .I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13 NIV).

Verse 13 could well be an anthem for most Believers and indeed, should be. As was pointed out in a previous sermon from this series, Paul knew that between the promise and the payoff there was a process, and he had no illusions as to the bitter implications the process would sometimes represent. The many challenges, dilemmas, and perils the aging apostle endured are clearly outlined in 2 Corinthians 11:22-29. There we see Paul’s earthly walk was far less than convenient or cozy; trial and tribulation were his running buddies, hard times a constant companion, but he pressed on knowing that the strength of God had an uncanny way of showing up when he was at his weakest (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Wrapping up our walk through the book of James this past Sunday at the c|Life Forney campus, Pastor Nick Edwards brought us full circle in this wonderful study concluding with a reminder (in my words) that God is with us throughout the seasons of life – winter, spring, summer, and fall. Whether hitting home runs or striking out, our ultimate victory is already chalked up in the “win” column so that as followers of Christ always remember these two things, 1) “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”, says Romans 8:18, and, 2) “April showers bring May flowers” – count on it.

You can view this sermon and the entire series from the book of James at clifec.com. Go to the church website, click “Resouces” then “Sermons” and scroll to the “Faith/Works”, click and grow.